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My Prescription Acne Treatments Aren't Working!

What To Do When You're Not Getting Results from Your Acne Medications


Updated October 30, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

You've tried over-the-counter acne products, but with no luck. So you went to a dermatologist, got a prescription acne medication, and were eager to start your new treatment to finally get your acne under control.

But months after your first dermatologist visit, your skin is still no better than it was before. You're irritated with your skin, annoyed with the lack of results from your prescription acne treatments, and even a little frustrated with your dermatologist.

So why didn't you get the results you wanted? And what do you do when you've been to a dermatologist and you still have acne?

It's incredibly discouraging when you're using acne medications prescribed by your dermatologist and still aren't seeing the improvement you'd hoped for. But before completely giving up and tossing out your medications, take a few minutes to troubleshoot your treatments. You may be able to figure out what isn't working, make adjustments, and get your treatment back on track (and start seeing improvement). Following is a quick checklist:

1. Take an objective look at your treatment routine.

When you're not getting the results you want, the first thing to do is take a good look at your treatment routine. Did you give your medications enough time to work? Did you use your treatments consistently? Did you use them correctly? (Be honest with yourself!)

It's so important that you use your acne medications exactly as directed. Even something as seemingly simple as forgetting your treatments for a day or two can prevent them from working well. Reread the usage directions for your acne medications, and give your dermatologist's office a call if you have any questions. For the medications to work, they have to be used perfectly.

Once you feel reassured that you're using your medications correctly, the next step is to wait for them to work, which can be tough! While prescription acne meds are stronger than OTC options, they don't work immediately. Many need a full three months to really take effect, so keep using them consistently for at least that long before deciding that they aren't working.

2. Don't stop using your treatments (until your dermatologist tells you to).

Wait, you say, I want my skin to clear up. Why would I stop using my treatments? But there are many reasons that your treatment routine might become sporadic.

You might be tempted to stop using your medications when you start seeing unwanted side effects. Who really wants super dry, peeling skin? But side effects are often inevitable, and they're a reality of acne treatment. You just have to grin-and-bear-it for a while (and continue to use your medications). The good news is that side effects generally ease after the first few weeks of treatment.

Sometimes, life just gets busy, and treatment falls by the wayside. But try to make treatment a top priority. If you have refills, make sure you pick them up. If you need a new prescription, don't wait until you're completely out before calling your derm.

It's important to use treatments continuously, because the results that you get from acne medications are cumulative.

3. Keep an open dialogue, and regular appointments, with your dermatologist.

Your dermatologist wants your skin to clear up, so if you're not getting results, let him/her know.

Full disclosure: your dermatologist will probably tell you to stick with the treatment plan. This doesn't necessarily mean he's blowing you off—it just means he'd like to give the treatments a bit longer to work. Remember, treating acne takes time. You owe it to yourself (and your dermatologist) to allow those medications the time they need to work.

Keep going back for your follow-up appointments, especially if you're not seeing improvement in your acne. If the first go-round doesn't work, your dermatologist will likely tweak your treatment a bit, and possibly prescribe a different medication or two. It can take a few tries to hit on the right combination for you.

4. If all else fails, consider switching dermatologists.

If you've been diligent about using your treatments, given them plenty of time to work, had a few frank conversations with your doc, and you're still not any closer to clear skin, it may be time to consider trying a new dermatologist: you may get better results with someone else. This is particularly true if you feel your dermatologist isn't addressing your questions or concerns; there's likely someone else out there who will be a better fit for you.

It's easy to get dejected, depressed, and discouraged when you don't see results as quickly as you'd hoped. We've all been there, and it's a tough place to be. Just don't give up treatment after one disappointing experience. Keep trying! You can get the results you're looking for.

Read More: What a Dermatologist Can Do for You

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