When To See Your Doctor or Nurse About Your Acne

Usually it would be advisable to consult your doctor about your acne when:

  • You have already tried at least two different types of self-medication as acne treatment.
  • The skin is getting worse or failing to improve.
  • Your skin is beginning to scar.
  • You feel very distressed about your skin and unable to carry on with normal daily activity because of how you feel.

It is perfectly acceptable to treat your acne using self-medications. However if your skin is not improving after using acne treatments for at least two months, then speak to your doctor or nurse who will be able to prescribe from a wide range of acne medications.

Deciding which type of treatment is most suitable for you will depend upon the type of acne you have (inflammatory or non-inflammatory).

Many doctors and nurses see patients with acne regularly and are confident and up-to-date with the latest advances in acne treatments. Others, however, may appear less interested or have less experience with acne treatments. If you belong to a group practice where more than one doctor is available, ask the receptionist if any of the doctors or nurses have a special interest in dermatology or acne. This may help to identify those most able to assist you before you realise that your own doctor or GP doesn’t really know as much about acne as their colleagues.

Once you have identified your preferred doctor or nurse, bear in mind that acne is a visual condition. Therefore being able to see the skin well, under a good light, is usually necessary. While a doctor will probably think nothing of asking you to sit under a glaring light without make up (or camouflage if you are man), it is understandable to feel self-conscious. Some tips to make your visit to the doctor easier include:

  • Request the first appointment of the day to allow yourself to be able to slip in and away before the waiting room becomes too full. Alternatively, the last appointment available might mean that there are fewer people around.
  • If you wear make up for camouflage, bring your remover with you and be prepared to take it off in front of the doctor if necessary. Bring extra make up to reapply if you need to before leaving the surgery.
  • If your skin is prone to having good and bad acne days, you can usually guarantee that it will be fairly good on the day you visit your doctor. To ensure that they understand what your skin looks like on a typical day, take some photographic evidence. With mobile phones and digital cameras, you will not need to print them off. Again, remove any make up before snapping your photograph.

These strategies will show your doctor or nurse how seriously you take your acne, and in turn, how seriously you expect them to take it. Remember to tell them what medications you have already tried or currently use, including any self-medication.

Your doctor should take your acne treatment seriously. It is usual for them to assess your skin, make a note of any treatment you have already used and then suggest a treatment based on these factors. Just because your acne is not life-threatening it does not mean that it should be ignored or trivialised. If you feel that you are not being taken seriously, consider if you have been clear in telling your doctor:

  1. How your skin makes you feel. You may not be a person who likes to share their feelings with a stranger, but even telling them how your acne affects your life or daily activities such as socialising, going to school or work will let them understand its impact. This may make a difference to the type of treatment they recommend.
  2. If anyone else in your family has had acne. If a close relative has had a problem with acne, then it may be that you’re going to have a more persistent problem than some other people. Acne that seems to be hereditary may end up being harder to treat, slightly more aggressive and more likely to lead to scarring, especially if it started at a particularly young age.
  3. What else have you used? This is important to share, especially if you have tried using products containing benzoyl peroxide.

Case study – Jane

“I found it very difficult to talk to my doctor about my skin and acne problem. By the time that my appointment came through my skin would usually be looking a lot better than before. Which was really annoying because I had I got the feeling that the doctor thought that I was making it up! When I went last time, I wanted her to take me seriously so I showed her the pictures of my skin I had taken on my mobile phone the previous week. I also booked the last appointment and took my make-up remover with me to show her my skin. It was quite funny really because the doctor told me that she had thought that my skin looked much worse with my make up off. Yet my foundation on it looked really natural. She complimented me on disguising my skin problems so well and asked me where I had got my foundation from! Once she could see it close up, and especially after she looked at my photographs, she agreed that she hadn’t been prescribing a strong enough acne treatment for me. She changed my acne treatment and six weeks later my skin is already looking 100% better. Fingers crossed that it will stay that way. I still wear my foundation but I know that underneath it my skin is already so much better than it was”.

Note on classifications of UK medicines

In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is responsible for licensing and classifying all medicinal products including, more recently, herbal remedies. Some treatments might be considered to have more risks than others, or contain ingredients that require a suitably qualified doctor, nurse or pharmacist to make a decision based on your individual health and health history before they can be prescribed.

Next to each type of treatment listed below is a code: GSL, P, POM or HOM. These abbreviations represent the following:

General Sale List (GSL): These drugs can be sold with reasonable safety without the supervision of a pharmacist, for example in a supermarket. However, they can only be sold from locked premises and in the original manufacturer’s packs.

Pharmacy (P): Pharmacy medicines do not require a prescription. They may be sold or supplied only in a registered pharmacy by or under the supervision of a pharmacist.

Prescription Only Medicine (POM): These medicines may be sold or supplied only from a registered pharmacy and in accordance with a prescription issued by an appropriate practitioner (a doctor, nurse, nurse Independent prescriber, pharmacist independent prescriber or supplementary prescriber).

Hospital Only Medicine (HOM): these can be prescribed only by or under the supervision of a hospital doctor.