Acne Patient Education Overview
Acne is a skin condition that develops when glands in the skin’s pores produce too much oil, which causes the pores to become blocked. When this happens, pimples or cysts develop because oil, dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells build up in the pores.
Acne most often appears on the face and shoulders but can develop on other parts of the body, as well. It can have several different appearances, including:
- Pimples (whiteheads or blackheads)
- Crusting of skin bumps
- Cysts (hard painful bumps in the skin)
- Small red bumps
- Redness and swelling around pimples or cysts
- Scarring of the skin
Many things can cause the skin’s pores to become clogged with too much oil. Changes in hormone levels are a very common cause of pimples. This can happen during puberty, menstrual periods, pregnancy, menopause, and periods of stress. Other factors that can lead to acne are greasy or oily cosmetics and hair products, certain drugs (such as steroids, testosterone, estrogen, birth control pills, and phenytoin), high humidity, and sweating. Although research does not show that certain foods (such as chocolate, nuts, and greasy foods) cause acne, eating too much food with refined sugars may contribute to acne.Show All
Doctors Who Treat Acne
As your acne or pimples are diagnosed, treated and managed, you may encounter the following team of doctors and specialists listed below in this acne patient education guide.
- Dermatologist — A doctor who specializes in skin conditions and diseases. A dermatologist diagnoses, treats, and monitors patients with acne.
- Internist or family physician — A doctor who provides general medical care for adults. Adults with acne or pimples may be diagnosed and treated by an internist or family physician or they may be referred to a dermatologist.
- Pediatrician — A doctor who specializes in the medical care of children. Children and teens with acne or pimples may be diagnosed and treated by a pediatrician or be referred to a dermatologist.
How to Prepare for Your Acne Doctor Visit
Having made your appointment with a healthcare provider, there are certain actions you can take to maximize the benefit of your doctor visit listed in this acne patient education guide.
- Make a list of all the skin care and hair care products you use.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements you are taking. Include the dosage you are taking of each.
- Think about any things that seem to trigger your acne or pimples to flare up and write them down.
- Write down key personal information, including prior illnesses, diet and exercise habits, washing habits, and any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of questions you have for the doctor so that you don’t forget to ask any of them.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Acne
From your initial diagnosis throughout your treatment and care, you will have questions about your acne. Listed in this acne patient education guide below are questions to discuss with your doctor so you can make informed decisions about your condition and your care.
Question About My Diagnosis
- How do you know what is causing my acne?
- Does something I eat cause my acne?
- Did my make-up or skin care products cause my acne?
- Do pimples ever clear up without medication?
- How long will it take for acne medicine to clear up my skin?
Questions About My Treatment
- What types of medications are used to treat acne? Are there side effects?
- Will I have to take medication for the rest of my life?
- Do over-the-counter acne medications work?
- Will other medications I take interact with my acne medications?
- Can acne cysts be removed surgically?
- Do laser treatments for acne work?
Questions About My Lifestyle & Family
- Do the types of make-up or skin care products I use affect my acne or pimples?
- Are there changes to my diet that would help clear up my acne?
- Would washing my skin more help clear up my acne?
- Do I need to avoid being out in the sun?
- Is there a special type of sunscreen I should use?
Common Tests or Labs to Diagnose Acne
There are no tests to diagnose acne. Doctors diagnose acne by examining the affected skin.
Common Medications and Treatments for Acne
Acne treatment varies depending on whether the acne is mild, moderate, or severe. Some treatments are used only for certain types of acne and others are used for more than one type. In many cases, a combination of treatments is needed to clear up acne or pimples.
Listed below in this acne patient education guide are general self-care rules to help treat acne. These apply to acne of any severity. Medications and minor surgical procedures used to treat acne are described in the tables farther down.
General Rules for Acne Treatment
- Never pop, squeeze, or pick acne.
- Don’t use harsh soaps, scrubs, toner, astringent, or masks. These irritate the skin and make breakouts more likely.
- Gently wash the affected skin with warm water and a mild soap twice a day to remove dead skin cells and excess oil. Washing more than twice a day can cause irritation and dryness.
- Don’t wash with washcloths or puffs because they can be too abrasive.
- Gently wash skin after sweating.
- Apply acne medication 5-15 minutes after washing.
- Use oil-free skin care and hair care products that won’t block pores.
- Apply acne medication before make-up so that the make-up doesn’t block absorption of the medication.
- Limit sun exposure by covering skin when possible and generously applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with SPF of 30 or more to exposed skin. Many acne medications make skin more prone to sunburn.
- Use your acne medication exactly as prescribed by the doctor and stop using acne medications not prescribed by the doctor.
- Keep taking the medication as directed even when skin clears.
- Give acne medication 6-8 weeks to clear your skin.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions about treatment and speak up if something doesn’t seem to be working.
How it works
How it works
|Drainage and extraction||
|Interlesional corticosteroid injection||
|Phototherapy (laser and light therapy)||