4 Dermatologist-Approved Tips For Dealing With Dry & Acne-Prone Skin
Oily and acne-prone skin are usually typecast as one and the same—because increased sebum production is one of the main culprits in breakouts, many acne treatments focus on absorbing oil and purifying the skin to keep the pores clear (all eyes on you, clay masks). And, thus, oily and acne-prone skin earn dynamic duo status.
But as you likely know, any skin type can also run acne-prone (and just because you have oily skin doesn't always mean you're necessarily prone to breakouts). If you have dry skin, for example, caring for the hybrid takes a delicate balance and, admittedly, a pinch of guesswork: Considering many treatments to manage acne are inherently drying in nature, it can be difficult to keep breakouts at bay without further leaving the skin parched.
If this sounds like a familiar predicament, you're not alone. Here's your plan of action, backed by derms.
Dry & acne-prone skin, explained.
According to board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D., founder of Ava MD Dermatology, the SkinFive and The Box by Dr. Ava, increased oil production often leads to clogged pores and breakouts, but it's not the only issue: Sometimes, having acne-prone skin is due to factors like genetics or hormone fluctuations, and it's simply out of your control.
And sometimes? Sebum has nothing to do with it: "Bacteria and hormones, especially as we age, come back into play for acne that is not necessarily an overproduction of sebum," Shamban says. "In fact, it occurs when our sebum levels are dropping." Meaning, as you age (and your skin becomes drier1), the pH of your skin also starts to rise, which can create an environment where pro-inflammatory bacteria thrive.
And since dry skin is also associated with a weakened skin barrier, environmental aggressors and irritants can easily make their way inside and kick-start inflammation—which can then lead to breakouts, all without any sort of slick skin.
4 tips to treat dry & acne-prone skin:
Protect the skin barrier.
As we mentioned, a compromised skin barrier can lead to dry, cracked skin that's vulnerable to irritants (i.e., acne-causing bacteria). That said, fashioning a strong barrier is key—support yours with ingredients like ceramides, squalane, and colloidal oat, as well as pre-, pro-, and postbiotics to maintain a thriving microbiome.
Buffer your acne treatments.
"For those of us who have acne-prone and dry skin, we have to be extra careful in terms of which products to use," notes board-certified dermatologist Flora Kim, M.D., FAAD. "And most of the acne formulations out there can be inherently drying, and thus further exacerbate your delicate dry skin."
To reduce these drying effects, many experts recommend providing a physical barrier to dilute the potent active—like a moisturizer. "Let it sit for a few minutes to buffer and mitigate the more harsh ingredients," Shamban advises.
Or use them as spot treatments.
If you have an active blemish you'd like to zap, Kim suggests using those aforementioned drying ingredients—like benzoyl peroxide, clay, or witch hazel—as a spot treatment. Take a small amount of product ("Literally a chia-seed-size or smaller," notes Kim), dab it atop the pimple, and let it sit overnight.
Don't skip out on moisture.
Both Shamban and Kim tout the importance of keeping the skin happily moisturized. "Even with acne, keeping moisture balance at the surface and within the dermis is key," says Shamban. "But you want to find a noncomedogenic formula." Granted, noncomedogenic has a different definition for everyone, so you might have to guess and test which ingredients work for your skin (Shamban especially loves mango and shea butter for dry and acne-prone individuals).
"But you must moisturize morning and night—you just have to use the right acne-friendly moisturizer," seconds Kim. "Same goes for your face wash—you must use one that is respectful of your dry skin but acne-conscious too." Rather than opting for astringent solutions and stripping soaps, reach for creamy cleansers that rid gunk from pores while feeding them with skin-loving nutrients (Kim's favorite is this Cleansing Cream from Avéne).
Treating dry and acne-prone skin can be difficult, as you want to keep the pores clear without further stripping the skin. All it takes, say the experts, is some strategic layering and a secure skin barrier.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.