If you think you're alone in battling pimples and dry (even flaky) skin, you're so not. According to dermatologist Arielle Kauvar, M.D. acne isn't only caused by over productive oil glands, which is what most of us assume. It can be caused by numerous factors, the most important being "a genetic tendency to have plugged hair follicles," she says. Huh? Yup, clogged hair follicles. Basically, "when the hair follicle becomes plugged with debris, oil builds up behind the plug in the hair follicle and a bacteria called P.acnes grows in number. The bacteria then releases chemicals that cause inflammation," she adds. That's exactly why it is possible to have both acne and dry skin all at the same time. But enough with the technical stuff, let's get on to the dos and don'ts of dealing with it.
DON'T use too many drying products When your skin breaks out it's tempting to reach for every product labeled "drying"—drying cream, drying lotion, etc.—because you're desperate to suck the life out of those bacteria-filled spots. But, "irritating the skin with too many drying products can actually make acne worse," says Kauvar. So the key is to use moisturizing products in combination with exfoliating ingredients to prevent your skin from becoming overly dry and making breakouts worse.
DON'T cleanse too often
"The biggest mistake women make when they have acne is that they wash their face too often, even scrub it," says Kauvar. And, this kind of irritation can also make acne worse, she says.
DO discover the right skin care regimen
Start by using a foaming or creamy cleanser, but avoid "a drying cleanser formulated specifically for acne, [ones that] often contain glycolic acid," says Kauvar. Try Garnier Moisture Rescue Fresh Cleansing Foam.
When it comes to picking an over-the-counter acne treatment product, you may want to opt for ones containing salicylic acid since "individuals with very dry skin often cannot tolerate benzoyl peroxide," she says. Try Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum.
You also want to exfoliate your entire face on a regular basis to prevent plugged hair follicles. Kauvar recommends using a physical exfoliant like the Clarisonic Skin Cleansing System or a bead scrub like Clinique 7 Day Scrub Cream Rinse-Off Formula daily to keep skin clear.
Finally, the most important step is to use an oil-free moisturizer and eye cream. Try Kiehl's Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel-Cream and Biore SkinPreservation See the Future Fortifying Eye Cream. "Moisturizers that are oil-free typically use silicones and glycerin to hydrate the skin rather than mineral oil, petrolatum or shea butter," says Kauvar, and the later ingredients are more likely to cause breakouts. And, regularly moisturizing your skin will help prevent dryness.
DO see a dermatologist
If you have very sensitive skin in addition to having dry, breakout-prone skin (lucky you) or if the above regimen still doesn't help solve your skin issues, it may be time to see a dermatologist. They can help you find the right balance of products for your finicky skin.