Acne Regimen Troubleshooting Guide

Even when following a careful skincare routine, you may notice new pimples, redness, dryness and even increased oiliness. If you are questioning why your skin is not clearing up despite best efforts, this guide will help you find the right answers by asking the right questions.

Whether you are following one of Acne Mantra regimens or your custom regimen, follow this systematic approach to get back on track.


Make sure you read this post about getting started thoroughly and till the end first.

If you are using an Acne Mantra regimen

acne regimen guideSometimes people panic about how a regimen is not working for them.

9 times out of 10, it turns out that they are not only not using all the products mentioned in the regimen, but have gone ahead and added a few, possibly comedogenic products from their own stash. So it becomes a hotchpotch of products that may or may not work together.

Using a few products here and there from a regimen does not mean that you are following that regimen. The regimens are not a loose selection of products.

Each regimen is designed with a goal in mind and each product is added to serve a specific purpose in alignment with that goal. Be sure that you are following a regimen to the T to get maximum benefit.

Before you press the panic button thinking how a regimen is failing you, answer these questions and see if you can spot where the problem might be.

Are you using all of the products mentioned in the regimen?

If you skip products, you may see slower results, no results or worse. For example, if you are noticing darker skin while on a regimen, it is likely due to lack of a sunscreen or lack of re-application at regular intervals.

Are you using products not mentioned in the regimen?

Adding extra products, mostly out of temptation, can sabotage any results you may be getting from a regimen. The regimens already contain all the products you need to care for acne prone skin. You normally do not need to add any extra products to hasten the results. If you are tempted, just wait it out for a month or so until you can start seeing skin clearing up. Then, when you are confident, add in your own products one at a time.

Are you using alternatives to products mentioned in the regimen?

Many products, even those labelled “for acne prone skin” or “non-comedogenic” still contain pore-clogging ingredients, so substituting them for regimen products may interfere with the results. Even though products may sound similar with matching active ingredients, one may be pore-clogging and the other not.

Did you skip buying a product from the regimen because you thought it was unnecessary or expensive?

Each of the products in a regimen is included for a reason. Unless there is a severe constraint to buying that product, try to use everything mentioned in there.

Have you recently started taking nutritional supplements (capsules, tablets)?

Not all nutritional supplements are created equal. Many of them contain excess iodine or too much vitamin B-12, which has been shown to aggravate acne. So if you are seeing a sudden onset of pimples, stop all supplements for 2 weeks to see if the skin calms down.

Are you using the right regimen?

If you are still seeing pimples after a month, it is possible that you need to step up your regimen to a stronger one. For example, the Basic Regimen is designed for skin with mild acne or that is more or less clear and just needs daily maintenance. If your pimples are severe, the Starter Regimen will be better for you.

Such guidelines are mentioned at the start of each regimen. Read them and select the one that fits your skin better.

Are you mixing a doctor’s prescription with a regimen?

Even if a product was recommended by a doctor, do not include it in a regimen assuming it to be acne-safe. Doctors don’t always know which products contain comedogenic ingredients. Many doctors, out of ignorance or intention, recommend pore-clogging creams and lotions and then prescribe heavy medication to suppress pimples that may arise out of that pore-clogging action.

Acne Mantra regimens bypass this problem by avoiding pore-clogging ingredients so you don’t have to take strong antibiotics. If you are torn between using your doctor’s recommendations and following a regimen, choose one and stick to it.

Regimen products and extras?

Face wash – Even though the market is flooded with face washes, it is maddeningly hard to find one that won’t clog pores. Even face washes marketed for acne prone skin are loaded with comedogenic ingredients. The face washes mentioned in the regimens have been selected from hundreds of face washes to rule out comedogenic ingredients.

Toner – Acne Mantra regimens don’t include toners. Toners are not a necessary part of skincare unless they serve a specific purpose. Toners are generally laced with large quantities of alcohol, skin-irritating menthol and sometimes pore-clogging ingredients.

Moisturizer – Even though you may be tempted to reach for that cute tub of cream or bottle of lotion, stop. A comedogenic moisturizer applied in a moment of weakness can spoil the result of months of hard work. Try to stick to moisturizers mentioned in the regimens. Also see tips later in this post to avoid dryness in the first place.

Sunscreen –  Are you skipping sunscreen because you don’t like or don’t want to buy the sunscreen mentioned in a regimen? Sunscreens are necessary to prevent further darkening of acne spots. Sunscreens, even ones labelled non-comedogenic often cause breakouts, so try to stick to ones mentioned in the regimens.

Face mask – Are you using a harmless looking “natural” face pack or one of your home-made face packs? Stop. Face masks are one of the weakest treatments for acne and dark spots and won’t do much other than possibly breaking you out with their creamy base. The products in the regimens are more concentrated and will show faster results.

De-pigmentation cream (for dark spots) – Most cosmetic and pharmaceutical based de-pigmentation products come in a cream base. The ones included in the regimens are safer ones.

Fairness cream – If you are used to using a fairness cream as part of your daily routine, you will have to toughen up and put it away for at least a month. Most fairness creams in India are comedogenic, so by continuing to use your fairness treatment, you are erasing any benefits you may be getting from a regimen.

Spot treatment cream – You do not need a separate spot treatment other than the acne creams mentioned in regimens. Applying anything extra over a pimple deposits concentrated amounts of active ingredients there. This is unnecessary, and can make the brown spots and redness even more prominent.

Makeup – All makeup products that go on the face, even powders, need to be scanned for possible comedogenic ingredients. Use the Skingredients online tool to figure out which makeup product is causing breakouts. Ideally, you would be skipping all face makeup until you are settled in a regimen. Then add one face makeup product at a time.

Seeing excessive oiliness on the skin?

It is common to experience increased oiliness when starting out a regimen. People have reported, however, that this oiliness decreases over a matter of a few weeks.

  1. If oiliness is due to the sunscreen, girls may want to use a dusting of non-comedogenic face powder to mattify the shine. Guys may do the same, there’s no rule that ties face powders to only girls.
  2. You may also consider using oil-blotting sheets to blot off excess shine.
  3. To further reduce oiliness consider adding a sulphur based Ayurvedic supplement Baidyanath Rakta Shodhak Bati.

Seeing tiny, white pimples spread over an area?

This is either due to skin irritation or pore-clogging. This is also common from products that contain salicylic acid. Salicylic acid, even at low concentrations of 1% can irritate sensitive skin. You need to use the Elimination Technique described later in the post to figure out the rogue product.

In the meantime, you do not need to do anything special to take care of these bumps. Keep using the acne cream mentioned in the regimen and as you cut out the culprit product, these bumps will go away quickly. You do not need to spot-treat each bump separately.

Shaving causing tiny red or white pimples?

If you are seeing such bumps in your beard area, it is razor bumps resulting from shaving irritation. These bumps can be minimized by changing your razor and shaving technique. See tips for shaving on acne prone skin.

Seeing skin-coloured tiny bumps spread over an area?

These flesh-coloured tiny bumps are clogged pores, which are noticeable under sunlight. One or more of the products is clogging your pores. This could also be the result of ineffective cleansing. Face washing should remove all traces of makeup, sunscreen, moisturizer and acne treatment. Use the Elimination Technique described later in the post to figure out the rogue product.

In the meantime, you do not need to do anything special to take care of these bumps. Keep using the acne cream mentioned in the regimen and as you cut out the culprit product, these bumps will go away quickly. You do not need to spot-treat each bump separately.

Seeing small, red bumps, itchy or painful spread over an area?

Itchy bumps are often a sign of skin irritation resulting from exfoliating treatments. Try to reduce the frequency of your exfoliating products and see if these bumps calm down. Apply moisturizer mentioned in the regimen to soothe the pimples, but stay away from any face masks etc.

Seeing red rash like symptoms 7-10 days into a regimen?

A red rash, accompanied by a dry, scaly appearance is a sign of dermatitis, or irritation resulting from using strong treatments. Reduce usage of acne treatment cream and any other exfoliating products until the skin calms down. Then add them back in one at a time. This is not worrisome, and the skin will get adjusted to the products over time.

Seeing large, under-the-skin cystic pimples?

This is a result of using a product that is clogging your pores. You need to spot the culprit using the Elmination Tecnique (described later in the post) and stop using it right away. That product is not right for you and any further experimenting with it must be stopped.

Seeing dry skin that feels stretchy when you laugh?

Seeing dry skin a 7 to 10 days into a regimen is common and not worrisome. At this time, reduce frequency of application of your exfoliating products such as your acne cream to every alternate day or every 2 days. Once dryness subsides, you can get back on the schedule of using the acne cream daily. Over time, your skin will get used to the products.

Don’t apply acne treatment cream around the mouth and sides of the nose. Each regimen comes with recommendations for a moisturizer. Dab it generously over dry parts. Limiting the frequency of face wash to twice a day will also prevent skin from drying out too much.

Seeing dry skin that is peeling and looks like fish scales?

This is from skin drying up too much. Reduce the frequency of your acne cream and other exfoliating products to alternate days and see if dryness reduces. Do not apply a random moisturizer or cream in desperation, because that will result in pimples and you will have a mess on your hands. Try to reduce usage of products that are causing dryness in the first place.

Skin was clearing up, then suddenly many new pimples?

If you have been following your chosen regimen to the T and everything else has remained the same, then you are likely experiencing what is called an “initial breakout”. An initial breakout is often seen around 4 weeks into acne treatment. It is a popular concept that is often supported by the medical community. It is said that it is just the pimples that were buried under your skin and are now coming out. They would have come out anyway, but the acne treatment is hastening the process.

Usually one does not need to do anything during an initial breakout except carry on with the treatment and let it pass. If you suspect an initial breakout, wait it out for at least 2 weeks or so before changing up your regimen.

If you are using a custom regimen

If you are not using one of the regimens from Acne Mantra, but your own routine, you can still use this guide to troubleshoot where the problem is.

Stop using products that do not list all the ingredients. This may include some of the products you may have used for years, some from even before your skin started breaking out. Just because a product did not cause breakouts when you were younger, it is no guarantee that it will not now. This is because, with hormonal changes that lead to your breakouts, your skin becomes oilier and pores get clogged more easily. So you need to suspect any and every product you are using.

Use the Skingredients online tool to check for comedogenic products.

The Elimination Technique

The Elimination Technique involves reducing the set of products to a bare minimum and then building up from there by adding one product at a time.

The idea is to only use a face wash for 5 days and see if some of the symptoms reduce. No sunscreen, moisturizer, toner, face pack, scrub, spot treatment etc.

Then after 5 days, if symptoms improve, add in the next most important product, and carry on with 2 products (face wash and this product) for the next 5 days. And so on.


None of this prevents you from using common sense. Be smart, be vigilant about what effect each product is having on your skin and cut back products as necessary.

After going through this guide, if you are still confused, post in the community area with the list of products (all of them) that you are using currently.

After everything is said and done, it is possible that you need deeper treatment that only a medical practitioner can provide. You may have underlying issues that need attention: PCOS, thyroid imbalance, insulin resistance, food intolerance and so on. If you suspect that, see an endocrinologist and a dermatologist (in that order) without delay.

Once skin starts to clear up, try to keep it that way by avoiding the temptation to add newer and newer products. Remember this acne “mantra” for clear skin:

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If skin is clear, don’t jinx it (with new products).

image martastarbucks@flickr

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