What If You Have Acne and Dry Skin?

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Paula's Choice Exfoliating Solution.
Paula's Choice Exfoliating Solution.Photo: Paula's Choice

It’s a special circle of hell when winter hits, your skin dries, but your acne thrives with gusto. Alcohol-laden toners and benzoyl-peroxide spot treatments only worsen the problem. A modicum of research will tell you that salicylic acid is your ideal option for dry, acne-prone skin, and the extra-strength solution from Paula’s Choice is the best.

Paula’s Choice Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution is a fairly uncomplicated product. It’s an odorless, colorless, waterlike liquid. You apply it to clean, dry skin either once or twice daily. There are only a handful of ingredients and the only one that matters is the pore-clearing salicylic acid. As a company, Paula’s Choice fixates relentless on the importance of pH. This is because a product with a high pH renders salicylic acid useless, and a product with a pH that’s too low irritates and damages skin. The Exfoliating Solution sits at the pH sweet spot of 3.2 to 3.8.

Paula’s Choice instructs users to soak a cotton pad with the solution before applying it to your entire face, but I prefer squirting a teaspoon of the liquid directly into my hand — it makes for less waste. There are no grains or granules in the solution; the “exfoliating” part of its name refers to a chemical, not physical exfoliation. The Exfoliating Solution works in two ways: For one, it increases the speed at which your skin normally sheds cells. With a faster cell-turnover rate, cells are less likely to gunk up with pimple-inducing grime. And for the other, salicylic acid is different from other skin acids, like lactic and alpha hydroxy, in that it’s also able to penetrate and dissolve oil in pores. On skin, the liquid feels like heavy water. It absorbs completely after a few minutes, and never leaves skin taut or dry.

An interesting fact about the exfoliant is that it is identical to the brand’s best-selling Skin Perfecting Liquid, but repackaged to directly appeal to acne-sufferers. You could really buy either one. It’s also equipped with a special-delivery system that dispenses salicylic acid deeper into pores. Still, clearing existing acne takes time — expect to wait a few weeks before noticing results. A small amount of green-tea extract in the solution will abate acne redness in the interim. And then your dry skin will be a matter of history.

Paula’s Choice Extra Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid, $28