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Acne Diagnosis and Treatment: Why You Should See a Dermatologist

Medically reviewed by Martha Juco, MD · Aesthetics

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 29

    Acne Diagnosis and Treatment: Why You Should See a Dermatologist

    When should you see a specialist about your acne? We may think of pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads, as no big deal. Some acne lesions may disappear on their own while most lesions will surface out and persist. However, there is also a chance that acne will recur, or become more severe. Acne may also lead to scarring, which may be permanent and unsightly to see and are difficult to treat. What is the best acne treatment? Read on to learn why your first step is to consult with a dermatologist for proper acne diagnosis and treatment.

    acne treatment

    Acne Is a Long-Term Condition

    acne treatment

    Most people think of acne as a self-limited condition that affects adolescents, and that the disease will simply go away on its own. However, acne is not an acute disease. In fact, it is a chronic inflammatory disease. It is a persistent condition that may change in severity and distribution over long periods of time. Because of this, acne treatment may be necessary over months or even years1. And due to its long-term nature, one has to be patient with acne treatment.

    Acne also impacts those who suffer it socially and psychologically1. Following this, it is important to pursue aggressive and long-term maintenance treatment to manage one’s acne.

    Best Acne Treatment: Over-the-Counter Medicines 

    There are many over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments available. These OTC medications include3:

    Salicylic Acid

    This helps prevent pores from becoming clogged up. This ingredient may also cause skin irritation. 


    Sulfur helps remove dead skin cells and skin oil. However, this may cause dry skin and has a strong smell.

    It is recommended to start with lower strength acne products in order to minimize the likelihood of skin irritation and dryness. Alongside using acne products, you may also wash the acne affected area twice a day with gentle cleanser, and use an oil-free moisturizer.

    However, while OTC medication may work for periodic breakouts, or mild acne, it is best to see a dermatologist to avoid the condition becoming more severe. 

    Why Is It Important To Talk to a Dermatologist?

    Most patients only consult their dermatologist when acne becomes more severe, or when over the counter medications don’t seem to work2. However talking to your doctor sooner rather than later can help you avoid worsening of acne symptoms and the possibility of acne scarring.

    How To Treat Acne: It Starts With a Proper Diagnosis

    It is important to talk to a dermatologist in order to have accurate acne diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor can find out if your skin condition is acne, or a different condition that resembles acne, and may need different treatment. They can also determine the severity of your acne condition and assign treatment accordingly.

    Acne can be mild, moderate, or severe. Acne scarring is commonly associated with moderate or severe acne, but may also arise from mild cases.

    How To Treat Acne: Appropriate Treatment 

    After determining the right acne diagnosis and treatment, your doctor can give you advice on what products to use depending on the type and severity of your acne. They may also prescribe medications for acne that does not respond to over the counter acne treatment. A few of these include4


    They remove plugs on your pores and can remove existing comedones. One example is Tretinoin, however, this may also make your skin more sensitive to the sun. 

    A newer version retinoid is Adapalene, which is better tolerated than Tretinoin4. It is a retinoid-like compound, and prevents pimples from forming beneath the skin’s surface5. Adapalene also has potent anti-inflammatory properties compared to tretinoin. 

    Benzoyl Peroxide

    It is effective because it kills acne-causing bacteria. This also helps remove dead skin cells, which may clog up pores, resulting in acne lesions. Side effects of benzoyl peroxide include redness, stinging, and burning, particularly if you have sensitive skin. 


    These kill bacteria that may cause inflammation and worsening of acne. These may also be prescribed alongside retinoids. Take note that prolonged use of antibiotics can cause bacterial resistance.

    Azelaic acid

    This acid has antibacterial properties. It may be used to manage skin discoloration due to acne breakouts.

    Types of Acne Treatment: Combination of Retinoid and Antimicrobial

    This combination targets 3 out of the 4 factors of acne namely unplugging of the pores, reducing the amount of acne-producing bacteria, C. acnes, and inflammation. It is the ideal treatment for mild, moderate and severe acne. It also helps improve patient compliance because of its convenient once-daily application.

    Fixed-dose combination medications have many advantages because they target multiple pathways by which acne forms, and you only need to apply them once a day, making them convenient for use.   

    Doctors may also recommend other treatment modes such as chemical peels, drainage of comedones or cysts that helps improve overall treatment outcomes4.

    Best Acne Treatment: Safer Treatment

    Your dermatologist is the best person to advise you on how to treat acne. Acne medications may result in sensitivity to the sun, stinging, or irritation. Some oral medications can also have serious side-effects which requires proper monitoring from your doctor. Talking to your doctor can give you the best idea of what kind of products may work best for you, and how long your treatment plan will last.

    If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.

    Suffering from acne? Try our acne severity screener and our acne scarring risk screener, and get connected to a dermatologist.

    Please click here to send your questions or concerns. Foods, Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics Act prohibits dispensing of ethical or prescription medicines without prescription. For suspected adverse drug reaction, report to the FDA at

    Learn more about Acne here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Martha Juco, MD


    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 29

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