Caring for Acne-Prone Skin: Complete Guide

Discover scientifically proven tips on how to care for acne-prone skin and understand key facts about acne in this comprehensive guide from our experts.

Published: Wednesday 01 May 2024

lady with clear skin checking her phone while walking outside

The probability of experiencing acne flare-ups can depend on a variety of factors such as the type of skin and which treatments are utilised. To help with understanding how to best care for acne-prone skin and answer popular questions about the condition, our experts have put together this comprehensive guide.

Continue reading to learn what constitutes acne-prone skin, how to manage breakouts, which acne treatments are best for various skin types, and more.

Key facts about acne-prone skin

What is acne-prone skin?

Acne-prone skin refers to any area of the skin where acne is more likely to appear as a result of the sebaceous glands producing too much sebum (oil).

If excess sebum mixes with dead skin, it can block hair follicles and form plugs inside the pores[1]. The bacterium ‘Propionibacterium acnes’ can thrive and multiply within these clogged pores, triggering inflammation and the infection of skin tissue which results in acne.

What types of acne can affect acne-prone skin?

There are six main types of spots that appear during an acne breakout[2]:

  • Whiteheads - whiteheads occur when sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria are trapped within blocked pores. Whiteheads get their name from the white colour of the various layers of skin covering the clogged sebum[3].
  • Blackheads - like whiteheads, blackheads also form when sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria are trapped due to clogged pores. They appear black because of the oxidation of the melanin pigment in the sebum as a result of being exposed to the air[4].
  • Pustules (pimples) - pimples occur when bacterial growth in the plug triggers an immune response, resulting in pus and the surrounding skin becoming red and inflamed[[5].
  • Papules - papules represent small, red bumps on the skin. Unlike other forms of acne such as pustules, papules do not contain pus and are firm to touch due to the inflammation within the skin[6].
  • Nodules - nodules are hard lesions that are lodged deep within the skin[7].
  • Cysts - cysts are larger lesions that are filled with pus and are considered to be the most severe form of acne as they can cause substantial inflammation, leaving behind scars after healing.

Characteristics of acne-prone skin

Oily acne-prone skin

Oily acne-prone skin tends to affect the face, where the production of excess sebum can clog the pores, making them appear larger and resulting in the frequent breakout of blackheads and whiteheads, especially on the forehead, nose, and/or chin (known as the ‘T-zone’).

Individuals with oily acne-prone skin are advised to use products that can help regulate oil production and which do not contribute to oiliness, such as oil-free moisturisers and non-comedogenic cleansers.

Dry acne-prone skin

Individuals with dry acne-prone skin are susceptible to breakouts as a result of dead skin cells accumulating and clogging the pores, even if their sebaceous glands are not overproducing sebum.

It is not recommended for individuals with this type of skin to use acne treatments that dry out the skin further. Instead, it is advisable to gently exfoliate the skin to remove dead skin cells before hydrating the skin using non-comedogenic moisturisers.

Sensitive acne-prone skin

Sensitive acne-prone skin is any type of skin that reacts easily to factors that can trigger acne breakouts, such as hormones, stress, diet, and/or the use of certain skincare products. It can be either oily or dry and is prone to frequent inflammation, resulting in redness and the appearance of one or more of the various types of acne discussed previously.

Individuals with sensitive acne-prone skin are advised to use specially formulated skincare products free from irritants such as alcohol and fragrances.

Combination acne-prone skin

Combination acne-prone skin is characterised by a mixture of dry and oily patches on the face such as an oily T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) and dryness in other areas of the face such as the cheeks.

Individuals with this type of skin are advised to use different approaches on different parts of the face to prevent acne breakouts, such as a light, oil-free moisturiser on the nose/chin and a slightly richer moisturiser on the cheeks.

Tips on developing a skincare routine for acne-prone skin

Identifying skin types

The key to developing an effective skincare routine for acne-prone skin is to identify the individual’s skin type. Skincare for oily acne-prone skin will differ from skincare for other types of skin as it would require oil-free products that do not exacerbate acne by leaving residue on the skin.

Recommended reading: How to Get Clear Skin - Skin Types Explained

Treating acne-prone skin

Differin (Adapalene)

Differin (Adapalene) 0.1% is a topical acne treatment containing an anti-inflammatory medication called retinoid adapalene. This ingredient helps regulate the growth and turnover rate of skin cells in the hair follicles, preventing them from sticking together and clogging the pores. This helps reduce the formation of blackheads and whiteheads and restores skin tone/texture. It also lowers the risk of experiencing clogged pores and blemishes.

Differin is regarded by many as one of the best products for acne-prone skin. It is a fragrance-free and non-comedogenic product (which means it does not clog pores) suitable for use by those with dry or oily acne-prone skin, provided they complete an online consultation for acne treatment to determine suitability.


Epiduo gel is also a topical acne treatment that contains a combination of adapalene and benzoyl peroxide.

Adapalene, which is also the active ingredient in Differin cream and gel, is an anti-inflammatory medication that can unblock pores, reducing the appearance of whiteheads and blackheads. Benzoyl peroxide, on the other hand, is an antibacterial agent that can help soften the oyster layer of the skin and counteract the excessive secretion of sebum. This makes Epiduo gel suitable for those with oily acne-prone skin.

Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is a non-comedogenic and soap-free body and face wash for acne-prone skin. It is formulated to cleanse and moisturise acne-prone skin. It can help prevent acne breakouts by cleansing the skin without stripping it of its natural oils as this can trigger the overproduction of sebum.

Cetaphil gentle cleanser can be used to remove light makeup and is suitable for those with sensitive acne-prone skin and dry acne-prone skin.

Cetaphil Oily Cleanser

Cetaphil Oily Cleanser is formulated to help cleanse combination, sensitive, and oily acne-prone skin. It helps remove excess facial oil without drying out the skin and can also be used to remove light makeup.

Cetaphil Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser

Cetaphil Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser is a facial scrub for acne-prone skin that helps with exfoliation, removing excess oil and dirt on the face. It is suitable for use by those with combination, oily, or dry acne-prone skin.

Answering common questions about acne-prone skin

Is it safe to scrub acne-prone skin?

Whether it is safe to scrub acne-prone skin depends on what type of acne is present on the skin when it is scrubbed, how gently the skin is scrubbed, and what type of cleanser is used.

If the skin is acne-prone but there is no acne currently present, it can be safe to scrub it gently using an appropriate cleanser such as Cetaphil gentle exfoliating cleanser. If whiteheads and blackheads are present, gentle exfoliation can help open pores and remove them. On the other hand, if pustules, papules, nodules, or cysts are present, then it is advisable to avoid physical exfoliation as it can irritate the skin and worsen inflammation.

What should I look for in a cleanser for acne-prone skin?

It is recommended to opt for a non-comedogenic, soap-free and fragrance-free cleanser for acne-prone skin as these properties can help reduce the risk of flare-ups. Examples include Cetaphil gentle cleanser for sensitive and/or dry acne-prone skin, and Cetaphil oily cleanser for combination, sensitive or oily acne-prone skin.

Can I use oil cleansers if I have acne-prone skin?

Yes, oil cleansers can be used by individuals with acne-prone skin, particularly if they are non-comedogenic (do not clog the pores). This can help reduce the risk of acne flare-ups while also maintaining the skin’s natural moisture balance.

Recommended reading: From Acne to Eczema - How to Look After Your Skin

Does makeup for acne-prone skin worsen the condition?

Makeup for acne-prone skin does not worsen the condition if it is non-comedogenic and/or oil-free. It is worth noting that makeup can worsen acne symptoms if it is not removed by affected individuals at the end of the day.

What is the best moisturiser for acne-prone skin?

There is no single best moisturiser for acne-prone skin as each type of skin requires a different type of moisturiser. Generally, using an oil-free and non-comedogenic moisturiser for acne-prone skin can help keep the skin hydrated while preventing acne breakouts.

Is there a difference between moisturisers for oily acne-prone skin and moisturisers for dry acne-prone skin?

Moisturisers for oily acne-prone skin are water-based and lighter, whereas moisturisers for dry acne-prone skin tend to be slightly/richer and may feature more hydrating ingredients to account for the dryness.

Is sunscreen necessary for acne-prone skin

Yes, sunscreen is necessary to protect acne-prone skin from UV rays that can cause skin discolouration. This can occur in the areas of the skin that become inflamed due to acne and produce excess melanin (the pigment that gives skin its colour).

Nivea Sun Protect and Moisture Sun Lotion is an example of a suitable sunscreen for acne-prone skin. The non-greasy formulation of this product in particular makes it a suitable sunscreen for oily acne-prone skin; it can absorb into the skin quickly without leaving oily residue, reducing the risk of the pores being clogged (which can exacerbate acne).

What is the best SPF for acne-prone skin?

There is no single best SPF for acne-prone skin. Any product with an SPF of 30 or above, and which is oil-free and non-comedogenic, can help protect against UV rays while also reducing the risk of acne breakouts.

Buy clinically proven acne treatments for UK-wide delivery from Pharmica

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  1. Medical News Today (2020). What is Sebum? Available at: [Accessed: 29 April 2024].
  2. NHS (n.d.). Acne. Available at: [Accessed: 29 April 2024].
  3. Moore (2019). Everything you need to know about whiteheads. Healthline. Available at: [Accessed: 29 April 2024].
  4. Schober (2023). What are blackheads? Health. Available at: [Accessed: 29 April 2024].
  5. Kahn (2024). What causes pustules? Healthline. Available at: [Accessed: 29 April 2024].
  6. Frothingham (2019). What causes acne papules, and how are they treated? Healthline. Available at: [Accessed: 29 April 2024].
  7. Cleveland Clinic (n.d.). Nodular acne. Available at:,or%20blackhead%20at%20the%20center. [Accessed: 29 April 2024].
Rehma Gill

Written by: Rehma Gill

Pharmacy Manager・GPHC Number 2225869

Rehma completed her pharmacy degree at the University of Portsmouth in 2019 and went on to complete her internship in community pharmacy. As a pharmacy manager and a responsible pharmacist here at Pharmica, Rehma’s responsibilities include managing day-to-day operations at the pharmacy and ensuring we provide outstanding service to our patients.

Carolina Goncalves

Medically Reviewed by: Carolina Goncalves

Superintendent Pharmacist・GPHC Number 2088658

Carolina Goncalves is the Superintendent Pharmacist at Pharmica, where she ensures patients receive exceptional healthcare and support, as part of a seamless online pharmacy service.

With a comprehensive professional background spanning more than 13 years, Carolina has extensive experience supporting Men’s and Women’s health. Carolina is responsible for providing expert treatment advice to thousands of patients in areas such as Sexual Health, Erectile Dysfunction, Hair Loss, Weight Loss and Asthma.

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From Acne to Eczema: How to Look After Your Skin
From Acne to Eczema: How to Look After Your Skin