WeCreativez WhatsApp Support
Welcome to Sozo!
How can I help you?

Ask a Derm: The Ultimate Acne FAQs Answered by Experts

A woman with towel on head and pimples on face

Characterised by pimples, blackheads, and occasionally deeper cysts or nodules, acne is often a source of significant distress, impacting one’s physical appearance and emotional well-being. Myths and misconceptions surrounding acne treatments underscore the critical need for accurate information and expert guidance.

In this article, Dr Justin Boey, Medical Director of Sozo Aesthetic Clinic, will share effective management strategies for acne therapy, ensuring individuals are equipped with the knowledge to tackle this challenging condition head-on.

What Causes Acne?

Acne development is complex, linked to factors like the overproduction of oil by skin glands and dead skin cell buildup, which leads to pore blockage and creates an environment for the growth of P. acnes bacteria. Hormonal changes in adolescence, pregnancy, and menstrual cycles affect oil glands and sebum production, worsening acne. Genetic factors, stress, and medications also contribute. Understanding these mechanisms is crucial for effective acne treatment.

What Are the Different Types of Acne?

Acne takes various forms, each requiring a specific treatment approach. Cystic acne, one of the most severe types, is characterised by deep, painful, pus-filled cysts beneath the skin’s surface that can cause acne scars. 

On the other hand, blackheads occur when pores are clogged with a combination of sebum and dead skin cells but remain open, exposing the blockage to the air, which causes it to appear black. Hormonal acne typically arises from hormone fluctuations, manifesting as deep cysts and pimples around the jawline, chin, and mouth. 

Understanding the type of acne is crucial for effective treatment, as strategies may vary remarkably from one form to another.

How Can I Tell If I Have Cystic Acne?

Cystic acne differs from other types of acne. It appears as big, red, painful bumps deep under the skin. These bumps can feel hard because they are deep and very inflamed. Unlike blackheads or whiteheads, cystic acne bumps don’t come to a head and take a long time to heal. Cystic acne can also leave acne scars due to the deep inflammation. It can be triggered by hormones, stress, lifestyle and other factors and is hard to treat with regular acne products.

When Should I See an Aesthetician for My Acne?

Seeking professional aesthetician help is vital in managing acne effectively, particularly when signs suggest over-the-counter treatments aren’t enough. See an aesthetician if acne causes ongoing distress, impacts self-esteem, or hinders social interactions. If acne is painful, severely inflamed, or causing scarring, professional help may be needed. 

If there is no improvement after using non-prescription treatments for weeks, it may indicate a need for prescription therapies from an aesthetician. Early consultation can prevent worsening and reduce long-term impacts.

What Are the Best Over-the-counter Treatments for Acne?

Modern beauty products in different recipients

Discovering effective over-the-counter (OTC) treatment options for managing acne can significantly ease day-to-day challenges. Commonly recommended treatments include topical solutions with salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Salicylic acid penetrates pores, dissolving dead skin cells and sebum that cause breakouts. Benzoyl peroxide targets acne-causing bacteria, reduces inflammation, and clears blocked pores. AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid exfoliate the skin, promoting cell turnover to prevent new acne. Non-comedogenic moisturisers and cleansers for acne-prone skin can help maintain hydration and prevent irritations. While OTC options work for mild to moderate acne, severe cases may still need an aesthetician’s prescription treatments.

Are Prescription Acne Medications Better Than Over-the-counter Options?

The effectiveness of prescription acne meds vs. over-the-counter (OTC) options depends on acne severity and type. Prescription treatments like retinoids, oral antibiotics, and hormonal therapies target complex acne aspects OTC products may not. For example, retinoids speed up cell turnover, reducing pore blockages; oral antibiotics combat acne-causing bacteria, and hormonal treatments work for hormonal imbalance-driven acne. 

For moderate to severe acne resistant to OTC treatments, prescriptions are more effective and sometimes essential to prevent scarring and long-term skin damage. Professional guidance is vital for tailored therapy and managing potential side effects.

Can Natural Remedies Effectively Treat Acne?

Natural acne treatments are popular because they are easy to find and fit the trend for ‘clean’ options. Tea tree oil, honey, and aloe vera are common picks. Tea tree oil is great for calming redness and preventing breakouts. Manuka honey is good for cleansing gently. Aloe vera helps soothe and heal and is often suggested for reducing acne redness and scars

Remember, these remedies might work differently for each person. Be careful, as natural doesn’t always mean safe – pure tea tree oil can irritate the skin. It’s best to check with a skin doctor before trying natural treatments to ensure they’re safe and suitable for your skin and acne.

Does Diet Affect Acne?

Ongoing research explores the link between diet and acne, indicating that specific foods may impact outbreaks. High-glycemic index foods like white bread, dairy products and sugary snacks could worsen acne by spiking blood sugar levels, increasing insulin, and promoting sebum production. A diet rich in low-glycemic foods, antioxidants, and omega-3s found in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and fatty fish may help alleviate acne by reducing inflammation and supporting skin health. Dairy’s role in acne is debated, requiring further study. Individuals with acne should monitor how their skin reacts to dietary changes and seek advice from an aesthetician or nutritionist.

What Lifestyle Changes Can Help Reduce Acne?

Making thoughtful lifestyle adjustments can significantly improve skin health and reduce acne outbreaks. Prioritising quality sleep is essential; it helps reduce stress and promotes skin healing. Stress management practices like mindfulness, yoga, or enjoyable physical activities can lower stress hormones that worsen acne. Hydration maintains skin elasticity and barrier function, so drink more water. 

A consistent skincare routine for acne-prone skin prevents irritation by using gentle cleansers and avoiding picking pimples. To protect the skin, avoid tobacco smoke and limit sun exposure. These changes support skin health, enhancing medical or OTC acne treatments.

How Can I Prevent Acne Breakouts?

Preventing acne starts with taking care of your skin and health completely. A regular cleaning routine is crucial; washing your face twice a day with a mild, non-clogging cleanser can eliminate extra oil, dirt, and sweat without irritating your skin. It’s also important to pick skincare and makeup that work for skin prone to acne to stop pores from getting blocked. 

Using salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide products can stop breakouts by fighting acne bacteria and keeping pores clear. Eating a healthy diet low in sugary foods and full of good nutrients helps your skin from the inside. Drinking enough water, managing stress with relaxation, and getting good sleep also help prevent acne. 

Exercising regularly boosts blood flow, which is good for your skin. However, to avoid clogged pores, wash off sweat quickly after working out. Following these steps can help keep your skin clear and healthy.

What Skincare Routine Is Best for Acne-Prone Skin?

A regular skincare routine is important for people with acne-prone skin.

Every day, start and finish with a gentle cleanser that fights acne without drying out your skin. Use a light, oil-free moisturiser to hydrate your skin without clogging your pores. Products with ingredients like salicylic acid can help keep your pores clear. Remember to apply sunscreen in the morning to protect your skin from the sun.

Once a week, try using a gentle exfoliant to remove dead skin cells that could block your pores and cause breakouts. AHAs or BHAs are good options for acne-prone skin. Using a clay mask once a week can also help absorb excess oil and clean your skin. But do just what is necessary with the exfoliating or use too many strong products at a time, as this can irritate your skin.

Remember, stick to your routine and introduce new products slowly to see how your skin responds. If you’re unsure, speaking with an aesthetician for advice tailored to your skin type and needs is a good idea.

How Long Does It Take for Acne Treatments to Work?

Setting realistic expectations for acne treatments and personal patience are crucial for managing the condition. Topical treatments and oral medications may show improvements within 4 to 6 weeks, but significant progress may take up to 3 months or longer. Treatments vary for each person, requiring trial, error, and time to find the right combination. Consistency and patience are vital in any acne treatment. Some treatments may worsen acne initially before improving, known as purging. Healthcare professionals can offer tailored guidance for the best treatment outcomes.

What Are the Side Effects of Popular Acne Treatments?

Acne treatments are effective but can have side effects varying with the type of treatment. Topical treatments like benzoyl peroxide may cause mild side effects like skin dryness, redness, or peeling, which can be manageable by adjusting application frequency or using a moisturiser. Oral medications, however, can have more significant side effects. 

For example, isotretinoin for severe acne can lead to dryness, sun sensitivity, and rare mood and hormonal changes too. Monitoring skin reactions, staying in touch with an aesthetician, and following skincare advice are crucial to developing acne well. Understanding and managing potential side effects of acne treatments are vital for clear, healthy skin with minimal discomfort or risks.

Is Benzoyl Peroxide Good for Acne?

Benzoyl peroxide is a key acne treatment with potent antibacterial properties targeting P. acnes bacteria. It introduces oxygen to pores where P. acnes can’t survive, reducing inflammation and preventing breakouts, especially inflammatory acne vulgaris. Start with lower concentrations to test skin tolerance to avoid irritation, dryness, and peeling. 

Use a suitable moisturiser and gentle skincare routine to counter side effects like hair bleaching or fabrics. Balance benzoyl peroxide use with care to suit individual skin needs.

How to Deal With the Stress of Acne?

Dealing with acne can affect how you feel about yourself and how you cope. It’s important to find ways to manage these emotions for your mental health. Having people who understand you and doing things like exercise or hobbies can help reduce stress and make you feel better. Also, try not to compare yourself to social media ideals. If you’re struggling, talking to a therapist can be helpful. Your worth isn’t about your skin, so focus on things that make you feel good inside and out.

Taking good care of yourself and your skin can help you feel more confident and happy. Keep up with regular check-ins with an aesthetician to make sure you’re on the right track for clear, glowing skin. Acne is a common condition, so don’t be too hard on yourself and remember that it’s treatable. With patience and effort, you can manage acne and

Can Tea Tree Oil Help With Acne?

Tea tree oil, from the leaves of the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia plant, is getting attention for possibly helping with acne. It can fight germs and reduce redness when put on the skin. Some studies show it works as well as benzoyl peroxide but is slower. It’s important to dilute tea tree oil before using it to prevent skin problems. Test a small area first to make sure you’re not allergic. While tea tree oil can help with mild to moderate acne, it’s best to discuss with an aesthetician for the safest and most effective use.

Does Acne Affect Self-Esteem, and How Can I Manage It?

Improving one’s confidence and self-image while navigating acne challenges involves a multifaceted approach that embraces physical and emotional well-being. Here are some practical tips:

  • Focus on Overall Health: Engage in activities that promote your overall health, such as eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and getting adequate sleep. A healthy body contributes to healthier skin and improves mood and energy levels.

  • Develop a Skincare Routine: Working with an aesthetician to develop a skincare routine tailored to your specific needs can empower you to take control of your acne. Celebrate small improvements and remember that consistency is key.

  • Positive Affirmations: Practice speaking positively about yourself and your appearance. Affirmations can rewire your brain to view yourself more kindly and boost your self-esteem.

  • Limit Comparison: Avoid comparing your skin to those you see on social media or in advertisements. Remember, many images are digitally enhanced and do not represent real skin conditions.

  • Seek Support: Talk about your feelings with trusted friends, family, or support groups. Sharing your experiences can reduce feelings of isolation and provide emotional relief.

  • Pursue Passions: Focus on activities and hobbies that bring you joy and fulfilment outside your appearance. Excelling and enjoying other areas of life can dramatically boost your self-image.

  • Mindfulness and Self-Compassion: Practise mindfulness techniques and be kind to yourself. Acne does not define your worth or capabilities. Treating yourself with compassion and understanding is crucial during challenging times.

Can You Recommend a Good Aesthetician?

Finding the right aesthetician for acne treatment is a pivotal step towards healthier skin. Choosing a medical professional who is medically qualified, compassionate, and understanding of your skincare journey is crucial. Here are some tips to help you find the perfect aesthetician for your needs:

  • Consider Specialisation: Some aestheticians have specific areas of expertise, such as acne treatment. Their advanced knowledge could prove beneficial for your condition.

  • Check Reviews: Patient reviews often give insight into the aesthetician’s practice, from scheduling appointments to office environment and treatment outcomes.

In your search for a skin expert, Sozo Clinic stands out as a leading option. Known for their comprehensive approach to skincare and acne treatment, the professionals at Sozo Clinic combine the latest scientific research with personalised care to achieve the ideal results for their patients. Their team is dedicated to providing an understanding and supportive environment, ensuring you feel heard and respected throughout your treatment journey. By choosing Sozo Clinic, you’re taking a significant step towards reclaiming your skin’s health and confidence.

How to Prevent Blackheads?

Blackheads occur due to the accumulation of dead skin cells and excess oil in skin pores. To effectively combat blackheads, following a thorough skincare regimen that includes gentle cleansing is recommended. Select a suitable cleanser tailored to your skin type to ensure a deep cleanse without causing dryness. This practice aids in maintaining clear pores. Additionally, incorporating a weekly exfoliation routine helps eliminate dead skin cells responsible for blackhead formation. However, it is crucial to exfoliate gently to prevent skin irritation. Vigorous scrubbing can exacerbate the condition. Adhering to a straightforward regimen comprising gentle cleansing and regular exfoliation can effectively minimise blackheads and achieve a healthier, more radiant complexion.


When dealing with skin issues like acne that affect how you feel about yourself, it’s important to be patient, keep trying, and make smart choices. This guide aims to give you helpful tips, but knowing that everyone’s skin is different is crucial. That’s why seeing a skin doctor for advice and treatments tailored to you is not just a good idea; it’s necessary for the best results. Aestheticians provide expert advice and personal care to ensure the solutions are effective and right for your skin. 

We suggest seeing a skincare professional and following their advice daily. This way, you’re looking after not just your skin but also your overall health and confidence. Remember, getting healthier skin is a journey, and with the right help, you can achieve it.


Medical Director

After graduating from the National University of Singapore, Dr Boey’s journey in aesthetics brought him to esteemed institutions such as Harvard Medical School, American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and Queen Mary University of London in diverse cities like Seoul, London, Boston and New York.