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Best Treatments for Dry vs. Oily Acne-Prone Skin

By Dr. Jaggi Rao, MD, FRCPC, Double board-certified dermatologist

Acne-prone skin comes in many forms, from dry to oily, from fair to dark, and each unique aspect of your skin can make a difference in how your acne forms and how it is best treated. This article is all about explaining why your particular skin type develops acne and what you can do about it.

acne prone skin
Recurring bouts of skin inflammation and acne often affect people who have naturally dry skin.

Summary:

  • People with naturally dry skin often have to deal with recurring bouts of skin inflammation and acne.
  • People with naturally oily skin often have to deal with permanent skin pigmentation after acne outbreaks.
  • Dryness and oiliness are not limited to any particular skin tone (fair skin can be oily and dark skin can be dry), but certain ethnic groups tend to have specific skin problems.
  • Certain products are more helpful for certain types of acne-prone skin.

All About Dry Acne-Prone Skin

People who have dry, tight, sensitive, and pimple-prone skin often suffer common acne, rosacea, eczema, or even all three skin problems. Plus, the problems also often extend below the skin. Studies show that dry, sensitive skin can be a source of irritation and embarrassment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Dealing with dryness the wrong way causes major problems for acne-prone skin. If you try to treat acne without also treating the dryness, the skin dries out, revealing a rough layer of red skin. It is only sensible to use a moisturizer to restore the normal color and texture of the skin. The problem with using most moisturizers is that they contain alcohol, herb extracts, essential oils, fragrances, and perfumes that trigger an allergic reaction. The allergic reactions tighten the skin, trapping sebum inside pores, fueling the bacteria that cause acne.

Many people with dry acne-prone skin find themselves trapped in this cycle, but there is another way. Instead of focusing on getting rid of acne, the first step in treating acne on dry skin is to moisturize the right way. There is no downside to using a humidifier or a vaporizer if you live in a dry climate, whether the problem is desert heat or winter cold. Additionally, simply drinking 5 cups (1200 ml) of water a day is enough to prevent dehydration. But choices in skincare products are not quite as straightforward.

Advice for Treating Dry Acne-Prone Skin

Although dry skin problems are more common, say, in northern Sweden than in southern Italy, people of all ethnic origins and all skin colors can have sensitive dry skin that’s prone to acne. The nuances of your genetic heritage have a lot to do with your optimal choices in skincare products. The biggest thing to look out for if you have dark skin is skin lightening agents like hydroquinone. These can cause unwanted or uneven skin lightening, and in some cases, it can actually cause the skin to turn a much darker, blue-ish hue. What else should you avoid if you have dry acne-prone skin?

Those with dry acne-prone skin should avoid products that:

  • Are particularly foamy. Any foaming product will likely aggravate acne if you have dry skin. This is especially true for people of Asian ancestry, especially Japanese ancestry. They tend to have particularly bad reactions to foaming cleansers.
  • Include hydroquinone, often used to remove acne blemishes, can cause permanent black pigmentation of the skin in many dark and dry skin types.
  • Contain alcohol or witch hazel. These are common toning ingredients best used on oily skin, not dry skin.

So what is the solution for treating acne on dry skin? More than anything else, effective acne care in dry skin consists of hydrating, hydrating, and hydrating some more. The best moisturizers are simple products. If you are looking for something natural, choose shea butter, hemp seed oil, or jojoba oil. These moisturizers protect the skin and enhance moisture-intake, but they don’t clog pores, like cocoa butter or coconut oil. Also keep an eye out for products containing ceramides, as these also help protect dry skin. If you have dry skin, you need to use moisturizer at least 2 or 3 times a day, or even more. This will help seal in moisture and prevent the irritation that often leads to acne formation. If you take care of moisture problems, then acne care is a lot easier.

Those with dry acne-prone skin should look for acne treatments like:

  • Gentle skin cleansers, like Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleansing Pads, CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, Pond’s Deep Cleansing Cold Cream, or La Roche Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser. You can also cleanse your skin with oil. It can be something as simple as jojoba oil, or maybe a product like Shu Uemura Cleansing Beauty Oil.
  • Hydrating facial waters. These are products made with water that is free of chlorine, which irritates the skin, and these facial waters contain selenium and/or sulfur to “calm” the skin. Make sure the water does not evaporate before applying your moisturizer, or you won’t get any benefit from the water spray.
  • Retinol cream. Retinol is a form of vitamin A that stimulates the growth of the skin. This keeps dry skin from becoming tight and trapping acne bacteria inside pores.

All About Oily Acne-Prone Skin

People who have acne-prone oily skin often suffer an endless cycle of blemishes, followed by brown spots, followed by more blemishes. Even though we all need a small amount of oil to help protect our skin, people with oily acne-prone skin often produce far too much oil. This excess oil then gets trapped in the pores, causing acne. Another unfortunate feature of oily acne-prone skin is that reaching adulthood does not make the acne go away. In fact, it can get worse, especially in women. Taking birth control pills, or getting pregnant, can cause changes in estrogen and progesterone that increase oil production in the skin.

Finally, oily skin tends to produce inflamed acne like pimples or cysts, and when these forms of acne heal, they often leave behind a dark mark, otherwise known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This is more common and more severe in darker skin types, but it can happen to people of any skin tone. Reducing the excessive amount of oil on oily acne-prone skin can help solve all of these problems, but it’s important to do so the right way. Drying out your skin will only lead to all the problems listed in the previous section.

Advice for Treating Oily Acne-Prone Skin

What do people who have sensitive, oily skin need to do to stop the cycle? Here is a plan for stopping inflammation in oily skin. First, it is important to avoid situations that make acne worse.

Those with oily acne-prone skin should avoid:

  • Plucking facial hairs with tweezers. This can traumatize pores and cause acne.
  • Using hair removers, like Nair. This also causes acne and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
  • Hot, spicy foods or drinks. These can trigger rosacea, a condition very similar to acne, most common in sensitive skin. Avoid them if you think you may be dealing with rosacea as well as acne.
  • The wrong type of pomades for hair. If your pomade contains pore-clogging ingredients like coconut oil, cocoa butter, or alcohol, it could not only cause scalp acne, but also inflammation that leads to baldness, in both men and women.
  • Sauna or steam baths, because they can also trigger acne flare-ups.

Still, there’s more to acne treatment than just avoiding things that trigger your acne. You also want to treat any acne that still pops up. The best way to do this with oily acne-prone skin is to exfoliate the skin and kill acne-causing bacteria.

Those with oily acne-prone skin should look for acne treatments like:

  • A cleanser containing salicylic acid, like Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Care Purifying Gel Cleanser, Olay Total Effects Anti-Aging Anti-Blemish Cleanser, Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Cleanser or Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash. Salicylic acid keeps pores open and clears up inflammation, preventing the red spots that become brown spots.
  • Benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil acne treatment serums. Use benzoyl peroxide rather than tea tree oil to treat active pimples if you have sensitive oily skin. Tea tree oil contains essential oils that usually are helpful for resistant skin, but not sensitive skin.
  • A non-pore-clogging moisturizer. It’s especially important to apply a moisturizer if you have “combination skin,” that is, skin that is both oily and dry in some way.
  • Sunscreen. Always apply sunscreen before you go outdoors, even if you have dark skin. Dark skin rarely burns, but it can still be damaged by UV rays, and sunlight often makes post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation worse.

If you have special problems with skin irritation, treat them right away with a gentle product like Eucerin Gentle Hydrating Cleanser or Topix Citrix Antioxidant Cleanser. And if your skin feels oily, try a toner like Josie Maran Argan Bear Naked Wipes or Paula’s Choice Healthy Skin Refreshing Toner.

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sthamahes Reply

i used Retino-A 0.025% for 6 weeks at 1st with Clindamycin phosphate 0.1% and my acne were disappeared but soon after 2-3 mnths,the acne were back.again i used those drugs. I found that till i follow the medication acne does not appear but as soon i stop using they are back.So could you please advise me get rid of it?

September 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm Reply
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Shaleesh Mishra Reply

I had pimples and scars on face, I spent a big money on bla bla creams but fake. I used to feel low in office due to ugliness on my face I used Arogyam kit without confidence, I was wrong, it gave me good results. all pimples gone and scars a reducing. I am using it from last 4 months and will continue more very good medicines and face pack

July 4, 2015 at 7:07 am Reply
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madzanga Reply

I have a serious problem with my skin, my friends laugh at me and I look like a monster, I need help

September 6, 2015 at 4:42 pm Reply

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