Acne: Care Instructions

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Acne is a skin problem. It shows up as blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Acne most often affects the face, neck, and upper body. It occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog the skin's pores.

Acne usually starts during the teen years and often lasts into adulthood. Gentle cleansing every day controls most mild acne. If home treatment doesn't work, your doctor may prescribe a cream, an antibiotic, or a stronger medicine called isotretinoin. Sometimes birth control pills help women who have monthly acne flare-ups.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Gently wash your face 1 or 2 times a day with warm (not hot) water and a mild soap or cleanser. Always rinse well.
  • Use an over-the-counter lotion or gel that contains benzoyl peroxide. Start with a small amount of 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and increase the strength as needed. Benzoyl peroxide works well for acne, but you may need to use it for up to 2 months before your acne starts to improve.
  • Apply acne cream, lotion, or gel to all the places you get pimples, blackheads, or whiteheads, not just where you have them now. Follow the instructions carefully. If your skin gets too dry and scaly or red and sore, reduce the amount. For the best results, apply medicines as directed. Try not to miss doses.
  • Do not squeeze or pick pimples and blackheads. This can cause infection and scarring.
  • Use only oil-free makeup, sunscreen, and other skin care products that will not clog your pores.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • Your acne gets worse or does not improve after 3 months with home treatment.
  • You are taking the prescription medicine isotretinoin and you feel sad or hopeless, lack energy, or have other signs of depression.
  • You start to have other symptoms, such as facial hair growth in women.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.