Do You Have Dry, Acne-Prone Skin? Here’s Why It’s Happening And How To Deal With It

by Gio

dry acne-prone skin causes cures

Think acne is something that only those poor souls cursed with super oily skin get?

Think again. You don’t get a free pass cos you’ve got dry skin. Acne can get you, too.

And if there’s anything worse than dealing with acne, that’s dealing with acne AND dry skin. How the heck do you treat one condition without worsening the other?

The first step is to figure out what’s giving you dry, acne-prone skin. Here are the common culprits

Dry, Acne-Prone Skin Cause #1: Your Anti-Acne Treatment Is Too Harsh

Sometimes, the cure can be as bad as the illness. A lot of the stuff your doctor gives you to get rid of acne (hello, Differin!) can be so harsh, it can dry out your skin.

And OTC treatments, such as pore-unclogger salicylic acid or acne killer benzoyl peroxide can be just as bad, especially when used too often.

If then you add retinoids to the mix, you’ll wreak even more havoc on your skin. That stuff is good, don’t get me wrong, but if your skin is dry and sensitive, it can make things worse.

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin

The Fix

The first step is to find an anti-acne routine that works best for you. Try a salicylic acid-based exfoliant (look for BHA on the label) first and if that doesn’t work, an OTC benzoyl peroxide treatment.

Still not working? Then, it may be time to see a doctor and go with a prescription treatment.

In the meantime, use antioxidant-rich serums and soothing moisturizers to counteract the drying effects of the treatment.

Once those are under control, you can think about introducing a time-released retinol moisturizer or serum to up your anti-aging game while kicking acne in the butt.

Best Picks:

Related: Benzoyl Peroxide VS Salicylic Acid: Which One Is Right For You?
Dry skin? Acne can get you, too. Here's how to deal with it and get your clear & soft skin backClick to Tweet

Dry, Acne-Prone Skin Cause #2: You’re Using Harsh Skincare Products

It’s not just anti-acne or anti-aging products that make your skin act up. Those can backfire because they’re so powerful.

Other stuff is just irritating and drying and has no place in your skincare routine. I’m talking about:

  • Bar soaps
  • Clarisonic and other sonic brushes (when used too often)
  • Rich moisturizers
  • Scrubs (especially those with apricot kernels)
  • Toners with alcohol, witch hazel and menthol

You should also avoid irritating ingredients. The worst culprits are:

  • Alcohol denat
  • Menthol
  • Peppermint
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Witch hazel

These are the most problematic for acne-prone skin. Click on the image below to subscribe to my newsletter and receive the “Irritating Ingredients Cheat Sheet” with the most irritating ingredients lurking in your cosmetics:

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The Fix

Get rid of all that bad stuff above. Replace with:

  • Replace bar soaps with low pH foaming cleansers
  • Replace scrubs and Clarisonic with a BHA exfoliant
  • Replace right moisturisers with lightweight moisturizers
  • Replace alcohol-based toners with hydrating toners (or skip toners completely)

Best Picks:

Dry, Acne-Prone Skin Cause #3: All The Other Culprits

What if there’s nothing wrong with your skincare routine but you’re still suffering from acne AND dry skin?

There’s something else going on here, obvs. Your woes may be due to:

  • Aging
  • Cold weather
  • Genetics
  • Low humidity
  • Medical conditions (such as thyroid disease)

The Fix

All the fixes I mentioned above apply to you too.

There’s just one exception. You do need a richer moisturizer. Just make sure it doesn’t contain any of the irritants mentioned above. And no mineral oil, either. That’s not dangerous but it can make acne worse.

Best Pick:

Related: Why You Should Switch To A Low pH Cleanser

The Bottom Line

Dealing with dry, acne-prone skin is so frustrating. But, with the right products and skincare habits, you too can banish both and get your soft and clear skin back.

Do you suffer from both dry, acne-prone skin? Share your skincare routine and tips in the comments below.



Chic Readings September 9, 2014 - 4:07 pm

Great tips! I have very dry skin and definitely don’t benefit of using too much products and I’ve recently discovered that gel or serum moisturizers work best for me:)

Gio September 9, 2014 - 8:23 pm

Helena, I use only a few products too. A few well-chosen products can work much better than using a lot of average ones.

Janessa September 9, 2014 - 10:37 pm

Thankfully, I only get an occasional small breakout. I follow a skincare routine I’ve worked out throughout my many years of trial with the generous help from bloggers like you.
I use a combination of BHA and salicylic acid where pores are visible, like on my nose and that keeps my skin clear.
I found a retinol (I used Future Derm’s) product kept my skin blemish free without drying it out as much as the BHA product I am using now. When I use my current BHA product (PC’s 2% BHA) at night time, my skin is drier the next morning.
I’ve used cleansers that stripped my skin of oils and they’re only destructive and leave your skin flaky and not acne free.
Of the people with oily, acne skin I’ve talked to, washing your face more than just twice a day (morning and night) is one of the easiest, most effective ways to keep oily skin and acne at bay.

Gio September 10, 2014 - 7:18 pm

Janessa, I’m glad I helped you create a good skincare routine for your skin. Have you tried using a AHAs exfoliant instead? I remember you said your skin is dry and AHAs work best for that skin type because they have hydrating properties as well. 🙂

Janessa September 11, 2014 - 6:05 am

Oh, I’m going to try out some AHAs next!

Gio September 12, 2014 - 3:24 pm

Great! Let me know how you like them. 🙂

Janessa September 12, 2014 - 3:45 pm

I wil!

Poonpo January 6, 2015 - 5:02 am

Nah ! I dont have dry skin , i have oily skin and its worst in summers !! 🙁

Gio January 6, 2015 - 2:04 pm

Poonpo, oily skin is very frustrating, isn’t it?

Elise February 9, 2018 - 10:20 am

Thank you, I love your blog! I have suffered of hormonal acne that I treated with oral isotretinoin followed by a dermatologist (he didn’t make me try other things, now I understand I could have use other things). Now after 1 year, I have a sensitive skin with some scars and hyperpigmentation, I’d like to treat my skin properly. I’ve bought some Ordinary products: the nyacinamide, vit C, the toner, the rosehip seed oil, the lactic acid (10%), have you any other suggestion? Thank you!!

Gio February 11, 2018 - 10:05 am

Hi Elise, thanks. So glad you like my blog and find it useful. I understand you want to get rid of the hyperpigmentation quickly but I think you’re trying to do too much. While using several skin-lightening ingredients at the same time may work better than just using one, your skin is sensitive. Throwing too much into the mix too soon may irritate it.

First off, both the glycolic toner and lactic acid are exfoliants so you only need one of them. Too much exfoliation will dry out and irritate your skin and you don’t want to fix one problem to cause another. Lactic acid is more sensitive skin friendly so I’d use that at night followed by rosehip oil.

The niacinamide is for oily skin, so if that’s your skin type, you can use it in the morning. Otherwise, it would be best to switch to another niacinamide product.

Using vitamin C is definitely a good idea but The Ordinary has so many and they’re not all sensitive skin friendly. Which one did you get?

Emma December 16, 2018 - 10:38 pm

This is amazing information- thank you! Have spent about an hour going through your fab website and trying to figure which of the above products to try first- and in which order! If I understand correct, I could try a cleanser, then BHA one, then serum, then moisturiser? Thanks in advance if you have time to reply 🙂

Gio January 13, 2019 - 5:28 pm

Emma, yes, you can try them in that order, that’s fine. 🙂

Anna February 8, 2019 - 8:04 pm

HEY Gio I found your blog only last week and I’ve literally been stuck here since then soaking in all these wonderful and helpful information . I used to have oily-acne prone skin but because of the acne treatment it’s now changed to dry and very very sensitive . Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to look for products that would clear up the acne scars and hyperpigmentation while still being gentle but everything seemed to react or be very harsh to my face leaving it peeling , feeling very tight and very dull looking . Then I started reading your blog and got all the information on how to treat sensitive skin , and the first thing I did was to ditch the anti acne tea tree bar soap I was using and the toner I was using ( which from reading your blog was suitable for oily skin ) and I’ve actually noticed my skin isn’t as irritated as it was when I’d use them. Now I’m trying to get a gentle cleanser and moisturizer ,probably one of the ones you’ve suggested for my skin type . I guess this post was jut to say thank you for the helpful blog because I’m one of those people who have tried almost every skin care product under the sun without really knowing if it’s suitable for my skin type and most have ended up frustrating me ,but your blog has really helped me understand my skin needs and now I can’t wait to start this healing journey ,this time with all the right information !

Gio February 15, 2019 - 12:58 pm

Anna, thank you so much for your lovely comment. I’m so glad my little blog has helped you understand what your skin needs. That’s what makes all my work worthwhile. 🙂

Sofie March 7, 2019 - 11:24 pm

Thanks for the great advice!
I have always had pretty clear, but dry skin. I have tried so many creams and serums, both light and rich. It never really fixed the dry skin, but at least I didn’t have too many breakouts. Until last summer. I started using a lot of different skincare products that may have been too aggressive all at once (vit-c, retinoids, glycolic acid). I also bought a sunscreen, which I had been negligent with before. Then all hell broke loose and my cheeks, chin and jawline was filled with horrible soar breakouts. I ditched the sunscreen because it had citral, limonene and other annoying scented oils in it. Then it got better, but it didn’t clear completely up. After a while I tried the oil cleansing method with sweet almond oil to get rid of every trace of dirt and makeup, even though i have never used much. That didn’t help much either. I also cut back a lot with the retinoids and exfoliating to 1 time a week for both, and I added niacinamide to my routine. Now I learned that my old sunscreen also contained palmitic acid and bees wax (which apparently can also cause breakouts) and I added salicylic acid instead of glycolic acid. Now it seems that my skin is on it’s path back to normal. I now avoid products with oils (apart from a few thoroughly checked) an opt for lotions with shea butter, hyaluronic acid, glycerin and niacinamide. And I am trying the Clinique Oil-Free Mineral Sunscreen spf 50 and Kiehl’s Ultra Light Daily UV Defense Mineral Sunscreen SPF50. I hope one of those will be perfect for my apparently really sensitive, dry, acne-prone skin.
In all my searches for answers, your website has really helped. 🙂

Gio March 8, 2019 - 6:12 pm

Sofie, so glad to hear my website has helped. Switching to salicylic acid was a great idea, your skin can only improve now. 🙂

Keep your skincare routine simple until the breakouts have completely disappear and then introduce one new product at a time in your skincare routine. That way, if something doesn’t work for you, you’ll know immediately who the culprit is.

Nomsa May 6, 2020 - 9:28 am

Hi All, Im a 34 year old lady in South Africa and have sensitive skin that has bad adult/fine rash/fungal acne that i’ve suffered with for since my teen years and i have a lot of acne spots and pigmentation cause by the acne over the years (I also have lots of digestive and gut issues that im thinking contribute to this). I recently got Retin A which im using once a week as i just started and I’m in need of a safe vitamin c or whatever serum I can add for the pigmentation. I also use the vichy 89 mineral which has really helped with keeping my skin hydrated. Im not able the find the Mad Hippie vitamin c serum here and I see a lot of korean beauty products like the cosrx brand here and would like to know what korean beauty serum i can look at that can assist with the pigmentation and acne. My current routine is as follows and would like to improve on it to make my skin more clear:

Wash my face with the Cetaphil gentle cleanser, spritz the Avene mineral water, follow with the Vichy mineral serum then end with my Avene toleraine extreme fluid and the La Roche Ultra Toleraine Ultra Sunscreen.

Wash my face with the Cetaphil gentle cleanser, spritz the Avene mineral water, follow with the Vichy mineral serum then end with my Avene toleraine extreme fluid. Once a week i use the Retin-A instead of the Vichy serum.

I would really appreciate any ideas on how to safely improve my routine with more focus on the pigmentation.

Jessica May 17, 2020 - 9:23 am

Hello Gio,

I’m really glad I found your blog. I have mild acne on my neck, jaw, chin and cheeks. I have red marks that take a long time to fade, and flaky skin too.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Serum isn’t available at the moment but there is a masque. Would you recommend trying this in the interim?

I am also wondering what you think of Weleda Skin Food?

Gio May 17, 2020 - 2:25 pm

Jessica, I don’t recommend masks because salicylic acid needs to stay on the skin for hours to work. Paula’s Choice has a range of BHA exfoliants you can use in the meantime.

Jessica May 18, 2020 - 12:18 pm

Thanks Gio!

Kavya Mandala June 1, 2020 - 12:13 pm

Hello Gio,
Due to this covid-19, I kept interest on my skin. I am so glad to found your website. Lots of love to you!🤗🥰
I used to have hormonal acne from the age of 17 ( only on right cheek and on chin). I stressed in last year Agust, resulted with hair fall, weight loss and worst acne all over my face & back. In addition to it, my skin became flaky and dry in winter. I came out off it and feeling better. Except those left over blemishes or pigmentation 🙄( I don’t know exactly what they are).
Now I am 24 with Normal skin and 1or 2 occassional pimples.
My mind is so excited to start a skin care regime, since it never used a sunscreen atleast😏 except face wash and moisturizer ( but used mostly light and gel based 😘).
So I concluded it to start with low pH cleanser, exfoliant, moisturizer and sunscreen!😚
But I am unable to pick AHA or BHA? Should I use niacinamide, vitamin C and retinol?🤔
Please suggest me dear🙏🤗

Gio June 12, 2020 - 10:16 am

Kavya, glad to hear you’ve still kept an interest in your skin. If you have acne-prone skin, you need BHA.

As for everything else, it really depends what your skin issues and goals here. Please book a skincare consultation here:


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