It always amazes me how often dry skin and acne breakouts go together.

The fact that dry skin can sit right beside an oil slick strikes me as both massively unfair and also understandable when you think about what acne actually is.

I have dry skin, why do I still get acne?

By Daniel, ESK Co-founder  


How is acne caused?

First of all dry, red skin is often inflamed skin. Inflammation is a part of – although not the whole story, of acne. In a bizarre chicken and egg situation, we think the first step is “hyperkeratinisation” or an overgrowth of dead skin cells. These then obstruct the oil glands which then causes abnormal skin layers. Then under the command of your male hormones, your oil glands overproduce sebum (your skin’s natural oils), and finally the blocked oil-soaked oil glands and hair follicles are invaded by the nasty Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. These bacteria secrete a whole range of chemical warriors that cause intense local inflammation. This inflammation makes pimples rupture, and spread to other parts of the skin which causes further inflammation and scarring.

Anything that increases this inflammation will perpetuate this cycle


The urban myth

While I have often read that drying out your skin makes your skin make more sebum to compensate, this is a bit of an urban myth with no supporting scientific evidence. The actual link is that whatever is triggering your dry skin is probably also triggering inflammation, which is contributing to your acne.


One possibility is that you are unwittingly part of the problem!

Acne affected skin is oily, so in the attempt to banish the oil slick, you can end up cleansing with harsh soaps, applying drying out creams containing ingredients like Benzoyl Peroxide, or astringents and toners all of which can inflame your skin and therefore dry it out! This sets up a vicious cycle as irritated skin dries out and dry skin becomes more irritated and inflamed, which ironically can cause your acne to get worse.


So what can you do?


Use a sunscreen: Go for a zinc based sunscreen which is both non occlusive and non-irritating. All you need is UVA or UVB damage to cause more inflammation to an already inflamed skin. Our Zinc Shade does exactly this. 

Use skincare containing Vitamin B3:  A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 100 subjects that revealed topical 2% Vitamin B3 AKA niacinamide significantly lowered sebum excretion rates after two to four weeks of use. B Calm and Ultimate A all have Vitamin B3, formulated to help with Acne. 

Avoid soap. Soap can further dry out and inflame skin. Choose a soap free cleanser like ESK’s Calming Cleanse.

Try topical Vitamin A, especially in an evidence based form which has both comedolytic (pimple busting) and anti-inflammatory properties. Our Ultimate A  and Ultimate A+ is formulated with retinal, a highly effective and non-irritating form of Vitamin A (better than retinol!). 

Avoid scrubs and other physical exfoliators which increase the inflammation in skin. Instead, use low concentration hydroxy acids (like Glycolic and Salicylic acid) like that contained in our Smooth Serum. They have evidence for reducing acne and improving skin hydration.


Suggested ESK Acne Kit

ESK Younger/Oilier/Acne Prone


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Ask Dr Ginni: Should I exfoliate if I have acne?

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