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5 signs that tell you that it’s time to see a dermatologist for your acne

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A dermatologist is often called a skin doctor due to their focus in treating skin diseases and problems such as acne.  But did you know – dermatologists can not only help you deal with your eczema and acne, but they are also able to diagnose skin cancer and treat diseases of the hair and nails!

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In Singapore, dermatologists are medical doctors certified by the Ministry of Health (MOH) with specialist training in dermatology. Specialist training would mean an additional 6 years of postgraduate studies after completing medical school. To break it down, the 6 years comprise 3 years of medicine training – mostly at the National Skin Centre – and 3 years specialist training in dermatology.

It is difficult to know when to actually see a dermatologist to treat acne. Of course no one should run to the dermatologist’s at every hint of a pimple or zit, but if it’s persistent, stubborn cystic acne you’re dealing with – maybe it’s time.

Here are five signs which are silent whispers for you to visit a dermatologist:

1. If you’ve tried all the over-the-counter acne treatment products but nothing’s working.

There are many over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatment products in the market which you can easily purchase and treat your acne, DIY style. If you haven’t, try it out and remember to give it 10 to 12 weeks per product and you should be seeing some improvement. However, if you feel like you’ve tried everything but have had no luck with any so far, you may want to visit a dermatologist for specialist advice and treatment.

2. You have deep, painful cystic acne and nodules (pictured here).

Cystic acne are the worst sort – they are inflammatory and can be really tough to treat. They are the most stubborn out of the lot, and what’s worse is that cystic acne can become larger and more inflamed over time. Thus, cystic acne is typically hard to clear up on your own with over-the-counter acne products.

woman undergoing procedure at a dermatologist to remove cystic acne

If your cystic acne is NOT going away in spite of your best efforts to treat it, you may want to consider visiting a dermatologist for a cortisone injection or oral medications to complement topical skin medications before they result in permanent scarring. A cortisone injection is basically injecting a diluted, anti-inflammatory agent called corticosteroid directly into your cyst or nodule. This will help to immediately reduce the inflammation, flattening the raised inflammation of the scar tissue within 24 hours.

3. You’ve never had acne breakouts before, but suddenly begin to break out in red bumps all over your face (and body).

If you are one of the lucky few that has never had skin trouble before – much less dealt with a ripe acne – and all of a sudden you’re breaking out, it is possible that it is not acne you’re suffering from.

There are other skin conditions like rosacea that looks very much like acne but isn’t. Only a dermatologist will be able to tell, so it is highly recommended you visit one if it’s your first time ever breaking out in red bumps in full force.

4. You want to hide your face from people because of your acne and shy away from socialising with others too much.

Truth: Severe acne can be downright depressing and can leave you feeling helpless. If you feel that your prolonged acne is affecting your confidence and self-esteem, you may want to speak with a dermatologist right away to actively solve it in the quickest way possible. With the right treatment, you may just be on your way to clearer skin in a few short weeks!

5. As your acne clears up, you see scars and dark spots. Adding to your age spots, for that matter.

The last thing you want is for your acne to leave permanent trauma and damage to your skin. If you have deep scars left behind by your acne wars, there is still hope yet – you may want to see a dermatologist to get a dermabrasion or chemical peel.

Performed under local anaesthesia (numbing cream), dermabrasions are exfoliating treatments that uses a wire brush or wheel to deeply exfoliate the topmost layer of your skin. This will help remove the damaged outer layers of your skin, revealing new layers of skin that is smooth and radiant. Dermabrasions work well with shallower scars.

Other treatments you may be recommended include chemical peels – using chemicals to remove the top layer of the skin – in order to reveal more youthful skin underneath. After a chemical peel, expect some downtime as your skin may be red and feel irritated for a period of time. Acne creams such as benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid are usually prescribed to aid you in your skin’s recovery process. Treatments with no downtime include microneedling. Sterilised microneedles are used puncture the skin surface superficially, stimulating the synthesis of skin collagen.

What to expect during your visit to a dermatologist

Some of my friends I know have been battling acne for the longest time but they just wouldn’t consider visiting a dermatologist as their next option because they feel like they “don’t know what to expect” and that “it’s not necessary to see a doctor for just acne”.

Does this sound like you?

Well, sometimes it may be better off getting expert advice and treatment if you’ve been grappling with your acne problem for a long time but to no avail. We’ve gathered a few tips to help you prepare for your visit to a dermatologist:

  • Be prepared to answer some questions about your medical history, i.e. health problems you’ve encountered before, any allergies etc.
  • Bring along with you the particular OTC acne product(s) that you’ve been using / have used before, any oral prescriptions you’ve been taking / have taken before and let your dermatologist know these did not work for you. This helps your dermatologist be better informed to prescribe a suitable treatment for you, thus speeding up the whole process!
  • If your dermatologist suspects that it’s not acne but other skin problems, you may be asked to disrobe for a full body skin check. This is rather rare but it’s something that may be shocking to you if you haven’t expected it. Things dermatologist look out for: suspicious moles, red patches on your body, etc.
  • Expect to take more than one visit to your dermatologist. It would be amazing if your acne can be all cleared up with one visit, but the truth is that it can take a few tries sometimes to find the right treatment that hits the spot for you.

Also Read: The ultimate guide to seeing a dermatologist in Singapore

If you can relate to any of these five signs written in this article, perhaps it’s finally time to bite the bullet and visit a dermatologist for an expert treatment plan to get rid of acne for good!

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