How To Get Rid Of Dry Skin Caused By Harsh Acne Treatments

acne on a womans skin

If you’re someone who currently has acne, you may be experiencing dry skin caused by harsh acne treatments. Here’s how to fix flaky, dry skin fast to get your skin back to being calm, clear and healthy-looking.

How Can I Get Rid of Dry Skin Caused by Harsh Acne Treatments?

Many acne treatments can unfortunately also be quite drying and stripping. When a product strips and dries out your skin, it’s actually causing damage to your moisture barrier. A damaged moisture barrier causes invisible cracks in the skin that allow moisture to evaporate out and irritants to get in more easily. This is why the skin becomes tight, sensitive, and flaky. Learn more about your skin’s moisture barrier and how to protect it.

Here are four things you can do when your skin’s moisture barrier has been damaged by harsh, drying acne treatments.

1. Immediately Discontinue Use Of Topical Treatments Causing Dryness or Flakiness

This means you may have to hit the pause button on your acne regimen until the skin gets repaired. But don’t worry! The fact is, it’s hard to get acne under control when the skin’s barrier is compromised. It’s important to know that going easy on your skin will eventually lead you on a path to clearer skin.

2. Stop or Minimize Use of Exfoliating Products

Facial scrubs, sonic cleansing brushes, and acid serums will damage a compromised moisture barrier even further and lead to continued dehydration and dryness when used too often.

3. Keep Your Skincare Routine Simple 

Keep your routine simple by only using a gentle cleanser and calming moisturizer. Twice a day, morning and night, you’ll want to cleanse and immediately follow with the application of a moisturizer. If your skin is inflamed due to harsh acne treatments, less is more right now.

4. Avoid Exposing Your Skin to Direct Sunlight

Since the skin is already irritated and inflamed due to drying acne products, you’ll want to stay out of the heat and sun since both can add to the sensitivity. Be sure to have a gentle, non-irritating sunscreen on your skin during daylight hours.

What Can Cause Dry, Flaky Skin?

Benzoyl Peroxide

This ingredient has been used for years to reduce P. acnes bacteria that can lead to blemishes. It can be effective for some people when used in moderation, but it is notorious for leaving you with dry, flaky skin.


Retinoids are a vitamin A derivative. They are typically available by prescription, but you can also get Differin over the counter at drugstores now. While retinoids won’t work for all types of acne (I don’t recommend it for angry, red, inflamed blemishes), it can work well for closed comedones, non-inflamed bumps, and clogged pores. For the first two months or more, the side effects are dryness, redness, and peeling. With continued use, the dryness will subside.

Topical Prescription Acne Medications

There are many other cleansers, creams, and gel treatments that a dermatologist will prescribe for lessening breakout activity, but most of them are meant to dry out the skin. A lot of times they will just leave with you dry, flaky and dehydrated skin. The key is to introduce them slowly and use them sparingly to avoid the backlash of dryness and peeling.

Alcohol-Based Acne Treatments

Acne products, especially spot treatments and some toners, will often include SD Alcohol 40 and Denatured Alcohol. These can strip the skin’s moisture barrier and cause dryness. (Granted, they are mainly used just in small areas, so it’s not as bad as if you’re using on the entire face.)

Sulfate-Based (Foaming) Face Washes

Many acne cleansers are formulated with an ingredient called sodium lauryl sulfate. It’s an additive that causes a foaming action. Due to the lather it creates and its high pH, it can be too stripping and drying for the skin. Instead, use a low-foaming, sulfate-free cleanser like Purifying Face Wash.


With the popularity of products that contain acids like glycolic, lactic, malic and salicylic acids, many people love the result they give and use them daily. However, without realizing it, this can result in a damaged moisture barrier that causes dryness and irritation. I believe exfoliants should be limited to no more than five times a week but it will vary based on your skin type. Learn more about how often you should be exfoliating. 

Not Using Moisturizer

Worried about moisturizer causing more acne and clogging your pores? Many people who get breakouts will shy away from using moisturizer, even ones that are oil-free. Skin cells are like fish and need water to live, so when hydration is depleted, the skin is put in an unhealthy state that leads to tightness and severe dehydration. Add in the use of harsh acne treatments, and you really can mess up your skin. All of this makes the skin unhealthy and can actually lead to MORE breakouts.

Using Skincare Products That Sting

Some people associate products that sting with them “working.” A stinging sensation (especially from harsh chemicals) is not a good thing. Learn what it really means when your skincare products sting.

Seasonal Weather Changes or Long Plane Rides

Even if you’re not using harsh chemicals on your skin, the skin can still get dry and dehydrated from your environment. Learn the difference between dry and dehydrated skin.

Renee Rouleau Purifying Face Wash

Before and After: How I Fixed My Nephew’s Damaged Skin

My nephew used typical, harsh acne products to treat his blemishes and ended up with dehydrated, flaky, red skin. Here’s how we fixed it.

The Problem

My nephew started breaking out when he was 15, so he started using a topical prescription from his dermatologist, along with washing his face with a harsh acne cleanser. His skin was getting really dry but he pushed through it thinking this was a normal side effect that needed to happen in an effort to control the acne. His face got extremely irritated and red and started to crack. I told him that I didn’t want to address the acne right now but instead, I needed to restore his skin back to a healthy place by repairing the moisture barrier. Once we got that repaired, then we could worry about the acne but for now, the priority was to make it skin less dry from the harsh chemicals he was using.

How My Nephew Tried to Repair His Dry, Flaky Skin Caused by Harsh Acne Treatments

He finally had enough and stopped using the prescription and went back to just washing his face twice a day. After a few weeks, his skin started to become a little better, but it still remained dry and flaky, as you can see in the first picture above.

In the ‘before’ picture above, this was four months AFTER he had stopped using the prescription medication. Shocking, right? The skin’s barrier was so badly damaged that it just couldn’t repair itself without some topical intervention of products meant to heal the skin.

The Skincare Plan

Enter his aunt, an esthetician! When I saw him this past June up in Cape Cod for a family reunion (which was when the first two pictures were taken), I immediately gave him a cleanser and a moisturizer to use that I happened to have in my travel bag.

Morning and Evening Routine

Cleanse with Purifying Face Wash and immediately follow with Skin Recovery Lotion. (The Skin Recovery Lotion I gave him was a lab sample of our new and improved formula that is available now.) I had him repeat the same routine in the evening.
Renee Rouleau Skin Recovery Lotion

Improvement In Dry, Flaky Skin in Just Three Days

In just three days, as you can see in the photo, there was a significant improvement in reducing the dryness and irritation.

When I returned back home to Austin, I sent him one additional product. A moisturizer called Phytolipid Comfort Creme. Since his skin was so badly damaged, I had him use a thicker cream one night a week in place of the Skin Recovery Lotion. After five uses, I had him go back to using Skin Recovery Lotion since that creme is not ideal for acne-prone skin.

The Results After Eight Weeks

  • Less redness (The redness leftover is discoloration from his original acne scarring which was exacerbated by his skin being so inflamed. All of this will continue to improve and will eventually be gone completely.)
  • No visible dryness or dehydration
  • No peeling, flaking or cracking
  • A smoother texture
  • Significantly less acne
  • Even the lines under his eyes are much improved

Why it Successfully Repaired His Skin From Drying Acne Products:

His dry, flaky, irritated skin was a sign of a damaged moisture barrier. When the skin’s barrier is compromised from harsh chemicals, it creates small, invisible cracks in the skin that allows moisture to evaporate and irritants to get into the skin easier. As for his acne, which I told him we would address once we got his skin back to a healthy place, there’s just not that much left. When the skin’s barrier is intact, it can properly defend microbial invasion and function in a healthier and proper way.

My nephew is so happy. At age 16, his skin is one less thing he needs to be worried about. (I promise these photos have not been retouched!)

Obviously, my nephew’s skin is an extreme case but it does drive home the point of how drying acne products can affect the skin’s appearance and overall health. I hope this gives you some insight as to how to get rid of dry skin caused by harsh acne treatments so you can get rid of sensitive, flaky skin, once and for all. Of course, you’ll always want to choose products that are right for your skin type.

Disclaimer: Content found on and, including text, images, audio, or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.


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  1. Learned so much thank u found out I’m skin type 4 thanks 💕 ! I’m a 20yr old female who’s recently been struggling with my forehead redness/flakey skin as well is on the sides of nose/cheeks I’ve tried so many lotions too and haven’t changed my face wash always wondering if maybe it’s time to change face wash I use NIACINAMIDE CLEANSING GELÉE 3% by Naturium and theirulti peptide moisturizer plz help I hate trying to do make up and having it ruined by cracks patches flakes and red skin ! Much love !

    Posted By: Yaneli  | 

  2. hi, i been struggling with acne for couple months, my doctor recommended me to use Acne Medication 5 it’s been leaving my skin very dry & redness. I’m using Acne Triple Clear by Clean & Clear, i don’t know what to use anymore can you help me out

    Posted By: zitlaly  | 

    • Hey there! Breaking the breakout cycle shouldn’t have to leave you dry and irritated! I would suggest trying the Zit Care Kit for four amazing spot treatments!

      Posted By: Ella Stevenson  | 

  3. Hi there!
    I recently started using a new product called differin gel for my little to no acne. A doctor recommended it. I’ve used it for 3 weeks so far and my face is horrible and hurts so much. It hurts to even wash it and cold water makes it worst! Air even hurts it. My mom thinks that it’s a chemical burn from the new product. Any recommendations on how to wash my face and should I use my moisturizer because that makes it burn?

    Posted By: alina  | 

    • Hey there! I am so sorry to hear about this uncomfortable situation. Since it is important to be able to comfortably cleanse and hydrate, I would discuss this with the doctor who suggested this topical treatment. They will have the best medical advice on how to discontinue using or be able to assist you with any issues or modifications.

      Posted By: Ella Stevenson  | 

  4. Hi Mrs. Renée I had 2 fine lines under my eyes and so I went to a dermatologist and they put me on Tretinoin cream 1 percent and so I used it 2 nights pea size how it said and that doctor instructed and on the third day I woke up with tons more wrinkles I never had and my skin looked so dry and cracking lines all over . I went to see 2 other dermatologist but came back more sad because sadly those people only care about is the money not the actually person. So I came across your blog of your nephew and I wanted to see if you can advice me on what to do to repair my skin and the lines this product gave me . You have no idea how much I cryed and still cry when I look at myself in the mirror because I wasn’t this wrinkly before I literally aged myself regret everyday to have applied Trentinion on my face I haven’t been the same person ever since it damaged my face I have now very bad depression and low self esteem feel embarrassed when people talk to me ,I hide my face down this has really caused me a lot of pain so it would mean a lot to me if you would advice me how can I restore my face again and fix the damage done.Thank you so much in advance God bless you .

    Posted By: Linda Betancourt  | 

    • Hi Linda. These new “lines” are more than likely temporary and caused by dehydration and dryness from the tretinoin. It’s not uncommon to experience these side effects when starting a topical prescription like that. I recommend a hydrating product like my Total Eye Repair Creme to repair your skin’s moisture barrier. This will soften up fine lines and wrinkles. Hope that helps!

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

  5. Hi Renée, I’m struggling with acne for two years now. I’ve tried everything under the sun , (benzoyl peroxide , tretinoin, chemical ,peels),but nothing seems to work. I’m writing becouse recently I experienced an horrible reaction to a lotion,(it contained mandelic, piruvic and kojic acid): my face was covered in tiny white bum

    Posted By: Francesca  | 

    • Hi! I’m so sorry to hear that. If you’re experiencing a bad reaction, I recommend seeing a dermatologist to help you out.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

  6. Hi
    This is a really informative post and I’m hoping you can help me to the same extent.
    I’ve been having a horrendous time with my skin, I’m pretty certain it’s because the barrier is damaged from use of a SLS cleanser a couple of years ago & probably made worse by what I’ve tried to do to fix it.
    Everything I put on my skin stings, burning sensation throughout the day & it looks red. I’ve tried desperately to help it heal, using gentle products etc but they all seem to sting & cause a reaction. I used Vanicream last week & woke up with bright red irritated skin. I’ve also tried Aveeno, Epaderm, E45, Avene Skin Recovery…everything flares it up.
    I’m desperate as it’s affecting every aspect of my life. Hope you can help ??

    Posted By: Julia Jones  | 


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