Treating Acne in 4 Steps

Acne is the most common skin disease, and it’s also the most common reason that patients see a dermatologist. Read the four step advice for managing and controlling acne.

Step 1: What kind of acne problem are you having?

You want it gone, obviously! There’s a difference between wanting to remove a pimple for the coming weekend party, and wanting to treat an ongoing acne problem.

  • Almost everyone gets some acne at some point.
  • Do you have a problem with a specific pimple right now, or do you have a chronic concern with acne?
  • Is your acne mostly blackheads and whiteheads, or mostly pimples and pustules?
  • Inflammatory acne (redness, pimples, pustules) can lead to permanent scarring, and should be treated promptly.

Step 2: Dealing with specific acne spots now.

Everyone is familiar with acne. Even the lucky people who don’t really get acne often have had one or two irritating experiences with a specific acne lesion.

  • Don’t pop pimples yourself. It’s tempting, I know, but the risk of causing scarring are not worth the short-term satisfaction. If it’s a one off pimple, they will go away on their own, and it’s the best way to deal with them.
  • Cover-up cosmetics can do wonders if you just want to conceal acne spots.
  • If acne is often a problem, you would do well to seek a treatment regimen.
  • Understand that acne treatments as a general rule have no effect on existing acne. They prevent future acne from forming. Know the difference between dealing with existing acne and treating acne in general.

Step 3: Treat acne.

While everyone has acne from time to time, some people have a chronic acne problem. Many teenagers specifically suffer from chronic acne, and many older women also have problems with adult acne. If acne is chronic, you should seek acne treatment--they’re effective, and will change your life positively. All you need is proper expectations and a bit of patience.

  • How severe is your acne? How much does it affect your quality of life? If acne is a serious concern (and this is subjective), see a dermatologist to come up with a treatment plan.
  • If you have relatively mild acne and it isn’t a huge concern, you can try to treat it yourself using a combination of lifestyle adjustments and over the counter products. Remember that seeing a dermatologist is always an option.
  • Have proper expectations. Acne treatments work over weeks and months, not days. Moreover, initial irritation of the skin or even worsening of the acne is not uncommon. Read the label carefully and speak to your doctor about what you should expect.
  • The most common reason for treatment failure is lack of compliance--the patient gives up on treatment themselves. Unless you have a compelling reason, stick to the treatment regimen.

Step 4: Lifestyle.

Science is now learning what many acne sufferers knew anecdotally for decades--that lifestyle matters. The problem is that everyone’s individual and react a little bit differently. There are useful rules of thumb however.

  • Don’t over-cleanse. Cleansing is important, but very few people who are concerned about acne don’t cleanse enough. Much more common is overdoing it, by cleansing their face multiple times a day with harsh products. This often backfires as the skin produces more oil, thinking that the skin is being dried out.
  • Clean your face once or twice a day using an acne-cleanser product.
  • Cut your hair short, or keep it tied back to prevent it from constantly touching the face. The hair is one of the oiliest parts of the body.
  • Diet matters--for some people. This isn’t a universal rule, and it’s very individual. If you notice a clear correlation between certain foods and acne, don’t ignore the obvious.
  • If you are managing acne well, great. If you are struggling, consider seeing a dermatologist or even a general doctor for help. There are many effective and safe treatments available.

1Estimates have it somewhere between 90-95%, probably due to sample size. It’s probably closer to 100% if you count people who have ever had any acne.