What are the best skincare products for dry AND acne-prone skin? Skincare shopping is hard enough when you’re dealing with only one problem. But dry skin prone to acne? That’s hands down one of the most frustrating skin types to deal with.
If you try to give acne the boot, you risk stripping your skin bare and drying it out worse than the Sahara. If you try and up your moisturising game, you risk clogging your pores and bringing on another breakout. It feels like you can’t win!
The trick is to use gentle products that zap that acne away without drying out your skin. But how to find them? Worry not, I’ve done the work for you. Here are the best skincare products for dry and acne-prone skin:
- Why Does Dry Skin Get Acne?
- Best Cleansers For Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
- Best Exfoliants For Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
- Best Moisturizers For Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
- Best Sunscreen For Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
- Best Skin-Soothers Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
- Best Spot Treatment For Dry, Acne Prone Skin
- Best Anti-Aging Products For Dry, Acne Prone Skin
- What Products Should Dry And Acne-Prone Skin Avoid?
- The Verdict
Why Does Dry Skin Get Acne?
You’d think that if your skin is dry, you’d at least be spared acne. So how come is your face covered in pimples? Can dry skin cause acne? Nope, this is just a myth. Dry skin can’t cause acne. Acne, no matter what your skin type is, is caused by a combination of excessive sebum and dead skin cells mixed with bacteria: “The skin produces sebum or oil, and if the substance is too thick and sticky, it can combine with dead skin cells in the pores and create a plug,” says board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD. “This blackhead or whitehead can combine with bacteria and become inflamed, making a red or tender pimple.”
In the cause of dry skin, there are two main causes that can lead to this acne-causing process:
- Your skincare products: You’re likely using moisturisers and sunscreens that are too rich for your skin type. If they contain comedogenic ingredients, they can end up in your pores, clogging them up. Once there, they mix with dead cells and bacteria, leading to pimples.
- Hormones: As we get older, “our skin loses sebaceous output and moisture,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. “Unfortunately, acne can start to increase as we age due to hormonal imbalance, stress, dietary [and] environmental factors, [and] genetics. So, increased breakouts can start when skin is becoming drier—it’s a tough combo!”
Now you know what’s causing acne in your dry skin, you’re one step closer to getting rid of it. Next step, let’s look at the best skincare products for dry and acne-prone skin, from cleansers to sunscreens and exfoliants, you should be adding to your skincare routine pronto to get your skin back in top shape:
Best Cleansers For Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Opt for a gentle, pH-balanced foam-to-cream cleanser that removes excess oil on problem areas without exacerbating dryness everywhere else.
1. Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser ($35.00/£26.00)
Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser started life as a hard-core cleanser for very oily skin, but is now a gentle cream cleanser ideal for dry skin that’s also acne-prone. What a transformation, huh? The cleanser now uses very gentle cleansing agents that remove every trace of dirt, grime and makeup from the skin without drying it out. Plus, it has a tiny amount of clay that gets rid of excess oil on your problem areas, but still leave enough behind to keep your skin naturally moisturised. Once you’re done cleansing, your skin is both clean and soft.
Available at: Cult Beauty, Free People, Sephora, SpaceNK and Ulta
Related: My Full Review Of Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser
2. Paula’s Choice Defense Hydrating Gel-to-Cream Cleanser ($19.00)
This gentle cleanser has a gel texture that turns into a cream as you mix it with water. It does a great job to remove dirt and makeup from the skin without disrupting your already compromised skin barrier. Best of all, it doesn’t leave any uncomfortable film on the skin when you wash it off. Just a warning: the superfood complex doesn’t really do anything here. All those goodies end up down the drain when you wash off your face. But hey, it’s still a solid cleanser for your skin type.
Available at: Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Paula’s Choice, Sephora, and SpaceNK
3. La Roche Posay Dermo Cleanser (£15.00/
This is the gentlest cleanser on this list – and the one most recommended by dermatologists for your skin type. If your skin is very dry and sensitive that almost anything irritates it, and yet you’re experiencing acne, this cleanser gets rid of impurities without aggravating either condition. There’s not much else to say. It’s a simple, no-frills formula that works.
Available at: Boots, Cult Beauty, Look Fantastic, and Sephora
Best Exfoliants For Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Glycolic acid is the best exfoliant for dry skin. It brightens and hydrates skin at the same time. Salicylic acid is the best exfoliant for acne-prone skin. It gets inside your pores and removes blackheads and pimples. If you must choose one, opt for salicylic acid until the acne is gone. But if you can, choose a cleanser that has both.
1. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00/£76.00)
Dry skin loves glycolic and lactic acids. These exfoliants remove all dead cells from the surface of your skin and hydrate it to boot. The catch? They can’t get inside the pores and get rid of the excess oil + dead cells stuck deep into them – i.e. the stuff that gives you acne. That’s a job for salicylic acid (BHA). Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum has all 3 acids, so it can make your skin softer and brighter while getting rid of acne at the same time. Just don’t over exfoliate. Three times a week is all you need.
Available at: Boots, Cult Beauty, Look Fantastic, Sephora, SpaceNK, and Ulta
Related: AHAs VS BHA: Which One Is Right For You?
2. Good Molecules Overnight Exfoliating Treatment ($6.00)
A simple, no-frills formula with Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, and Salicylic Acid, to exfoliate, brighten, and fight acne at the same time. It doesn’t have all the antioxidants & co Drunk Elephant has (hence the much lower price tag), but it does get the job done. Plus, hyaluronic acid adds some extra hydration your skin type desperately needs. It makes your skin softer and smoother and reduces acne. Just don’t go overboard. Two or three nights a week is all you need.
Available at: Ulta
3. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant ($29.00/£26.00)
Unfortunately, very few exfoliants use a combo of AHAs + BHA. If you can’t afford the splurge and are forced to chose only one, go with salicylic acid. It’s not as hydrating as AHAs, but it exfoliates acne away, keeps it from coming back and has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the redness that always comes along with pimples. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant uses 2% salicylic acid in a lightweight creamy texture that hydrates skin, too. Win win.
Available at: Cult Beauty, Paula’s Choice, Sephora, and SpaceNK
Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin
Best Moisturizers For Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Dry skin loves oil, but when you have acne, you need to tread carefully here. Rosehip oil is a great choice: it’s super moisturising and fights acne to boot. Squalane and jojoba oil work well for this skin type too. But, as a rule, opt for moisturisers low in oils and high in skin-repairing ingredients, like ceramides and fatty acids. They’ll moisturise your skin without aggravating your acne.
1. CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($15.49)
The last thing acne-prone skin needs is more oil. But how do you keep your dry areas happy without them? Enter CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion. It uses a blend of niacinamide + ceramides to strengthen the skin’s protective barrier and moisturise skin without adding more oil to it. Niacinamide goes a step (or four) further: it also hydrates skin, helps treats acne, fade away dark spots pimples leave behind and soothe irritations. FYI, you can use this moisturiser during the day, too.
Available at: Boots, Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Ulta and Walmart
Related: Why You Need To Add Niacinamide To Your Skincare Routine, No Matter Your Skin Type
2. Paula’s Choice Oil-Free Moisturizer ($29.00)
Like the name suggests, this moisturiser doesn’t contain a drop of oil – good news for acne-prone skin! Instead, it uses a mix of skin-repairing ingredients, including ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid, to lightly moisturise skin and make it softer and smoother. Plus, the moisturiser is packed with antioxidants to help you slow down premature aging – always a welcome addition in creams and lotions. The texture is lightweight and sinks into your skin quickly, without leaving a greasy residue behind. Not the most hydrating moisturiser out there, but for those of you who need something not to heavy, this is a great pick.
Available at: Brown Thomas, Cult Beauty, and Paula’s Choice
3. The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil (£9.70)
Rosehip oil is my fave oil for dry, acne-prone skin, for multiple reasons. First of all, like all oils, it’s rich in moisturising fatty acids that strengthen your skin’s protective barrier, making it softer, smoother, and healthier. Plus, it’s a rich source of linoleic acid, a fatty acid acne-prone skin lacks. Studies show that applying linoleic acid on your skin reduces the size of mini-comedones (mini pimples). Win win. The texture isn’t too greasy for an oil, but still apply it sparingly. I choose The Ordinary because it’s the most cost-effective, but any high-quality rosehip oil will do.
Available at: Beauty Bay, Boots, Brown Thomas, Cult Beauty, Sephora, SpaceNK, The Ordinary, Ulta, and Yes Style
Best Sunscreen For Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Look out for comedogenic ingredients. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are great UV filters, but if used in too high amounts, they could cause pores. Luckily, the amount of these filters used isn’t directly correlated to their effectiveness, so you could use low to medium concentrations that don’t upset your skin and still be fully protected from UV rays (as long as you apply enough!).
1. EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($35.00)
Part mineral, part synthetic, EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 has 9.0% Zinc oxide and 7.5% Octinoxate to provide excellent sun protection without leaving a greasy residue or white cast behind. Plus, the sunscreen is fairly moisturising but far from pore-clogging. Instead than oils (a no-no for acne-prone skin), here you’ll find a combo of niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to hydrate skin. Hyaluronic acid is so powerful, it holds up to 1000 times its weight in water! Niacinamide does a bit of everything: hydrates, soothes, reduces acne and dark spots… You name it, it does it.
Available at: Dermstore and Walmart
Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Hyaluronic Acid In Skincare
2. La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk Sunscreen SPF 60 ($36.99)
A quick-absorbing chemical sunscreen for face and body. It provides high, broad-spectrum protection that keeps your skin safe from UV rays and all the damage they cause (including aggravating acne!) even on the hottest of summer days. The silicone-based texture (silicones DON’T clog pores) is silky soft to the touch, making the sunscreen a pleasure to apply. It just melts into your sunscreen without any weird residues, white streaks or greasiness. It’s fragrance-free and gentle enough for sensitive skin (unless you’re allergic to one of the ingredients).
Available at: Dermstore and Ulta
3. Murad City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 PA++++ ($69.00/£66.00)
One of my fave mineral sunscreens, this sunscreen provides protection from all UV rays without irritating skin. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a beach in Bali or on the top of a mountain, this sunscreen will protect your delicate skin, preventing premature wrinkles and dark spots. Plus, it’s enriched with antioxidants to enhance the sun protection of your sunscreen and slow down premature aging. It’s just a lovely formula with a fantastic texture that absorbs quickly, doesn’t leave your skin feeling greasy, and doesn’t turn your face into a white mess.
Available at: Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Look Fantastic, Murad, and Ulta
Best Skin-Soothers Dry, Acne-Prone Skin
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Is your skin red and irritated? You need a serum that can calm down the inflammation. Guess what acne is? An inflammatory disease. By toning down redness and inflammation, you also help to reduce acne. FYI, this isn’t an acne-fighter. It’s just part of your support system to create an environment acne can’t thrive in.
1. Niod Modulating Glucosides (£21.00)
Did you know that acne is an inflammatory disease? One way to reduce the inflammation that triggers it is to add soothing ingredients into your skincare routine. That’s where Niod Modulating Glucosides comes in. This baby is loaded with every anti-inflammatory ingredient you can think of – and many more you’ve never heard about. It soothes redness, irritation, rosacea, eczema, acne… You name it. While it’s at it, it also fights off free radicals before they give you wrinkles and dark spots.
Available at: Harrods, Niod, and Selfridges
Related: My Full Review Of Niod Modulating Glucosides
2. Peach Slices Redness Relief Azelaic Acid Serum ($19.99)
Azelaic acid is a multi-tasker. Made by a good type of yeast that naturally leaves on your skin, it has powerful anti-acne and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce acne and tone down redness at the same time. Plus, the serum is enriched with plenty of skin-soothers, including panthenol and green tea, to further calm down redness and irritation, and heal your skin faster. Just be careful not to use it with other acne-fighters. If you’re on benzoyl peroxide or silver, don’t use this at the same time. If you’re using salicylic acid (as you should), then alternate this at night. It’s good to give your skin a range of actives. It’s not good to overwhelm your skin with everything at once. Even the most soothing ingredients can cause irritations when you use too many at the same time.
Available at: Peach & Lily and lUta
3. A’Pieu Madecassoside Ampoule 2X ($32.00)
Madecassoside is one of the soothing actives in centella asiatica, the IT plant of Korean skincare. For a reason: it calms down irritations and reduces redness, making your skin look clear and healthy. Plus, word on the street is that it helps you boost collagen production to keep skin younger-looking for longer. What about the rest of the centella asiatica plant? This serum also contains centella asiatica extract – you just get a separate double dose of madecassoside. If you have dry and sensitive skin prone to redness, this will provide instant calming benefits. Did I mention the texture is lightweight, fast-absorbing and a pleasure to use?
Available at: Soko Glam, Stylevana, and Yes Style
Best Spot Treatment For Dry, Acne Prone Skin
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The same thing to look for in spot treatments for all skin types. Benzoyl Peroxide and Sulphur are the two best acne-killers out there. They kill P. Acnes, helping to get rid of acne faster. The catch? They’re harsh on the skin. I don’t care what the product says, don’t use them as masks all over the face. They go on active pimples only. Capito?
1. Paula’s Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment With 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide ($18.00)
Can I tell you a secret? There’s no such thing as a gentle spot treatment. If it can kill acne, it’ll dry out your skin. That’s true of Benzoyl Peroxide AND natural alternatives, like sulfur or tea tree oil. I recommend Paula’s Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment With 2.5% Benzyl Peroxide for dry AND acne-prone skin for two reasons. One: it has a smaller concentration of Benzoyl Peroxide than most spot treatments out there, making it a little less drying for your skin. Two: it’s loaded with soothing ingredients, like bisabolol and allantoin, that soothe inflammation. Even so, use it on pimples only.
Available at: Dermstore and Paula’s Choice
Related: Is Benzyl Peroxide The Best Acne Treatment?
2. Epionce Purifying Spot Gel Blemish Clearing Tx ($42.00)
This is the most effective spot treatment I’ve found. It massively reduced my pimple in one day and by day 3, it was gone. The miracle active? Sulphur. Yes, it is that powerful. Plus, it also contains a little azelaic acid to exfoliate skin and calm down irritation and a drop of oil to prevent the treatment from drying out skin. Said that, this baby is powerful, so use it sparingly!
Available at: Dermstore
Best Anti-Aging Products For Dry, Acne Prone Skin
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Good news: retinol (and all retinoids) fight both wrinkles and acne. But they’re drying. Pick a low concentration that helps you reduce acne without drying out your skin – and moisturise afterwards. If you want to add a Vitamin C serum to your skincare routine, opt for one that contains Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate. It’s the only form of Vitamin C with acne-fighting properties.
1. The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane (£4.90)
A medium-strength retinol serum for those who have been using retinol for a while but are not yet ready to graduate to 1% yet. Retinol boosts collagen and speeds up the skin’s natural exfoliating process to get rid of acne while reducing wrinkles at the same time. The Squalane base counteracts its irritating potential while delivering all its anti-aging benefits. It’s a simple, no-frills formula that works. It’s also available in 0.2% and 1% concentration, depending on where you are in your retinol journey.
Available at: Beauty Bay, Boots, Cult Beauty, Sephora, The Ordinary, and Ulta
2. Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00)
A micro encapsulated 1.5% retinol serum in an oily, moisturising base to fight wrinkles and fade away dark spots. Micro-encapsulation means retinol is delivered into your skin over several hours instead of all at once, so it’s gentler on the skin. Still, it’s a big concentration, so use it only if your skin is ready for that (hint: this shouldn’t be your first retinol serum). The oily texture moisturises skin, counteracting the drying effects of this much retinol, leaving your skin softer and your wrinkles looking smaller.
Available at: Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, and Peter Thomas Roth.
3. Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum ($33.99)
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum uses a derivate of vitamin C, too. Sodium ascorbyl phosphate, to be exact. It’s a stable form of vitamin C that’s better known for its ability to treat acne. But it still fights wrinkles, brightens the complexion and all those things vitamin C is supposed to do. It still has vitamin E and ferulic acid to make vitamin C even more effective. And it has its fair share of antioxidants to prevent even more wrinkles. It’s suitable for all skin type, but oily skin will like it the most.
Available at: iHerb and Ulta
What Products Should Dry And Acne-Prone Skin Avoid?
So far, I’ve told you what the best products for dry and acne-prone skin are. Now, let’s take a look at what you should avoid like the plague:
- Clay masks: They absorb too much excess oil from your skin type. If you must use them, pick one with rhassoul clay (it’s gentler than other clays) and apply it only on your acne-prone areas.
- Fragrant Essential oils: If it smells too good, it’s bad news for skin and can inflame it.
- Oil-based products: It’s true dry skin loves oils, but they can clog pores and give you more breakouts. A little oil is ok (and so are jojoba and rose hip oils). Just don’t go overboard.
- Scrubs (including Clarisonic and Foreo): They’re too harsh for acne-prone skin and don’t help get rid of breakouts. They only exfoliate the surface of the skin, but can’t obviously penetrate deep into your pores to get rid of pimples. So you risk irritating your skin for nothing.
- Soaps: They’re too harsh and drying on the skin and strip it bare of the natural oils it desperately needs.
FAQ ABOUT PRODUCTS FOR DRY, ACNE-PRONE SKIN?
Can dry, acne-prone skin use products with oils?
Dry skin loves oils. They’re super moisturising and help restore the skin’s protective barrier, so that moisture stays in and skin stays soft and healthy. Acne-prone skin hates oils. They clog pores and exacerbate acne. So what’s a girl with dry skin and acne to do? The answer, as it often is, is in the middle. You can use products with a little amount of oils, as well as acne-friendly pure jojoba and rose hip oil. Just don’t go overboard and start using too many oils in your routine.
What’s the best exfoliant for dry, acne-prone skin?
Dry skin loves Glycolic Acid. The smallest member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acid family, it exfoliates skin, brightens the complexion, fades away dark spots and even hydrates. Acne-prone skin needs Salicylic Acid. The only member of the Beta Hydroxy Acid family used in skincare, Salicylic Acid is also the only oil-soluble exfoliant. This feature allows it to penetrate past the skin’s lipid barrier and get deep into your pores, exfoliating them from within. Bye bye, pimples and blackheads! I don’t care what your skin type is, if you have acne, always opt for Salicylic Acid. But, if you can find an exfoliant with both, you’ve hit the jackpot.
How often should you use a cleanser for dry, acne-prone skin?
Never exfoliate more than twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Cleansing too often dries out skin even more and exacerbates acne.
Dry skin that suffers from acne can seem a contradiction and make it harder to find skincare products that target both needs. But it’s not impossible. Opt for gel-to-cream cleansers, exfoliants that contain both AHAs and BHA, and moisturisers low in oils and high in skin-repairing ingredients. The acne will disappear and your skin will be soft and moisturised.