7 Signs Your Teen Should See a Dermatologist for Acne

When you're a teen, acne is pretty much par for the course. Most teenagers have some amount of blackheads, pimples, and blemishes. Younger tweens, ages 8 to 12, get their fair share of blemishes, too.

Many teenagers can keep their acne relatively under control with just the basics: good daily skincare and over-the-counter (OTC) acne products. But teen acne can quickly worsen into severe breakouts that can damage their skin, not to mention their self-esteem.

This article will help you recognize when your teen's acne has progressed to the point where it's time to see a dermatologist, a physician who specializes in skin conditions. Here are seven signs that it's time to make an appointment.


Over-the-Counter Treatments Aren't Working

Experienced pediatrician examining patient face in the hospital
Zinkevych / Getty Images

When your teen or tween starts breaking out, the first thing you do is hit the drugstore for over-the-counter acne treatments

OTC acne treatments work best for mild acne. But here's a key piece of info that you may not know—OTC acne products don't always work.

Try them out for six to eight weeks. If your teen isn't noticing an improvement in their skin, it's time to see a dermatologist for prescription acne medication.


Your Teen's Acne Is Getting Worse Despite Good Home Care

Here's a super-common situation: Your teen has been using OTC acne products for months with good results. But, suddenly, these products don't seem to be working anymore. Though your teen is taking good care of their skin, the acne starts getting worse.

Don't blame your kid, they're probably still doing everything right. Over the course of several months to years, teen acne can progress from mild breakouts to more severe acne. The routine that kept breakouts at bay initially may not be strong enough now.

If your teen's acne is getting worse and you can't get it under control, that's a clear sign a dermatologist needs to step in to help.


Your Teen's Acne Is Very Red, Inflamed, or Severe

Moderate to severe inflammatory acne should always be seen by a physician. This type of acne just won't get better with OTC treatments, no matter how attentive your kid is about using them.

In this case, skip the drugstore products altogether and see a dermatologist right away.


The Acne Is Leaving Scars

Are acne blemishes leaving scars or pits on your teen's skin? Get your kid to a dermatologist ASAP. Those teen acne breakouts won't last forever but acne scars will. Scars are much harder to treat than acne, too.

While severe, inflammatory acne is more likely to cause scarring. And even mild blemishes can leave scars—some people are just more prone to developing acne scars than others.


You're Fighting With Your Teen About Their Skin

Has your teen's skin become a battleground between the two of you? Let's face it, we have enough to fight with our teens about, like curfew, grades, and their messy rooms. No reason to add skincare to the list.

Do you find yourself constantly nagging at your kid—did you wash your face? Use that acne cream I bought you! Will you please stop popping your pimples?

Sometimes helpful advice comes across better (and sinks in more) when it's not delivered by mom or dad. A dermatologist can help your teen devise a skin care plan, and explain why they need to follow it.

More food for thought: If they aren't seeing results with their current acne treatment, teens are likely to completely stop using it. Which drives you nuts. And leads to fighting.

Better to get a prescription medication that works (relatively) quickly. Teens are more likely to stick with something if they feel it's working. And that may help keep the peace in the house.


Your Teen Is Becoming Depressed, Withdrawn, or Losing Self-Confidence

Teens have a lot to contend with growing up. And, let's face it, teenagers today place a lot of importance on their looks. It's not vain, it's very age-appropriate. They're developing their sense of self.

So acne can be a huge source of embarrassment to teens, even breakouts that we consider mild.

You know your child better than anyone else, and you know if something is bothering them. 

Ask why if they are just not acting like themselves, or seem:

  • Angry
  • Depressed
  • Withdrawn

Getting acne cleared up can be a huge boost to their self-confidence and self-esteem. Make it a priority.


Your Teen Asks to See a Dermatologist

Some teens will come right out and ask to see a dermatologist. Don't brush them off, or tell them that all teenagers get acne or that their acne isn't "bad enough" to see a dermatologist.

If your kid is asking, it means acne is really bothering them. It also means your child is probably feeling overwhelmed and helpless as far as their skin is concerned.

Not possible to take your teen to a dermatologist? Your family doctor can treat most cases of acne, too. Make an appointment with your regular physician, or ask about your kid's acne at their next physical.


Teen acne is common and may even be treated with a basic skin care routine and over-the-counter products. However, there are times when a trip to the dermatologist may be required. For example, if acne isn't responding to OTC products, is leaving scars, or having an impact on your teen's mental health.

Remember, acne is a normal part of growing up. But there's no reason your teen has to struggle with it when there are so many great acne treatment options available.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sutaria A, Masood S, Schlessinger J. National Center For Biotechnology Information. Acne vulgaris. Updated August 9, 2021.

  2. American Academy Of Dermatology Association. Acne: tips for managing.

  3. DermResearch. Helping teenagers deal with acne: a parent’s guide.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. When it’s time to see a doctor about your teen’s acne. Published October 19, 2018.

  5. Digitale E. Stanford Health. Making adolescence easier: Doctors have answers for acne. Published September 24, 2012.

  6. Revol O, Milliez N, Gerard D. Psychological impact of acne on 21st-century adolescents: decoding for better care. Br J Dermatol. 2015;172 Suppl 1:52-8. doi:10.1111/bjd.13749

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Why acne scars are more than skin deep for your teen. Updated June 23, 2020.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.