The Truth About Acne and Dry Skin


Oily skin and acne seem to go hand in hand. They appear on product labels together so frequently that you might assume they are inextricably linked. However, that is not actually the case. It is possible to have acne and dry skin.

How to treat dry skin that is also acne-prone

Contrary to popular belief, having acne and dry skin is actually quite common. For those who fall into that category, it is crucial to be extra careful when selecting skincare products because many of the acne formulations out there can be inherently drying, which can dehydrate your skin even more. To complicate matters, the drier you make your skin, the more likely it will put oil production into overdrive to compensate, contributing to worse breakouts. 

Stick with products that are “non-comedogenic,” meaning they have specifically been formulated to avoid causing clogged pores. Personally, I would avoid any oils regardless of how “natural” and inviting the wording on the packaging may make it sound. I would also choose vehicles like lotions, gels, foams, or liquids, and avoid thick creams or ointments. 

Even when you are experiencing acne, it is still necessary to moisturize in the morning and evening—you simply have to use the right acne-friendly moisturizer. That AM/PM schedule goes for washing your face as well, so opt for a cleansing formula that is designed for dry skin but also acne conscious. 

Learn how to counter the drying effects of acne-fighting ingredients

When it comes to battling breakouts, ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and retinoids are potent clarifiers. However, they can also leave skin parched. Knowing how to use them when you have a dry complexion will allow you to treat acne without leaving your complexion even drier.

I recommend benzoyl peroxide as a spot treatment—meaning literally a chia seed size or smaller—instead of all over your face. Futhermore, decrease the concentration or percentage of this active ingredient. That means you do not have to go for the maximum over-the-counter 10% strength; go lower and gentler!

If you want to use a retinoid, then decrease the frequency to as low as one night per week and slowly increase from there as tolerated. Only apply it before bedtime, since retinoids can be deactivated by sunlight. Be sure to only use a pea-sized amount (more is not better!) for the entire face. Your face should be clean and also needs to be completely dry—not even damp—because the extra water will exacerbate the drying effects of retinoids. 

Be open to other ingredients to treat dry, acne-prone skin

Traditional acne fighters like benzoyl peroxide and retinoids tend to get all the love, but there are other underrated ingredients out there that can help with acne without further drying out skin. Us dermatologists love the CLn line as a gentler yet still super effective alternative. It uses sodium hypochlorite to address acne because bacteria can oftentimes play a prominent role in recurring, stubborn breakouts. I love this specifically for body acne:



Body Wash


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Pro Strength Wash


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What do I recommend?

My go-to spot treatment is prescription topical Onexton gel (clindamycin phosphate 1.2% and benzoyl peroxide 3.75%). As soon as I see or feel a pimple forming, I apply this and it significantly minimize it within 24 hours. 

I also love iS Clinical’s Active Serum. I apply it at night after washing my face to areas where I tend to get congested or break out, such as my forehead, nose, and chin. This can be used proactively to prevent acne and comedones, as well as to help get rid of them after they have made their appearance.


iS Clinical

Active Serum


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For those who are concerned about breakouts and aging, I love Biopelle’s Tensage Soothing Cream Moisturizer because it is a light gel-like texture that absorbs effortlessly into the skin, leaving the complexion deeply hydrated yet grease-free. It contains one of my favorite aging remedies: snail growth factor.



Tensage Intensive Serum 40


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For my patients that are on drying acne medications like oral isotretinoin (aka Accutane), I recommend Avene’s Cleanance Hydra Soothing Cleansing Cream as your face wash, and Avene’s Cleanance Hydra Soothing Cream as your face moisturizer. These were specially formulated for super dry, acne-prone skin. My patients love this duo!



Cleanance HYDRA Soothing Cleansing Cream


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Cleanance HYDRA Soothing Cream


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