The New House Call: Can A Virtual Doctor Really Cure Your Acne?

by Emily Arata

In the realm of pop culture, acne is strictly a teenage plight.

Somewhere around middle school, painful red volcanoes make their home across the cheeks and foreheads of pizza-eating pubescent teens.

In real life, acne doesn't end when you blow out the candles on your 20th birthday cake.

For many perfectly healthy adults, the eruptions and embarrassment continue long into college and a career.

Acne can often be humiliating because we're made to feel as if it's something we should've outgrown long ago.

Drinking countless liters of water and spending every paycheck on organic produce doesn't fix the fact your body seems to have revolted against crystal-clear skin.

Until recently, adult acne was strictly the domain of quiet dermatologist offices.

Since 2014, however, a disruptive team of licensed dermatologists have made acne treatment a little more accessible with an exclusively online service called PocketDerm (try a free month here).

It doesn't take an apple to keep the doctor away, just an online visit.

For $20 per month or the cost of one dinner out, PocketDerm invites customers to submit images of their trouble zones (including both face and body) to a personal dermatologist.

Because acne is a visual diagnosis, an office visit isn't necessary – and neither are the pricey fees.

In the name of science – and wearing a bikini this summer – I tried PocketDerm as a treatment for acne across my cheeks and back.

Stripping down and photographing your acne-prone back selfie-style is a humbling experience, but I'll do anything in the name of a better complexion.

I've never sent a stranger selfies of my acne before, but I'm pretty sure they aren't going viral anytime soon, so we're in the clear (well, on our way at least).

My prescription is hope in a tiny bottle.

Just hours after sending my doctor, David Lortscher, images, he sent out a note recommending a treatment.

Here's the other thing about PocketDerm: the branding is impeccable. They don't just send you the topical treatments in the familiar drugstore packaging.

Each customer receives a frosted, customized bottle containing a prescription cream, labeled with your name, to be refilled as often as needed and applied before bed each night.

My particular cocktail includes Niacinamide, to reduce discoloration; Azelaic acid, which clears up redness while killing acne-causing bacteria; and Clindamycin, which reduces swelling and acne simultaneously.

Since the prescription is only applicable to my face, Lortscher laid out a comprehensive plan of separate products for my back.

The Pyrithione Zinc soap and Benzoyl Peroxide wash, both of which fell outside of my regularly-billed subscription, were pricier than what I'd normally purchase for the bath. But in the name of healthy skin, I clicked “buy."

With the added note that sunscreen protection was crucial, Lortscher sent me well on my (digital) way.

Change is just a click away for problematic skin.

No waiting in the doctor's office, no scary antiseptic smell: just the squishy comfort of my couch at home.

My bottle arrived several days later, and the great PocketDerm experiment commenced.

In the two months that have followed my initial purchase, I've seen small changes adding up to a clearer complexion.

My cheeks show less inflammation and scarring. Although one or two nasty pimples pop up across my cheekbones around the same time every month, they're much more bearable than the constant outbreaks I once had.

And my back, which remains home to frequent painful breakouts, has shown some improvement. Older pimples have cleared up, but I still notice new blemishes fairly routinely.

Sunscreen, previously an afterthought, is now my first priority. I'm taking my skin more seriously than ever.

The toughest part of healing, however, is the waiting game.

Above all, acne takes time to heal.

As weeks pass, though, the frantic feeling of coping with a breakout is gradually replaced by the sense that my skin is the hands of a trained professional – all without ever leaving my apartment.