Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Acne is not just a teenager's problem

12/17/2020 by Libby Curry, D.O.


Acne is a pesky problem that often shows up during teenage years and can persist into adulthood. It can be confusing to determine what products to use because so many are available in the drugstore. 

What causes acne?

Acne is caused by the body's inflammatory reaction to bacteria within the oil gland around a hair follicle. 

How can you treat acne at home?

General principles for home treatment of acne include:

  • Be persistent. It can take two to three months to see the effects of treatment. 
  • Don't touch your face. Avoid scarring by not picking or popping acne lesions. 
  • More is not always better. Washing your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser is enough. You don't need to scrub your face. Using a nickel-size amount of product should cover your whole face. 
  • Start slow. Many treatments for acne can cause dryness, redness or irritation. Start by applying products every other day. If you tolerate the products, then consider increasing to daily use. 
  • Keep things that touch your face clean. Disinfect phones and wash masks regularly. 

Here are some things to remember: 

  • Don't touch your face, and use a gentle face wash, such as Cetaphil, Vanicream, Purpose or Dove Sensitive Skin twice daily. 
  • Make sure you use makeup and products with "noncomedogenic" on the packaging. This means it won't clog pores. 
  • Try a product with benzoyl peroxide — a mainstay of acne treatment. Luckily, you'll find plenty of over-the-counter products with this active ingredient in any drugstore, including washes, lotions or spot treatment. Spot treatments are often stronger and have higher percentages of benzoyl peroxide but remember more is not always better. A lotion containing a lower percent — less than 5% — covering the whole face once daily after morning cleansing is a good starting point, or every other day initially to reduce irritation. Another option would be to use a face wash containing benzoyl peroxide once daily in the morning and a gentle cleanser in the evening. Starting with a lower percentage of benzoyl peroxide will reduce the likelihood of dryness, redness and irritation. Remember that products containing benzoyl peroxide can bleach clothes, towels and pillowcases. 

When should you see your health care provider for acne?

If you have significant acne, it is causing scarring, or it is causing emotional distress, see your health care provider so he or she can evaluate it and help you develop a treatment plan. Remember there are many good treatments for acne, but if you have tried some over-the-counter products and they are not helping, your health care provider can help find alternative products for you. 

Can you use over-the-counter treatments when you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant? 

Do not use over-the-counter products. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, discuss your acne with your health care provider. Treatments are available, but they require a prescription. 

Libby Curry, D.O., is a Senior Associate Consultant and Instructor in the Department of Family Medicine. Her practice interests include women's health and caring for whole families.