Why Does Acne Get Worse Before it Gets Better?

why does acne get worse before it gets better

Red, inflamed, and painful. You’ve just started a treatment to control your acne and somehow it has gotten worse. But don’t worry because it will get better. However that leaves the question: why does acne get worse before it gets better?

Did you know that acne affects at least 80% of Americans during some point of their lives?  

Although it is a completely normal process that one should never be ashamed of, acne is often a source of negativity and self-deprecation. And oftentimes when you start trying different treatments to get rid of it, your skin worsens.

It can be a long and frustrating road trying to get this all-too-common skin condition under control. It can be difficult to understand why sometimes before it responds to treatment, you can end up with even more severe breakouts. 

acne gets worse

Why is my acne getting worse?

Acne treatments have active ingredients that cause big changes in your skin and promote skin regeneration — where skin cells are shed more rapidly. This process helps to clean out any dirt or trapped oil in your pores. Because the active ingredients are speeding up the skin process, it’s like getting several months worth of breakouts all at once. But these treatments also help clear out the pores. So once you get through the worse part, your skin shouldn’t be holding onto any more impending breakouts.

Will my skin improve?

Yes, but you’ll have to be patient. Not every treatment will work the same for each person. It’s important to understand what specific type of acne you have and make sure to find the best treatments for that. For some, a face mask may help clear out clogged pores. For others, exfoliating chemicals may be necessary

It’s very common for your skin to have several severe flare-ups while purging as it responds to a treatment. However, it is also important to understand the different types of this skin condition and the best ways to manage each one.

Different Types Of Acne

 Acne, as defined by Medical News Today, is an inflammatory condition that causes spots and pimples particularly on the face, shoulders, back, neck, chest, and upper arms. It typically occurs when oil and dead skin cells block hair follicles and pores.

 There are four main types:

  • Comedonal acne: Generally speaking, these small, flesh-colored bumps are the least severe of the three acne types. Revolving around whiteheads and blackheads, or closed microcomedones and open micromedones respectively, this skin condition is best controlled with chemical exfoliation and thorough cleansing. 
  • Acne papules and pustules: Although more severe than comedonal acne, papules and pustules are still second to cysts and nodules. Generally speaking, papules are red and form a bump on the skin. Pustules also contain pus and may form a white bubble. To treat this type of blemish, you can use basic BHA or AHA treatments.


  • Cystic acne: Unlike the aforementioned types, cystic acne lies deep within the skin, often making the skin tender to the touch. A number of factors may cause this pus-filled skin condition, such as diet, hormonal changes, and clogged pores. It often occurs when bacteria bursts from one cyst and spreads throughout the skin, causing widespread inflammation. As it’s one of the more intense types of acne, it may require a dermatologist’s professional opinion and help.
  • Nodular acne: Frequently confused with cystic acne, nodular acne is different in that the nodules do not have a distinct head and therefore cannot be popped. They typically lie deep within the skin and are frequently treated with antibiotics and prescribed skin medication. 

Skincare Tips For Acne

 Even before you start a full acne program, make sure that your regular skincare routine isn’t exacerbating it. Using the wrong type of skincare product can negate the effectiveness of acne treatments.


  • Cleanser: Choosing a cleanser that is compatible with your skin is the first step. If you are unsure of the types of cleansers or ingredients that put pressure on your skin and/or cause breakouts, I recommend choosing a cleanser with the most basic of ingredients. If necessary, only then do I recommend moving on to more complexly formulated products.
  • Toner: Contrary to what many believe, toners should not be used as another cleansing step. In other words, toners should function only to rebalance the skin’s natural pH level of 5.0-6.0 after cleansing. That being said, some toners contain acne-treating ingredients like tea tree oil, so they’re more beneficial for skin types prone to breakouts.
  • Chemical exfoliant: Removing the dead skin often resulting in clogged pores, chemical exfoliants reveal new layers of skin. As such, your acne-treating products easily seep into the skin, allowing them to more efficiently do their job.
  • Acne treatment: Of the many ingredients used, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the most popular. The former helps remove dead skin cells and the latter helps kill bacteria. Depending on your skin’s chemical tolerance, you can apply acne treatment before or after a moisturizer. However, keep in mind, certain products are typically more potent when used before a moisturizer.
  • SPF: With all these drying agents, it is imperative to slather a thick layer of SPF on a daily basis. UV rays irritate the skin barrier and paired with these products, the long-term damage may be significant.

Acne can be physically and emotionally draining. It can result in issues with self-confidence and self-image, especially during puberty. The treatment journey can be long, confusing, and exhausting, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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