As if dealing with acne alone isn’t frustrating enough, dealing with acne and sensitive skin at the same time is a double whammy that will leave you asking, “Why me, universe?” Why me, universe?” Since most acne treatments work by aggressively attacking the dirt and excess sebum deep within the pores, they tend to leave the skin – especially sensitive skin – irritated. This means that your acne may be technically improved, but you’re suddenly left with a whole host of other issues that you have to deal with.
“Those with sensitive skin may have a particularly difficult time treating acne because many acne products can irritate sensitive skin types,” confirms Dr. David Lortscher, a dermatologist and founder of Curology.” They contain ingredients that may be drying, irritating or comedogenic, especially for sensitive skin.” So, what exactly should you do?
Dermatologist, Hilary Baldwin, MD, recommends not choosing the usual active ingredients in prescription retinoids, such as retinoin and tazarotene, which may irritate certain skin tones, but instead reaching for a different form of retinol (which you can get over the counter) called adapalene, such as La Roche Posay. Adapalene Gel ($22) or good old fashioned Differin ($9). This ingredient tends to be a bit kind to sensitive skin, depending on her (need to brush on your retinol?). Check out the dear skin of our latest episode.)
“All other things being equal, [tazarotene and retinoin] irritate the skin more than adapalene,” she told me. That’s usually the type of skin A-OK prescribes for these retinols; however, when it comes to sensitive skin, you need the gentlest form out there. To help take the edge of retinol even further, she recommends first applying a moisturizer that can provide a buffer zone between your skin and activity.
Aside from choosing the right retinol and using it the right way, the key to keeping your skin happy is to do the bare minimum. If any product you apply gives your skin that tight, desert-dry feeling, then skip it in the future.” Compromised skin may not shield you from destructive externalities,” says Dr. Lortscher.” You may also notice redness, burning, or sensitivity, which could mean reducing, or even eliminating, physical or chemical exfoliants.”
In other words, your skin motto should be to simply do it.” Keeping your basic skincare routine simple and non-irritating can also help identify products or ingredients that are especially trigger-happy for your skin,” says Dr. Lortscher. Since anti-acne ingredients, such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, mean that they are more aggressive to the skin than is typical for sensitive skin ingredients, add them slowly (although the tube instructions may suggest it).” That way, you can see if – and how well – your skin tolerates the ingredient without additional drying or irritation,” he says. Dealing with skin from both ends of the spectrum can be difficult, but with the right solution, you’ll be able to tackle acne without making your complexion cranky.