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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”