Acne getting worse before it gets better? Myth or fact? If you start a new acne treatment like retinol or Accutane or even if you have a new skincare routine. Should your acne be getting worse, then better?

Does Acne Get Worse Before It Gets Better?

In Acne by Cheryl Woodman MChemLeave a Comment

I hate admitting to this one because acne getting worse before it gets better sounds like either;

  1. A skincare company making excuses for why their skincare products aren’t working for you
  2. Or like a woo-woo detox

And this phase can be one of the most painful to get through. Because it’s often when you feel most down about your skin. Your acne only seems to be getting worse and you’re feeling desperate. Help just help me!

Acne getting worse before it gets better does not happen to everyone. But it does happen.

Understanding why it’s happening can help make this phase of your skin’s healing journey a heck load easier.

Plus – it’s also going to help you understand if your acne’s getting worse because it’s supposed to and this is all just part of the process or if your acne’s getting worse because what you’re using, isn’t working.

That’s the catch 22. And I’m here today to help you identify if your acne getting worse is just a temporary phase or a warning sign you’re doing something wrong/you have acne triggers which haven’t yet been identified.

Acne getting worse before it gets better? Myth or fact? If you start a new acne treatment like retinol or Accutane or even if you have a new skincare routine. Should your acne be getting worse, then better?

Acne Getting Worse Before It Gets Better? Here’s Why;

I’m so excited to share these with you, because I see these 6 reasons why acne often gets worse before it gets better, happen in real life with my SkinCoachees often. And I know understanding them fully is going to help your acne journey feel a heck load easier.

Once you know what to expect, you can prepare.

Let’s get to this.

1. Purging

This is one of the most common reasons why acne gets worse before it gets better. Skin purging. It’s when your skin’s exfoliating rate is being speeded up past what it’s used to. And you know what that means right? Your pores are temporarily getting filled with way more dead skin cells than they’re used to.

Most acne treatments will work by helping to speed up your skin’s natural exfoliating rate. What us scientists call skin cell turnover rate.

It’s an incredibly important step in any acne healing routine.

And that’s because right now your skin’s suffering from something called hyperkeratosis.

A thickening of the skin inside your pores.

This skin thickening can cause your pores to be prone to clogging and blocking. The perfect environment for acne bacteria to breed in.

As exfoliating treatments get to work, especially if you’ve not been using one before – they can burden your skin with an increase in dead skin cell shedding. Your skin is purging.


If you want tips on how to deal with skin purging get a read of this blog. You can slow it down.

Know this – you should never be experiencing skin purging for more than 3 (or at a push 4) months. And during this time you should be starting to see your acne getting better.

2. Acne treatments killing off good & bad skin bacteria (microbiome)

This is war. And in every war, you lose some of the good and some of the bad. Heck, sometimes it looks like the bad are winning. Acne treatments can act out the exact same scenario on your skin.

This is especially true for why acne gets worse before it gets better with antibiotics.

Psst – sometimes antibiotics don’t work, so keep this in mind too. I’m not a fan of using antibiotics to help heal acne because 1) so many strains of acne bacteria are now antibiotic-resistant and 2) you’re not healing the root cause of your acne. 

Even so, this is fact.

Acne treatments like for example antibiotics can kill off more good skin bacteria than bad… at first. And as this happens, your acne can get worse.


Your skin has a very delicate balance of bacteria. It’s called your skin’s microbiome – I explain all about it in this blog on probiotic skincare here. 

Some of the bacteria living on your skin are good, some are bad and some are neither.

Usually, the good cops keep the small number of bad bacteria in check. But they’re always on the watch out for an opportunity. Their eyes are peeled.

And if antibiotics or any other acne treatment knock out too many good cops in the beginning – the bad bacteria break free. That means you see your acne get worse before it gets better.

However – be sure to keep an eye on your skin because if you have antibiotic-resistant strains of acne bacteria taking antibiotics for acne might never make your acne better.

3. Ignoring other key acne triggers

This is a biggy. And one I know about intimately.

When I first developed acne, I thought skincare was going to be my saviour. And don’t get me wrong – it helps a heck load. But if you have an underlying food or lifestyle trigger, you’re running uphill. On a 27% incline. It’s hard work, it’s tough and you’re doing to feel like you’re fighting a constant battle. And sometimes that’s going to feel like your acne’s getting worse before it gets better.

It’s my aim to get you on the downhill side of acne healing. Because when your whole body is invested. Every part of you is headed in the same direction. To clear skin. Wahoo.

Other common acne triggers include food (which is exceptionally important – although not as straight forward as it sounds – get a free copy of my 1 page acne diet cheatsheet to get started with this – click here to get it), your omega balance, your adrenal health, gut health, nutrient levels, the quality of your bowel movements (yup, poo matters), stress resilience, undiagnosed intolerances and more.

Bottom line; if you’re doing one thing right but 5 other things that help to cause acne, your acne balance is plummeting to yes.

4. Introducing new skincare TOO fast

I know, I know, it’s so tempting. I’ve set up a new acne healing skincare routine for you and you want to plunge in straight away. You finally have help and you’re so excited to get started you go all in. Introduce everything at once and then spend the next month in tears.

Because this is almost guaranteed to make your acne get worse before it gets better.

Remember how certain kinds of acne skincare can make your skin purge?

Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Not only can new skincare make your skin purge. New skincare, introduced too fast can also cause irritation.

Can you remember the first time you ate a super spicy curry? Was your mouth on fire? Did your lips burn?

You were 7 years old and it was a Korma.

If you had that Korma now your tastebuds wouldn’t even register it on the spice scale.

That’s because your tastebuds have adjusted. They’ve gotten used to new flavours.

Moral is if you introduce anything too fast, you’re likely to have side effects. Your acne is getting worse before it gets better. And I don’t want you to go through this phase.

Bottom line – introduce new skincare slowly and don’t do it at a point in your monthly cycle when you know your skin becomes acne-prone.

5. Going crazy healthy

I see this one so, so often. I don’t understand, I’ve been doing everything right, I’m eating all the right foods, I’m avoiding all the bad ones, I’m not drinking alcohol, I’ve been getting good sleep. Why is my acne still here?

There’s so much at play here. The most common reason why I see health kicks making acne worse is because some health foods are not healthy if your skin’s acne-prone.

They will give you more acne.

Which is shocking eh.


Let’s take a really simple example. Say you have fruit salad instead of chocolate cake. Fruit has lots of amazing goodness – there’s vitamins, minerals, antioxidants. However, fruit also contains sugar. And in some fruits, this sugar gets released at hyper speed.

Psst – fast release sugars are bad for acne-prone skin.

Get a copy of my free 1-page acne diet cheat sheet to start avoiding some of the key acne causing fruits – click here to get yours.

This can be a double whammy when for example you juice that fruit. Juices and smoothies break down the fibre in your food which essentially turns your meal into a blood sugar drip.

Don’t get me wrong. Fruit is still a heck load healthier for your body than say cola. However, this can be a key reason why you see other people eating whatever they want – and still have clear skin. Whereas you’re here eating like an angel and being plagued by acne.

It’s not about eating everything that’s healthy. It is about eating the right health foods for your acne-prone skin.

6. External factors – changes need time to work

Have you ever seen a diagram of the learning curve? It looks like this;

See that massive dip after you first start to get better? That’s when you’re taking on all this new information, processing it, trying it out, seeing what works for you. And as you’re doing it, you get worse before you get better.

My gosh, this bit can feel embarrassing eh. But it’s all about having the courage to keep ongoing. That’s what counts.

The same is true of acne healing.

It’s likely as you’ve started a new acne treatment or acne healing skincare routine you’re going to be watching your skin like a hawk. Leaning into that magnifying mirror. Standing so close to your reflection that it would be weird even if you were dating the person on the other side.

I completely get it. I’ve been here.

However, skin doesn’t work like this. Just because you’ve given it a new rule book does not mean it’s going to start healing without wobbles.

Because your skin does not live in a vacuum. Your skin also gets exposed to and is affected by;

  • Monthly hormone changes
  • Humidity levels
  • What you’re eating
  • What you’re drinking
  • Pollution particles
  • Sunlight and UV light/vitamin D levels – both too much and too little is a bad thing
  • Stress hormones
  • How much and what type of exercise you’re doing
  • Plus more

Watching your skin like a hawk means you pick up on all the bumps which can be caused by external factors like these. And you can feel like your acne’s getting worse.

Instead, you want to be taking a step back from the mirror. And using a new skincare product for at least 3 months consistently so you can see its true effect through the haze of external factors. Commitment is key.

Have you experienced acne getting worse before it gets better? Will you share your experience below so others feel less alone? Tell me the one out of these 6 reasons which shocked you the most. And if you know someone struggling through acne, who could really do with a pick me up right now, please, please use that big green sharing button below to share this blog with love. You are the best.