If you have sensitive skin, you probably already also know that certain skincare products can easily cause irritation. So, when it comes to treating breakouts, finding the best acne products for sensitive skin can feel like a challenge—especially since many products contain ingredients that can often dry out your skin and cause irritation. Luckily, there are many options that have been formulated with acne-prone sensitive skin in mind, meaning you can gently treat and help prevent breakouts without wreaking havoc on your skin.
Sensitive skin isn’t a one-size-fits-all categorization, but rather, it’s a non-medical term often used to describe skin that negatively reacts to many topicals. If anything, it’s a spectrum of experiences people have had when applying various personal skin products. The acne treatment you use depends on many factors, including the type of acne you’re experiencing. Take hormonal acne, for example, which some people treat with oral contraceptives or spironolactone, along with other topical treatments. The products you use to treat acne might also target a specific area of skin, like your face, back, or another part of your body. You might also use a combination of different treatments depending on the severity of your acne.
A dermatology provider (like your Curology provider) can help you determine what type of acne you’re experiencing and find treatment options that best fit your skin’s needs. No matter what, the important thing to remember is that everyone’s skin is different, and it may take some time for you to find out what treatment is best for you.
Finding the right acne treatments for sensitive skin can be complex. Some acne treatments may be too harsh for sensitive skin, leading to irritation. Irritated skin can be more prone to breakouts, which may only make the cycle of acne breakouts worse.¹ Here are some tips for finding products with the right ingredients for treating and preventing acne that is typically safe to use on sensitive skin.
Benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is a staple ingredient for treating breakouts because it targets the bacteria that can contribute to acne.² If you have acne-prone sensitive skin, consider a face wash or spot treatment with benzoyl peroxide. Generally, it’s best to start with a low-strength option (stronger is not always better!) and ease into use to allow your skin to adjust and minimize the risk of potential irritation.
Salicylic acid. Another great topical ingredient to look for is salicylic acid, an active ingredient in many acne-fighting facial cleansers. Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that treats acne by working to keep your pores unclogged. Just like products that contain benzoyl peroxide, start slowly to avoid irritation if you have sensitive skin.
There’s no shortage of skincare products out there, which means there are plenty of options to choose from. But that doesn’t mean all of them are good to use on sensitive skin. Here, we’ve compiled a list of skincare products for sensitive skin that we often recommend to our patient community, including cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreens.
The moisturizer by Curology is hydrating and non-comedogenic and is designed for sensitive and acne-prone skin. We keep it simple, using only the best ingredients to help keep your skin feeling moisturized without anything unnecessary. Keeping your skin moisturized is important because dry skin can become irritated, and irritated skin can lead to more breakouts.
The rich moisturizer by Curology is designed for dry or aging skin but works for all skin types. With six key ingredients to soften and hydrate the face, the rich moisturizer soothes dry, dehydrated skin. It also contains hyaluronic acid to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Acure Seriously Soothing Cloud Cream contains hyaluronic acid to help lock in hydration and has a light texture that’s gentle on your skin.
Supergoop! Smooth and Poreless 100% Mineral Matte Screen SPF 40 is a physical sunscreen that can double as a primer and has a sheer tint. It’s designed specifically for sensitive skin and is non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores.
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Face Liquid Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 is a physical sunscreen designed specifically for sensitive skin. It is also non-comedogenic.
Drunk Elephant Umbra™ Sheer Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 is another sunscreen designed to be gentle while simultaneously hydrating your skin.
The sunscreen by Curologyis a mineral-powered broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30. It’s a no-clog, grease-free lotion that absorbs quickly and gives skin a fresh finish so you can face the day confidently.
The cleanser by Curologyis made for sensitive, acne-prone skin because it’s formulated with non-comedogenic ingredients and free of parabens, allergens, sulfates, fragrances, and dyes. (Call us biased, but we think it’s one of the best cleansers for sensitive skin with acne out there!)
Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser is designed to be gentle on sensitive skin. It’s oil-free, hypoallergenic, and non-comedogenic.
If you have sensitive skin, it’s important to do your part to help keep it feeling calm and soothed while your acne treatment works to fight blemishes. Think of it this way: Having sensitive skin means treating it with extra sensitivity. Steer clear of anything that may cause extra irritation, like:
Harsh exfoliation. Exfoliating can help remove dead skin cells and excess oil to keep your pores unclogged, but moderation is key. We know it might be tempting to try and scrub away blemishes, but too much can cause additional irritation, which can make matters worse. “I typically recommend exfoliating about 1-2 times per week, especially for those with sensitive skin. Over-exfoliation can lead to tightness, redness, and dryness,” says Kristen Jokela, a nurse practitioner at Curology.
Too many treatment products at once. At Curology, we’re all about keeping your skincare routine as simple as possible. Instead of using several products all at once, which could be too harsh or dry out your skin, we recommend a simple three-step process: cleanse, treat, and moisturize.
Comedogenic products. If you have acne-prone skin, watch out for anything containing comedogenic ingredients that could potentially clog your pores. Look closely at the ingredients and choose products labeled non-comedogenic or oil-free.
Added fragrance. Some products might contain unnecessary fragrances, which could irritate your skin. Allergic contact dermatitis can occur with added fragrance, so fragrance-free is typically the way to go.³
If you’re struggling to find the right acne products for your sensitive skin or are experiencing discomfort, a dermatology provider can help you find the right products for your skin. It never hurts to get an expert opinion from a licensed medical provider, especially if you feel confused about how to care for your skin.
Knowing which products and ingredients to use—and which ones to avoid—can seem difficult. While having many options is good, it can also become a little overwhelming. That’s where we come in: With Curology, you’re paired with a licensed dermatology provider who can help you take the guesswork out of your skincare routine. You’ll also get custom skincare products designed by dermatologists to be non-comedogenic, dye-free, paraben-free, and hypoallergenic—made to improve the health of your skin.
As a member, your dermatology provider can answer your questions and guide you on your skincare journey. Whether you have acne-prone, sensitive, dry, or oily skin, we’re here to help you with your skin concerns. Along with your personalized prescription formula, you’ll receive a cleanser and moisturizer to complete your simplified skincare program. Interested? You can get a free month of Curology*—just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling on your first box. After that, you can cancel at any time or choose the subscription plan that works for you.
Sensitive skin isn’t a one-size-fits-all categorization, but rather, it’s a non-medical term often used to describe skin that negatively reacts to many topicals. The products you use to treat acne might also target a specific area of skin, like your face, back, or another part of your body. A dermatology provider (like your Curology provider) can help you determine what type of acne you’re experiencing and find treatment options that best fit your skin’s needs.
Finding the right acne treatments for sensitive skin can be complex. Some acne treatments may be too harsh for sensitive skin, leading to irritation, some products for taking care of sensitive skin might include Benzoyl peroxide, which is a staple ingredient for treating breakouts because it targets the bacteria that can contribute to acne, also, Salicylic acid, an active ingredient in many acne-fighting facial cleansers. Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that treats acne by working to keep your pores unclogged.
If you have sensitive skin, it’s important to do your part to help keep it feeling calm and soothed, steer clear of anything that may cause extra irritation, like Harsh exfoliation, it can help remove dead skin cells and excess oil to keep your pores unclogged, but moderation is key, Too many treatment products at once, instead of using several products all at once, use a simple three-step process cleanse, treat, and moisturize, also, watch out for Comedogenic products, they can potentially clog your pores. And finally, Added fragrance, some products might contain unnecessary fragrances, which could irritate your skin.
American Academy of Dermatology. 10 skincare habits that can worsen acne. (n.d.).
Andrea L. Zaenglein, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J AM ACAD DERMATOL. (MAY 2016).
Johansen J. D. Fragrance contact allergy: a clinical review. American journal of clinical dermatology. (2003 n.d.).
* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.
Meredith Hartle, DO