Adult acne: Is it time to see a dermatologist for a problem that isn't going away?
When it’s not simply a couple of spots that you’re dealing with, calling in the experts early could save your skin. Yes, even as an adult.
Pimples, blemishes, spots, zits – whatever you call acne doesn’t make it any less visible or annoying. Acne is a skin problem that’s so pervasive, it affects everyone from teens to those who are way past puberty and, occasionally, even people with seemingly flawless skin.
It’s fine if pimples come in insignificant numbers and go away without much ado, but what if they keep recurring and are proliferating, while the traces of the battles you have fought with them are left all over your face? Perhaps it’s time to get professional help.
WHEN IS IT CONSIDERED SEVERE ENOUGH?
If your acne problem is getting out of hand and drugstore solutions are no longer working, it’s probably time to see a doctor about it. But what are the sure signs of a serious case of acne that should be taken to a dermatologist?
Dr Stephanie Ho of Stephanie Ho Dermatology tells CNA Lifestyle that severe acne refers to the presence of a large number of spots (more than 20), or several large nodules or deep cysts.
Cystic acne, a condition we often hear about, is also a form of severe acne accompanied by inflammation – patients have large, red, painful lumps appearing deep in the skin. These persist for weeks or months, can be very sore and often leave visible and permanent scars.
THE HARD TRUTH: THERE’S NO GROWING OUT OF ACNE
It is also important to know that acne isn’t solely a teenage occurrence. In fact, many adults continue to suffer from it – in varying degrees of severity – well into their 20s, 30s and even 40s.
According to Dr Ho, it is also possible for someone who has never had acne to get it for the first time as an adult. It is fairly common in Singapore, affecting women more so than men, especially around periods of hormonal change.
And even if your acne has cleared after your teens, it can recur. “Adult acne can be triggered by cosmetics use or lifestyle habits, and sometimes hormonal fluctuation or health conditions such as PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). Hormonal-related acne tends to occur on the lower half of the face and the spots tend to be larger than teenage acne,” says Dr Joyce Lim of Joyce Lim Skin and Laser Clinic.
Dr Eileen Tan from Eileen Tan Skin, Laser and Hair Transplant Clinic is of the opinion that severe acne can be arbitrary – meaning that it is defined by the depth of inflammation that is generated.
Whatever type of acne you may have, her advice is to nip a potentially serious case in the bud: “If you seek medical treatment sooner, it can reduce the risk of scars which can be permanent. Acne and acne scars often create a lot of anxiety, emotional distress and financial burden.”
WHY A DERMATOLOGIST CAN HELP
Consulting a doctor isn’t cheap and that is one of the main reasons why most people would rather try over-the-counter solutions endlessly than seek medical advice for their acne. But going to a dermatologist can save sufferers of severe acne a whole lot of anguish.
“There are many types of acne – comedonal, papular, cystic and so on. Only a doctor can accurately diagnose the kind you have and prescribe the necessary treatments and medicines (accessible only via a doctor’s prescription) to combat it,” says Dr Patricia Yuen of Patricia Yuen Dermatology.
“Acne issues are also multifactorial, and the best way to control them is with combo treatments, which may entail facial peels and light treatments in addition to oral and topical medicines,” adds Dr Yuen.
GOING BEYOND THE SURFACE
A doctor can also help identify underlying issues that could be causing acne. “Your dermatologist will consider your medical history and give you a physical examination. Blood investigations can be carried out, if required, to rule out medical conditions that aggravate acne,” says Dr Eileen Tan.
Unsurprisingly, there are some common myths that deter people from consulting a dermatologist. “Some people think that doctor-administered treatments are often too harsh for the skin and that certain medicines can damage the liver,” reveals Dr Joyce Lim.
The truth? Antibiotics and hormonal medications are used because they can effectively target the root cause of acne. There shouldn’t be cause for worry as they will be used safely with the doctor’s consideration of your acne condition as well as your medical history.
Instead of spending small sums on every pimple cream available at the pharmacy, perhaps it’s wiser to have a professional nix your acne problem expertly – and, more importantly, swiftly.