Acne Treatment Tips for Sensitive Skin Types

Having acne is hard enough, but the combination of acne with sensitive skin can be even harder. Burning, stinging, redness, peeling, and overall irritation are common for those with acne and sensitive skin.

The good news is you can treat your acne and get results. Pay attention to what your skin is telling you, and you're well on your way to clearer skin. This article goes over what you can do for your sensitive skin if you have acne.

Woman in the bathroom

Stay Away From Harsh Scrubs

You might be tempted to scrub away at your skin to banish blackheads and breakouts. But don't do it.

Harsh scrubs can easily irritate your sensitive skin, which can cause redness and burning. Treat your skin gently.

You don't need to use abrasive exfoliants or gritty cleansers. Nor should you scrub at your skin with washcloths or coarse cleansing pads to clear acne. Gentler treatments are more appropriate for your sensitive skin type.

Slowly Introduce New Products

Until you know how your skin reacts, introduce new skincare products slowly and carefully. You may even want to test a bit on your inner arm to check for a reaction before trying it out on your face.

Start using acne treatments slowly as well. Sure, you're in a hurry to clear up your skin. But acne treatment products, even those you buy over the counter (OTC), can cause dryness and irritation.

Initially, use your treatment products only three times per week. If your skin tolerates that well, slowly build up to more frequent use.

Don't Use Too Many Products at Once

An acne treatment cleanser in addition to prescription treatment, astringent, and medicated lotion is overkill for your sensitive skin. 

Saturating your skin with too many acne treatment products won't clear your breakouts faster. It'll just put you on the fast track to irritated skin.

Instead, stick with only one treatment product, unless your healthcare provider instructs otherwise. The rest of your skincare products should be non-medicated options, preferably a gentle brand made for sensitive skin types.

Beware of Leave-On Treatments

Topical treatments like Retin-A (tretinoin) or benzoyl peroxide can help treat acne. But don't let them sit on your skin all day (or all night). That can be too much for sensitive skin. 

Your skin may tolerate these treatments in shorter periods. It seems counter-intuitive, but try washing off "leave-on" medications after 10, 20, or 30 minutes. You'll get some benefit from them, even with this short period.

As your skin builds up a tolerance to the medication, you'll probably be able to leave it on for longer. 

See a Dermatologist

Treating acne is difficult enough. Trying to treat acne with sensitive skin can be even more challenging because acne treatment products can cause irritation.

Instead of trying to treat acne on your own, consider seeing a dermatologist. They can give you a treatment plan that will work for your acne and sensitive skin

A dermatologist can suggest OTC treatments and skincare products. They can also prescribe acne medications if needed.


If you have acne and sensitive skin, remember that less is more. Acne treatments can help, but don't layer them on top of too many other skincare products or implement them too quickly. Go for gentle, non-abrasive cleansers that don't irritate your skin. Introduce new acne treatments slowly and gradually. And see a dermatologist if your acne doesn't get better.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tan AU, Schlosser BJ, Paller AS. A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patientsInt J Womens Dermatol. 2017;4(2):56–71. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.10.006

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.