Many young people get blemishes during their teenage years. What they want to know is whether or not they have acne. The answer in most cases is yes — it’s acne — but it’s important to understand that there are many varieties of acne.
When doctors see a few blackheads, they might call it pre-acne or non-inflammatory acne. If there are sore red pimples, then it’s the inflammatory type of acne, also called acne vulgaris or common acne. The most severe cases with deep cysts are called nodular acne. There is also adult acne, seen mainly in women.
Acne can be treated by doctors in several different specialties, for example, pediatrics, internal medicine, family medicine, and dermatology. In some states like New York, physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners may also see acne patients.
Dermatologists, the specialists who have completed three years of training in skin-related health care after completing medical school and internship, treat the majority of acne patients and have the most expertise in this area. Every board-certified dermatologist has the knowledge to treat acne.
Here are some questions we are often asked:
How do I know if I have acne?
If you have clogged pores, blackheads, whiteheads, and tender pimples or zits, then it’s acne.
What causes acne, and is it contagious?
Acne is caused by heredity and hormones. The type of hormones that cause it are androgens, which are male hormones that are highest in male teenagers but occur in females also. Androgens activate the oil glands (sebaceous glands) and allow bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes to multiply in the pores. Acne is not contagious, but it’s often treated with antibiotics to reduce these bacteria.
Does dirt or oil make acne worse?
If you have acne, it is not from a lack of cleanliness, and it won’t help to wash your skin too harshly. It’s best to use a mild liquid acne cleanser or acne bar soap once or twice daily.
You are more likely to have acne if your skin is oily, but it’s not always the case – your skin might be dry or combination-type, meaning oily in the “T-zone” of forehead, nose, and chin, and dry elsewhere. Be careful not to use greasy products on your skin and hair, and look for moisturizers and sunscreens that are labeled, “non-pore-clogging” or “non-comedogenic.”
Is there a cure for acne?
Strictly speaking, acne cannot be cured, but most teenagers outgrow it by age 20. It affects 80 percent of young people ages 14-17 but fewer than 10 percent of adults. The good news is that there are many effective treatments.
What can I do for acne without seeing a doctor?
Effective acne remedies are available at drug stores without a prescription. The most beneficial products have 5-10 percent benzoyl peroxide in a cleanser or leave-on gel. Try to avoid getting benzoyl peroxide on colored clothes and towels, because it can leave permanent white spots. Other ingredients that work for acne are salicylic acid, sulfur, resorcinol, and fruit acids (also called alpha-hydroxy acids) like glycolic acid.
What should I do if over-the-counter products don’t work for me?
Almost all health insurance plans will allow acne sufferers to see a doctor for treatment. Check with your plan to find out if you need a referral in order to make an appointment with a dermatologist.
How do doctors treat acne?
The most commonly prescribed acne medications are cleansers or topical lotions and gels that are spread directly on acne-prone areas. These include retinoids (tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene), benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics like clindamycin or erythromycin. If topical medicines don’t do enough, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic pill by mouth, birth control pills for young women, or an oral retinoid called isotretinoin, which is used only for severe cases. If the usual treatments fail, new methods such as lasers and light treatments are available at some medical centers.
Where can I learn more about acne?
Check out AcneNet at skincarephysicians.com or search “Acne” at MedlinePlus.gov, which is a great source for many medical conditions. Try to avoid getting information at websites that sell acne products … the information might be unreliable.
Dr. Susan V. Bershad is an assistant clinical professor, Board-certified in General and Surgical Dermatology and subspecialty-certified in Pediatric and Adolescent Dermatology.
She is an expert in treatment of pediatric and adolescent skin conditions, such as to acne, vascular and pigmented birthmarks, atopic dermatitis and other skin rashes, benign growths, and the cutaneous manifestations of childhood diseases.
Dr. Bershad’s wealth of knowledge stems from the 25 years of experience in her private practice and her role as a supervisory attending in the Mount Sinai Pediatric Dermatology Clinic at Mount Sinai Medical Center/Faculty Practice Associates, 5 East 98 St., 5th floor, NYC.
Office hours are Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Most major health insurances accepted.
To schedule an appointment call (212) 241-9728 or visit the on-line registration at www.MountSinaiDermatology.com