5 Ways Your Anti-Acne Skincare Routine May Be Making Your Acne Worse

As with diet, topical skincare and beauty products can either help to heal and balance the skin to prevent breakouts… or make acne way worse. Even your anti-acne skincare routine may be contributing to your breakouts. Here’s how.


I see it time and again with new clients: with the best of intentions, they’re accidentally making their acne worse.

They’re using too many products — totally over-doing it with their routine and disrupting their skin’s barrier. A retinol or l-ascorbic acid vitamin C serum on top of exfoliating acids on top of scrubs on top of their Clarisonic spin brushes.

Oh, and monthly dermaplaning!

Or they’re using incredibly harsh, kill-all-the-acne-causing-bacteria-ever products.

OR they’re trying their best to cover their blemishes with makeup that’s highly comedogenic i.e. pore clogging.

Does this sound like it could be you!?

It’s OK. That was me, too!

Reminder: I used to rub peroxide and rubbing alcohol on my skin morning and night as if they were toners. *sigh*


While the root causes of acne typically stem from within, we can’t discount topical skincare products.

Because as with diet, topicals can either help to heal and balance the skin… or make breakouts way worse.

And some breakouts are completely due to a bad topical routine! Or in the case of “fungal acne,” the wrong routine that’s feeding the yeast overgrowth.

Here’s how…


5 Ways Your Anti-Acne Skincare Routine May Be Making Your Acne Worse

Pore-clogging / comedogenic skincare and makeup products

Usually, these pore-clogging products are adding fuel to the acne fire, though “cosmetic acne” is a very real thing — it’s rarely cystic, and usually looks like a rash of closed comedones (“bumpy skin”) and/or whiteheads.

Causing irritation and inflammation

I see a lot of women (accidentally and with the best of intentions!) totally over-doing it with their topical routine. Over-exfoliating*. Layering irritating ingredients like retinols, l-ascorbic acid (a common type of vitamin C used in serums), and exfoliating acids. This inflames the skin, making acne worse.

Note: I LOVE exfoliation and believe it’s key in every skincare routine for the anti-aging and anti-acne benefits — it helps to keep dead skin cells from clogging pores and increases cell turnover, which boosts collagen production and helps with scarring — but you need to use the right exfoliants AND take a gentle approach. So no Clarisonic brushes + scrubs + exfoliating acid washes / serums / toners please!

Throwing the skin’s acid mantle or pH off balance

the skin’s pH is naturally slightly acidic (5.5). Unfortunately, a lot of skincare products are very basic (especially face washes!) which can throw the skin’s pH off balance. The big problem: the “bad” bacteria and yeasts living on the skin thrive in this more basic environment.

Studies have also linked inflammatory skin conditions with a more basic skin pH. *it’s all connected*

Disrupting the skin’s protective microbiome (i.e. the balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria on the skin

this can happen when the skin’s pH is disrupted or when antibacterial products are overused. Because just as is the case with our gut microbiomes, the “good” bacteria living in our skin microbiomes serve a purpose! They keep acne-causing bacteria and yeasts in check, and some even produce anti-inflammatory chemicals.

Feeding the malassezia yeast if you’re struggling with “fungal acne”

Malassezia folliculitis or “fungal acne” is an overgrowth of yeast on the skin that causes acne-like breakouts and is quite common. So it’s actually NOT real acne.

Typically, breakouts will be itchy, are very stubborn, tend to be in the same areas of the face (note: hormonal acne tends to be around the mouth and jawline), and are easily aggravated by oils and butters in products.


Instead of working against our skin, our skincare products need to be working with our skin.

Products that help to:

  • Repair the skin barrier
  • Calm inflammation and irritation
  • Maintain a healthy, balanced pH
  • Foster a healthy skin microbiome
  • Not clog pores!
  • Prevent sebum oxidation (a key player in acne)
  • Hydrate and moisturize the skin (which heals more quickly and is more resilient)

Remember: this applies to skincare products and makeup products, too!


We go all in with topical skincare products and appropriate routines for the different skin types in my Holistically Clear 6-week group nutrition and skin coaching program.

If you’re interested to join us in the next group, you can sign up for the waitlist HERE to be the first to know when doors open since I do cap the group to make sure I can give each member the attention they need!

MY NEW BOOK "GLOW: THE NUTRITIONAL APPROACH TO NATURALLY GORGEOUS SKIN" IS FINALLY HERE!

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