What to Expect From Your New Acne Treatment

When you first start a new treatment, it's completely natural to have a ton of questions. How long will it take to see results? What side effects should you be on the lookout for? Are the side effects you're experiencing normal?

Hopefully, you've already had a conversation with your dermatologist about what to expect from your treatments. Still, it's hard to remember all of that information. Maybe you had questions you forgot to ask or questions you never even knew to ask.

Of course, important questions always warrant a call to your dermatologist. But if you want to get a general idea of what to expect from your new acne treatment, this is a basic guide for you.

Expect Side Effects Like Dryness, Peeling, and Irritation

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It doesn't seem fair, but your skin will probably look a bit worse during the initial stages of treatment, especially within the first few weeks.  Most acne treatment medications, from benzoyl peroxide to topical retinoids to isotretinoin, will dry out your skin to varying degrees. 

So, for a while, you'll have flakiness, peeling, and redness in addition to pimples.  This is normal. 

Don't let this discourage you, and don't stop using your treatments.  Using a gentle, oil-free moisturizer every day will help your skin look and feel better.

Luckily, the dryness and peeling typically lessen after several weeks as your skin acclimates to the new medication.  If dryness or irritation seems severe, though, don't hesitate to give your dermatologist a call.

You Won't Notice Improvement for Several Weeks to Months

Yes, it can (and probably will) take this long.  You'll continue to get new breakouts during this time, too.

These first few weeks will be frustrating, because it seems like your treatment isn't working.  You'll wonder why you're even bothering with treatment because new pimples keep popping up!

It can take three or four months before you really start noticing a difference in your skin.  Don't give up before this time.

Remember that acne treatment takes time.  Keep at it and give the medication time to work.

You May Be Disappointed and Discouraged (at Least at First)

The first few weeks and months of treating acne can be a trying time.  You're anxious to see improvement, annoyed at treatment side effects, and disappointed if you don't see results quickly. 

It's even more depressing when the first treatment you try doesn't work and you have to start all over with another medication.

These months are hard!  Treating acne is hard.  It's enough to make you want to give up sometimes.

Nearly everyone with acne feels like this at some point.  We've all been there.  We know what that frustration feels like.  As hard as these weeks are, don't give up.

Your dermatologist is there to help.  Call if you have questions about your treatment, let him/her know if you're having problems with your medication or if your acne isn't improving.  Keep your appointments and keep using your treatments. 

It may take longer than you were hoping, but nearly every case of acne can be improved with the right treatment.

You'll Need to Keep Using Your Treatments Even After Acne Improves

If you stuck with your treatment through all the initial dryness and peeling period, through the long wait to see improvement, hopefully, you'll be rewarded with clearer skin. 

(If you're not seeing results, don't fret. Let your dermatologist know. It can take a few tries before you find the medication that works for you.)

Now that you've gotten good results, don't toss those medications. Keep using them! 

Although it seems redundant to apply acne treatment medications to clear skin, this is what will keep your skin clear. Stop using them, and your acne will come back.

Acne treatment medications don't cure acne, they just keep it under control. You'll need to continue to use your treatments to keep your skin clear. 

The exception to this rule is isotretinoin – once you've gone through a course or two, acne is usually gone for good. You won't stay on isotretinoin continuously.

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Article Sources

  • Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5):945-73.