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We want to help you understand your skin, so that you know what’s going on with it, what to put on it, and how to care for it. Sciency stuff that answers so many of your skin questions, written in a clear and simple way. Penned by our founder, Ee Ting Ng.

How to manage dry and acne-prone skin II

11 June, 2019

How to manage dry and acne-prone skin II

If you are dry and blemish-prone, most acne-fighting products you’ve tried probably didn’t work well. This is not surprising, as most of them are designed for normal to oily skins. So what should you really be using?

As a general rule, avoid products that are labelled “anti-blemish” – they will almost certainly cause further dryness. There are also additional specifics to look out for in every type of product as detailed below.


Cleansing is the most important step in maintaining skin clarity. Your ideal cleanser cleanses effectively without removing too much of your natural oils, which is already lacking.

Features you want in your cleanser are

  • Non-foaming
  • Although not all foaming cleansers are stripping, non-foaming cleansers are preferred as they are less cleansing (thus stripping) in general.

  • pH 4.9 - 5.5
  • This pH range is the most skin friendly/neutral. Acidic (AHA/BHA) and soap cleansers are too irritating/drying for daily use.

  • Free from fragrance and other irritants
  • Due to its ability to clean (or remove skin oils), surfactants in cleansers increases the likelihood of reactivity caused by any potential allergens/irritants*contained in the formula.


If you are already using a pH friendly cleanser that rinses off completely, there is no need for a toner. Just proceed to the next step, while your skin is still slightly damp from cleansing.


Dry skin is brittle and delicate. Avoid scrubs of any sort (fruit kernels, microdermabrasion powder, crystal powder, jojoba beads) as they easily cause invisible micro tears on dry surface and also spread bacteria from one area to another, increasing the risk of infection.

Getting the frequency right is key. A lack of exfoliation results in excess skin build-up and congestion. On the other hand, excessive exfoliation exacerbates dryness, sensitivity and reactivity.

Features you want in your exfoliator are

  • Non-abrasive
  • Acids are the most common non-abrasive exfoliants. Dry skins usually respond better to AHAs than BHA. Glycolic, lactic and mandelic acid are all great options. The best one depends on how dry/sensitive you are.

    For individuals who cannot tolerate acids, we can use non-acidic alternatives, albeit with less resurfacing ability than AHAs.

  • Free from alcohol, fragrance (and other irritants)
  • The resurfacing nature of exfoliating ingredients means they can be irritating. Therefore, it’s important for exfoliating products to be formulated without potential allergens/irritants*, but also contain soothing actives to undue redness or discomfort.

  • pH 3.0 - 4.0
  • This is the effective pH range for AHAs to have exfoliating properties.


Next up are leave-on products that treat and moisturise (e.g essence, serum, moisturiser, mask), where routines can get complicated and extensive. There is a misconception that being serious with skincare means using a full suite of serums, lotions and creams.

However, there is no special or defined way of formulating each type of product (yes really – serums do not have better penetrating ability), so don’t get caught up choosing products based on their categories. Instead, choose by ingredients functions, benefits and textures.

Features you want in your treatment/moisturiser (and other leave on products) are

  • Light-textured and easily absorbed
  • Thickness is not an indication of moisturisation ability or potency. The fatty alcohols/waxes that make a cream thick and luscious, also encourages congestion. Lightweight, spreadable formulas can also pack serious punches of both hydration and performance. In fact that is how we design our advanced face moisturisers all the time!

  • Free from plant oils/butters
  • The oily components present in sebum (free fatty acids and triglycerides) that acne-causing bacteria feed on are also present in plant oils/butters. This means that plant oils, like sebum, encourage bacterial growth.

    In the same light, avoid facial oils, particularly those high in plant oils. They are usually much more acnegenic as they are used neat.

  • Barrier-repairing ingredients
  • Barrier-strengthening ingredients such as squalane, cholesterol esters and niacinamide improves your skin’s ability to hold on to moisture. Squalane is an emollient structurally similar to our natural skin oil. It is an excellent alternative to plant oils, providing “oil-free” moisturisation without encouraging bacterial growth or congestion.

  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Anti-inflammatories are extremely useful in calming redness/swelling associated with acne. Some examples are allantoin, bisabolol and certain peptides.

    A note on antioxidants, specifically l-ascorbic acid (biologically active Vitamin C), which reduces inflammation indirectly by neutralising damaging free radicals. Despite its well-documented skin benefits, its acidity in high concentration, is pro-inflammatory. This can have an adverse effect by worsening inflammation in active breakouts. This is an example of how a ‘good’ ingredient can be bad. If you have active blemishes, use vitamin C in moderation, no matter what your skin type is.

  • Multi-tasking
  • Less is best for acne-prone skins. The more products you use, the greater the likelihood of congestion. Keep your routine streamlined by choosing a multi-purpose product that hydrates and treats.

And that is it! As you can see, there is no single ‘miracle’ product or ingredient. Every part of your daily routine counts. Looking for your right combination of products is challenging and time-consuming to say the least. This is where we can help, especially if you struggle with two seemingly irreconcilable skin issues. We take all the guess work out by custom formulating a complete regime specifically for you, so you can enjoy clear skin no matter what your skin type is!

*Common/known skin irritants and allergens
Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives - DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl/diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
Isothizolinones - methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone
Fragrance - natural essential oils or synthetic
Naturally fragrant botanicals e.g clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, basil, lemonbalm, lemongrass
Alcohol (grain or denatured), Phenol