young asian woman applying acne cream

How to Fix Dry Skin From Harsh Acne Treatments

If you have ever dealt with acne, you know that some harsh treatments can dry out your skin.


We’ll discuss the common acne treatments that can cause your skin to become dry and flaky, and explore how you can fix that dryness with the right skincare routine.


Related: 5 Tips for Managing Dry, Flaky Skin


What Causes Dry, Flaky Skin?


While many acne treatments can help you get rid of blemishes, they can also be drying and stripping.


When a product dries out your skin, it causes damage to your moisture barrier, leading to cracks and allowing moisture to escape and irritants to get in more easily.


These common products and habits can lead to dry, flaky skin:

1. Alcohol-Based Treatments


Many acne products, particularly toners and spot treatments, often include denatured alcohol or SD alcohol 40 in their ingredients.


These can strip your skin of its moisture barrier, causing excessive dryness. And while you typically only apply these types of products to small areas for spot treatments, they can cause damage to your skin, drying it out and creating flakiness.


2. Benzoyl Peroxide


Benzoyl peroxide is a common ingredient in acne treatment products that’s been around for years. It works by reducing P. acnes bacteria, which can lead to blemishes.


While benzoyl peroxide is effective for many people when used in moderation, it’s notorious for drying out your skin and causing flakiness.


3. Damaging Skin Care Products


You might notice a stinging sensation when applying certain skincare products topically. That sting comes from an inflammatory reaction — we want to avoid this.


The most common causes are ingredients that don’t agree with your skin or one with an incorrect pH level for you. Acid-based exfoliating products commonly have pH levels lower than your skin’s natural pH, leading to dry, flaky skin.


4. Not Using Moisturizer


Some people worry about moisturizer clogging their pores and causing more acne — however, your skin cells need moisture to live. When there’s no hydration, your skin goes into an unhealthy state, leading to dehydration and tightness.


Add harsh acne treatments to skin that is already dry, and you can do some real damage to your skin, making it more unhealthy and leading to even more acne breakouts.


5. Over-Exfoliating


Many people get great results from popular acne treatments that contain chemical exfoliants like lactic acid, malic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid.


However, using these products too often can damage your skin’s moisture barrier, causing irritation and dryness. You should limit exfoliation — how often you use them depends on your skin type, but it definitely shouldn’t be part of your everyday routine.


6. Retinoids


Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A that are typically only available by prescription; however, there are a few retinoids available over-the-counter. 


Retinoids don’t work well for some types of acne — like red, inflamed blemishes — but they can work well for non-inflamed bumps and clogged pores. The most common side effects of using retinoids include redness, peeling skin, and dryness, although these typically improve after a couple of months.


Related: Skin 101: The Basics


The beginning of winter — a harsh season for your skin


7. Seasonal Weather Changes



Even without using harsh products on your skin, seasonal changes in your environment can lead to dryness and flakiness.


For example, acne-prone people may benefit from stronger cleansers in the summer to combat sweat and oil. However, once winter begins, the dry indoor heat and cold outside air might be too much for their skin, leading to dry, inflamed skin.


While winter weather might make you reach for more intense moisturizers, those heavier products are typically a no-no for those with oily skin, even with harsh dryness in the winter. It can make you more prone to breakouts and clogging.


8. Sulfate-Based Face Washes


Many acne cleaners include ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate to make them foam.


However, due to their high pH and the lather they create, sulfates can be too drying and stripping for your skin, especially if your skin is already sensitive. Instead, you should opt for using sulfate-free, low-foaming cleansers.


9. Topical Acne Medications


Your dermatologist might prescribe a cleanser, cream, or gel treatment to lessen your breakouts; however, most of these treatments are designed to dry out your skin.


Many times, these products will leave you with dehydrated, dry, and flaky skin. If you use them, it’s best to introduce them into your routine slowly, using them sparingly to help avoid the backlash of peeling and dryness.


How to Get Rid of Dry Skin Caused by Harsh Acne Treatments


The best acne skincare routine is crucial if you get breakouts, and are prone to sensitivity. Creating the right daily process means removing excess oil from your skin and keeping your pores clear to help blemishes heal more quickly.


Follow these four steps to establish your new skincare routine:


  • Cleanse Gently — First, you want to use a gentle cleanser to wash your face using only a soft washcloth or your fingertips.
  • Use a Toner or Astringent — Next, you want to incorporate a toner or astringent to remove excess oil, hydrate your skin, and help fight blemishes and blackheads.
  • Apply Acne Medication — Then, after your toner has dried, you’ll want to apply a thin layer of your acne treatment cream or gel.
  • Apply Moisturizer — Finally, finish up with a BALANCING ACT to reduce the dry, peeling effect caused by the acne medication. Our moisturizers are specifically formulated for extra sensitive skin, and balance skin's pH after you apply acne medication, providing moisture and soothing skin. Regulating pH has also been shown to prevent acne, so these moisturizers are a perfect compliment to your acne routine - soothing skin after treatment, and helping to prevent future breakouts. Don’t skip this step!







Related: Sensitive Skin: Ingredients to Avoid


Then, incorporate these five tips to perfect your daily routine:


  • Build Up to the Perfect Routine — When you first start a new routine, start by applying your skin care products at a lower frequency (such as every other day) until your skin gets used to it.
  • Don’t Over Apply  — No matter which products you use to treat your acne, less is more: A thin layer is all you need.
  • Look for Lower Concentrations — To help combat dry skin from your acne treatment, look for products that contain lower dosages of the active ingredients.
  • Don’t Combine Too Many Active Ingredients — You shouldn’t combine products containing different active ingredients (salicylic acid, retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, etc.); it might be tending to “have more treatment”, but these combinations can be extra irritating to your skin.
  • Finish Your Routine With a Balancing Moisturizer — A balancing moisturizer that matches your skin’s pH level will help reduce irritation, dryness, and flakiness caused by acne treatments.

Learn more about why pH matters when it comes to your skincare routine, and find the perfect balancing moisturizer to hydrate your dry skin from harsh acne treatments!