Can Acne Be Caused By Dry Skin?

We often associate acne with oily skin and in most cases it’s true. People with oily skin are at the highest risk of breakouts usually because of clogged pores. Can acne be caused by dry skin as well?

Yes, dry skin can get acne too.

All the factors that lead to breakouts in oily skin can also happen on dry skin. These include inflammation, clogging of pores and excess oils. Things can be even worse for people with dry skin since common acne medication can actually worsen the breakouts.


Xerosis is the medical term for dry skin. It refers to damaged skin that doesn’t have enough moisture.

Healthy skin has a lipid layer on top. These fats act as natural barriers against bacteria and dirt getting in. They also prevent the body’s natural moisture from escaping, thus keeping the skin properly hydrated.

When you have xerosis this layer is compromised. As the lipid layer breaks down more moisture from the skin escapes and bacteria find a way in.

There are a lot of things that can cause dry skin. Genetics is one of them. But lifestyle habits are usually to blame.

Long hot showers, using harsh soaps, aggressive cosmetics, sun damage, exposure to pollution and inadequate moisturization can all lead to xerosis.

Dry Skin and Acne

So what’s the link between dry skin and acne breakouts?

There are several.

For one, your pores can easily get clogged. Remember the lipid layer is now letting in more dirt which accumulates in your pores.

Your skin is also not working properly to get rid of dead skin cells. They block your pores, greatly increasing the risk of a breakout.

That’s not all. Dry skin, contrary to what most people think, produces a lot of oil. But it’s unable to lock it into the skin. The drier the skin gets the more oil it produces.

As in oily skin, excess oil on dry skin clogs the pores and causes acne breakouts.

Another major link is inflammation. This is also a common cause of acne in oily skin.

The body perceives the damage to the skin barrier as an injury. The natural immune response causes an inflammation and leads to acne. The penetration of chemicals, pollution and dirt can worsen the inflammation.

Another major cause of acne in dry skin is infection.

With a weak skin barrier, dirt and bacteria find it easier to penetrate deep into the skin. This leaves your skin more vulnerable to infections that cause acne.

To summarise, dry skin is vulnerable to infections, inflammation and pore-clogging. And since these tend to occur together, it’s very possible for someone with dry skin to get acne.

How to treat acne on dry skin

You have to be very careful how you treat the breakout. Most acne medications are too aggressive for dry sensitive skin.

In many cases they will dry out your skin even more and worsen the breakout.

The same goes for most skin products meant to fight acne.

I recommend asking your dermatologist for the best medication that is safe and effective for your skin.

Avoid anything with drying ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or alcohol. Instead, look for creams with salicylic acid which is able to treat acne without drying out the skin.

Make sure you also use a non-oil moisturiser, exfoliate regularly and avoid irritating products.

Preventing acne on dry skin

Prevention is always better than trying to look for the right acne cream that won’t make things worse.

If you have dry skin avoid doing anything that could dry it out even further which could lead to the inflammation, infections and clogging that cause acne.

  • Avoid long hot showers and don’t use harsh soaps or shampoos. Try to get one of those shower gels recommended for dry skin and a face wash for sensitive skin with acne.
  • When shopping for skin products go for gentle pH-balanced products that won’t irritate or dry out your skin.
  • Apply a good quality gentle moisturiser especially in winter when the air tends to be drier. If you switch on the heater make sure you put on moisturiser and wear protective clothing to prevent dehydration.
  • Exfoliate regularly but be gentle. Dry skin is not as efficient in cell turnover. Regular cleansing and exfoliation ensures dirt and dead skin cells don’t clog the pores. Only use mild scrubs and cleansers formulated specifically for dry and sensitive skin.
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