Acne Treatments for Sensitive Skin

Finding effective acne treatments for sensitive skin can be a challenge. Most topical treatments are designed to dry up excess oil production, which can leave dry or sensitive complexions with flakey, irritated skin.

Even worse - when skin is irritated, it can contribute to further breakouts!

So, how can you get rid of pesky zits without damaging your skin?

The key is to develop a skincare routine that is gentle and balanced. One that will effectively combat your acne without over-drying or over-irritating your complexion. Here’s some tips on how to achieve the right balance…

Acne Sensitive Skin Treatment Basics

If you have sensitive skin, you know how easily it gets irritated. And similar to dryness, sensitive skin can increase as you age.

Fragrances, itchy fabrics, allergens, chemicals, or even hot showers can all cause your skin to become red and aggravated.

Skincare products that contain dyes, artificial coloring, synthetic preservatives, manufactured fragrances, or harsh active ingredients can lead to serious dryness and irritation. So clearly finding suitable acne treatments for sensitive skin can be very tricky.

3 Steps to Clear Skin

There are 3 basic steps in any acne sensitive skin treatment plan:
  1. Cleanse – with a gentle, mild (yet effective!) cleanser.
    It can be tempting to pick up a medicated acne cleanser that promises to clear your skin, BUT, those with sensitive skin should really avoid them. Most acne cleansers are simply too harsh for sensitive skin and can lead to increased irritation and a worsened complexion. Instead, opt for a gentle, mild cleanser that removes makeup and impurities without stripping the skin of its natural moisture. For the top rated picks, check out my article on the best facial cleanser for acne skin.

    Also, never wash your face more than twice daily. Over-washing the skin will disrupt its moisture balance and can even lead to more breakouts.

  2. Moisturize – with a soothing, oil-free lotion.
    All skin types need a moisturizer, but it’s especially essential for those with sensitive or dry skin. Of course the key is picking a moisturizer that will provide enough hydration to your dry/sensitive skin without causing more breakouts. Thick creams can be too rich and can potentially clog pores, whereas medicated acne lotions are often too irritating. Plus it's important to avoid moisturizers that contain added fragrances or dyes. For more information, check out my top picks for best moisturizer for oily skin and acne.

  3. Treat – with salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinoids.
    Picking the right acne product is crucial for sensitive skin. A lot of evidence suggests that the best acne treatments for sensitive skin are those containing salicylic acid (instead of benzoyl peroxide). Salicylic acid is less irritating to the skin than benzoyl peroxide. It also encourages cellular turnover and has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help calm irritated skin.

    If your skin is only mildly sensitive, you may be able to tolerate low concentrations of benzoyl peroxide (2.5% or below). Benzoyl peroxide is a highly effective and widespread ingredient for treating acne. Unfortunately, it can also cause irritation and dryness for those with more sensitive skin.

    A third option (especially for those with slightly more tolerant skin) is to use products containing retinoids or retinol, which are derivatives of vitamin A. Retinoids, like Retin-A and Differin, require a prescription. They work by sloughing off dead skin cells that clog pores and cause acne. They also boost collagen production, making them a great option for people concerned with wrinkles and aging. However, retinoids are known for irritating and drying out the skin. As an alternative, you can try using over-the-counter products containing 0.1% retinol. Retinol products are less powerful than retinoids and take longer to work, but are also gentler on the skin.

    No matter which active ingredient you choose to go with, it’s best to use these products more as spot treatments in your problem areas instead of all over the face so as to avoid unnecessary irritation. You can read my reviews on the Best Acne Spot Treatment.


So to sum up, in terms of acne treatments for sensitive skin, the key is to gently combat blemishes. Basically, you can follow that wise, old saying - "kill them with kindness" :-)




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