How Do Dermatologists Get Rid Of Acne?


Acne is one of the most common skin conditions that sends people searching for solutions. Approximately 85% of people experience acne at some point between the ages of 12 and 24 years old. For some, it may just be an occasional pimple here and there. But for others, acne can be moderate to severe, leading to emotional distress and physical scarring.

If over-the-counter acne treatments aren’t giving you the clear skin you desire, it may be time to see a dermatologist. Board-certified dermatologists have extensive medical training in diagnosing and treating all types of skin concerns, including acne. Keep reading to learn more about how dermatologists get rid of acne for their patients.

How Do Dermatologists Get Rid Of Acne

How Do Dermatologists Diagnose Acne?

The first step a dermatologist will take is to fully examine your skin during an appointment. They will evaluate the type of acne you have, as well as the severity. Acne occurs when hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells, leading to different types of pimples.

Here are some of the most common acne types:

  • Whiteheads - Also called closed comedones, these appear on the skin as small, white, round bumps. They form when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria clog the pore.
  • Blackheads - Known as open comedones, blackheads look like tiny dark spots on the skin. The dark appearance is due to skin pigment, not dirt as commonly believed. Blackheads form in the same way as whiteheads, except the pore remains open.
  • Papules - Small, tender, pink bumps that feel hard to the touch. They form when the walls surrounding clogged pores break down.
  • Pustules - Red at the base with white or yellow pus at the top. These inflammatory lesions form when bacteria penetrate deeper into the pores.
  • Nodules - Large, painful, solid lesions lodged deep within the skin. Nodules develop from deeper clogged pores in the dermis.
  • Cysts - The most severe type of acne lesion filled with pus. Cysts form deep underneath the skin and feel like large, sore bumps.

In addition to identifying the types of acne spots present, the dermatologist will note their location on the face, chest, or back. The number of lesions will also help determine acne severity. Mild cases feature just a few scattered whiteheads and blackheads. Moderate acne consists of more inflammatory papules and pustules. Severe acne involves a greater number of nodules and cysts.

Why See A Dermatologist for Acne Treatment?

There are many reasons to have a dermatologist treat your acne rather than relying solely on over-the-counter products. These include:

Dermatologists Offer Medical-Grade Treatments

While drugstore acne remedies may help mild breakouts, they are often not strong enough to tackle more stubborn cases. Dermatologists have access to prescription-strength acne treatments that are more potent and effective.

Customized Treatment Plans

Since every patient's acne is unique, dermatologists create customized treatment regimens. After examining your skin and reviewing your medical history, they combine therapies tailored to your specific needs.

Treat All Types of Acne

From blackheads and pimples to deep cystic acne, dermatologists have the knowledge and tools to clear up all types of acne lesions. Over-the-counter products generally only help surface breakouts.

Reduce Acne Scarring

In addition to clearing up active acne, dermatologists also offer treatments to minimize permanent acne scarring. Dealing with scars often requires professional procedures.

Improve Overall Skin Health

Dermatologists look at the whole picture of your skin health, not just the acne. They can correct issues like oiliness, dryness, and sensitivity that contribute to breakouts.

Ongoing Support

Acne treatment takes time. Having a dermatologist oversee your care ensures you follow the regimen properly. They also monitor progress and adjust therapies as needed.

How Do Dermatologists Get Rid of Acne?

Dermatologists have access to a wide range of proven acne treatments to clear up activity breakouts and prevent new ones from forming. They often utilize a multi-pronged approach that incorporates:

Prescription Medications

For moderate to severe acne, topical or oral prescription medications are often needed. Common prescriptions include:

  • Retinoids - Derived from vitamin A, these powerful medications unclog pores and prevent blackheads and whiteheads. They also reduce inflammation.
  • Antibiotics - Used to kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce swelling. Common antibiotics prescribed include clindamycin and erythromycin.
  • Antimicrobials - Such as benzoyl peroxide, these compounds kill bacteria on the skin while unclogging pores.
  • Oral contraceptives - When taken by women, birth control pills that contain estrogen and progestin can improve acne. The hormones help decrease androgen hormone activity.
  • Spironolactone - This diuretic is used off-label by dermatologists to treat hormonal acne in women. It blocks androgen hormone receptors in the skin.
  • Isotretinoin - The most effective oral acne drug. Isotretinoin (formerly known as Accutane) treats severe nodular acne by reducing oil gland size and bacteria.

Light and Laser Treatments

Technology based treatments like photodynamic therapy and laser resurfacing help kill acne bacteria while removing outer layers of damaged skin. Lasers also minimize acne scars.

Chemical Peels and Microdermabrasion

Controlled skin injury from chemical peels and microdermabrasion promotes collagen production. This helps smooth acne scars and unclog congested pores.

Corticosteroid Injections

Injecting a diluted corticosteroid directly into large cysts and nodules decreases inflammation and provides rapid relief. The injections can also prevent scarring.


Dermatologists may perform careful manual extraction of blackheads, whiteheads and inflammatory acne lesions. Extractions help remove stubborn clogs and speed healing.

How Long Does It Take to See Results?

Most prescription acne medications take 4-12 weeks to produce visible clearing, but results depend on:

  • Acne type and severity
  • Products prescribed
  • Compliance with treatment regimen
  • Individual response

More severe cases often require longer treatment, upwards of six months. Even when acne appears clear, maintenance therapy is usually needed to prevent recurrence. Don't get discouraged if you don't see instant results. Be patient and stick with the regimen your dermatologist prescribes.

What Results Can You Expect?

With consistent use of the proper dermatologist-prescribed treatments, the vast majority of acne patients see significant improvement. Results that can be obtained include:

  • Marked decrease in all types of acne lesions
  • Preventing new breakouts
  • Fading of post-acne marks and scars
  • Normalization of oil production
  • Clearing of blackheads and whiteheads

While most patients achieve satisfactory clearance, acne can still be unpredictable. A small percentage of patients may see little or no improvement. Discuss your treatment expectations honestly with your dermatologist.

How Can Dermatologists Prevent Acne from Returning?

Successfully controlling acne long-term involves both clearing up current lesions and stopping new breakouts from developing. Dermatologists have effective strategies to help keep skin clear.

Long-Term Medication

Some topical and oral medications need to be continued once acne has resolved to prevent further outbreaks. Maintenance therapy may last months or even years depending on the individual.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Dermatologists provide guidance on acne-promoting habits to avoid. This includes diet and nutritional supplements, clothing choices, hair/makeup products, and exercise.

In-Office Procedures

Even after improvement, periodic procedures like light therapy, chemical peels, laser treatments, and corticosteroid injections can help maintain results.

Stress Reduction

If stress contributes to your acne, your dermatologist may recommend stress management techniques like meditation, yoga, or counseling.

Hormonal Therapies

For women whose acne is worsened by shifts in hormones, specific birth control pills or anti-androgen medications can prevent hormone-triggered breakouts.

Custom Skin Care

Dermatologists can prescribe specialized drugstore and pharmacy cleansers, toners, and spot treatments to help keep skin clear.

Regular Follow-Ups

Seeing your dermatologist every three to six months ensures any changes in acne severity are promptly addressed by adjusting treatment.

Can Acne Scar Treatment Be Done During Active Breakouts?

Yes, acne scar revision can be performed even if you still struggle with active lesions. However, completely clearing acne first allows certain procedures to work best. Your dermatologist can advise on the optimal timing.

Some techniques like subcision and microneedling generate new collagen that helps smooth out depressed scars while also combating current breakouts. But other options like laser skin resurfacing and dermabrasion work better once acne is under control since they involve removing layers of outer skin.

Medications like retinoids and isotretinoin that treat active acne also gradually fade discoloration and minor scarring over time. Discuss your desired results with your dermatologist to develop an appropriate treatment schedule.

What Factors Affect the Cost of Professional Acne Treatment?

Like most dermatology procedures, the expense of acne treatment depends on several factors:

  • Severity - Mild cases incur lower costs than moderate to severe acne. More powerful therapies and medications are required for greater numbers of lesions.
  • Types of Treatment - In-office light and laser procedures tend to cost more than topical prescription medications. Advanced chemical peels are pricier than microdermabrasion.
  • Insurance Coverage - Policies vary on which acne treatments they cover and the percentage. Most plans cover antibiotics and hormone therapies. Isotretinoin often requires preauthorization.
  • Location - Dermatology practices in major metro areas tend to charge more than rural areas.
  • Provider Qualifications - Board-certified dermatologists command higher fees than less specialized providers.
  • Number of Sessions - You will pay per treatment or refill. So the more visits required, the greater the overall expense.

Talk to your dermatology clinic for accurate pricing estimates based on your customized treatment plan. Many offer payment plans to assist patients. Seeking effective acne relief is worth the investment in your skin and self-confidence.

How Can You Get the Most From Acne Treatment Appointments?

Acne consultations and follow-ups with a dermatologist represent a significant time and financial investment. You can make the most of your visits by:

  • Providing a complete medical history - Make sure to disclose any prior acne treatments, medications, allergies, and health conditions. Even unrelated issues like sleep disorders can impact acne.
  • Coming with a list of questions - Note down all your specific concerns about your acne, like why it worsens at certain times. Inquire about treatment options.
  • Clearly communicating your goals - Tell your dermatologist whether you aim to prevent scarring, need to resolve cystic breakouts before an event, or want to improve skin texture.
  • Following treatment instructions - Improper use of prescription acne products can limit their effectiveness and lead to potential side effects. Carefully comply with directions.
  • Tracking your progress - Maintain a log of your acne improvements and any reactions you experience. Update your dermatologist at each visit.
  • Asking about at-home care - Get specific regimen tips for caring for your skin type, whether oily, dry or sensitive. Discover which over-the-counter products complement prescription therapies.
  • Discussing your mental health - If acne is affecting your emotional well-being, talk to your dermatologist about counseling resources. Don't underestimate the psychological impact of acne.
  • Keeping follow-up appointments - Schedule recommended follow-up visits even when your acne seems clear. Stopping treatment prematurely can allow acne to return.

Getting satisfactory results from professional acne treatment requires active patient participation. Be engaged and proactive every step of the way.

Conclusion: Partner With a Dermatologist for Clear Skin

If you are struggling to get your acne under control, seeing a board-certified dermatologist offers the best chance of success. Dermatologists utilize cutting-edge tools, technologies, and techniques that are beyond over-the-counter acne products. Their medical training gives them expertise in customizing treatment to your unique skin condition.

While professional acne treatment requires more time and financial commitment than drugstore methods, the rewards are well worth it. Dermatologists can provide both short and long-term acne relief while preventing permanent scarring. You'll gain confidence from having clear, healthy skin. Don't hesitate to partner with a dermatologist and say goodbye to acne for good!

Frequently Asked Questions About Professional Acne Treatment

What causes acne?

Acne forms when hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. This allows acne-causing bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) to grow deep inside follicles. As the bacteria multiply, they cause inflammation and swelling. Excess sebum oil production, abnormal shedding of skin cells, and hormonal fluctuations can all contribute to hair follicle blockages. Genetics also play a role.

What are the different types of acne lesions?

There are two main categories of acne lesions - noninflammatory and inflammatory.

Noninflammatory lesions include:

  • Whiteheads (closed comedones) - Round, white bumps caused by blocked pores
  • Blackheads (open comedones) - Visible dark dots formed by wide, open clogged pores

Inflammatory lesions include:

  • Papules - Small, pink pimples with inflammation
  • Pustules - Red at the base with white/yellow pus
  • Nodules - Large, solid, painful lumps lodged deep in the skin
  • Cysts - The most severe, pus-filled lesions extending deep into the dermis

What are the grades of acne severity?

Dermatologists classify acne into mild, moderate, and severe grades:

Mild - Just a few scattered comedones (blackheads and whiteheads)

Moderate - More prominent noninflammatory and inflammatory lesions. Multiple papules and pustules.

Severe - Widespread noninflammatory lesions plus more inflammatory lesions like nodules and cysts. Scarring can occur.

Why see a dermatologist for acne vs. over-the-counter treatment?

Dermatologists offer medical expertise, advanced prescription medications, professional procedures, and ongoing support not available with over-the-counter acne products. Their customized approach based on your acne type and goals provides the best clearing results.

What types of acne treatments do dermatologists prescribe?

Topical and oral prescription medications dermatologists may use include:

  • Retinoids - Derived from vitamin A to unclog pores and reduce oil. Brands include Retin-A, Differin, Tazorac.
  • Antibiotics - Kill acne bacteria and reduce inflammation. Examples are clindamycin and erythromycin.
  • Benzoyl peroxide - Antimicrobial that kills P.acnes bacteria and exfoliates.
  • Contraceptive pills - Estrogen/progestin pills that can improve acne in women by decreasing androgen hormones.
  • Spironolactone - Oral medication that treats hormonal acne in women by blocking androgen hormone receptors in skin.
  • Isotretinoin - Most powerful oral acne drug. Brand names are Claravis, Amnesteem, Absorica. Dramatically reduces oil gland output and bacteria.
  • Dapsone - Topical gel that fights acne inflammation and inhibits oil gland activity. Brand name is Aczone.

What procedures do dermatologists perform for acne?

In-office treatments dermatologists may administer include:

  • Light and laser therapy - Kills bacteria, reduces inflammation, and improves acne scars.
  • Chemical peels - Glycolic acid and salicylic acid peels exfoliate and unplug follicles.
  • Microdermabrasion - Uses fine crystals to gently resurface and renew the skin.
  • Corticosteroid injections - Injected into large cysts and nodules to rapidly reduce swelling and pain.
  • Extractions - Manual removal of whiteheads, blackheads and some pimples to clear blockages.
  • Radiofrequency - Uses heat energy to shrink enlarged oil glands contributing to acne.

What results can be expected with professional acne treatment?

Most patients see significant improvement including:

  • Marked decrease in noninflammatory and inflammatory lesions
  • Preventing new breakouts
  • Fading of acne marks and scars
  • More even skin tone and texture
  • Normalization of excess oiliness

While some patients see complete clearing, a small percentage may not respond as well to treatment. Acne improvement takes 4-12 weeks on average depending on severity.

How long is acne treatment needed?

Most medications and procedures require ongoing maintenance therapy to sustain results. Oral and topical medications may be used for several months or years depending on the individual. Procedures like light therapy are often repeated at weekly or monthly intervals. Having regular follow up visits with your dermatologist every 3-6 months helps monitor your skin's condition and make adjustments as needed. Don't stop acne treatment without guidance, as breakouts are likely to recur.

Will acne treatment help prevent scarring?

Yes, by clearing up inflammatory acne lesions like pustules, nodules, and cysts, damage leading to scarring can be minimized. Quickly reducing swelling of deep lesions is key. Dermatologists also have advanced therapies to smooth and remodel established acne scars. Starting treatment early is ideal to limit permanent scarring.

What side effects may occur with prescription acne medications?

Common side effects of topical medications include dryness, peeling, redness and irritation. Oral antibiotics can cause upset stomach, dizziness and light sensitivity. Isotretinoin can cause dry lips, joint pain and increased triglyceride blood levels. Serious effects are rare when following the prescribing dermatologist’s directions. Report any worrisome reactions promptly.

How much does professional acne treatment cost on average?

Cost varies based on acne severity, types of treatments, number of sessions, and insurance coverage. Mild cases may cost $500-$1500. Moderate acne treatment can range from $1500-$3000. Severe, stubborn acne requiring advanced therapies like isotretinoin may cost $3000-$5000. Confirm projected costs with your dermatology office.

Is acne curable with professional treatment?

Acne cannot be permanently “cured” in the sense that it never recurs. However, long-term management with a dermatologist offers the best chance of keeping breakouts consistently clear. Dedicated maintenance of the skin and ongoing medications are often needed to prevent acne from returning. Genetics make some individuals more prone to acne flares throughout life.

When should someone seek emergency acne treatment?

Seek prompt medical care if you experience severe, painful acne swelling accompanied by a fever over 101 F and chills. This may indicate a more serious skin infection requiring emergency treatment. Also, seek help if acne is significantly impacting your daily functioning and mental health. Dermatologists can provide both medical and psychological support. Don't hesitate to reach out.

How can you get the most out of acne treatment appointments?

Be prepared with a thorough medical history, questions, goals and progress notes. Follow your dermatologist's instructions exactly. Keep prescribed follow-up visits even when skin improves. Speak up about any side effects or concerns. Implement at-home skin care tips. Address the emotional impact acne may have. Stay actively engaged in your treatment plan.

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