Treating Acne and Dry Skin

How To Treat Acne when You Have Dry Skin

Acne and Dry Skin
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Most of us associate acne with oily skin, so it may catch you by surprise when your dry skin starts breaking out. But acne in dry skin types isn't as uncommon as you might think. Although it can happen at all ages, acne and dry skin is usually found with adult acne.

Treating acne in dry skin can be challenging. Many of the acne skin care products you find over the counter are generally made for oily-skinned folks and can be way too drying for dry skin types (although there are now more skin care products specifically for treating acne in dry skin.) Acne treatments themselves are drying, so even if your skin isn't typically dry it may become so once you starting using an acne medication regularly.

Whether your skin is naturally on the dry side or this is a new development thanks to your acne treatments, the following steps will help you manage dry skin while getting breakouts under control.

Choose the Right Products

There is no way around it: Acne treatments cause dryness. But certain forms can be more drying than others.

Medications that come in pads or pledgets (think Stridex pads), toner-like solutions, and water-based gels can be too drying for your skin type. Instead, you'll probably prefer the feel of treatment lotions, creams, or ointments. These are more emollient and less drying.

Give Your Skin Time to Adjust

Dryness, peeling, and irritation are typically at their worst during the first few weeks after starting on an acne treatment. To combat this, try using your treatments every other day or every three days, and slowly build up to using them every day as your skin adjusts.

If your topical acne treatments are doing a number on your skin, your dermatologist may recommend leaving them on for just 20 or 30 minutes and then washing them off. This will allow your skin to adjust without becoming overly irritated. You can let the treatments set for longer and longer periods over the course of several weeks until you can leave them on all day (or night) without problems.

For seriously dry, irritated skin, you may want to stop using your acne treatments for a few days. Give your skin a breather. Once your skin is feeling better, you can slowly start using your treatments again. You should let your dermatologist know if you're doing this, though, to get their advice.

No matter which treatments you're using, OTC products or prescription acne medications, do be sure you're using them correctly. Don't slather on more, or use them more often, than directed. This will put your skin on a fast-track to dryness, peeling, and flaking.

Use a Good Moisturizer

Regular use of a moisturizer is one of the best things you can to to combat dryness. Moisturizers help seal in moisture, and act as an occlusive barrier to protect the skin. Slather on as often as needed to keep dry skin at bay, but at least twice daily.

By choosing a moisturizer carefully, you needn't be worried about moisturizers breaking you out. Look for an oil-free, noncomedogenic or non-acnegenic brand (it'll say so right on the label.) Although it may seem counter-intuitive, don't choose an acne treatment moisturizer. They contain medications that can further dry the skin. Instead, pick a highly emollient brand that you feel moisturizes your skin well.

You can apply moisturizer first, and then apply acne medications right over the top. Some dermatologists feel that layering in this way can help reduce dryness and irritation caused by acne medications.

Dealing with body acne too? Make sure your body lotion is oil-free as well. You may also want to steer clear of fragranced lotions if they seem to irritate your skin.

Use Cream or Lotion Cleansers

You don't want a harsh, stripping cleanser. It won't help clear acne faster, but will dry your skin out in a hurry.

Instead, go for a clean-but-not-overly-dry feeling. Non-foaming cleansers, also called cream cleansers or lotion cleansers, are typically less drying than foaming options. Pay attention to how your skin feels. Super tight, dry, or itchy skin after cleansing is a good clue it's not the right product for you.

Again, if you're already using a topical acne medication, don't use an acne treatment cleanser even an OTC one. Choose a cleanser that is non-medicated (unless your doc tells you otherwise, of course.) If you're using a topical treatment for body acne, you may want to steer clear of acne treatment body washes as well.

Wash Your Face No More Than Twice a Day

Don't over-wash the skin, or you may be stripping away the small amount of oil your skin needs to protect it from dryness. In most cases, a twice a day cleansing will do. And if you're not getting sweaty or dirty, you can get by with a nightly face washing only.

Facial washes and soap is optional for extra dry skin. Even gentle cleansers can burn, sting, and irritate already parched skin. Using plain water is perfectly acceptable, and preferable in this case. If you need to remove makeup try an oil-based, fragrance-free makeup remover, or even plain mineral oil or coconut oil.

Be gentle while cleansing your skin; no harsh scrubbing! If you must get rid of flakiness, try lightly buffing with a soft cloth.  

Protect Your Skin From the Elements

Use a hat, a scarf, or something similar to protect your skin from the elements. Cold, dry air and blustery winds can chap your already dry skin.

And don't think that if the weather is fair and balmy you're in the clear. The sun isn't doing your skin any favors either. Sunscreen is a must for everyone. Just like with your moisturizer, choose a sunscreen that is noncomedogenic or non-acnegenic. Natural sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide tend to be gentler on already dry and irritated skin.

A Word from Verywell

With careful selection of your skin care products and treatment medications, you can control acne and dry skin, all at the same time. Just a few simple changes to your skin care routine may be all you need to get your skin feeling better.

But if you are having trouble getting acne under control, or if your dry skin seems severe, don't hesitate to call your physician. He/she can help you choose an OTC acne product, prescribe a prescription medication if needed, suggest skin care products, and help you develop a skin care routine that is right for your skin type.

View Article Sources
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  • United States. NIAMS. "Questions and Answers About Acne." Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2006.