When to See a Dermatologist
About Your Acne
There’s never a bad time to see a dermatologist for your acne. But many patients resist making that appointment for one reason or another. Maybe it feels hard to get on your preferred doctor’s calendar or perhaps you’re not sure if your acne is “bad” enough to warrant a trip to a professional. Here’s what I know: Too many patients try to go it alone or rely solely on the help of estheticians and social media skincare “experts.” But if you’re skin isn’t improving, we’re here to help. If you’re noticing any of these signs, don’t delay any longer—it’s definitely time to see a dermatologist.
Your acne products aren’t working
Let’s say you’ve spent a couple months experimenting with over-the-counter acne products, and you’re just not seeing results. This is a good time to consider going to see a dermatologist. We understand how to create a whole routine customized for your needs, and there are so many things at your disposal in a dermatology office, including medical facials and peels, lasers, and other procedures that you simply can’t access anywhere else. All of those things can be more effective at treating both acne and scarring than what you’d be able to try at home. One way to be better informed before a visit to your dermatologist is to read a patient decision aid for acne that me and my research team developed. You can access it at www.informed-decisions.org.
See a dermatologist if your acne is moderate to severe
OTC products can be quite effective at addressing mild cases of acne so if you have just a few small lesions, smart skincare might be the right strategy for you. But if you have more intense cystic acne or nodules, which can be about the size of the end of your pinky finger and go deeper into the skin, you should go to a dermatologist for professional advice. Those types of pimples are more at risk of leaving scars, so you really don’t want to fly solo.
Too many patients try to go it alone or rely solely on the help of estheticians and social media skincare “experts.”
Go to a dermatologist if you’re seeing acne scarring
If your pimples are leaving scars of any kind, it’s definitely time to schedule a dermatologist appointment. What do I mean by scars? They can be indentations, holes, or lingering lumps and bumps that persist for weeks, months, or even years after your acne lesion has healed. And there may also be brown marks or discoloration (called post-inflammatory or macular hyperpigmentation) left behind too. My research indicates that 95 percent of people with acne have some degree of scarring. 
And when it comes to these kinds of marks, the sooner you go see a dermatologist, the better. A fresh scar is easier to treat. Unfortunately, older scars can be much more difficult to correct. The procedures that we have currently such as laser treatments and microdermabrasion are much more effective than anything we had in the past, but these techniques are still uncomfortable, costly, and have downtime associated with them. This is why I always recommend seeing what a dermatologist can do for your acne early on in your skincare journey.
It’s affecting your emotional health
If your acne is starting to bother you emotionally—if you’re getting hurt by negative comments from people or it's starting to wear on you—you should see a dermatologist. There can be a psychosocial burden with acne, and it can be tough. I’ve done research in this area—I know the impact it can have on a patient, especially when there is scarring of the skin, which can lower self-esteem thanks to the stigma attached to it.  So if you’re feeling down, there’s no reason to suffer in silence. We can—and will—help.
Telemedicine is a great option
One last note: I know it’s hard for many people to get in to see a doctor right now. The good news is a virtual dermatologist can treat acne very effectively via telemedicine, it just requires a little bit of preparation. Usually, your dermatologist will have you fill out a questionnaire about what treatments you've used and how they have or have not helped. And you’ll want to take a few selfies beforehand that show the acne on your face, upper chest, back—wherever you have it. Make sure they’re sharp and clear before you hit send. Looking at those, your dermatologist may not be able to tell everything he or she could from an in-person visit, but you should at least be able to get some guidance on the next step.
Jerry Tan, M.D.
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