How to Game the System so Dry, Acne-Prone Skin Doesn't Get Worse This Winter

Dealing with dry, barrier-damaged, and acne-prone skin during the winter can be a challenge, to say the least. As someone who's tried just about everything out there to clear their skin, I can finally say I have a few solid pointers for those who may be dealing with the same woes this season. Keep in mind that everyone's skin is different, so what works for me may not work for you, but I can tell you a little bit about mine in the hopes that if yours is similar, I can at least point you in the direction of a few products that have finally worked well.

Ironically enough, my skin hates most "acne-fighting" products. Anything that contains higher percentages of salicylic acid or other harsh actives actually makes my skin break out more or they're just too drying. At this point, I've actually found that sticking to formulas that are hydrating and made for sensitive skin actually clear my skin up pretty quickly. Not to mention the fact that I used Tretinoin for years to clear my skin up, but I didn't realize that it was destroying my skin barrier in the process. Let me tell you, some may say that drying out your skin and acne is the answer to clearing it up, but it's most definitely not. Skin barrier damage can create opportunistic "holes" in your skin for bacteria and other pollution to enter it, exacerbating your acne even further.

Even though I've learned all this and it's been imperative on my own skin journey, I still turn to the experts for further advice since we know skincare never works as a one-size-fits-all approach. Marisa Garshick, MD has a few tips. "It is important that even those with acne-prone skin remember to use a moisturizer to prevent the skin from becoming too dry or irritated," she says. "Additionally, if the skin feels tight or is dry and flaky, it may be needed to skip a day of any acne treatments to allow the skin to recover. For those with dry, acne-prone skin, it is especially important to introduce active ingredients slowly, starting off just a few times per week and gradually increasing the frequency."

Below, you'll find a mix of products that have worked for my dry, barrier-damaged, acne-prone skin along with a few derm recs for winter, too. Keep scrolling.

"This moisturizer is a favorite for those with acne-prone skin. It contains a combination of ceramides to help strengthen the skin barrier and niacinamide to soothe the skin. It is great for all skin types including those with acne-prone skin, as it is noncomedogenic."—Garshick

"This lightweight daily moisturizer helps to hydrate while also providing adequate broad-spectrum SPF coverage. It contains ceramides and hyaluronic acid which can help to reduce the potential irritation from acne-fighting ingredients."—Garshick

"This gentle daily face moisturizer contains both hyaluronic acid and ceramides. It helps to draw moisture in and support the skin barrier. This lightweight formulation can be used all year and is especially good for those with sensitive skin as it is free of fragrance, parabens, formaldehyde, and other preservatives."—Garshick

This has been my holy grail SPF for years. It doesn't break me out, helps calm redness from any new breakouts with niacinamide, and absorbs so quickly and easily into the skin. It's also the perfect SPF to wear under makeup, as it plays well with any primer or foundation.

Best Products for Dry, Acne-Prone Skin



I adore this cleansing milk from Biologique Recherche because it's one of the most gentle, yet effective cleansers I've ever used for my skin type. Like I said above, I've been dealing with quite a bit of skin barrier damage and acne the past year or so and this has helped clear it up tremendously. It is a bit pricier, but the BR line is absolutely worth it—trust me.

For extra hydration that sinks deep into the skin, try The Ordinary's hyaluronic acid serum. It's feather-light but still leaves skin plump and moisturized. To be perfectly honest, I'm also not someone who likes spending a ton of money on hyaluronic acid alone when most pricier formulas contain the same kind as the more budget-friendly formulas.

This primer has been liquid gold for me over the past year. It contains a thin layer of silk to diminish the look of pores, fine lines, and acne or acne scars. I also love the hydrating base it creates for my foundation and my sensitive skin has never reacted badly to it. 

This weightless, oil-free moisturizer from CoverGirl offers up to 72 hours of intense hydration with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and cactus water.

Best Products for Dry, Acne-Prone Skin



I have several different skincare devices that do different things, but I always like to streamline my routine by looking for a device that can do it all. In this case, that would be ZIIP's Nano Current Device. I'd need an entirely separate story to list all the incredible benefits this device has to offer, but to give you the Cliffsnotes version, it can help prevent and reverse the signs of aging, decrease acne, and promote supple and glowing skin overall.

Yes, the price tag is hefty, but longtime esthetician Melanie Simon created this device to deliver the results of an incredible (and expensive) facial in your own home. I hopped on an incredible Zoom call with Simon recently where she talked me through the device and how to customize it for my own specific skincare needs. It's truly a magical device and if you can afford it, I say it's an absolute must in your routine.

This has been a tried and true acne-clearing toner for me for years. Besides Biologique Recherche's Lotion P50, it's one of the toners that's worked the best for my skin. It contains 2% salicylic acid, which I feel is the safe-zone percentage for people like me who have sensitive or reactive skin. It's enough to do the job but isn't so strong that it will cause even more of a skin reaction.

I know some derms say to avoid oils altogether if you have acne-prone skin, but I have to say that I don't always agree with that given my personal experience. Noncomedogenic face oils like this one from Summer Fridays have totally saved my skin and it has never caused any new breakouts for me. In fact, it helped a lot of them heal while leaving my skin looking plump, hydrated, and glowing.

This organically sourced serum is absolutely heavenly for dry, acne-prone skin. It calms spots, rejuvenates, and adds so much hydration to your skin. It contains oils like rose and jojoba to help repair a damaged barrier but is never sticky or overly oily. I use it every day and my skin looks the best it has in ages.

Because I'm a skincare device freak, I have another do-it-all recommendation you'll want to give a shot. If you've ever used TheraBody's TheraGun Pro or Mini, you'll love the brand's latest offering, the TheraFace Pro. I know, the price tag is a bit startling, but it's literally a few different devices in one. It offers blue and red light therapy (both great for reducing acne and stimulating collagen production), facial massage, and microcurrent.

I received this over the holidays and I've been totally obsessed the past few weeks. I've been using the blue light feature (for acne) and microcurrent the most, but the facial massage tools are so therapeutic after a long, stressful day. My skin has also been brighter, clearer, and just overall looks so much healthier. It's definitely a new staple in my routine.

I'm going to tell you a little secret. Using mostly Luzern products is what keeps my skin hydrated, glowing, and problem-free. The brand's new offering, its Detox Cleansing Masque can be used as a mask or cleanser on days you're feeling a bit congested. My skin has been incredibly dry due to a bit of skin barrier damage, but instead of over exfoliating to combat acne (which is my natural tendency), I've been using this detox mask in its place as a cleanser a few nights a week. It contains both kaolin and bentonite clay to help break up congestion with ease but it also contains hyaluronic acid and squalane to provide deep hydration to the skin. It's definitely a new staple in my routine.