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Unpopular Opinion: All Drying Lotions Are Bad


What do you call a lotion that doesn’t moisturize? A) a very bad, no good lotion, or B) a “drying lotion,” otherwise known as an acne spot treatment defined by its liquid formula that requires a Q-Tip for application?

The answer is... both, but drying lotions are way worse. Pick any drying lotion and read its list of ingredients. Typically, there’s sulfur, zinc, clay, and salicylic acid. Sounds like a recipe for a great acne treatment, right? Wrong. Because the base of this ingredient soup is alcohol—rubbing alcohol, to be precise—which cancels any good that can come from the whole bottle. It’s just about as effective as subbing OJ for vodka in your green juice—feels good at first, great actually! But it’s sabotage in the long run.

Rubbing alcohol (also known as isopropyl alcohol) is a fixture in most popular drying lotions because at high concentrations, it kills acne-causing bacteria. When used on a zit as a spot treatment, drying lotion dries your skin out, all right—effectively trapping pus under a top layer of newly dry, flaky skin. It ends up extending the life of the zit and keeping the area inflamed longer, and it doesn’t work much better on popped zits. On those, the healing process is slowed down, and the area’s more likely to discolor with hyperpigmentation. Moisture is a key component in healing. If you’ve ever had surgery, you’d know that you’re supposed to keep a wound moist so it doesn’t scab or scar (or if you haven’t, now you know). It’s the same principle here.

If zit happens, I always have some sort of spot treatment on hand—it’s just not a drying lotion. Trade in your old faithful Mario Badescu for a sheet of pimple patches. They suck out any infected liquid, but keep the zit protected and moist to encourage healing. As a bonus, they also physically keep you from touching or picking at it, minimizing the spread of infection. Some are so matte and so tiny that you can even wear them to work. Promise! I’m doing it right now.

Then, break apart the acne-fighting ingredients in drying lotions into separate steps to prevent breakouts before they happen. Salicylic acid, the BHA responsible for clearing out blackheads and whiteheads from the outside in, is really great as a daily toner. I love this zinc mist in the summer, but a regular ol’ physical sunscreen gives your skin all of zinc’s anti-inflammatory properties plus SPF protection. Look for sulfur as a cleanser (derms have the best ones), or an ointment a la De La Cruz. It’s a spot treatment, too, but a thick paste meant to keep skin hydrated and soothed.

—Ali Oshinsky

Photo via ITG