Do we need acne medications for treating acne? A doctor explains.

When do we need acne medications for treating acne?

When do we need to start acne medications to arrest those zits on our face?

Patients usually consult doctors on their acne after they have tried various home remedies or beautician treatments, but have failed. Sadly, by the time these patients visit doctors for help, their condition is usually quite severe and some of them already have bad scarring as a result of the delay in seeking medical help.

You may ask — when should you start consulting a doctor for your pimples when these may seem like an everyday affair for most people? When should acne medications be started?

Let’s understand acne first

Acne is often the result of the action of a class of male sex hormones (androgens) and its effect on our skin. Androgens regulate the secretion of sebaceous (oil) glands in our skin. When we are under stress or for ladies, as our menstrual period approaches, these hormones peak in levels in our body. Certain have also been linked to an increase of androgens in our body, indirectly causing a flare in pimple breakout when these foods are consumed.

An increase in sebaceous gland activity, an accumulation of clogged pores due to reduced skin cell turnover, together with the activity of Propionibacterium acnes (the bacteria that causes the inflammation and pus in pimples) will result in the formation of pimples on our face. However, it doesn’t mean that we need to keep washing our face to get rid of the layer of sebum on our skin. Because, by doing so, it will, in turn, send negative feedback to our skin to produce more sebum to compensate for the lack of it on the skin after repeated washing. And as the skin on our body has oil glands as well, some acne sufferers also present with body pimples.

When to start medication?

So, when do doctors typically prescribe medications to treat acne?

1. When conditions look “moderate to severe”

Most doctors would advocate starting medications when the pimples are moderate to severe. This would generally mean when many inflamed pimples with pus or enlarged cysts appear.

2. When acne scars appear

It is also advisable to start treating patients who already present with acne scars as early as possible to prevent the formation of more scars, which can be harder to treat in future.

Not all acne medications come in a pill.

A lot of people have the perception that acne medications must be in the form of oral pills. This may be true for some cases. But not all patients need to be on oral medications straight away unless they present with severe forms of acne or their condition is already complicated with extensive acne scarring. Acne medications can also take the form of topical treatment such as facial wash, antibiotic gels, and retinoid creams, which may be effective for mild to moderate forms of acne.

This article was contributed by Dr Donna Chow.

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