Acne Treatment Tips for Sensitive Skin Types

5 Tips to Help You Treat Acne and Sensitive Skin

Having acne is hard enough; having acne and sensitive skin may be even harder.  Burning, stinging, redness, peeling, and overall irritation are just par for the course for those with acne and sensitive skin.  

But you can treat your acne, and get good results.  You just have to pay attention to what your skin is telling you.

Stay away from harsh scrubs and exfoliants.

Woman applying a scrub
Photo: imagenavi / Getty Images

You may be tempted to scrub away at the skin, trying to banish blackheads and breakouts. Don't!

Harsh scrubs can easily irritate your sensitive skin, causing redness and burning.  Treat your skin gently.

You don't need to use abrasive exfoliants or gritty cleansers, neither do you need to scrub at your skin with washcloths or coarse cleansing pads to clear acne.  There are other treatments that are more appropriate for your sensitive skin type.  

Slowly introduce new products and acne treatments.

Until you know how your skin reacts, introduce any new skin care product slowly and carefully. You may even want to test a bit on your inner arm to check for a reaction before trying it out on your face.

Along the same line, you'll want to start using your acne treatments slowly as well. Sure, you're in a hurry to clear up your skin. But acne treatment products, even over-the-counter ones, can cause dryness and irritation in a hurry too.

Initially, try using your treatment products just three times per week. If your skin tolerates that well, slowly build up to using more often.  

Don't use too many treatment products at once.

Using an acne treatment cleanser plus a prescription treatment, astringent, and medicated lotion is overkill for your sensitive skin. 

Bombarding your skin with too many acne treatment products won't clear your breakouts any faster.  It'll just put you on the fast-track to irritated skin.

Instead, stick with just one treatment medication, whether OTC or prescription, (unless your doctor instructs otherwise, of course.) The rest of your skincare products should be non-medicated options, preferably a gentle brand made for sensitive skin types.

Don't leave on leave-on treatments.

Letting a topical treatment like Retin-A or benzoyl peroxide set on your skin all day (or all night) can be too much for sensitive skin.  But that doesn't mean you're out of luck.  Your skin may be able to tolerate these treatments in shorter periods of time.

It seems counter-intuitive, but try washing off your "leave-on" medications after 10, 20, or 30 minutes. You'll get some benefit from them, even with this short period of time.

Plus, as your skin builds up a tolerance to the medication, you'll probably be able to leave them on for longer periods. 

Get help from a dermatologist.

Treating acne itself is difficult enough. Trying to treat acne when you have sensitive skin can be even tougher, because acne treatment products themselves tend to cause irritation.

Instead of trying to treat acne on your own, you'll probably do best seeing a dermatologist. Your doctor can prescribe acne medications (if needed), suggest OTC treatments and skin care products, and help devise a treatment plan that will work for your acne and your sensitive skin.

Next Steps:

How To Choose the Right Acne Treatment

How to Find a Dermatologist You'll Love


Isoda K, Seki T, Inoue Y, et. al.  "Efficacy of the combined use of a facial cleanser and moisturizers for the care of mild acne patients with sensitive skin."  J Dermatol.  2015 Feb;42(2):181-8.

Linder J.  "Daily care for acne, hyperpigmentation, aging, and sensitive skin."  Plast Surg Nurs.  2013 Oct-Dec;33(4):172-6.

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