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Treating Acne: Why Drier Is Better


So often, we see the advice to moisturize while trying to treat acne. The fact is, unless you have dry skin, which is uncommon with moderate to severe acne, you should be using little to no moisturizer during active acne treatment. The purpose of acne treatment is to mildly irritate the skin to cause peeling down inside the pore and to kill bacteria. The process is inherently and necessarily drying. It will cause flaking. This is temporary and will stop as skin acclimates to the treatment and as impactions clear. But the active flaking phase is the active clearing phase. Don’t fear the flake.


Benzoyl peroxide, one of the most effective acne medications, is a keratolytic agent. The purpose of a keratolytic is to create a controlled peel in the skin. It is essentially inflicting a small injury to the skin to prompt it to rejuvenate, creating new cells and leading to smoother texture. Additionally, benzoyl peroxide penetrates into pores and releases oxygen to kill bacteria that causes acne and inflammation.


While the action of Vitamin A therapy is different, the resulting flaking and dryness can be similar. Vitamin A accelerates cell turnover, which pulls impactions up and out while stimulating new cellular growth. You will see micro-peeling with vitamin A as the dead skin cells are sloughed off. This is a necessary part of the clearing and retexturing process.


The problem with adding moisture during this process is that it will interfere with the process of peeling the impactions. Too much sebum or added moisture will keep the products from penetrating skin and inhibit their action. And depending on the type of moisture, i.e., something too heavy or occlusive, it may clog pores and lead to further impactions.


Rather than adding a moisturizer, you can make adjustments to your products. Mandelic Acid 3-In-1 Wash is a gentler alternative to the BP 3% Acne Wash, but it is still highly effective in treating acne. Mandelic acid suppresses acne-causing bacteria and is a particularly good option for dark skin tones that are more prone to hyperpigmentation.



Are there exceptions to the no-moisturizer rule?

There are exceptions to almost every rule.


  1. With both, BP and vitamin A, the percentage makes a big difference. When you first begin using either of these ingredients, you need to start with the lowest percentage and work your way up to more potent formulas. Your skin will have to acclimate to the product and may initially become overly dry, tight, and irritated. If that happens, you need to dial it back by reducing your usage to every other day and add some oil-free moisture.


  1. If you have dry skin and acne (typically adult acne sufferers), you may need to add some moisture to balance. You may find you only need it in the areas outside the T-zone.


  1. If you wash too frequently or over exfoliate, you may irritate your skin. In this case, you should dial back the use of your products to every other day. Stop any physical exfoliation while you repair your skin barrier with some healing ingredients like those found in Totaloe Calming and Hydrating Gel or Allantoin Sedating and Hydrating Lotion.


Moisturizers need water to work well. Wash your face before applying a moisturizer.

The main thing is to stick to your routine and give it at least a month to see the results.

Once your acne has cleared, continue with the regimen for a few weeks more to be sure you’re not leaving the seeds of a new breakout under the surface. Then you can move down to a lower maintenance level that will be less aggressive.



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