It’s the first day of school, and your teenager has a pimple on their nose. But it’s small – superficial and unassuming. Until they pop it. It’s now red, inflamed and hard to ignore. They want to stay home from school, but you know it’s probably just one pimple.
But what if one pimple turns into full-blown acne?
Many adolescents, teenagers and adults deal with persistent acne, but a one-size-fits-all approach does not exist, said Dr. Vicky Ren, assistant professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine.
It’s never too early to see a dermatologist regarding acne in any form – from blackheads and whiteheads to cystic nodules.
Seeking a dermatologist
Patients will come in with whiteheads and blackheads – the least aggressive forms of acne. It’s all about how much a person is bothered by the appearance or feeling of having acne. Small inflammatory papules can still lead to discoloration and acne scarring, Ren said.
“My approach is seeing how much the acne bothers the patient,” Ren said. “Some are bothered by a few bumps here and there while others are not too concerned about more severe acne.”
Talking to a teenager about how much their acne distracts them from their daily life is a good place to start. During an appointment, Ren will cover various treatment options because the individual’s perception of their acne may change over time.
Ren reminds her patients that topical treatment requires persistence and dedication for at least three months before they can tell if it works. For teens who are dealing with consistent breakouts, three months may seem like forever.
Oral medication options
Different medications require more responsibility, especially isotretinoin (conventionally referred to as Accutane), which typically requires 6-7 months of treatment and is the closest thing to a cure for acne.
“(Telling patients there is no cure) helps set realistic expectations,” Ren said. “I let them know if they finish a whole course of Accutane, there’s a 20-30 percent chance acne can recur sometime down the road.”
Dermatologists may prescribe an oral antibiotic as a short-term fix before Accutane. However, antibiotic use longer than three months is not recommended, because the patient runs the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.
Non-medical treatment options
Using makeup as coverup will likely worsen acne, especially if it is not labelled as non-comedogenic, Ren said.
“The occlusion from heavy makeup will worsen acne in the long run,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s a bandage of sorts.”
Finally, is it ever OK to pop a pimple?
Even though Ren has self-managed a couple of her own, she does not recommend popping pimples. Popping pimples will aggravate them further and increase the risk of scarring.
“Also, if you mess with pimples with non-sterile hands, you can get an infection,” she said.
By Julie Garcia