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Can Dry Skin Cause Breakouts?

People generally associate oily skin with acne, but dry skin can be a cause of breakouts, too. Acne occurs whenever the hair follicles in your skin get clogged. Though oil is a frequent culprit, dead skin cells, cosmetic products, dirt and bacteria also can clog your pores and cause breakouts.

The Facts

Dry skin usually means damaged skin, explains Kelly M. Cordoro, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Virginia, in "Real Simple" magazine 1. Your skin relies on its lipid layer to keep out potential irritants, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, and to maintain consistent cell turnover. When your skin becomes dry, its ability to perform these tasks is limited, causing buildup of skin cells on the surface of the skin that can easily become irritated and inflamed, creating a potential breeding ground for acne.

The Product Connection

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Dry skin may be too sensitive to handle hardcore acne-fighting products, especially prescription-strength retinol medications. Some acne medications can cause extreme dry skin as a side effect, and using them may cause lipid barrier damage and dry skin for people who don't normally have to deal with dry skin. Using too many products with active ingredients -- whether they're designed to treat and prevent acne or not -- can cause skin dryness, which can in turn increase your likelihood of developing acne.


It's easy to think that dry skin doesn't produce enough oil, but the truth is that it typically produces plenty of oil -- it just doesn't hold on to the oil it produces. Your skin may produce even more oil when it's dry in an effort to hydrate itself, increasing the potential for oil-clogged pores and breakouts.


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If you're dealing with breakouts and dry skin, avoid products that contain benzoyl peroxide, which will only dry out your skin more and make the problem worse, says Jeannette Graf, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York, in "Fitness" magazine. Instead, Graf recommends layering salicylic acid-based products. Dab a little salicylic acid spot treatment directly onto blemishes to clear clogged pores, then reapply a concealer with a low concentration of salicylic acid throughout the day on top of the spot treatment.