Most of us experience acne at some point in our lives. It is most common in adolescents and young adults, but various forms can affect people well into adulthood. Knowing what you can treat with over the counter products and when to see a physician is the first step to improving acne.
The most common form of acne is comedonal acne and is characterized by whiteheads and blackheads. The next most common is inflammatory acne where deeper, pinker bumps appear on the skin. Milder cases of both comedonal and inflammatory acne can often times respond to over the counter (OTC) treatment with salicylic acid cleansers and topical benzoyl peroxide products. If you try OTC treatment for 6-8 weeks and see good benefit, you can avoid a trip to the doctor and keep using the OTC products.
More severe comedonal or inflammatory acne will commonly not respond to OTC treatment or get limited benefit. If a 6-8 week treatment trial with OTC products doesn’t control your acne, it’s time to see a doctor. There are numerous prescription topical medications that can be used depending on the type of acne, age and gender of the patient. If topical prescriptions aren’t sufficient to control acne, oral antibiotics are commonly used for periods of time. Most patients can be controlled with these types of medications until they “outgrow” their acne.
Severe inflammatory acne or nodulocystic acne can cause scarring and are more difficult to control with typical acne medications. These patients may need more aggressive treatment to control their acne. If patients have deep, tender, inflamed acne on the face, neck, chest, or back that is causing scarring, they should see a doctor sooner rather than later. The goal with these patients is to control acne quickly to prevent further scarring.
Some adult women develop acne that is associated with their menstrual cycle. This typically requires prescription medications, so a doctor’s appointment is worthwhile.
Most forms of acne can be controlled successfully if the patient is motivated to treat it. If you have acne and want to improve it, the odds are in your favor.
Dr. Meyer is a dermatologist who sees patients at our First Hill and West Seattle locations. Learn more about Dr. Meyer here.