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 or 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 skin.

Getting spots when you’re older can be difficult too, as for Marga who had acne at age 18 or 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.

Age at interview 20

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 10

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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

Gender Male

Age at diagnosis 13

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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-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-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.

Age at interview 18

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 16

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

Age at interview 21

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 15

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

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.

Acne over time

A lot of people we spoke to no longer had acne or their acne was less severe than it used to be. Sometimes this was...