When to See a Dermatologist for Your Acne

Acne is a super common skin condition—about 85% of us will have it at some point in our lives. And, with the abundance of over-the-counter acne treatment products available today, it's easy to forget that acne is not just a cosmetic issue. It's an actual medical condition that very often should be treated by a healthcare provider.

So, how do you know when to call a dermatologist about your acne? Here are 5 signs that it's time.


You've Never Been Diagnosed With Acne Before

Woman With Acne

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If you suddenly begin to break out in red bumps on the face, upper chest, back, or elsewhere, and you have never before been diagnosed with acne, you should see your healthcare provider.

Some other conditions, such as rosacea and folliculitis, look very similar to acne.

So, if you aren't sure what you have is positively acne vulgaris, it's a good idea to be evaluated by a professional.


Your Acne Is Getting Worse Despite Using Over-The-Counter Products

Mild cases of acne can often be successfully cleared with over-the-counter acne products. But many cases just don't respond well to OTC treatments. In this case, it's best to see your healthcare provider about prescription acne treatments.

So, how long should you try OTC acne treatments before moving on to stronger, prescription medications? Give products about 10 to 12 weeks, or about 3 months. After this amount of time, you should see some improvement.

If you've been treating your acne consistently and your breakouts aren't getting better, or if your acne seems to be worsening, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Your dermatologist can prescribe an acne medication that will give you better results and will have helpful advice regarding proper acne skincare and home treatment.


You Have Moderate to Severe Inflammatory Acne, Nodules, or Cystic Breakouts

If your acne is moderate to severe, or very inflamed, skip the over-the-counter products altogether. They just aren't strong enough to improve acne at this level, and you'll waste precious time and money on products that won't work for you.

Nodules and cysts are very severe forms of breakouts and should always be evaluated by a dermatologist. These deep blemishes can easily cause scarring, so they should be treated promptly.


You Think Your Acne May Be Caused by a Medication

Certain medications, such as steroids and birth control pills, may cause acne. If you are taking any medications and your skin begins breaking out, let your healthcare provider know.


You Are Extremely Upset or Depressed About Your Skin

Let's face it—acne can affect more than just your skin. It can affect your life.

Do you avoid social situations because of your skin? Do you feel depressed? If you feel like your acne is adversely affecting your life or self-esteem, please talk with your healthcare provider right away.

Your dermatologist has treatment options available that can not only improve your skin but also help you deal with the feelings of frustration and despair that can come along with acne.

Don't wait! There's no reason to just accept acne breakouts. With the right treatment, you can see your skin start to improve in just a few short weeks. So, give your dermatologist a call.

2 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. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Acne: Overview. 2013 Jan 16 [Updated 2019 Sep 26].

  2. Suh DH, Shin JW, Min SU, et al. Treatment-seeking behaviors and related epidemiological features in Korean acne patientsJ Korean Med Sci. 2008;23(6):969–974. doi:10.3346/jkms.2008.23.6.969

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