Oily skin and acne often go hand-in-hand, it’s true. But you may have found out the hard way that dry or combination skin (a mix of oily and dry) is no guarantee against breakouts. Unfortunately, there’s no skin type that’s immune to acne. So what’s the best acne treatment for dry skin? The most important thing to remember is balance — namely, finding a method for effectively treating your acne that doesn’t make dryness worse.
That can be a little tough to do, because dry skin care and acne treatments are, in some cases, somewhat at odds with one another: What clears up breakouts can sometimes make dry skin worse. For example, benzoyl peroxide, an effective topical treatment that helps kill the bacteria that contribute to acne, can cause dryness, itching, and redness in some people who use it. It may help to use a water-based (versus alcohol-based) product and one with a lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide. Also, resist the urge to apply more of the cream or gel in an attempt to control pimples—that’s just likely to make irritation worse.
Similarly, salicylic acid, another effective over-the-counter acne treatment, can exacerbate dryness in some people. Because it works by shedding the outer skin layer to help unclog pores, it’s easy to see how it might worsen already dry, peeling skin. It’s not that people with dry skin shouldn’t use these products, in most cases, but that you may need to experiment with various strengths and combinations of products to find a regimen that works, or hold off using stronger products when your skin is very dry. Dryness is also a possible side effect of taking isotretinoin (best-known by the brand Accutane), a powerful prescription medication to treat painful cystic and nodular acne.
You may have also noticed that where your skin was normal or even oily in your younger years, as you’ve gotten older it’s gotten a lot dryer. That’s because skin becomes thinner as we age and we sweat less, which contributes to parched skin, too. Other factors — like living in a dry climate, too much time in the sun, not drinking enough water, swimming in chlorinated pools, smoking, and skin conditions like psoriasis and rosacea, in some cases — can make even normal skin feel and look dry. When you layer on acne treatments, things can get worse. As you consider the best regimen for treating your acne, it’s important to think about all the factors that may be contributing to dry skin as well as breakouts.
Whatever acne treatment regimen you choose, it should definitely include a good moisturizer for dry skin. You may feel tempted to try “drying out” your pimples, but keeping skin hydrated is essential to managing and minimizing breakouts, say dermatologists. Look for a moisturizer that’s oil-free and labeled “non-comedogenic,” which means it won’t clog pores. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends moisturizers that have ceramides, a type of lipid (fat) that helps protect the skin and retain moisture, and silicone oils like dimethicone as especially good choices for people with acne. Similarly, skip any moisturizer that lists mineral oils or petrolatum on the label, advises the AAD. Apply moisturizer regularly, as needed; it’s an absolute must in your skincare regimen and to help fight acne.