Dry Skin Is Yet Another Cause Of Acne. Here's Why (& How To Treat It)

There are five common skin types: normal, oily, dry, sensitive, and combination. Each skin type has unique characteristics and is synonymous with certain skin disorders. For instance, oily skin always comes to mind when considering acne. 

The production of sebum, a waxy substance by the body's sebaceous glands, is essential for keeping the skin and hair moisturized. Yet, in people with oily skin, the glands overproduce sebum. When sebum mixes with a host of dead skin cells and existing impurities on the skin, it leads to clogged pores and, ultimately, acne. For instance, your T-zone area — home to the most active oily glands on your face — is always vulnerable to greasiness, contributing to shine and breakouts. Aside from genetics and age, hot climates and an unfitting skincare routine can also lead to oily skin.

Interestingly, although oily skin is a well-known culprit behind acne breakouts, dry skin — the opposite of oily skin — can also cause you to experience acne. So, is it possible that the absence or lack of oil on your face can encourage the development of acne like the overproduction of oil does? Here are some insights.

Why dry skin can cause acne

Dry skin can also become acne-prone skin. When your skin is dry — producing less oil than other skin types — it prompts your glands to produce excessive sebum to compensate for the lack of moisture. As a result, your skin surface still looks greasy and is vulnerable to acne breakouts despite lacking oil. For this reason, dry skin is sometimes mistaken for oily skin.

There are various causes of dry skin. Dry skin can be inherited. It can also develop due to medical treatments like chemotherapy, organ transplantation, and dialysis. Those suffering from chronic medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, atopic dermatitis (eczema), or psoriasis are also more likely to have dry skin. Aging and living in low-humidity climates can also contribute to a decline in skin barrier function and dryness. Lifestyle habits, such as excessive bathing, exfoliating, or overuse of harsh cosmetics and personal care products, can strip natural oils off your skin and cause it to dry out, no matter its previous conditions.

What exacerbates dry skin

Common signs and symptoms of dry skin include itchiness, rough texture, a sense of skin tightness, cracks, fine lines, and slight to severe peeling. Depending on your living environment, underlying health symptoms, skin tone, and age, the extent of the signs and symptoms of skin dryness vary from person to person. There are many things you can do to improve your skin condition. But at the same time, certain environmental factors or irritants can worsen your dry skin.

For example, harsh and drying personal care products can deplete skin oils and worsen your condition. "Dry skin has a damaged moisture barrier," celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau tells Byrdie. "Your skin has invisible cracks, allowing moisture to escape and irritants to get in more easily." Moving from a place with hot and humid climates to one with windy and dry conditions can also make your skin drier than it used to be. Heat sources, such as central heating systems or wood-burning stoves, can zap moisture and humidity from the air and leave the skin sapless. Another lifestyle habit that triggers flare-ups in dry skin is hot bathing. Many people like to soak themselves in hot water to relieve rough and itchy skin, but it only worsens the matter. Taking long, hot showers can disrupt the skin's natural balance of oils and moisture, inflaming the skin and causing redness.

Dry skin vs dehydrated skin

Dry skin is often used interchangeably with dehydrated skin. However, "dry" and "dehydrated" are two different conditions: the former is a recognized skin type. At the same time, the latter is a skin condition that can affect all skin types — including oily skin. Dry skin lacks natural oils as they produce less sebum than usual, oily, or combination skin types. What dehydrated skin falls short of is water in the uppermost layer — not oils. This means: oils can only lubricate the skin and prevent water from escaping, but they cannot enrich the water content in the skin and keep it hydrated.

Dry skin is associated with various causes, from genetics to medications to climates. However, the leading cause of dehydration in the skin is usually the lack of water input. Aside from not drinking enough water, lack of sleep, sickness, stress, excessive exfoliating, and overbathing can also lead to dehydration in the skin. Signs of dehydrated skin include dark circles, dull complexion, itchiness, sunken eyes, and premature fine lines. Dehydration can also cause the skin to produce more oil to compensate for the lack of moisture, leading to congested pores and acne breakouts.

Caveats to keep in mind if you have dry skin

A proper skincare routine is effective in helping you keep skin dryness and acne under control. When shopping for cosmetics, skincare, or cleaning products, choose those independent of irritants, such as fragrances. "Fragrance can be an irritant leading to redness, itchy skin, and sometimes hives," dermatologist Dr. Diane Madfes shared with Garnier. Although not all fragrances can irritate the skin, those with dry skin are more vulnerable to allergic reactions. The same can be said for alcohol, an ingredient that makes the formula feel lightweight and helps other actives penetrate the skin better. Generally speaking, alcohol cannot inflict any damage on the skin. However, skincare products containing more than 1% of alcohol content can dehydrate and irritate already dry skin, cosmetic chemist Dr. Shuting Hu tells HelloGiggles.

Additionally, try to keep changes to your skincare routine to a minimum. Once you've found what works for your skin, stick with it. Thrusting a new product on your skin can often upset the apple cart and cause you to experience skin irritations and acne breakouts. When you shower, restrict it to five minutes with lukewarm water and slather up with moisturizer afterward. When the cold weather sets in, swap your wood-burning stoves for infrared heaters or built-in humidifiers, which can keep your space warm without drying out the air.

How to take care of dry skin

When addressing skin concerns such as acne or pigmentation, spot treat as needed, but keep the rest of your skincare routine consistent. The conventional wisdom is to apply a spot treatment at bedtime — after facial cleansing and toning and before serum and moisturizer application. If you use a powerful acne-fighting ingredient like benzoyl peroxide for acne spot treatment, look for one with a concentration of anywhere between 1% and 2.5% to avoid irritating your skin. Retinol — a vitamin A derivative — is also an excellent acne-clearing ingredient. If you're new to retinol, aim for a lower concentration, such as 0.25%, and use it twice to thrice weekly to build tolerance. Skin exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) are gentle enough for dry skin. To avoid irritating your skin, use AHA every other day and slather with sunscreen before going out. 

As far as facial cleansing goes, a super mild, fragrance-free, and foam-free cleanser works wonders for keeping the pores clean without aggravating already dry skin. To improve the skin's natural barrier function and maintain smooth skin, use a thick moisturizer or ointment with well-tolerated substances such as dimethicone, niacinamide, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid. Lanolin and petroleum jelly are also excellent in retaining moisture and minimizing over-drying. When it comes to sun protection, consider choosing mineral sunscreen over a chemical sunscreen, which is more moisturizing while still providing adequate UV protection.

Dietary suggestions for dry skin

Dry skin can result from long-term intake of particular foods. Alcohol, caffeine, salty, sugary, vitamin A-rich foods and refined carbs are just a few examples of foods and beverages that, if consumed in excess, can result in dry skin. To relieve dry skin, it's essential to introduce some moisturizing foods and drinks into your diet.

Your skin can enjoy a decent boost of moisture and suppleness from healthy fats, which you can get from consuming beef livers, avocados, egg yolks, fishes high in omega-3 fats, and olive oil. When it comes to fruits, it's best to hydrate and nourish your skin with fruits that are high in water content and low in sugar., it's wise to hydrate and boost your skin with fruits that are low in sugar and rich in water contents. For instance, coconut — loaded with healthy fats and antibacterial nutrients — is a wonderful daily source of electrolytes for those who want to keep their skin plump and acne-free. Rich in vitamin C — a nutrient needed for collagen production — raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and cranberries are also great options for hydrating and tightening saggy skin.

If you're struggling with premature fine lines and wrinkles due to skin dryness, learn to introduce green tea into your daily diet. A rich source of vitamin E, epigallocatechin gallate, and L-Theanine, green tea is loaded with hydrating qualities. It has been proven effective in improving oily and dry skin, destroying free radicals, minimizing acne flare-ups, and combating aging signs.