What To Do When Your Acne Treatment Backfires

Sable Yong
Getty / i love images

Getty / i love images

Breakouts are bad enough, but your acne treatment turning the tables on you—now that’s just tragic. If you’ve been going HAM with topical acne treatments and you’re left with a scaly mess in place of your breakouts, cool it. It may seem like a good idea at the time—more product = acne gone quicker—but “too much of a good thing” is a cliche for a reason. So what to do? Don’t freak out; there are ways to take care of that skin that won’t exacerbate the initial issue.

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Most topical acne treatments will contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These are both great for disinfecting the bacterial infection that causes a lot of acne and stopping excess sebum production in the affected pores. They can also be quite drying, especially benzoyl peroxide. If you’ve got a ring of dry skin around the affected area, you can chill out with whatever acne medication you’ve been applying. You might be tempted to roughly exfoliate the area to rid yourself of scales, but that may only further irritate the area. Instead, be gentle; you can use a warm wet washcloth to gently buff the dry skin away, then pat on an oil-free moisturizer or a face oil to protect your delicate skin.

Retinol treatments have a habit of drying out your skin in a big way. It also makes your skin sun sensitive, so be sure to use these at night and always wear SPF. Prescription acne treatments (like Retin-A Micro) are great at targeting cystic acne and zapping zits overnight, so be sure to add moisturizer on top of your treatment. Seems counterintuitive, but trust that the retinol is working underneath your moisturizer…all without leaving too many flakes behind.

If your skin rebels with even more breakouts (weird, but it happens) as you’re trying to treat your breakouts, it means that your skin is too dry and it’s producing an excess of oil and sebum to counteract that. A face oil with nourishing jojoba will closely mimic your skin’s natural sebum, leveling out your moisture levels calming your skin. Your cleanser may also be too harsh, stripping your skin of needed oils, so switching to something more gentle may help. An easy DIY for gently washing acne-stricken skin without further irritation? Try using baby shampoo as a face cleanser. Weird, but it works.

Those of you taking oral acne medication, be super vigilant about how your body reacts. This includes your energy levels, mood, and sleep habits. You should definitely talk to your doctor about any significant changes you feel or notice in your appearance. Antibiotics or oral contraception can do wonders for hormonal acne but also affect the rest of your body. Because everyone is unique, there’s no set map as to how the side effects will affect you (or if they will at all). Just keep in mind that some prescription acne treatments like Accutane can cause extreme sun sensitivity; be sure to wear SPF and stay out of direct sunlight. But really, that’s good advice for life, isn’t it?

MORE: The Acne Treatment That Won’t Dry Out Your Skin