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Acne (young people)

Realising you have acne and next steps

Most young people we interviewed already knew a bit about acne/spots before they started to get some and they often didn’t feel the need to go to the doctor to get a diagnosis. A few people learnt about acne because their older siblings also had it. For others, parents had talked about having acne themselves when they were younger. Many young people had been told by others to expect acne when they ‘reach puberty’. This section is about people’s responses to first realising they had acne and what they did about it.

People started to get spots at different ages, ranging between 9 and 18 years old. Many saw getting acne as a ‘normal’ thing for teenagers and part of puberty, but acne can affect someone at any age. Deborah was glad when she first got spots at age 12/13 because she wanted to “get it out the way now” rather than later on. Others who saw themselves as very young when they first started to get spots felt alone because often their peers didn’t have any yet. Will felt “different to other people” because of his acne at age 13. Some people were teased or bullied, especially at school about their skins. Getting spots when you’re older can be difficult too, as for Marga who had acne at age 18/19 and again when she was 24, because it’s often assumed to only affect teenagers.
 

Emma talks about having acne from age 11 onwards.

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Emma talks about having acne from age 11 onwards.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 10
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I suppose I sort of my first experiences, with acne started when I was quite young, when just started secondary school, so since I was about 11. I had sort of some mild acne and spots that were appearing and I suddenly noticed I was sort of the only person with this, the only girl in my year. and so it was quite sort of noticeable. It sort of went on being the only being the only person with it. And until I was about 14 or 15 and it got a lot worse. And I went to I had an older brother with the same condition and we went, my mum took me to the GP and then I was referred to a dermatologist Where I was eventually prescribed with Roaccutane (isotretinoin). 

Yeah. I think at the time I felt a bit isolated because of it. I wasn’t sure why I was getting it and no-one else was. And sort of at age 11, like children can be a bit sort of mean about it. And yeah so it made me quite shy, going to a new school and having that. So, yeah.

‘Cos that would have been the transition from primary to secondary?

Secondary, yeah, yeah.
 

Some of Ollie’s family members had acne but he didn’t know much about it when he started to get spots.

Some of Ollie’s family members had acne but he didn’t know much about it when he started to get spots.

Age at interview: 16
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 13
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I didn’t really know that much. I mean I was sort of eleven, eleven or twelve, or I think I was probably…probably means I was still in primary school, or just, just coming out of primary school. So, I didn’t really know that much probably because I got it so early that maybe if I'd gotten it later I'd be more aware of stuff like that. And even with my sister with acne and my mum with acne, is I didn’t really know how like, how varied the spots you actually get are, and that they're painful and sort of what to do about it, and that probably led to the reason why my acne got quite bad before I actually did something about it. And I think it sort of takes…your acne has to be of a certain level, and that you actually go and try and get treatment cos I definitely think even if it's not that bad and it doesn’t affect you too much, it probably is worth getting at least some, some sort of cream or something like that, and if it gets worse obviously you go further and get…maybe get a referral like I did, something like that.
People tended to try shop-bought things for their spots first, such as face washes and scrubs. Often their parents bought these for them. Chris got a topical treatment over-the-counter (bought without a prescription). Yi had a ‘blemish balm’/tinted moisturiser that she used for a while. Shop-bought products helped some people but for others, like Devan and Hester, made their acne worse and had unpleasant side effects. Many felt they had tried a lot of over-the-counter products without success. Tom is sceptical and doesn’t think branded products work very well.
 

Rachael thought of spots as just a normal part of being a teenager for a while.

Rachael thought of spots as just a normal part of being a teenager for a while.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
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It started off when I was about sixteen and I started getting like a few spots and then obviously that’s normal for like teenagers, but I think when it got really bad I sort of, I think in denial for a while because you don’t really want to admit like that it's really serious and it's not very nice to think about. So, I think I sort of like wore quite a lot of make-up and sort of like just tried not to think about it too much but, and it really annoyed me when my Mum would like point out or like, be like it looks really painful and she'd be like, "Is it painful?" I’d be like "No it's fine, it's fine," like. But, yeah I think… so you suddenly realise that it's actually a problem and then, I felt like as soon as I realised it was a problem it suddenly became…started to get worse. 
 

Hester tried lots of shop-bought products and home remedies for acne.

Hester tried lots of shop-bought products and home remedies for acne.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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Before you'd been to the doctors for the first time, had you been trying like sort of treatments you'd bought in the shops, or?

Yeah [laugh]. I think there's generally nothing I haven't tried. And even just the sort of stuff people put on online. Like homemade treatments and stuff like that, like we used a lot of those. And I think I've tried some really odd things. Like we tried like aloe vera juice. Like some, someone online was like, “This works really well for skin.” So I remember my Mum buying like from a health, a website online just like this jug of aloe vera juice, and it was really grim. But we used to have this like syrup, and did like the typical kind of washing in salt water. Tried toothpaste, which actually burnt my skin really badly. So that was, I would not recommend that. And I tried like Sudocrem, which actually works quite well. And then just a lot of face washes and all those kind of Clearasil like gels and stuff like that, so I think I probably went through most product ranges.
 

Dr McPherson talks about when a person could seek a doctor’s help for acne.

Dr McPherson talks about when a person could seek a doctor’s help for acne.

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At what stage should a young person to go to the doctors if they are having some spots?

I think there's lots of things that can be done for acne. The key is to do things before you've got scarring. So I don't think it's worth waiting and waiting. I mean, there's lots of things that can be used over the counter quite safely, initially. So there are some quite good, you know, products which are, you know, available without seeing a doctor. But I think if you're getting ongoing lesions, if you think you've got any kind of marks or scarring, you should absolutely go and see your doctor as soon as possible. And, or even if you know that you're kind of high risk, then it might be worth going to see your doctor, just to sort of get prepared. If you know you've had an older brother or sister that's had very bad acne, or a parent who's had scarring acne. I don't think- it's not something you need to kind of wait until things are really bad, because there are things that can be done.
Most people weren’t too worried when they first got spots. Becky’s mum reassured her that it’s normal for teenagers. After a while, or if the acne became worse, young people thought about seeing a doctor or had it suggested to them by their parents. Some people were unsure at first about going to see their GP. Others, like Becky and Molly, had to persuade their parents that they wanted to see a doctor about their acne. Almost everyone we talked to did eventually go see a doctor about their acne and for treatments.
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