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Treating Acne Breakouts With Dry Skin

Acne is an inflammatory condition usually associated with oily skin, which is why it can be confusing to find yourself dealing with breakouts while your skin is dry.

Well, as it turns out, excess sebum that clogs our follicles and invites the acne-causing bacteria to feast, grow, and multiply inside our pores is one small component in the formation of pimples and is hardly the only thing to blame for our skin ailments.

Many of the methods used to reduce acne breakouts either directly or indirectly remove oil from the skin, which makes it particularly difficult to treat acne and dry skin at the same time.

Dry skin can also trigger issues like congestion, closed comedones, texture, and even full-blown cystic acne because it, too, can be prone to damage and perpetual inflammation that has triggered the immune system to respond by making a pimple.

Therefore, in this article, we will discuss the lesser-known causes of acne in dry skin and how to adequately address this issue without using harsh acne treatments that could potentially make things worse.

So, let’s start from the beginning.

Why Does Dry Skin Experience Acne?

Dry skin can be genetic, but it can also be a product of an environment where the skin doesn’t have enough moisture to carry out vital functions such as keeping bacteria and impurities at bay.

When the skin is dry, its barrier is likely compromised due to the lack of moisture, which means bacteria such as C. acnes that usually reside on our skin can slip through the cracks and travel deeper into the pores, where they will trigger this pesky inflammatory condition.

C. acnes are the perfect example of bacteria that’s usually commensal (neutral) but turns pathogenic or harmful to their environment under certain circumstances, such as increased pH or dryness.

Therefore, besides acne being a condition usually associated with excess oiliness, dry skin can also experience acne due to pH changes that turn a neutral strain of bacteria into a pathogenic type that causes skin issues.

So, if you have excessively dry skin and are experiencing acne, this could be the result of a pH change that your skin has been exposed to.

Cold, dry climates, harsh cosmetic products, and certain medications are some factors that can cause pH changes on the skin and compromise the skin barrier, leading to acne.

How to Treat Acne When You Have Dry Skin?

The best way to treat acne when you have dry skin is to do whatever you can to keep your skin moisturized, nourished, and protected.

Here are some helpful ways that you can do this:

Cleanse With a Gentle, Non-Foaming Cleanser

The first step to treating acne on dry skin is to invest in a gentle, non-foaming cleanser that doesn’t strip the skin of the very little natural oil it has.

The best way to do this is to look for cleansers with creamy textures that don’t foam up but lather when in contact with water.

Additionally, besides the texture, you also want to check the ingredient list of the product that catches your eye and make sure it doesn’t contain harsh, irritating, and drying ingredients like fragrance and alcohol.

Finally, when cleansing your face, you don’t need to use a lot of product. Instead, use just enough to get your skin wet and massage, rinse thoroughly, and let your skin dry naturally without rubbing it with a towel.

This will prep the skin for the following steps.

Apply a Hydrating Toner

A toner is by no means a must in a skincare routine; however, dry skin that lacks moisture can benefit from an extra layer of hydration.

Toners should be applied on clean, damp skin, as this is how the skin absorbs the moisture-binding ingredients in toners, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid.

Additionally, and similarly to choosing a cleanser, make sure that the toner you pick doesn’t contain irritating ingredients like fragrance and, most importantly, alcohol.

Alcohol will cause all the beneficial ingredients inside the toner to evaporate within seconds of applying it, and you won’t get anything from it.

Instead, opt for a gentle product that contains hydrating ingredients with the addition of soothing components that will help calm irritation and reduce redness caused by acne.

Apply a Hydrating Serum

If you want to skip the toner, you can go straight for a hydrating serum.

Serums are usually more potent than toners because they contain concentrated actives with small molecules, making them penetrate the skin easily.

Thus, they’re ideal when you need a quick burst of moisture that can last throughout the day and help keep acne at bay.

Look for serums that contain hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and other calming ingredients like aloe vera or tea tree extracts.

These ingredients will help increase skin hydration while reducing inflammation and redness surrounding the pimples.

Use a Mild Exfoliant

Regular exfoliation can help increase cellular turnover, improving the barrier function and making the skin less prone to react by developing acne when exposed to certain triggers.

When looking for the perfect exfoliator, opt for mild and gentle products that contain low concentrations of acids like lactic, mandelic, or salicylic acid that will help shed dead skin cells away, unclog pores, and promote a healthy glow.

Exfoliation can be done twice or three times a week for the best results.

Spot Treat

Alternatively, if your breakouts are just a few pimples here and there, and you don’t want to use an exfoliating acid to treat them, you can spot-treat them with pimple patches, benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, or sulfur.

These will help soothe irritation and redness surrounding the pimple while also minimizing the overgrowth of bacteria that have contributed to the formation of the pimples.

Suitable for daily use, spot treatments usually give quick and satisfactory results.

Use a Barrier-Repairing Moisturizer

A barrier-repairing moisturizer is the best way to combat dryness and keep the skin soft, plump, and hydrated while battling acne.

Barrier-repairing moisturizers contain ingredients known as fats or lipids, which are naturally found in the skin cells and make up 50% of the outer skin layer.

Lipids are essential for keeping a healthy skin barrier because they help attract, retain, and distribute moisture while providing a protective layer against environmental aggressors.

These are the components that regulate water loss and keep the skin hydrated and plump, making them essential for dry, acne-prone skin.

When shopping for barrier-repairing moisturizers, look for ingredients like ceramides and squalane, as these are naturally found in a healthy skin barrier and are usually the components lacking in dry skin.

Protect Your Skin With Sunscreen

Protecting your skin with an acne-safe sunscreen is one of the most important things to do when trying to replenish your skin barrier and help it function optimally.

Not only does sunscreen protect your skin from the harmful UV rays that can cause sun damage, but it also forms a protective layer on the skin that helps lock in hydration and prevent various pathogens from coming into contact with your skin.

Additionally, mineral sunscreens usually contain ingredients like zinc, which is an anti-inflammatory mineral essential for skin health as it helps with wound healing and soothing inflammation.

In fact, it has been proven that skin dealing with inflammatory conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea tends to improve dramatically when treated with topical or oral zinc.

Moreso, people who are dealing with inflammatory skin conditions usually have low levels of zinc, so it’s important to replenish your skin with products containing this mineral.

Therefore, wearing sunscreens that contain zinc can help not only protect your skin from environmental damage but can also help reduce inflammation and redness associated with acne.

Mind Your Diet

It’s no secret that what you put into your body significantly affects your skin.

If you want to maintain healthy and balanced skin that’s not prone to breakouts and functions optimally, then it’s essential to make sure you are eating a diet that is low in sugar and processed foods.

High Glycemic Index foods such as sugary snacks and drinks can spike your blood sugar levels, leading to dehydration, inflammation, and breakouts.

Additionally, since many foods we consume daily can make us dehydrated, keeping yourself hydrated while experiencing dry skin is also essential.

Water helps your organs stay healthy and function optimally. When your organs are working properly, they are capable of moving waste out of your body and into the liver, where it’s then filtered out and released from your body naturally.

Dehydration blocks the body’s natural elimination pathways, disabling its ability to eliminate excess bacteria, which can then be reabsorbed into the bloodstream.

And since our skin takes its nutrients from the blood, acne can, in some instances, be the symptom of stagnant elimination pathways, as well as waste and toxins build-up in the body.

On the other hand, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, flaxseed oil, and walnuts, are essential for skin health as fatty acids keep the skin barrier strong and promote the production of sebum, which is the oil that dry skin lacks.

However, getting into the habit of eating healthy and balanced meals is easier said than done, and this journey can be rather overwhelming for those who are just finding out that their diet could be behind their breakouts.

Therefore, to make things easier as you embark on your new healthy diet, check out GoodGlow’s ebook, which provides beneficial tips on how to lower inflammation, balance your hormones, and reduce active acne on the skin through simple tweaks in your daily menu.

Mind Your Environment

As already mentioned, dry skin can be a product of an environment that’s too harsh, such as exposure to hot showers, air-conditioned rooms, and extremely cold weather.

Therefore, to keep your skin from suffering further adverse effects from the environment, make sure you are doing everything you possibly can to combat the potential factors that can dry it out.

For instance, if you live in a cold climate, wear warm clothing that covers your face and protects your skin from becoming too dry, red, and cracked.

If you are constantly exposed to air-conditioned rooms, make sure also to keep a humidifier close by, as the additional moisture from the air can help replenish any lost hydration on your skin.

Furthermore, try to avoid long hot showers when you can and limit your shower time to no more than ten minutes. Hot water can strip the already dry skin of the little natural oils it has, causing even more irritation and discomfort.

Remember that environmental damage can still appear on the skin in the form of an inflammatory condition like acne because it all comes down to a compromised skin barrier that can’t protect itself from pathogenic aggressors, such as bacterial overgrowth.

Therefore, if your environment is at odds with your skin, it’s important to ensure you are doing what you can to minimize the harmful effects of external factors.

Need more help? Ask our team!

I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their acne naturally. If you cannot easily find an answer to your question on the website, please reach out to me by email ([email protected]) or send me a message on Instagram or Twitter. I will reply within 24 hours.

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi I’m Sam Wood. I’m the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach behind GoodGlow. I’m also an author of one of the top selling acne books on Amazon, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good cook! I’m so glad you found GoodGlow and hope the information I have spent the last 10 years cultivating will help you clear your skin and improve your overall health. I began experiencing acne breakotus as a sophomore in high school, but unlike most of my friends, my acne actually got worse as I got into my 20s. I exercised regularly, ate healthy (or so I thought) and spent hundreds of dollars a month on high end skincare products and supplements to help clear my skin. Despite these measures my acne breakouts and scarring only got worse as the years wore on. This greatly wore on my self confidence and mental health. Simple things like taking pictures or going out with a large group made me feel self conscious. So I avoided these situations whenever I could help it. As a last ditch effort I decided to try an extremely restrictive diet recommended by a close friend with an autoimmune disease. After following this diet for about two months my skin started to clear for the first time in over 8 years. The good news is that this restrictive diet is not actually necessary for 99% of people to permanently clear their skin, and over the course of a few months I was able to add back about 90% of my “normal diet”. After clearing my skin I spent the next 4 years self experimenting on myself with different diets, supplements, skincare products to try and find a pattern for what was triggering my acne breakouts. I even tried different meditation, ice baths, and accupuncture to try and isolate the root cause of the breakouts. In the end I realized that an extremely restrictive diet was not necessary for clear skin. The most important thing to do is to avoid inflammatory foods in your diet. Some common examples of this are fried foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy. Most impoirtantly I stopped reading trendy websites for skincare advice and began reading medical journals authored by dermatologists and nutritionists. Although the information in the articles was great the information was not easily understandable to most readers (including me). I spent hours dissecting individual posts and looking up terms I did not understand. Over the next 6 months I gradually began to understand these journals and started self experiemting some of the research on myself. After experiencing quite a bit of success personally, I started sharing my research on forums and with close friends struggling with acne. When I shared the research it was in easy to understand, plain English. Everyone I talked to loved what I had to say and kept asking more and more questions. So I decided to start a blog so I could just send someone a link when they asked a question instead of rewriting something I had sent 100 times before 😅 While the same directional principles apply to everyone, acne is very personal and should be treated on an individual basis. That’s ultimately why I created GoodGlow. To help everyone reverse engineer the root cause of their acne and clear their skin permanently. To date I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their skin using a natural, holistic approach. If you are unable to find an answer to your question in any of the articles my team has written please reach out and I will do my best to guide you to the proper information and resources so you can make a thoughtful, informed decision. Read more of Sam's articles.


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