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
Dear 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 fight that dehumidified, dry air-conditioned air.
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 with sensitive skin on a skin cleanser with a combination of salicylic acid (SA) and glycolic acid (GA) together for their synergy. This is available in my Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser.
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 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment Cream. Extremely acne prone areas of the face are also nicely controlled by daily application of 2.5% benzoyl peroxide (BP) cream after toning with the pads. This 2.5% benzoyl peroxide strength is the sweet spot for BP acne treatment; it is unlikely to irritate sensitive skin, but is well proven to control the acne causing bacteria, P. acnes.
You are right that salicylic acid is not as helpful as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) at exfoliating and changing the stratum corneum. Salicylic acid is great at getting through oil, and therefore is a great help for keeping pores clean. That said, I find AHAs much better at brightening the complexion and dislodging black heads.
The product combination of glycolic/salicylic acids and benzoyl peroxide is the basis of my Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit. I combine them with the perfect facial moisturizer to protect skin barrier. It is my Daily Face Cream for Normal to Oily Skin. It is oil-free and non-comedogenic yet highly effective in preventing dryness.
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. I have designed my complete skin care routines to layer on smoothly, because 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 have.
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.