Does My Acne Treatment Stop Working Over Time?

Jaune’s question…Is it possible that a skin product loses its efficacy after repetitive use or is it me? I have tried some soaps, scrubs and creams to help fight persistent acne scars on my face and other parts of my body. Some products worked wonders on my skin but after months of usage twice a day I didn’t notice anymore noticeable improvement/effect on my skin and I’m back to square one. Is it me or the products?

The Right Brain’s reply:

As you know if you’ve read our previous posts on what causes acne, there are three basic classes of topical active ingredients that are used to treat breakouts. And yes, some of them do “wear out” over time.


Retinoids are the class of ingredients that include Retin A® and other brand names like Avita®, Differin®, and Tazorac®. These are all chemically similar to vitamin A and they work by breaking up the mix of oil and dead skin cells that blocks your pores. It may take weeks for retinoids to work, so sometimes acne may get worse before it gets better. This may make it seem like Retin A products stop working over time, but that’s not really the case. You have to stick with them!

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide (or BP) is one of the most famous acne medications. It kills bacteria by releasing oxygen. Bacteria can’t counter this effect so BP does not lose efficacy over time. In fact, it is used in combination with antibiotics (see below) to prevent bacteria from building up resistance.


These are solutions of weak acids like salicylic acid. They work by loosening the “glue” that holds skin cells together to the top layer of skin peels off faster. These helps open blocked follicles and helps prevent pores from getting clogged. Your body doesn’t get used to this effect so you can continue to use them over time as long as you don’t find them irritating.

Topical antibiotics

These are drugs, like erythromycin, clindamycin, and sulfa drugs, that kill the bacteria that cause acne. Because you rub these medications directly on acne lesions, they are more effective and less likely to cause side effects than if you took them orally. However, acne bacteria can “get used to” these drugs which makes them less effective over time. So if you’re using antibiotic treatment for acne you may find that they stop working over time.

What do YOU use to keep your skin clear? Come out of the comedogenic closet and share your favorite acne products with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.