How Medical And Cosmetic Dermatology Differ In Acne Care

Staring at yourself in the mirror is probably not an enjoyable experience if you have acne. These pesky, reddish spots on your face can crush your confidence, making you feel like you’re not ready to face the world—especially without your trusty concealer.

This inflammatory skin condition, which affects a large portion of the teenage and adult population, is one of the main drivers of the multi-billion-dollar skincare industry. However, some individuals develop severe acne that requires intervention from dermatology professionals. Sometimes, they might also need cosmetic procedures to remove the scars.

Understanding medical and cosmetic dermatology is key to seeking the right acne treatment. In this article, you’ll find out whom to approach for the right solution. 

Medical Dermatology: Battling the Root Cause

An appointment with a medical dermatologist is often the first step in correctly managing this skin condition. Medical dermatologists are M.D.s with extensive training in diagnosing and treating all skin conditions, including acne. They delve deep, uncovering the underlying causes of your breakouts. Here’s what they’ll consider when developing a treatment plan:

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormones like testosterone can trigger increased oil production, leading to clogged pores and pimples. Medical dermatologists assess your hormone levels and recommend treatments like birth control pills or spironolactone to regulate them.

Bacterial Overgrowth

Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) loves to hang out in clogged pores and feast on sebum. Topical or oral antibiotics might be prescribed to control bacterial overgrowth.


Medications like retinoids can target skin inflammation, reducing breakouts and preventing scarring.

Medical dermatology treatments are individualized and aim to address your problem according to its causes. Expect a thorough examination that includes discussing your medical history, family history of acne, and current skincare routine.

Skilled and licensed practitioners provide comprehensive services and suitable treatments, including light therapy. Medical dermatologists who’ve undergone additional training can also provide skin cancer treatment, which may include Mohs surgery for lesions. Besides treating acne and other hair, nail, or skin diseases, most dermatology clinics also offer cosmetic procedures. Head to and similar skin care sites or derm clinics nearby to start your journey.

Cosmetic Dermatology: Minimizing Acne Scars

So, you’ve been diligently following your medical dermatologist’s advice, and your acne is finally under control. But pesky acne scars, dark spots, and other skin concerns might linger. This is where cosmetic dermatologists come in. They focus on enhancing the appearance of your skin, addressing these post-acne concerns through:

Chemical Peels

These controlled applications of acids help remove the top layer of skin, promoting cell turnover, flattening acne scars, and reducing hyperpigmentation.


This minimally invasive procedure uses tiny crystals to gently exfoliate the skin, similar to a chemical peel.

Laser treatments

Fractional lasers target specific areas of the skin to accelerate collagen regeneration and improve the appearance of scars. However, this is a more intensive treatment with potential side effects, so discuss it thoroughly with your dermatologist.


Injected fillers can plump up indented acne scars, creating a smoother appearance. This treatment is also used to address volume loss and fine lines.  


Making microscopic injuries triggers your skin’s natural healing process and collagen production, ultimately minimizing scars.

While cosmetic dermatology treatments and certain skin care products can significantly improve the appearance of acne scars, they might not completely erase them. Be patient because cosmetic dermatology solutions aren’t magic bullets. 

Even so, cosmetic dermatology clinics offer other treatment modalities to address various skin issues and help you maintain a youthful appearance. For instance, they can administer botulinum toxin or Botox to keep wrinkles at bay. At 7.3 million injections, Botox was the most popular non-invasive cosmetic dermatology procedure worldwide in 2022.  

Whom To Seek Help From

Both medical and cosmetic dermatologists play crucial roles but for different stages of your skincare battle. Think of it this way: medical dermatology is your army general, strategizing a long-term plan to defeat acne breakouts and other chronic skin conditions you might have. Conversely, cosmetic dermatology is your special effects team, minimizing the scars and blemishes left behind.

Don’t hesitate to ask your medical dermatologist about incorporating some cosmetic procedures into your treatment plan. As mentioned, some dermatologists offer medical and cosmetic services, making it a one-stop shop for acne.

The Takeaway

Medical and cosmetic dermatologists aren’t rivals but teammates in your fight against acne. The former tackles the root cause of your breakouts, while the latter addresses the post-acne ‘battle scars.’ They work together to provide comprehensive care. With the right approach and their combined expertise, you can win the battle against acne and achieve clear, confident skin.