We Asked: “How Should I Treat Acne on Sensitive Skin?”

Rachel Krause
Blemishes Sensitive Skin

Photo: IMAXtree

In our Q&A series, beauty experts address your most bewildering issues. Have a beauty-related quandary of your own? Submit your question in the comments below or via Twitter.

Q: What are the best ways to treat stubborn blemishes on sensitive, easily irritated skin? Which ingredients do you recommend and which should be avoided?

A:“Look for a topical gel that features chloroxylenol or bisabolol,” says Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, a board certified dermatologist and chief medical spokesperson for Sebamed. “These ingredients work to dry out lingering blemishes and disinfect the skin, while reducing redness and inflammation. Dab the treatment directly on the blemish at night, and gently wash off in the morning and pat dry. Other helpful ingredients include benzoyl peroxide, which also has antimicrobial properties [to disinfect].”

Dr. Nussbaum says, “If you’re consistently prone to painful, lingering breakouts, it is possible that your current routine is upsetting your skin’s pH balance. For example, washing your face with hot water and soap may seem innocent, but traditional soap can have a pH of up to 9, leaving skin dry, tight and vulnerable to damage. By upsetting the skin’s delicate pH balance, our sebaceous glands are thrown into overdrive, causing a vicious cycle of breakouts and inflammation and further clogging pores.”

“To break the cycle, try using a basic, soap-free liquid or foam face wash with lukewarm water. Wash your face with your hands instead of a rough cloth or cleansing brush and pat dry instead of rubbing harshly. Then, apply an oil controlling toner and noncomedogenic moisturizer. Many factors may cause or worsen acne, so it is always recommended to see a board-certified dermatologist to identify and correct any underlying medical conditions,” Dr. Nussbaum advises.

And as for what to stay away from, she says, “Avoid skin care with propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate, as these ingredients can strip acneic skin of essential moisture and break down its acid mantle, leaving it susceptible to irritation. I also recommend avoiding exfoliators and facial scrubs that are labeled polyethylene and contain plastic beads. Plastic microbeads not only leave microscopic tears on your skin—which cause inflammation—but they are harmful to the environment.”

Contrary to popular belief, whether it’s sensitive or slightly more resilient, skin never benefits from harsh scrubbing. Invest instead in gentle, effective formulas that won’t leave you raw.

Read more: 10 Acne Products and Treatments That Really Work