Resistance To Skincare Products : What To Do When Your Fav Creams Stop Working !!!

Today, after a long break I’m going to discuss about a much interesting topic, although ignored by most & atleast till date, I had to run google search atleast 300 times to get an insight of skincare product/ointment resistance. I don’t know why but no one seems to address this while this is a debilitating problem for most skincare-savvy people in the world.

Let me describe the problem in detail first.

We’ve always (atleast once in our lifetime) faced this problem. Like if you’re using a specific product for about 3 months in a row & suddenly discover that it is not working anymore. Now this problem is much pronounced with those if you’re using the product to achieve a certain result, like removing a scar, fading hyperpigmentation like treating melasma or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation or acne scars.

what to do when your favourite cream doesn't work

Only that if you’re using a product to do a specific job, you’d notice that after using it for a while, it’ll eventually stop improving.You’d hit a plateau. Now mostly if you’re using a random skincare product just for maintenance & not expecting certain changes (like brightening, fading scars etc.), this resistance that’s developed after using it for a while would certainly go unnoticed. 

Here the word ‘resistance’ shall only be used in a case where a certain product is used in order to target a specific concern (like scars/inflammation/erythema or redness/acne etc.) & it is used for atleast 3 months in a row & in the beginning it was working (meaning, it cured or atleast helped the specific concern) but after a while (like after a month or more it suddenly doesn’t seem to work or it simply becomes ineffective on the same concern it used to treat successfully previously).

It is then assumed that your skin has developed resistance towards the product. It is the time we should usually discontinue the same& revamp the targeted skincare routine.

Here I’ll discuss a few pronounced cases of resistance & ways out. Most of them are from personal experience. Those who read my blog, knows what a skincare geek I am & before achieving a spotless skin, I’ve gone through all the popular concerns you can possibly imagine: acne, acne scars, chemical peel gone wrong (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation), uneven skintone, horribly oily skin & the list goes on. So, I’ve frequently experienced product resistance.

Well I believe everyone has experienced some form of product resistance but it has gone unnoticed because it was no targeted therapy. Like those developing resistance towards cosmetic products like creams, moisturizers, serums & all.

There is no remedy that fits all but most commonly when you notice your old beloved cream doesn’t work anymore (maybe your skin isn’t improving & those problems although seems a bit better but suddenly does not improve anymore), its better to switch product & choose one with a different composition this time & I’m talking about the principle ingredient here & not the additives like preservatives & all.

Please read labels before you buy things & act accordingly when it no longer works.

Now let’s talk about common incidents where we develop resistance to popular ointments based on the following;

·         Hydroquinone  Resistance : Hydroquinone is a heavily disputed ingredient in popular scar lightening ointments. This is a ‘tyrosinase inhibitor’, meaning an agent that stops tyrosinase (an enzyme that facilitates melanin synthesis from tyrosine) from acting & thus stops melanin synthesis. Melanin is the reason for hyperpigmentation or scars or darkening of skintone.

Hydroquinone is very effective as a scar lightening treatment option, although it has many side effects upon long term exposure & is also banned in some countries because of the potential hazards associated with it. However still some individuals prefer using it (ofcourse under strict medical supervision) & eventually may develop resistance towards it.

combat resistance to skincare products

Initially it’d work like magic & depigment the scars fast but if continued for long (which is also dangerous), you may start notice that your scars aren’t improving anymore. It means you’ve developed resistance to it (and unfortunately resistance develops as rapidly as it depigments those scars).

In such a case, immediately stop applying the ointment & substitute it with any of its derivatives. There are many newly introduced derivatives of hydroquinone which are not only as effective as HQ but would still work in case you develop resistance to HQ.

Such popular yet effective derivatives/alternatives you may use are Arbutin & Kojic Acid.

Now, you’d find them mostly together as a combination in an ointment & it is perfectly good to use. Kojic acid is a highly unstable agent & thus you’d mostly find its stable cousin ‘Kojic Acid Dipalmitate’in an ointment.

When you develop resistance to hydroquinone & stop using the ointment; I generally suggest you to give a window period of a week atleast before resuming treatment with another ointment based on its derivatives like suggested above.

You’d soon observe the improvement on resuming treatment with these alternatives & after a few months, you may begin treatment with hydroquinone again & see if it starts working again. It usually will only that you need a gap period between the two phases, no matter if you use something alternative in between or not.

·         Arbutin + Kojic Acid Resistance: I generally do not suggest using hydroquinone to depigment scars but in a case of resistance to the mentioned combination; it can be used if you may deem it safe for use or your physician suggests.

Also there are safer alternatives who do the same job have been introduced recently such as Azelaic acid. It is perceived that 20% azelaic acid is equivalent to 4% hydroquinone & 10% azelaic acid is equivalent to 2% hydroquinone. So Azelaic acid ointment can be used safely in case of both Arbutin + Kojic Acid Dipalmitate combination resistance or Hydroquinone resistance.

There’s a fun fact worth mentioning.

Azelaic acid is not only used to depigment scars or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation but also to heal stubborn acne. In fact it is primarily used as a safe & potent treatment option for acne. So it can also be used as an alternative if you develop resistance to a topical ointment for acne like tretinoin etc.

·         Acne Specific Ointment Resistance: Popularly for acne, most physicians suggestretinoid based ointments for acne & the family includes everything from traditional accutane or isotretinoin to tretinoin to the newest member of this family : adapalene & tazarotene.

Upon developing resistance to any one of them, any other agent from the same retinoid family can be used to continue treatment. Adapalene 0.1% is very potent in doing the same in case tretinoin stops working.

Tazarotene is more of a depigmenting agent for melasma but it is also used off-label to treat comedones (acne bumps). As I said before, azelaic acid can also be used as an alternative.

The thing is, these agents work as chemical exfoliants that shed the outer layer of skin (outermost layer of epidermis) & in the process, gets the skin rid of acne causing bacteria & damaged dead skin cells.

·         AHA or BHA resistance: AHA refers to the family of alpha hydroxy acids which includes glycolic acid as the most popular member & BHA is Beta Hydroxy Acid which includes salicylic acid.

AHA or BHA both work the same way just like topical retinoids by shedding the outer damaged layer & they conquer both: hyperpigmentation & acne & in both cases, they can be used alternatively. In case you develop resistance to AHA, you can begin treatment with salicylic acid.

The fun fact is salicylic acid as a BHA (as with any BHA in that case) penetrates deeper than any AHA (like glycolic acid).

Also AHA or BHA, both can be used in case you develop resistance to retinoids or vice versa.

So this is what all I knew from experience. Glycolic acid worked wonderfully when I developed resistance towards retinoids or hydroquinone (depigmentation purpose). Azelaic acid, strangely never worked for me.

This is a generalized idea from my experience.

Also, above are only recommendations of products that is known to combat skincare product resistance & this is for educational purpose only; thus it cannot be treated as an alternative to a medical professional’s advice. Please refer to the disclaimer for further information:

Let me know how you found this article in the comments section below & don’t forget to follow me here on my blog & on social media (buttons on the collapsible sidebar ß).


Koyel M.

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