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BACKGROUND: Acne vulgaris is a common skin condition affecting approximately 95% of adolescents to some extent. First-line treatments are topical preparations but nonadherence is common. A substantial proportion of patients take long courses of oral antibiotics, associated with antibiotic resistance. OBJECTIVES: This study aimed to explore young people's views and experiences of acne and its treatments. METHODS: We report a secondary thematic analysis of interview data collected by researchers in the Health Experiences Research Group (HERG), University of Oxford. A total of 25 transcripts from young people aged 13-24 years with acne were included. RESULTS: Acne is often perceived as a short-term self-limiting condition of adolescence and this appears to have implications for seeking treatment or advice. Participants widely perceived topical treatments as being ineffective, which seemed related to unrealistic expectations around speed of onset of action. Many participants felt they had tried all available topical treatments, although were unsure what was in them or unaware of differences between cosmetic and pharmaceutical treatments. They had concerns around how to use topicals 'properly' and how to avoid side-effects. They were also concerned about the side-effects or necessity of oral treatments, although few seemed aware of antibiotic resistance. CONCLUSIONS: People with acne need support to manage their condition effectively, particularly a better understanding of different topicals, how to use them and how to avoid side-effects. Unrealistic expectations about the onset of action of treatments appears to be a common cause of frustration and nonadherence. Directing people towards accessible evidence-based information is crucial. What's already known about this topic? There is a common perception that acne is a short-term condition that will resolve without treatment. Previous research has shown that nonadherence to topical treatments is common and that oral antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed treatment for acne in the U.K. Further research is needed to understand how young people perceive acne treatments and the implications of this for treatment adherence and self-management. What does this study add? People often said they had tried all available topical preparations for acne, but seemed confused between cosmetic and pharmaceutical treatments. People seemed unsure how to use topical treatments 'properly' or how to avoid side-effects. This was rarely discussed with health professionals. People's perception of acne as a short-term condition appeared to influence their expectations around onset of action of treatment and their views about its effectiveness and necessity. What are the clinical implications of the work? The perception of acne as a short-term condition has implications for self-management and motivation to seek and adhere to treatments. Providing advice about onset of action of treatments and how to prevent side-effects is crucial, including directing people towards accessible, written, evidence-based information. People's confusion about the different topical treatments available may be alleviated by such information, or by encouraging photos or other recordings of treatments tried and for how long. Linked Comment: Prior. Br J Dermatol 2020; 183:208-209. Plain language summary available online.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Dermatol

Publication Date





349 - 356