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Treating acne on oily, dehydrated skin

Knowing how to best tackle breakouts starts with understanding your skin type.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 4, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
Oily Skin
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 4, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

Know your skin type and condition

Your heart may beat faster at the mention of the word acne—a condition affecting nearly 9.4% of the global population.¹ Particularly for those with oily, dehydrated skin, acne can present its own set of nuanced concerns. First, the good news: acne is treatable! Here, our team of licensed dermatology providers offers advice for those battling with acne, especially if your skin is both oily and dehydrated.

Know your skin type and condition

Oily skin develops when oversized sebaceous glands overproduce sebum.² Such skin may appear greasy or shiny. Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, develops when the skin lacks enough water. Your skin may become dry in response to environmental factors, medical conditions, diet, or even some medications.³

How oily, dehydrated skin may trigger acne

The development of acne in oily, dehydrated skin may be attributed to multiple factors. They include:

Damage of the skin barrier role

The skin is a protective barrier to prevent environmental allergens and microbes from penetrating into the body.⁴ Dehydration can manifest as dry skin, which may weaken the skin barrier function.⁵ A weakened skin barrier may contribute to acne exacerbation.⁶

Sebum overproduction

Another factor that may trigger acne breakouts for oily, dehydrated skin is the overproduction of sebum. Excessive secretion of sebum during the day and nighttime is common in people with oily skin.⁷ Too much sebum isn’t ideal for your skin health. It creates a conducive environment for the growth of bacteria, thus increasing the likelihood of developing acne.⁸

Over-cleansing and use of harsh cleansers

Sometimes, over-cleansing may have a hand in acne troubles. People with oily skin may frequently feel the urge to cleanse their face in a bid to remove excess oil. However, without the right knowledge, you might end up using harsh cleansers. Harsh cleansers may cause dehydration or even trigger your skin to produce more sebum.⁹

The bottom line: Washing your face too frequently can aggravate acne by causing dryness and irritation.¹⁰

Using comedogenic moisturizers

Always use a non-comedogenic moisturizer. Comedogenic moisturizers may clog pores and increase the likelihood of you developing acne. We’ve compiled a list based on the research to help you identify common comedogenic ingredients:¹¹

  • Isopropyl palmitate

  • Isopropyl isostearate

  • Butyl stearate

  • Myristyl myristate

  • Cocoa butter

  • Coconut oil and coconut butter

  • D & C red no. 27 and 9

  • Isopropyl linolate

  • Lauric acid

  • Isostearic acid

  • Lauric acid

  • Oleyl alcohol

Consider alternatives if a product contains any of the above ingredients. And note that this is not an all-inclusive list—before buying a product, do some due diligence by 

researching its ingredients, or even better, by checking in with your dermatology provider.

Best skincare routine for your skin

Adopting an expertly formulated skincare routine can help prevent and treat acne in oily, dehydrated skin. Curology’s licensed dermatology providers typically recommend a 3-step skincare routine. The three steps are cleansing, moisturizing, and protecting with SPF in the AM, followed by cleansing, treating, and moisturizing in the PM. 

Morning routine

Every morning is a chance to pamper, nourish, and revitalize your skin. Curology recommends a simple 3-step morning skincare ritual that can make a whole lot of a difference for your skin. 

Step 1: Cleanse

A morning cleanse is the first step of your skincare regimen. An ideal morning cleanser for acne-prone skin should be non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic, non-irritating, and non-allergenic. We also recommend using a fragrance-free cleanser.

Step 2: Moisturize

Kickstart your day by applying an effective moisturizer. It will help you prevent water loss and promote skin exfoliation. Moisturizers may contain ingredients such as occlusive agents, emollients, and humectants that provide extra hydration.

Step 3: Apply sunscreen

Opt for a sunscreen with broad-spectrum sun protection, offering an SPF of 30 or higher. 

Evening routine

While much of your AM routine will cross over with your PM routine, there are a small handful of differences. 

Step 1: Cleanse

Many environmental impurities and cosmetic products are not soluble in water.¹² Attempting to wash them with water may not necessarily eliminate them. That’s why cleansing is a key part of your PM skincare routine as it will help eliminate unwanted dirt, soil, bacteria, and dead surface cells that may have accumulated during the day.¹³ 

Step 2: Treat 

Treating your skin is the next step after cleansing. It involves providing your skin with ingredients that target your specific skin concerns. Treat your skin with skincare products containing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin to improve skin hydration.¹⁴ To reduce sebum overproduction, consider ingredients such as niacinamide and tretinoin.¹⁵ 

Consult a dermatology provider to help you identify your specific skin concerns. With Curology, you’ll get access to a dermatology provider who will assess your needs and offer a personalized prescription formula.

Step 3: Moisturize

Before you go to bed, give your skin a hydration boost by applying some moisturizer. Remember the golden rule: use a non-comedogenic and non-irritating moisturizer.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association also recommends a few skincare tips, including:¹⁶

  • Washing your face in the morning, evening, and after exercising 

  • Using oil-free, water-based makeup

  • Not sleeping in your makeup

  • Refraining from frequently touching your face throughout the day

Adopting the above routine may help you to achieve an ideal water-oil balance and embark on a journey for healthier skin.

Best skincare products for oily, dehydrated skin 

To achieve a radiant glow, pick the right skincare products. Choosing ideal products begins by consulting a dermatology provider to help find what may be right for you. For oily, dehydrated skin, you may want to follow the below tips:

Look for non-comedogenic products

Check out the ingredients of any skincare product for comedogenicity. Comedogenic products will clog pores, increase hyperkeratinization, and cause an accumulation of sebum.¹⁷ That may form fertile ground for acne growth.

Choose products with moisturizing and oil-regulating ingredients

The ideal moisturizer depends on your skin type, the area to be treated, and the time of year. Look for products with natural moisturizing factors that strengthen the skin barrier function.¹⁸ Such ingredients include glycerin, urea, hydroxy acids, and propylene glycol. Sebum-regulating ingredients include retinoids such as tretinoin and tazarotene.¹⁹

Check the product pH 

A healthy skin pH ranges between 4 to 6, making the skin surface slightly acidic.²⁰ At an alkaline pH, your skin may not function properly. An alkaline moisturizer, for instance, may alter the normal functioning of enzymes and microbes on the skin. On the other hand, using products with a high pH may drive the skin’s pH outside its normal range. An increase in the skin’s pH can upset the skin barrier, so use caution.²¹

Treat acne with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Embark on a journey today to regain your glow with Curology.* Our licensed dermatology providers can create a personalized prescription formula for oily, dehydrated skin and recommend such products as our Curology Gel Moisturizer. It’s lightweight, locks in hydration, doesn’t irritate, and is free from pore-clogging ingredients. 


What causes oily, dehydrated skin?

Multiple factors trigger excessive sebum production, leading to oily skin. Some include age, gender, race, and environmental factors.²² Sebum production, though high at birth, decreases shortly with time until puberty, when it rises exponentially. From puberty, sebum production does not decrease until after menopause for women or around the ages of 60 or 70 for men.²³ 

Testosterone makes men experience higher sebum production. Women also experience high sebum production at ovulation due to increased progesterone hormone.²⁴

Several factors cause skin dehydration. They include detrimental cleansing habits such as using harsh alkaline soaps, as well as environmental factors like intense sun exposure, dry indoor heat, and low humidity. Infectious skin disorders such as fungal and bacterial infections along with inflammatory skin disorders including atopic dermatitis can also increase the likelihood of dehydration.²⁵

What are the signs and symptoms of oily, dehydrated skin?

Oily skin may appear “unclean” or “greasy.” Dry skin may be described by the thickening or thinning of the skin, scaling, and roughness. Dehydrated skin may also experience irritation, redness, and fine wrinkles. 

What ingredients should you look for when buying skin products?

Recommended products should contain ingredients that try to stop excess sebum production and lock moisture in the skin. They include:

  • Hyaluronic acid reduces lipid synthesis in sebaceous glands and is a proven ingredient in managing disorders caused by sebum overproduction.²⁶ It also improves skin hydration.²⁷ 

  • Nicotinamide cuts excess sebum production.²⁸ 

  • Aloe vera and witch hazel have anti-inflammatory effects.²⁹ 

  • Glycerol increases hydration, improves the skin barrier, and reduces signs of inflammation.³⁰ 

  • Ceramides improve skin hydration and the skin barrier function.³¹

• • •

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to: 

  1. Baldwin, H. and Tan, J. Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment. Am J Clin Dermatol. (2020, August 3).

  2. Sakuma, T.H. and Maibach, H.I. Oily skin: an overview. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. (2012, June 20).

  3. Gade, A., et al. Xeroderma. StatPearls. (2022, November 15).

  4. Kim, B.E. and Leung, D.Y.M. Significance of Skin Barrier Dysfunction in Atopic Dermatitis. Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research. (May 2018).

  5. Gade, A., et al. Xeroderma. StatPearls. Ibid.

  6. Schachner, L.A., et al., Insights into acne and the skin barrier: Optimizing treatment regimens with ceramide-containing skincare. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. (2023, August 21).

  7. Jo, D.J., et al. Evaluation of changes for sebum, skin pore, texture, and redness before and after sleep in oily and nonoily skin. Skin Res Technol. (2022, October 29).

  8. Aydemir, E.H. Acne vulgaris. Turk Pediatri Arsivi. (2014, March 1).

  9. Draelos, Z.D. The effect of a daily facial cleanser for normal to oily skin on the skin barrier of subjects with acne. Cutis, (July 2006).

  10. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Skin care for acne-prone skin. (2019, September 26).

  11. Fulton, J.E., Jr., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit earJournal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (January 1984).

  12. Mukhopadhyay, P. Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian J Dermatol. (January-February 2011).

  13. Subramanyan, K. Role of mild cleansing in the management of patient skinDermatol Ther. (2004, n.d.).

  14. Milani, M. and Sparavigna, A. The 24-hour skin hydration and barrier function effects of a hyaluronic 1%, glycerin 5%, and Centella asiatica stem cells extract moisturizing fluid: an intra-subject, randomized, assessor-blinded study. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. (2017, August 11).

  15. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (August 2017).

  16. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to Control Oily Skin. (n.d.).

  17. Waranuch, N., et al. Safety assessment on comedogenicity of dermatological products containing d-alpha tocopheryl acetate in Asian subjects: A double-blind randomized controlled trial. Contemp Clin Trials Commun. (September 2021).

  18. Kang, S.Y., et al. Moisturizer in Patients with Inflammatory Skin Diseases. Medicina (Kaunas). (July 2022).

  19. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  20. Parke, M.A., et al. Diet and Skin Barrier: The Role of Dietary Interventions on Skin Barrier Function. Dermatol Pract Concept. (January 2021).

  21. Parke, M.A., et al. Diet and Skin Barrier: The Role of Dietary Interventions on Skin Barrier Function. Dermatol Pract Concept. Ibid.

  22. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid. 

  23. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid. 

  24. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid. 

  25. Gade, A., et al. Xeroderma. StatPearls. Ibid.

  26. Jung, Y.R., et al. Hyaluronic Acid Decreases Lipid Synthesis in Sebaceous Glands. J Invest Dermatol. (2017, February 3).

  27. Draelos, Z.D., et al. Efficacy Evaluation of a Topical Hyaluronic Acid Serum in Facial Photoaging. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). (August 2021).

  28. Dall'oglio, F., et al. Cosmetics for acne: indications and recommendations for an evidence-based approach. G Ital Dermatol Venereol. (February 2015).

  29. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (May 2014).

  30. Breternitz, M., et al. Placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized, prospective study of a glycerol-based emollient on eczematous skin in atopic dermatitis: biophysical and clinical evaluationSkin Pharmacol Physiol. (2007, November 19).

  31. Spada, F., et al. Skin hydration is significantly increased by a cream formulated to mimic the skin's own natural moisturizing systems. (2018, October 15).

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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