Why Your Acne Treatments Might Not Be Working

You've been diligently using your acne treatment medication every day, but you're still breaking out! In fact, it seems like every day you wake up to a new pimple (or three or four). What gives?

Teenage girl applying face mask
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Why aren't your acne treatments working?

Acne Treatments Take Four to Six Weeks to Start Working

We all want our skin to clear up quickly, and we want our acne treatment to start working right away. So it's frustrating when it seems like our acne medications aren't doing anything to help our skin.

But if you've just started using your acne treatment within the last weeks or months, it's normal to not see improvement yet.

Does this mean your acne treatment isn't working? Not at all!

Depending on the medication you are using, it can take at few weeks before you really start to notice an improvement in your skin, and it can take up to three months longer to see clearing. This is assuming, of course, that you are using your treatments consistently.

Even something as seemingly simple as forgetting your acne treatments for a day or two can prevent them from working well. For the medications to work, they have to be used exactly as directed.

You'll Still Get Pimples During the Initial Weeks of Treatment

Many people expect pimples will stop forming immediately after beginning treatment. In reality, you will still get new breakouts even after beginning treatment for a period of time.

This doesn't mean your treatment isn't effective. These pimples were already in the works below the surface of your skin before you started your treatment.

Over time, you'll probably notice your breakouts are getting smaller and healing more quickly. This is a sign that your treatments are starting to work.

It may even seem like your skin breaks out worse before it starts to get better. Again, these are blemishes that were already forming within the pore. Although this is annoying and somewhat disheartening, understand that this is part of the clearing process.

You May Need a Different Acne Treatment

Not all acne treatments will work for everyone. If you have given your skin at least 10 to 12 weeks and still haven't seen any change, you may need to try a different medication.

If you are using over-the-counter acne products, you may need to ditch them in favor of a prescription. If you're already using a prescription product, you may need a different medication.

It's not uncommon to try several medications before finding the one that works. It's a frustrating process, but just know that each treatment you try will ultimately get you closer to your goal of clearer skin. 

It can be tempting to give up and stop using your medications when you start seeing unwanted side effects. Keep going back for your follow-up dermatologist appointments, if you are seeing side effects or if you're not seeing improvement in your acne. If the first treatment doesn't work, your dermatologist may prescribe a different medication or two. It can take a few tries to hit on the right combination for you.

And, as always, you can talk with your dermatologist about your treatment questions or concerns. If all else fails, and you've gone through multiple treatments, it's perfectly OK to consider switching dermatologists, to get another opinion.

A Word From Verywell

Give each treatment the right amount of time to work, and be sure you're giving your dermatologist a fair shake before taking this step. While it may feel liberating, you'll likely be starting again at square one with a new doctor, so be sure this is the right move. In this fast-paced world, we often expect instant results. But the human body works at its own pace, so your skin will take some time to heal. Try to be patient, be consistent, and wait for the results.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74(5):945-73.e33. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

  2. Rathi SK. Acne vulgaris treatment: the current scenario. Indian J Dermatol. 2011;56(1):7-13. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.77543

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.