Dry Skin & Acne: How to Treat Acne in Dry Skin

10 minutes
August 02, 2023

If you have dry skin and experience breakouts, you probably know acne products can make the issue worse: leaving you more red, flakey and vulnerable to angry blemishes. The truth is most acne products are formulated for oily skin types, so if you have dry skin and acne, you need to take a different approach to breakout prevention. Instead of looking for highly concentrated acne medication, take a skin barrier-boosting approach which will help healthy oil to coat the lining of the pores and prevent blockages - the first stage in acne - in the first place. Breakouts will soon be a thing of the past! 

What is dry skin?

Dry skin is a skin type where the skin’s own natural moisturization process underproduces oil. This oil coats the internal lining of the pores, helping to keep the skin elastic, pliable and smooth. When oil is underproduced, the skin loses its ability to retain moisture. As a result, the skin weakens and becomes cracked, flakey and scaly in texture. When skin loses moisture, it can feel tight, look red and become more vulnerable to inflammation and sensitivity. Simply put, dry skin is irritated skin. With this in mind, there are ways to support the skin’s natural moisturization process for supple, clear skin. 

Can acne be caused by dry skin?

People that have dry skin and acne tend to produce less oil that is also a lower quality. 

While the quantity of natural oil produced determines skin type, the quality of the oil is the main culprit behind breakouts. For example, some people produce oil that flows easily through the pores, like water. For others, the skin produces thicker, more viscous oil that does not easily pass through the pores. Instead, it causes build-ups and forms blockages, resulting in acne.

The first stage in acne is a clogged pore. When oil is thick and sticks to the lining of a pore, it becomes the ideal breeding ground for bacteria. The combination of heat, moisture and dead skin cells help bacteria to proliferate. The bacteria behind the blockage begins to grow and push on linings of the pore. The body’s immune system will kick in to try and contain the disruption. However, this response can result in more damage, like redness, inflammation and sensitivity around the pore. The depth to which the bacteria will grow and destroy the surrounding skin tissue is defined by the type of blockage: blackhead, whitehead, papule, pustule, nodules or cyst

What external factors cause acne in dry skin?

Genetics is the leading determining factor in skin type and vulnerability to flare-ups. However, some lifestyle choices can lead to underproducing thick, dense-quality oil that increases the risk of breakouts. Extreme weather changes and hot showers can wreak havoc by stripping the little oil that is present on the skin. A compromised moisture barrier from sun damage, physical scrubs, acne medication and other harsh skincare ingredients can contribute to dry skin symptoms and thus result in more breakouts. 

What ingredients should be avoided if you have dry skin and acne?

Many acne medications are formulated to absorb excess oil or dry out the skin. Active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide kill both good and bad bacteria, triggering dryness and irritation for the healthy tissue surrounding the breakout. For those with dry skin and acne, avoid ingredients like salicylic acid, alcohol, and sodium lauryl sulfate which can be found in acne medications but also trigger inflammation and sensitivity in the moisture barrier. These acne medications are often not suitable for those with dry skin because the cracks and openings in the moisture barrier increase the risk of pathogens entering the skin and proliferating off excess sebum. Instead, when it comes to treating dry skin and acne, take a different approach to support the skin’s own natural moisturization system to diminish dryness and strengthen the moisture barrier. 

How to treat dry skin and acne

Prevention is the best treatment for acne and dry skin. The good news is there are some clinically-proven solutions that can improve both concerns, even simultaneously. 


LED light therapy can now be done from the comfort of home to treat and prevent acne without drying out the skin. FDA-cleared device DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro uses red LED light to stimulate new collagen formation while diminishing redness and inflammation around breakouts. It also utilizes blue LED light to deplete acne-causing bacteria on the spot, without causing dryness to the surrounding tissue. Together, red and blue LED light can support strong, healthy skin while preventing acne blockages from forming in the first place. 

Barrier-Supporting Active Ingredients 

Topical active ingredients like lactic acid, niacinamide, ectoin, and peptides can actually improve the symptoms of acne because they reinforce the moisture barrier and help the skin better protect itself against pathogens and bacteria. Boosting the moisture barrier should be the top priority for those with dry skin because it decreases the risk of breakouts by keeping pathogens out and moisture in. By keeping the skin soft and pliable, oil moves more freely through the lining of the pores and the skin is less vulnerable to cracks and flaking. For those inevitable pesky pimples, spot treat with a gentle combination of clay and calming ingredients, like DRx Blemish Solutions™ Clarifying Mask with Colloidal Sulfur, to flatten the activity without irritating the skin around the breakout. 


Steam is great tool for those with dry skin to boost circulation and keep oil moving smoothly through the lining of pores. Steam helps to liquify thick, hardened oil which allows the oil to flow through the pore instead of getting stuck and blocked in the pore walls. The Pro Facial Steamer gently cleanses the skin of dirt, build-up and impurities while simultaneously hydrating the skin with purified water. Additionally, the improved circulation will increase the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the skin for an immediately more hydrated, vibrant and smoother complexion. 

Daily Regimen for Dry, Acneic Skin 

  • Alpha Beta® AHA/BHA Daily Cleansing Gel – Clear skin starts with clean skin. For dry skin sufferers, look for a pH-balanced, soap-free cleanser that won’t strip any natural oils from the skin, only bacteria, dirt and impurities. 
  • DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro  - This 3 minute a day treatment is easy to incorporate into your routine when the results are clear, smooth skin! Use the red and blue treatment simultaneously on clean, dry skin to kill acne-causing bacteria while reducing redness and inflammation around active breakouts. 
  • Alpha Beta® Ultra Gentle Daily Peel – Its tricky to get exfoliation right when you struggle with dry skin. However, exfoliation can improve the absorption of topical active ingredients by removing dead skin cells and build-up from the surface of the skin. This 2-step peel system uses three precise AHAs and BHAs to resurface and purify pores for a clear, smooth complexion. No need to worry about irritation or dryness. The 2nd step in this system turns the acids off to deliver soothing, repairing and hydrating ingredients to improve skin barrier function. 
  • DermInfusions Fill + Repair Serum – A nourishing and repairing serum like this one is a must for those with dry skin and acne. Peptides, niacinamide, ecotin and antioxidants work together in this clinically-proven formula to deeply hydrate while repairing the moisture barrier for a stronger, more resilient complexion. Pro Tip: re-apply throughout the day to dry areas, like the nose, cheeks and chin, to significantly improve symptoms and encourage repair moisture barrier repair. 
  • Vitamin C Lactic Oil-Free Radiant Moisturizer -The bombardment of free radicals from daily sun exposure weakens the skin barrier over time, especially vulnerable are those with dry skin. Add a powerful antioxidant like vitamin C to neutralize free radical activity and relieve the skin of oxidative stress. This oil-free moisturizer works to keep skin hydrated all day long – without clogging pores. 
  • All-Physical Ultimate Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50 PA++++ - Daily protection from the sun is another must to keep dry skin and acne at bay. The sun’s harmful rays only exacerbate the issues by weaking the moisture barrier and intensifying oil production. Look for an all-physical, nourishing SPF like this one that uses a hydrating complex to further support dry skin. 

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Written By

Ben Gentzler

Ben Gentzler has worked in the beauty industry for 17 years — 10 of which were spent in clinical skincare. He is a licensed esthetician with a passion for leading professional education on cutting edge treatments at top spas around the world and for training on the science of skin. Ben has trained directly with Dr. Dennis Gross, learning about the state of the art in skincare and working with his clients to help them achieve their best skin.

Read More from Ben Gentzler

Written By

Ben Gentzler

Ben Gentzler has worked in the beauty industry for 17 years — 10 of which were spent in clinical skincare. He is a licensed esthetician with a passion for leading professional education on cutting edge treatments at top spas around the world and for training on the science of skin. Ben has trained directly with Dr. Dennis Gross, learning about the state of the art in skincare and working with his clients to help them achieve their best skin.

Read More from Ben Gentzler

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