Acne: Questions to Ask Your Doctor

While your doctor usually asks the questions during an office visit, you can take charge by asking your physician the right questions. Being proactive can make a big difference in the way you’re able to manage your acne. Your health is important both to you and to your doctor, so don’t hesitate to ask questions about your acne diagnosis, medications, complementary or alternative therapies, emotional issues, financial concerns about your treatment, or diet and lifestyle matters.

Engaging in a dialogue with your doctor will educate you about your acne and the treatment options available to you, and it’ll give your doctor a better sense of who you are and how acne is affecting your health and your life. With the lines of communication open, you and your doctor will be able to develop the best treatment plan for your individual needs.

But remember, your time with your doctor is limited, so be sure to arrive at your appointment prepared to ask the questions that are important to you. Start by:

  • Researching acne. It’s a good idea to get a better understanding of what acne is before your appointment. Through research, you may even be able to answer some of your own questions. Visit ishonest's Acne Center, the American Academy of Dermatology, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and MedlinePlus.
  • Strategizing. Your family doctor may not be able to answer all your questions about acne; some may be better addressed by a doctor who specializes in treating acne. Discuss this with your doctor and follow up with a specialist, as directed by your doctor. You can also do additional research of your own.
  • Keeping records. Consider keeping a journal of your acne outbreaks between visits to the doctor, and share any relevant information with your doctor — for example, changes in your symptoms and the effectiveness of your medications. Additionally, taking notes during your appointments will help you remember important details after your visit.

General Acne Questions

If your doctor determines that you have acne, he or she will give you information about the condition and recommend a course of treatment for coping with pimples, plugged pores, and cysts that appear on your face or other parts of your body. You'll probably have some additional questions and concerns about how to deal with your acne. Consider asking your doctor the following:

  • What is acne?
  • What causes acne?
  • What’s the difference between acne and rosacea?
  • What are the best treatments for acne?
  • Are there specialists I should consider seeing, such as a dermatologist?
  • How should I take care of my skin?
  • What should I do if my symptoms worsen?
  • Can birth control pills help treat acne in women?
  • How can I help prevent acne and acne scars?
  • I’m not a teenager — why do I still have acne?
  • Is my makeup causing me to break out? Can I wear makeup? Which kinds or brands should I use or avoid?

Medications and Treatments for Acne

Treatments depend on the type and severity of your acne. If your doctor prescribes medication to treat your condition, ask about the medication, read the insert the pharmacy includes with your prescription, and take the medication as directed by your physician. Knowing how your medication is supposed to work will help you evaluate its effectiveness and whether it’s the right medication for you. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor about acne medications:

  • Do I need medication for my acne, or can I be treated effectively without it?
  • What type of drug are you prescribing for me, and how does it work?
  • Where can I get more information about this drug?
  • How often and for how long will I need to take this medication?
  • Are there any natural alternatives to the prescription medication?
  • Is it a cream or other topical medication, or a pill?
  • Is Accutane safe? Is it right for me?
  • Is there medication that I can take on an as-needed basis, such as when I experience an outbreak?
  • What are the possible side effects of antibiotics and other medications used to treat acne?
  • Should I apply acne medicine all over my face or just on the breakouts?
  • When can I expect to notice improvements in my skin?
  • What are the risks if I don’t take my medication as directed, or if I forget to take it?
  • What should I do if I forget to take my medication?
  • Has this medication been tested in people with acne? Are there any recent research studies on it?
  • Will I need to have blood tests or other monitoring while I’m taking the medication?
  • What should I do if I experience any side effects? Are there any that may require me to call a doctor? Are there any that may require me to stop taking the medication immediately?
  • Is this drug habit-forming?
  • Can I take this on an empty stomach, or should it be taken with food?
  • Could this medication interact with other medications I’m taking?
  • Are there any foods, drinks (such as alcohol), vitamins, herbal supplements, or over- the-counter drugs that I should avoid while taking this medication?
  • Can other conditions affect or be affected by my medication?
  • Is it safe for me to use this medication if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?
  • Could I benefit from phototherapy (also known as light therapy), climatotherapy, or hydrotherapy? How do these therapies work? Are they safe and effective?

Emotional Health

In addition to affecting your face and body, acne can take a toll on your emotional health. The painful and unsightly effects of acne can damage self- esteem and cause feelings of depression, anger, frustration, and embarrassment. Your doctor can help you find ways to cope with your feelings, manage your symptoms, and handle the impact your acne is having on your emotional well- being. Ask for a referral to a counselor, psychotherapist, or support group, and find out what else you can do to improve your emotional health while living with acne:

  • If stress seems to trigger acne outbreaks, are relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, meditation, and biofeedback training, effective?
  • How should I explain my acne to my spouse, family, and friends? What, if anything, should I say to my boss and co-workers?
  • Are my children likely to end up with acne?
  • What should I do if I feel I’m being discriminated against at work or school?
  • How is my acne likely to affect my relationships, and what can I do to improve my situation?

Health and Lifestyle Concerns

Participating in a physical fitness regimen, eating a balanced diet, getting adequate rest and sleep, quitting smoking, moderating alcohol consumption, and avoiding substance abuse can all contribute to your overall health and may have a direct impact on your acne outbreaks. Check with your doctor to see whether any lifestyle changes might help you better manage your acne:

  • Do I need to make any changes in diet or exercise or how much I rest?
  • Would exercising more make my acne worse, or would it help improve it?
  • Would losing weight be advantageous?
  • Can drinking alcohol, smoking, or using drugs affect my condition?
  • Can climate affect my condition? Should I consider moving?
  • Are there any changes I can make around my home to help my skin, such as turning down the heat, using a humidifier, installing soft water, or bathing myself or my pets more frequently?
  • Can you recommend any books, magazines, organizations, or online resources that focus on acne?

Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Acne

In addition to any lifestyle changes and other treatments your doctor recommends, you may consider complementary or alternative treatments. Ask your doctor if any of these options might be beneficial for you:

  • Are there any complementary or alternative therapies I should consider?
  • Could acupuncture benefit my condition?
  • Do any research studies show that complementary or alternative therapies for acne actually work?
  • Do you recommend any herbs or other supplements — such as aloe vera, fish oil, capsaicin cream, or probiotics?
  • Are there any foods or supplements I should avoid?

Financial Health

The costs associated with your acne treatment may affect your finances. It’s crucial to find ways to balance your physical health with your financial health. Ask your doctor about ways in which you may be able to offset the cost of your treatment, and follow up with a representative from your insurance company, as necessary:

  • Will my acne medication be covered by my health insurance plan?
  • About how much will my acne medication cost?
  • Is there a generic version of the medication that would be more affordable? If not, are there other, equally effective medications that are available as generics?
  • Do you have any samples or discount coupons for my prescription?
  • If I choose a complementary or alternative therapy, is it likely to be covered by my insurance? If not, what kind of out-of-pocket costs can I expect?
  • What are my options if I don’t have health insurance?

Print the full list of questions about common skin conditions to take to your doctor.

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