Advice on Acne Treatment and Acne Skin Care

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Annette: Hi Dermdoctor. I've been getting pimples starting a few months ago (14 years old). The pimples are irritating, but I don't feel comfortable taking medications. Is there anything I can do to prevent the pimples from showing up in the first place?

Dermdoctor: Hi Annette. Acne is unfortunately a very common problem among teenagers. Acne can be difficult to prevent, especially at your age as there are a lot of factors that are beyond your control, but there are some things that you can do to help reduce its severity, and help you to maintain control of it.

  • Wash your face gently every day using warm water and a mild soap, or an acne cleanser. Remember not to overdo this; washing once or twice a day should suffice. Don't scrub or over-wash, as this will irritate the skin and cause the acne to become worse.
  • If you use make-up, always remember to remove them before you go to sleep, as it can irritate your skin if left on for too long. Choose products that have "non-comedogenic" on its label as these products are less likely to cause acne.
  • If you have long hair, wash your hair thoroughly every day, and try to keep it from touching your face too often. Hair has a lot of oil on it, which can help clog your pores and trigger acne breakouts. Keep hair gels away from your face.
  • Try not to touch your face with your fingers. Similarly keep items like cell-phones and which are often in contact with the hands clean. Grease, dirt, and bacteria can all accumulate, and make your face more prone to acne. Resist the urge to pick at your pimples.
  • Understand that acne isn't always preventable. Practice the tips above, and if you still have difficulty with acne, visit a dermatologist. They can help you to find a treatment regimen that you are comfortable with. Most treatments for acne are cleansers, and do not have any worrisome side-effects.

Mark: Hello Dermdoctor. I mean no disrespect but I've tried several acne cleansers and none of them work at all. In fact, it seems to make my acne worse! My doctor says that I need to be patient and finish the regimen, but I feel like I don't need to wait 6 weeks to know that a medication is making my skin worse. Am I allergic to acne medication? Please help.

Dermdoctor: Hello Mark, I'm sorry to hear that acne is frustrating you. Acne is unfortunately a condition that can require a lot of patience to treat. Your experience is not an uncommon one in acne treatment. Acne treatments often take a long time before the skin begins to improve, and often cause the skin to become irritated during the initial stages of treatment. This is one of the reasons that patients often do not follow through with their regimen. Talk to your dermatologist and talk about your frustrations with the treatment, your suspicion about allergies, and work together on a treatment regimen that works. Once you agree to a treatment, follow the plan, and don't give up for the entire course of the treatment.

  • Acne is a condition that takes time and patience to clear. It's important to follow the treatment regimen.
  • Many treatments initially cause the acne to worsen, but this does not mean that the treatment is not working or is counterproductive.
  • If the acne medication is irritating your skin, wash your face after leaving on the medication for a few minutes. Extend the time that you leave the medication on as your skin builds tolerance.
  • Communicate often and honestly with your dermatologist about any concerns, frustrations, or questions that you have. The better your relationship with your doctor, the more likely that your doctor can help resolve your issues.
  • Remember that acne treatments won't clear pimples in a week. You need to have realistic expectations. A 20% improvement per month is a good result. Understand that acne treatments aim to prevent new pimples from forming, but do not affect existing ones.
  • Apply acne creams to the entire face area and not just the area that is affected by pimples. Remember that acne medication does not remove existing pimples, but prevents new pimples from forming.
  • If you have a social gathering coming up on the weekend, don't expect it to go away immediately. Cover-up cosmetics can effectively and safely cover your acne. It isn't a long-term solution, but will help you when you need to cover your acne right away.
  • Over time, your acne treatment regimen will take effect. Be patient and stick to the plan!

Kurt: Hello Dermdoctor, I have a question about popping pimples. I notice that most sites advise against popping pimples, but I can't seem to stop. It initially hurts, but in my experience it makes the pimple go away faster, and it isn't painful once it's drained. What's the big problem with popping pimples? Is there any dermatological reason not to pop pimples?

Dermdoctor: Hello Kurt. I have to agree that most of the time, popping pimples, if done correctly, will not have any harmful effects. There are however, many legitimate reasons not to pop pimples, and as a dermatologist I can't recommend this practice to my patients or readers. First, popping pimples can cause it to rupture, pushing bacteria into the deeper layers of the skin, which will make the pimple significantly worse, and cause permanent scarring. This result is especially likely when popping red inflamed pimples. While there are circumstances where using a sterile needle to release pus may be warranted, this is best done by a medical professional. Kurt, I know it can be tempting to remove the pimples yourself, but try to resist it, as it's simply not worth the risk, and never ever try to pop red pimples.

  • Popping the pimples risks worsening the condition by rupturing the pimple, pushing it deeper into the skin.
  • The risk of scarring increases significantly when popping pimples.
  • Although the risk of complication occurring on a one time basis is relatively low, if it becomes habitual, popping pimples can do a lot of harm.
  • Never squeeze pimples.
  • Visit a dermatologist and get on a treatment plan. In the long-term this is a far better plan.

Brenda: Dermdoctor, I just turned 23 last month, but I still have trouble with acne. I do have oily skin, but I thought that acne was a teenager's skin disease. I'm just so embarrassed about this. Is there anything I can do to get over acne?

Dermdoctor: Hello Brenda. Teenagers will often have acne problems, but unfortunately adult acne is also very common, and especially so for women. Hormonal factors play a large role in acne. The oil glands may become overly sensitive to testosterone, which prompts a change in the composition of oil, making acne more likely. For a proper treatment recommendation, we recommend that you visit a local dermatologist, who can advise you best based on your condition and treatment preferences.

  • Adult acne is very common, especially for women. Acne is not a disease that is exclusive to teenagers, and there is no reason to feel embarrassed about adult acne.
  • Hormonal factors often play a major role in adult acne.
  • Oral contraceptives are a possible treatment option for women who do not plan to become pregnant in the near future.
  • Visit a dermatologist who can make a diagnosis and recommend a treatment regimen based on your condition and preferences.

Related video: Selecting Appropriate Acne Treatments

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