When you think of acne-prone skin, we’re willing to bet that you think of things like an oily complexion and a T-zone full of blackheads and whiteheads caused by excess sebum production. You know, the stuff that oil-blotting papers and mattifying makeup products are made for.
But did you know that your skin can be both dry and acne-prone? Just like the fact that acne isn’t reserved solely for your teenage years, thinking of acne as an issue only for those with oilier skin types is a common misconception.
So if you find yourself with both adult acne and dry skin, don’t fret. Not only is this combo more common than you think, but there are specific ways to approach these two skin issues so that you’re not aggravating either one. We turned to BalmLabs’ Chief Dermatologist, Dr. Robin Schaffran, to get the scoop on what to do if your skin is both flaking and breaking out.
How common is it for someone to have both dry and acne-prone skin?
“It’s quite common and is much more common in adult acne-prone skin compared to teenage acne-prone skin,” explains Dr. Schaffran. And how you treat acne-prone skin in adults is different than how you’d treat acne-prone teenage skin. That’s because studies show that when it comes to treating acne-prone skin in adults, “skin may be more sensitive than that of adolescents, with less tolerance to topical medications.” This is why we recommend skipping some of the traditional acne-fighting ingredients that are commonly found in acne creams and medications—they’re often formulated with adolescent skin in mind.
What’s up with the misconception that skin is either dry and sensitive, or oily and acne-prone?
“In general, people tend to think of acne-prone skin as being oily skin because acne is technically a condition that affects the oil glands,” explains Dr. Schaffran. “[Acne is due to] the overproduction of oil—aka overactive oil glands—combined with problems in eliminating that oil through the pores of the skin.” While our pores normally work as channels to deliver oil to the surface of the skin, Dr. Schaffran says that when it comes to acne, those channels are somewhat “broken,” so “the oil gets clogged in the pores, leading to small bumps under the skin that eventually develop into bigger bumps.” Sound familiar? Yup. Acne.
So that’s the usual perception of how acne develops. “But as it turns out, acne-prone skin doesn’t always happen to those who have oily skin,” says Dr. Schaffran. Some people have acne because their pores get clogged due to genetic and hormonal factors (like stress or menopause) that affect how oil is eliminated.” In these cases, acne sufferers don’t necessarily have oil glands that are over-producing oil (and therefore don’t necessarily have oily skin), but they still have acne.
Can dry skin actually cause excess sebum production, which in turn can cause acne?
Sounds contradictory, right? But alas, it’s also possible. “When skin gets dried out, the oil glands get a signal that the surface of the skin is dry and needs more oil,” says Dr. Schaffran. “This, in turn, leads to increased oil gland activity, which causes increased oil production. And because acne-prone skin doesn’t effectively eliminate oil, this ultimately leads to more clogged pores and more acne.” Sounds like a vicious cycle, right? That’s why it’s so important to keep your skin hydrated, even if it’s oily. Which brings us to our next point...
What ingredients should someone with dry, acne-prone skin turn to?
“Often, people with acne will avoid moisturizing products because they worry that they’ll cause or aggravate breakouts. But the key to treating acne-prone skin that’s also dry is to look for hydrating or moisturizing products that are oil-free or non-comedogenic (meaning they won’t clog pores),” suggests Dr. Schaffran.
“This includes ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ceramides or niacinamide,” recommends Dr. Schaffran. Suppose you have dry, acne-prone skin (or just adult acne in general, which tends to be drier and more sensitive than teenage skin). In that case, you should avoid things that include benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, which can aggravate and irritate already dry skin. Another ingredient to avoid? Coconut oil. “People with dry skin often use coconut oil as a moisturizer because it can be hydrating, but coconut oil is highly comedogenic and not a good choice for acne-prone skin. Instead, stick with more gentle active ingredients such as CBD, Bixa Orellana Seed Extract and natural AHAs,” says Dr. Schaffran.