What to Do When You Have Acne and Dry Skin


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While having oily skin with acne is not uncommon, only a small percentage of people find themselves with truly dry skin and acne. For those unlucky few, it’s an infuriating struggle. Trying to find a moisturizer that addresses the needs of dry skin without clogging pores and causing more breakouts is hard enough. Then there’s the issue that products that get breakouts under control often make dry skin even drier. It can be a paralyzing dilemma when shopping for skincare products!

It’s not easy finding the ideal skincare routine for dry skin and acne. It takes some experimenting and fine-tuning with the best formulations—but once you do, the results can be beautiful. Let's figure this out together!

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Do You Really Have Dry Skin or is It "Dehydrated"?

First, let’s make sure you actually have dry skin and acne, as opposed to dehydrated skin which often gets confused for dry skin. If your skin feels dry and oily and prone to breakouts all at the same time, you’re actually struggling with dehydrated skin and acne, which is very different.

Dehydrated skin is brought on by using (or overusing) skincare products that contain harsh ingredients or aren’t right for your skin type. Scrubs, cleansing brushes with stiff bristles, drying cleansers, and products with harsh ingredients like denatured alcohol, mint, menthol, eucalyptus, and lemon are some of the ways skin gets dehydrated. So your skin it isn’t naturally dry—instead, you’ve inadvertently caused the problem.

Does this sound more like your skin type? If so, taking care of dehydrated skin with acne has a separate protocol, which you’ll find here.

Skincare for Dry Skin + Acne

Once you’ve ensured that your skincare routine is free of aggravating factors (drying cleansers, overdoing cleansing brushes, toners with witch hazel/alcohol/menthol, and fragranced products), you can focus on the gentle yet effective ways to get your dry skin and acne under control. Following are our expert recommendations.

Start with a soothing cleanser and toner duo, like you’ll find in our CALM Redness Relief collection for Normal to Dry Skin to leave skin thoroughly cleansed, yet replenished and soft.

Bring in the big guns (though still ultimately gentle) with a BHA exfoliant to unclog pores. Our SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant has a light lotion texture that softens and hydrates as it gently and naturally exfoliates dead skin, just like your skin did when you were younger. 

Stop breakouts before they begin with benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is a powerhouse ingredient for preventing acne eruptions before they happen. Use it consistently in your breakout-prone areas, give it a couple of weeks, and you will see what we mean! Higher concentrations, particularly 10%, can be drying for many people so we strongly recommend you try starting with a 2.5% concentration, like our CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment and see how your skin responds.

Find the perfect balance in a moisturizer and/or serum. This is admittedly the tricky part. You want a moisturizer and/or serum that contains rejuvenating and skin-renewing ingredients but is also hydrating enough to quench dry skin. It also needs to be less emollient than a standard cream moisturizer so it doesn’t exacerbate breakouts. While it may take some experimenting, here are a few of our suggestions, starting with the lightest option in each category first.

Daytime moisturizers with SPF 30 or greater (you simply can’t take care of any skin type and overlook this fundamental skincare step):

Nighttime moisturizers:


Keep in mind that at Paula’s Choice we have a 100% Money Back Guarantee which means you can try any of those products without worrying if it will work for you dry skin and acne. We understand that this is a difficult skin issue to take care of, and we want to make it easier for YOU!

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Products for Dry Skin and Paula's Choice Products for Acne Breakouts.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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