When to See a Dermatologist and Ways to Treat Acne at Home

Erica Kahn
Erica Kahn23 Aug 2022

If your acne is affecting your mental health, consider seeing a dermatologist who can help treat your acne. Acne affects up to 50 million individuals in the U.S. It is caused by hormonal factors and environmental factors and can impact your physical, mental, and emotional health as well.  There is an abundance of over-the-counter acne products and home remedies that help treat mild to moderate acne.

When to See a Dermatologist for Ance

You do not need to have serious acne to see a dermatologist. If nothing seems to be working and it is affecting your mental health, you may want to see a dermatologist. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, consider seeing a dermatologist for your acne if:

  • You’ve tried multiple OTC products but nothing seems to be working.
  • Your acne clears, but then you break out again
  • You have pimple-like bumps in unusual places (ex: armpits, groin, thighs)
  • Your first blemish appeared between 8 and 11 years of age
  • You have deep painful acne
  • You have had acne for years and are unsure why you still have it
  • You want to hide your face or feel depressed, anxious, or less interested in socializing since you’ve had acne
  • You started taking a new medication within the last 6 months now have breakouts
  • As your acne clears, you can see scars or dark spots
  • You’ve cleared the acne on your face but nothing seems to clear your back or chest

Hormonal Acne 

While most people associate acne with adolescents, hormonal acne is very common in adults over 25, particularly in women due to hormones, and predominantly affects the lower part of the face. Dr. Grande notes that about one-third of her acne patients have hormonal acne, which is different from the type you have when you’re a teenager. Signs of hormonal ance include:

  • Whiteheads
  • Blackheads
  • Papules (small red and painful bumps)
  • Pimples (pus-filled papules)
  • Nodules (big, firm, and painful lumps under the skin)
  • Cysts (deep, painful, pus-filled bumps under the skin)
  • In addition to acne, you also have irregular periods or hair loss

OTC acne treatment fails to treat hormonal acne because it is so deep. If you think you have hormonal acne, consult with a dermatologist to review your hormonal status, stress levels, and discuss treatment. 

On average, a dermatologist visit will cost about $221 but will range depending on various factors such as location of provider, what you are being treated for, prescribed medications, and any additional tests that are conducted during your appointment. Without insurance, the cost of visiting a dermatologist can be daunting, especially if you need prescriptions to maintain healthy skin. Mira can help cut costs by providing up to 80% off on over 1000 prescriptions.

Why it is Important to See a Dermatologist for Acne

You do not need to have severe acne in order to see a dermatologist. Even if your acne is not severe, it can still profoundly impact your mental health. Acne can affect your self-esteem, mood, appetite, and confidence. It is also important to treat acne early to prevent it from getting worse, progressing to deep or large acne cysts and nodules that can burst and harm the surrounding skin.

Ways to Treat Acne at Home

Dr. Grande, MD, a dermatologist with over twenty years of experience, says “there are three major over-the-counter active ingredients used to treat acne: benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and adapalene gel.” The main ways to treat acne at home are:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) topical acne products to treat mild to moderate acne or periodic breakouts. These come in the form of cleansing lotions, gels, foams, leave-on products, and more.
  • Home remedies to help treat mild acne.

Before applying these products, be sure to read the instructions to know how much to apply, how often, and when to apply, and check to see if you are allergic before using them the first time.

Facial Cleanser

It is crucial to wash your face twice a day in addition to using OTC acne treatment. Dr. Grande emphasizes the importance of face washing saying, “nothing prescription will work if you don’t clean your face twice a day.” She recommends using an unscented soap bar and to refrain from using anything anti-bacterial on your face. Some recommended facial cleansers include:

Facial Cleanser


Dove DermaSeries Fragrance-Free Facial Cleansing Bar


La Roche-Posay Hydrating Gentle Cleanser


CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser


Cetaphil Dermacontrol Oil Removing Face Wash (for oily skin)

$29.00 (pack of 3)

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OTC Active Ingredients

One of the benefits of the OTC active ingredients listed below is that they come in different strengths to suit your needs. The higher strengths sometimes need a prescription and often result in improvements faster than lower strength OTC products. Purchasing a stronger OTC acne treatment is not always better as lower strength products usually cause fewer side effects such as dry skin and irritation 

Benzoyl Peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria, helps remove excess oil from the skin, and removes dead skin cells. It is available in strengths ranging from 2.5 to 10 percent with possible side effects ranging from dry skin, redness, and burning or stinging. Be careful when applying it as it can stain clothing and towels with white spots. 

Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid prevents pores from becoming clogged. Products that contain salicylic acid are available in strengths ranging from 0.5 to 5 percent. Side effects can include skin irritation and mild stinging.

Adapalene gel: Adapalene belongs to the class of medications called retinoids but does not dry the skin as much as retinol. It is great for clogged pores, inflammatory bumps, and clears up red skin once acne heals. It may take 8 - 12 weeks to notice results from adapalene gel and it comes in strengths ranging from 0.1 to 0.3 percent. Side effects include dryness, itching, peeling, mild burning or stinging, and scaling. 

Home Remedies

There is an abundance of home remedies out there that people use to treat acne, although they are not as effective as chemical treatments and are not clinically proven. Some popular home remedies include spot treatment with tea tree oil, applying witch hazel, and moisturizing with aloe vera. There are also foods that are associated with healthier skin.

Purpose of Home Remedies




Tea tree oil

  • A 2018 study found that it may reduce acne
  • May not dry the skin as much as OTC acne treatment
  • It can be potent so dilute it before applying
  • Dip a cotton swab into the mixture and apply to infected areas
  • Apply moisturizer as needed
  • Repeat 1 - 2x per day

Witch hazel

  • May fight bacteria and reduce skin irritation and inflammation, which contribute to acne
  • Witch hazel can be purchased at your local drugstore or pharmacy.
  • Apply to clean skin using a cotton ball 1 - 2x per day

Aloe vera

  • Commonly used to treat abrasions, rashes, burns, wounds, and skin inflammation
  • Contains salicylic acid
  • Apply the gel directly to clean skin as a moisturizer
  • Repeat 1 - 2x per day

Source: Healthline 

The Dos and Dont’s of at Home Acne Treatment



Wash your face twice a dayUse a new skincare product without reading the instructions first
Use an unscented soap barOnly rely on OTC products to treat acne without regularly washing your face
Refrain from using anything anti-bacterial on your faceUse more acne products than recommended as this can irritate your skin

 Acne Treatment Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Below we answer some common questions regarding at-home acne treatment.

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Is Vaseline good for acne and dry skin? 

The American Academy of Dermatology, warns against using Vaseline, or petroleum jelly, on your face as it can seal the skin and clog pores, trapping oil and dirt as well. Those who are prone to acne may also experience breakouts after applying Vaseline to the face. 

Instead, look for products with ceramides, which are fats or lipids found in skin cells, to help relieve dry skin. Ceramide is a better and longer-lasting solution. 

What are some ways to prevent “maskne”?

Maskne”, acne caused by face masks, is a new problem that many are now dealing with as a result of the pandemic. The warm, humid environment caused by a mask when you breathe or talk creates an ideal setting for bacterial imbalances and friction that promotes acne as well as perioral dermatitis which is when fine and small pimples appear around the nose and mouth. 

To prevent maskne, Dr. Grande recommends avoiding fabric masks altogether, but washing fabric masks if you use them, and refraining from wearing the same mask twice in a row as dirt, oil, debris, and saliva can build up in the mask. 

What is acne scarring?

Acne scarring is the result of inflammation from acne blemishes. 1 out of 5 people who have acne will develop scars. OTC treatments or procedures performed by a dermatologist can reduce acne scars.

Bottom Line

Acne is extremely common but thankfully there are many over-the-counter products to help treat acne. When treating acne at home, it is important to wash your face twice a day. It can take a few weeks before seeing results from OTC products, however, if nothing seems to be working, you should consider seeing a dermatologist. 

If you are hesitant to get a prescription for acne because of the cost, Mira can help you out. For only $45 per month, you can get up to 80 percent off on over 1,000 different prescriptions. Taking care of your skin is just as important as the rest of your body. Cut the costs, sign up for Mira today.

Erica Kahn

Erica graduated from Emory University in Atlanta with a BS in environmental science and a minor in English and is on track to graduate with her Master's in Public Health. She is passionate about health equity, women's health, and how the environment impacts public health.