Treatments for Acne

Because acne is so common, it's very tempting to try to treat it yourself-especially when magazine advertisements and television commercials continuously push products "guaranteed" to clear the skin. (Always be suspicious when a product offers a 100% guarantee.)

But when you suffer from any illness or condition, you often need to seek professional help-and acne is no exception. With self-treatment, you may select the wrong products, with the wrong ingredients. Professionals are trained to determine whether you should use benzoyl peroxide, hydroxy acids or prescription drugs.

Complicating matters is that each of us responds differently to topical and oral treatments. Each product has a different mechanism of action, so a professional can pinpoint which ones have the best chance of success in clearing your particular acne severity and types of lesions.

As we stated in Chapter 1, this book is unique because we will examine how different specialists deal with acne: the dermatologist, the alternative-health provider and the esthetician. Many patients-when it comes to acne or their overall health care-choose to combine modalities for optimum health. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine continues to take a dim view of alternative medicine, and there continues to be a turf war when it comes to patient care.

Acne, however, is a combination of medicine and cosmetic care. The medicine component deals with the science of skin and how to unblock pores, clear blemishes, reduce inflammation and prevent breakouts. The beauty component is what you deal with each day when you look in the mirror-and if any physician or provider dismisses your concerns as pure vanity, it's time to move on and find someone who "gets it."

People need to understand that acne is a physical and psychological condition that can erode self-esteem. If a dermatologist, facialist, esthetician or other provider makes you feel bad about yourself, seek care from a professional who is supportive. The treatment phase may last several months, and you have to see this person on a regular basis, so it's critical to find a partner in care.

The Dermatologist's Treatments for Acne

Dermatologists are medical doctors who specialize in disorders of the skin. They complete four years of medical school, which gives them their medical degree (MD). After graduating from medical school, they undertake a one-year internship and then three years of residency in their selected specialty. This is intense training that focuses on skin disorders, providing a wide variety of clinical experiences that prepare them for the practice of medicine. Most residencies are based in hospitals, where residents are exposed to all types of cases and have access to university faculty members who can guide them through the most complex cases. It makes sense to determine whether your dermatologist is board-certified, which means he or she has passed an exam that attests to expertise in the specialty. Dermatologist's treatment for acne can be in the form of prescribing medications to which other providers, including non-MD alternative-health specialists and estheticians-do not have access.

Preparing for Your Appointment

Before seeing a dermatologist (or any of the specialists we have mentioned, for that matter), make a list of all of the skin-care products you use. This includes soaps, cleansers, moisturizers, lotions and makeup. To ensure that your list is complete, assemble it as you go about your daily routine, from morning to evening. Then bring the list with you so the doctor can review it.

Be prepared to provide a complete dermatological history. If you have never done so, check with your parents to find out what types of skin disorders they have suffered from over the years. Did your parents have acne as teenagers? Did any other skin condition arise, such as eczema or psoriasis? Many skin disorders are hereditary, so it is important to tell your dermatologist everything you know. Of particular importance are melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.

The following checklist can help you prepare for your visit. Be prepared to tell your doctor:

  • How many doctors or other providers you have seen?
  • Did any treatments work?
  • Did you have any side effects?
  • Are you currently taking any medication?
  • Are you taking any nutritional supplements?
  • Are you using any alternative medicines (herbs, extracts, homeopathy or other substances)?
  • How do you care for your skin each day?
  • Which prescription and over-the-counter acne treatments have you used in the last 10 years?
  • What makes your skin appear better or worse?
  • Have you ever experienced a severe reaction to a drug, treatment, product, salon service or cosmetic?
  • Do you wear sunscreen?
  • What do you do for a living?
  • What are your hobbies and leisure activities?
  • Do you eat a healthful diet?
  • What seems to trigger acne flare-ups?
  • Are you under stress or experiencing any emotional problems?
  • Do you pick at your skin?

It's critical to be honest with your doctor about all of these issues. You must also provide complete information. Many patients dismiss herbal or nutritional supplements as "natural" and fail to mention that they take them. But consider this: Approximately 90% of all treatments for acne, including drugs for heart disease and cancer, are derived from plants. And while plants may seem like the most innocuous, natural organisms on the planet, some can be toxic. Digoxin is a perfect example. It is a cardiac drug made from the foxglove plant, and heart patients all over the world take it. But if someone without heart disease takes it, he or she will have a serious, potentially fatal reaction. Yes, the foxglove is a plant-but it can be both extremely helpful or extremely dangerous. That's why it's important to mention everything you take to your doctor, including herbs and plant-based substances.

Ditching Your Dermatologist

There are many reasons why patients give up on their dermatologists. Some are in denial, thinking that if they wait long enough, their acne will simply disappear or they will outgrow it. Other times, money is a factor, and patients cannot afford to seek a doctor's treatment.

Sometimes it's simply a matter of frustration: going from doctor to doctor, trying different treatment regimens and never finding anything that actually works.

Other times, people simply attempt the do-it-yourself treatment for acne approach and buy product after product at the drugstore to see if they will stumble upon the magic solution. One woman actually used steel-wool kitchen scouring pads on her face to try to scrape away her acne. It was a cry for help, and only when her face was covered with scabs did she realize she had reached the point of no return. It was time to swallow her pride-a truly unnecessary step-and seek the help of a qualified dermatologist. Only then did she discover that the doctor did not judge her for her condition. In fact, she was reassured when she found out that most of the patients on the appointment book that day were there for the same reason.

What frustrates dermatologists is procrastination in seeking help. Many patients wait until their acne is so severe that treatment will be more prolonged and difficult. It's best to seek help at the first signs of acne so the dermatologist can work with you to remedy the problem before it spirals out of control.


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