Seeing a medical professional about acne

This section is about seeing medical professionals (like GPs and dermatologists) about acne. It links to the section on diagnosis/‘realising you have acne’, about young people starting to get spots and what they did about it (such as trying shop-bought products). There’s also more about continuing to see medical professionals and getting referrals for acne here. After a while, or if the acne became worse, young people thought about seeing a doctor or had it suggested to them by their parents.
Almost everyone we talked to did eventually go see a doctor about their acne and for treatments, but Kosta says he hasn’t seen a doctor because he accepts his skin will clear up in time. A few people had seen their first doctor about acne in another country than the UK, such as in America and China.

For those who had wanted medical professional help, the main sources were:
  • General Practitioners (GPs)
  • dermatologists (healthcare professionals specialising on skin)
  • pharmacists
Some young people saw just one kind of medical professional for their acne. Most GPs offered a choice of different medications (like topical treatments and antibiotics) to see if these would clear up acne. This worked for some people, but others found their spots continued. After trying treatments prescribed by their GPs without much success, some people were referred to a dermatologist, who can prescribe isotretinoin (e.g. Roaccutane) tablets

Most people hadn’t talked to pharmacists about managing acne, but a couple found it helpful. Tom’s mum got a shop-bought cream recommended by a pharmacist which he used as well as face washes when he first developed spots. Marga was told by pharmacists to be careful with benzoyl peroxide topical treatments because they can bleach/stain fabrics.

What help can I get from medical professionals for acne?

Young people visited medical professionals for a range of things, like:
  • getting a diagnosis of acne – although most knew already that they had ‘spots’ but some hadn’t heard the word ‘acne’ before
  • for treatment, like topical gels/creams, antibiotics or isotretinoin (e.g. Roaccutane) and advice about how to use them (including possible side effects)
  • information about alternative and complementary medicines
  • check-ups – e.g. to see if treatments are working or have side effects (some people’s GPs also prescribed or recommended shop-bought moisturisers to counteract the side effect of dry skin caused by some acne treatments like topical creams)
  • a referral – for example, a GP can ‘refer’ to a dermatologist
  • mental health help for dealing with the emotional side of acne
  • medical treatment for acne scarring – for example, Emma had steroid injections for keloid scars on her chest
Deciding to see a doctor

For those who had seen a doctor about acne, there was often a gap between when they got some spots and when they made the first appointment. This gap varied from a few months to several years. They usually went when their acne got more severe, painful or lasted for a long time. Marga booked an appointment with her GP about acne only when she “reached the end of my tether” with shop-bought treatments. Harriet saw her GP because an acne spot caused a gland in her neck to swell up. Some people saw their GP for a different health reason and asked about acne whilst they were at the appointment.

Some people didn’t see a doctor earlier because they hadn’t known they could get medical help for acne. This might be because they thought of acne as a ‘beauty’ concern, rather than a medical one. Some didn’t want to feel ‘sick’ or ‘ill’ for having spots. Marga worried that she would be ‘wasting’ the doctor’s time by going about acne. Some people, like Ollie and Deborah, said they wished they had seen a doctor sooner.
At the first appointment about acne

Often GPs reassured the young person it was good they had come for medical help. Many young people had worried their doctors wouldn’t take it seriously. Hester had a positive experience because her GP made her feel acne was a “genuine” problem she would be helped with. Sometimes the doctor examined the person’s skin by looking and touching some spots. Ish found this an uncomfortable experience, but many people said they didn’t mind because they wanted the doctor to help. Sometimes the GP asked the person how acne made them feel or if others teased them about it. This reassured some people that the doctor understood their feelings about acne, but made others uncomfortable.
Because most young people already knew they had acne, they didn’t need a diagnosis but they did want the doctor to give information and treatments. Abbie thinks it would be good if doctors told the young person about all the different medicines they could prescribe for acne (such as topical gels or antibiotics). People also wanted to know about causes and triggers, especially if they were worried they had done something ‘wrong’. Devan didn’t know a lot about acne before his first appointment and learnt mostly from his doctors.
People had different responses to seeing GPs about acne. Sarah was offended when her doctors described her spots as “severe” because “implicit in that was them telling me that I had a problem”. Others were hopeful after their first appointment that things might get better and their doctors would help with this. For Marga and Hester, the appointment and getting treatment helped them feel ‘in control’.


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