Finding the best acne products to use for sensitive skin in low humidity climates is challenging because both acne products and dry climates will damage skin barrier. Sensitive skin complexions start out with fragile skin barrier and the combination is the perfect storm for skin irritation. I received a great question about this from a reader that I would like to share.
Hi Dr. Bailey, I'm using salicylic acid 1.5% and it doesn’t exfoliate very well. It just barely loosens surface dead skin. Are the alpha hydroxy acids better for that? (I'm thinking of the lower concentrations) because I'm sensitive. I read that SA just dissolves the top layer and AHA remodels the stratum corneum so they work differently and it sounds like AHA would make skin look better if that info is correct (is that right?).
Also, what do you recommend for a person with acne prone skin who needs hydration and worries about breaking out with suspect moisturizers? (I don't want a product that leaves skin dehydrated in low humidity like some products do that are just humectants alone where hydration evaporates quickly. PCA Hydrating Serum is a great one. I've been through tons and finally found one safe for acne prone skin and effective at keeping my skin hydrated being in air conditioning all day. ~ Lisa
This is a great topic about how to build the best complete acne skin care routine for sensitive skin in low humidity and dry climates.
One product that my acne prone patients who struggle with dry skin love is my Instantly Luminous Multi-Action Serum. Similar to the PCA Serum that your skin loves, my Luminous Serum has glycerin and hyaluronic acid. It has much more - none of which breaks out skin - including sodium PCA (a natural component of skin that binds moisture), tons of varied molecular weight hyaluronic acid and glycerin. This means that it's full of pharmaceutically pure and stable water-binding ingredients to help prevent that dehumidified and dry air-conditioned air from stealing your skin's moisture!
The Instantly Luminous Serum is non-comedogenic and thus also ideal for acne prone skin. I would recommend applying it in the morning after cleansing your face and under your moisturizer.
Treating sensitive skin acne in dry climates
I typically start people who have both acne and sensitive skin on a skin cleanser with a combination of medicated 2% salicylic acid (SA) combined with glycolic acid (GA). This is a synergistic combination of exfoliators. My medical-grade Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser provides the ideal concentration to penetrate oily pores and brighten the complexion simultaneously while also treating acne.
Since acne prone skin is notorious for breaking out from time to time even when using the best skin care, I tell my patients to treat any new pustules with my 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment Cream. Extremely acne prone areas of the face are also nicely controlled by daily application of 5% benzoyl peroxide (BP) cream. Benzoyl peroxide is the best acne treating medicine to control the acne causing bacteria, C. acnes. Controlling C. acnes is the best way to prevent new pimples.
It is important to know that this benzoyl peroxide cream is made with an advanced formulation of ultra-micronized benzoyl peroxide to minimize irritation while maximizing effectiveness. Other benzoyl peroxide products may be irritating but this unique formulation is unlikely to irritate sensitive skin.
Is salicylic acid as effective as an AHA to exfoliate dead skin cells?
No! You are right that salicylic acid is not as helpful as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) at exfoliating and changing the stratum corneum. AHAs, and specifically glycolic acid, is very effective at compacting the stratum corneum (dead cell layer of skin) to quickly exfoliate and brighten your complexion. Glycolic acid also helps to break up blackheads.
But salicylic acid is great at getting through oil to travel deeply into pores to treat blackheads. Blackheads are the first step in the formation of an acne lesion. Together, salicylic acid plus glycolic acid are a magic combo for loosening pore clogging dead cells that cause blackheads.
The medical-grade product combination of glycolic/salicylic acids and benzoyl peroxide is the basis of how I treat acne with my Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit. It's like a trip to the dermatologist because I've worked out the medical efficacy and precise combination of treating ingredients in this skin care routine.
I combine these medicated products with the perfect acne-friendly facial moisturizer to prevent skin dryness and strengthen the skin barrier.
My Daily Face Cream is non-comedogenic and fortified with ceramides and squalane to help replenish these critical components of the epidermis. This is especially important for sensitive skin complexions that are stressed by low humidity climates.
All of these products are also available individually if a person needs only one product to control their acne skin problems.
Click here to learn more about my Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit for treating acne in low humid climates.
Know that this skin care routine will feel good on your skin because I've designed it layer on smoothly. It's important that your skin feels as good as it looks. I hope that helps, Lisa. Thank you for sending such a great question that many people share.
Cynthia Bailey, MD Board Certified Dermatologist
Author: Dr. Cynthia Bailey M.D. is a Board Certified dermatologist practicing dermatology since 1987. She has done well over 200,000 skin exams during her career and authors the longest running physician written skin health blog in the world.
“I love empowering people to take good care of their skin by educating them and putting the ‘self-care’ into their skin care so that they love the skin they’re in!” Dr. Bailey
Disclaimer: Please realize that availing yourself of the opportunity to submit and receive answers to your questions from Dr. Bailey does not confer a doctor/patient relationship with Dr. Bailey. The information provided by Dr. Bailey is general health information inspired by your question. It should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem (and is not an extension of the care Dr. Bailey has provided in her office for existing patients of her practice). Never ignore your own doctor’s advice because of something you read here; this information is for general informational purpose only.