Raise your hand if you always keep setting powder in your bag for touch-ups throughout the day, oooor if you laugh at the idea of cream makeup formulas, oooor if you could fill up an entire oil-blotting sheet in one swipe? Yeah? Both hands raised right now? Then here’s a fact you probably already knew: You, my friend, have oily skin—welcome to the (very cool, exclusive, exciting) club.
According to board-certified dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, MD, oily skin happens when your sebaceous glands produce too much sebum, which is the waxy, oily substance that protects and hydrates your skin. As a result, your face—particularly your forehead, nose, and chin (aka your T-zone)—is left looking shiny and slick. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having oily skin, or any type of skin, it can be somewhat annoying if it’s leading to blackheads, acne, or crease-y makeup.
So to help you figure out how to work with your oily skin, instead of against it, we turned to Dr. Mariwalla and board-certified dermatologist Ope Ofodile, MD, for some answers on getting rid of excess oil and keeping your face matte and clear all day. Keep reading for 21 things you can do to minimize oily skin asap.
If you feel like your skin is looking exceptionally shiny as of late, that increase in oil production could be due to a bunch of different reasons. Both dermatologists point out that some contributing factors are out of your control (womp, womp), like your genetics, hormones, and age, and even the time of the year, but there are also external factors that you can work on, like using the correct skincare products (i.e., gentle formulas, not formulas that could strip paint).
Yes and no. Dr. Ofodile explains that too much oil on your face leads to acne breakouts, clogged pores, blackheads, and excess shine, but too little oil can result in dry, red, irritated skin, as well as increased susceptibility to wrinkles. What you want to aim for is the perfect balance of oil right in between the two, but that sweet spot varies from person to person, and largely has to do with genetics and hormones (so, again, there’s only so much you can do).
Listen, you don’t want to get rid of oily skin or totally stop it. A little oil is good, but excess oil on the skin is where you might want to intervene. So if your T-zone is looking a little greasier than usual, learn how to control oily skin with these expert-approved tips, below.
Dr. Mariwalla argues that oily skin is the result of genetics and often tied to hormones, but with that said, your lifestyle can sometimes impact oil production in our skin. Certain things like fried food, sugar, and excess alcohol could increase oil production by stimulating your hormones, so your diet might be worth considering. However, Dr. Mariwalla says the best thing you can do for oily skin is find the right balance for it (more tips on this below), which is different for every individual.
One of the biggest mistakes people with oily skin make is doing way too much of everything. Dr. Mariwalla says to avoid making your skincare routine too complicated and only include the steps you really need. Basically, the more you slather on, the higher your chances are of looking oily by noon. That’s why Dr. Odofile recommends seeing a board-certified dermatologist to establish an individualized skincare routine that addresses your skin’s specific needs.
At the same time, Dr. Ofodile says that inadequate daily skin cleansing could also contribute to your oily face. Remember, it’s all about ~balance~. It’s important to wash your face consistently every morning and night, but using the harshest cleansers will actually just strip your face and irritate your skin barrier, leading to more oil and acne in the end.
Yup, we’ve got more to say about that aggressive acne face wash of yours: You don’t need it. Dr. Mariwalla says that cleansers that strip the skin of its natural sebum and lipids—so your intense, tingly, slightly burning face wash—can actually trigger a cycle of dehydration and irritation, thus making your oily skin even oilier. So yeah. Go easy on the cleanser, and stick with one of these below:
A combo of charcoal and 2 percent salicylic acid (the strongest amount you can get OTC) dissolves excess sebum and dead skin cells, while probiotics keep bad bacteria at bay.
Three different clays—french green, bentonite, and white kaolin—work together to de-gunk pores without over-stripping your skin.
It’s benzoyl peroxide to the rescue! This cleanser uses it in a 5 percent concentration to kill P.Acnes (aka acne-causing bacteria) and prevent zits.
Glycolic and lactic acids whisk away dead cells, while antiseptic green tea keeps excess oil in check for a complexion that’s not overly shiny looking.
While blotting papers and charcoal masks won’t do anything to stop your oil production at its source (think of these products as band-aids, instead of actual fixes), they’re still good to have on hand to help absorb excess oil and temporarily de-grease your face when you really need it.
An easy way to pick out drugstore skincare products for yourself is to look for things that say “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic,” which will help steer you away from heavy skincare products that can trap oils in your follicle and irritate your skin. It’s not fool-proof, but it’s a great starting place when looking for new products.
It might go against everything you ever thought, but avoid drying out your skin because as Dr. Ofodile explains, dehydrated skin is thought to produce even more oil in compensation. When your face is feeling a little dried out, use a hyaluronic acid face serum to pull hydration back into the skin without adding shine.
Another myth is that moisturizer will make oily skin produce more oil. Nope, nope, nope. Dr. Mariwalla says people who struggle with oily skin often have dehydrated skin, so their oil glands try to make up for moisture loss by producing extra oil. Don’t trigger your oil production—use an oil-free moisturizer daily instead. Dr. Ofodile’s two favorites? Skin Better Science Trio Rebalancing Moisture Treatment, which is also an anti-aging cream, and/or Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel.
Oil-free foundations and mattifying primers for oily skin should be at the top of your makeup shopping list if you don’t already use them. These products use oil-absorbing ingredients and matte pigments to stop your makeup from sliding off or breaking up throughout the day.
Keeping with the theme of doing less, stop using overly harsh face scrubs. You cannot scrape away your oil glands, sorry. Exfoliating your face is still important, but Dr. Ofodile recommends doing so with products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid, or beta-hydroxy acids (salicylic acid), which penetrate into pores to effectively remove excess sebum.
Not only does salicylic acid gently exfoliate by dissolving the glue that holds skin cells together, but it also works to treat oily skin, blackheads, and whiteheads and calm inflammation. So yeah. It’s a good acne spot treatment to have on hand.
If you have oily skin with a side of acne, benzoyl peroxide is the perfect ingredient for you. It kills acne-causing bacteria, helps calm red and inflamed skin, and minimizes oil production—what more could you want? The ingredient is known for being a little drying (it’s also known for bleaching your fabrics, but I digress), which might work well for your oily skin, but be sure to go with a lower concentration to avoid irritation.
Retinol or retinoids (an all-encompassing term for all vitamin-A derivatives) also help reduce sebum and oil production, but they do soooo much more than that (like speed up collagen production, fade acne scars and hyperpigmentation, smooth skin texture, prevent acne, soften fine lines, etc.), so you really need to start using one at night. K?
Dr. Mariwalla is a big fan of using a toner, like Dickinson’s Shine Reducing Toner that contains witch hazel, to remove excess oil without stripping your skin’s natural lipid barrier (that last part is key) and balance the skin. Much better than an aggressive face wash.
No, the sun will not dry up an oily complexion, so add that to the long list of oily skin myths and equally long list of the reasons why excess sun exposure is a no-no. On the contrary, Dr. Mariwalla explains that unprotected sun exposure will only cause further damage. “It will put the skin into a dehydrated state, and the sebaceous glands will fire into overdrive to help replace lost oil, resulting in more oil on the surface than before,” says Dr. Mariwalla.
When you can’t find any shade, you’ll want to rely on sunscreen for sun protection. But if you have oily skin, you don’t want to slather just any ol’ sunblock all over your face. Dr. Ofodile says to avoid any kind of SPF formula with an occlusive ointment base or coconut oil. Go with an oil-free formula designed for faces instead, like one of these:
In addition to topical retinoids, Dr. Ofodile also recommends oral retinoids to help regulate sebum and oil production. Isotretinoin (aka Accutane) actually shrinks the size of your oil glands and reduces oil production. Amazing, yes, but it’s not without a few potential side effects, so ask your doctor if you would be a good candidate.
Another safer, lower-risk prescription option? Spironolactone, a commonly prescribed medication that helps reduce your oil production (and acne breakouts!) by reducing the type of hormone responsible for stimulating your oil glands. Again, chat with your dermatologist to see if they think you’re right for it.
Some laser treatments, like Fraxel or the less aggressive Clear + Brilliant laser, can help to minimize large pores (among a handful of other benefits, like brightening skin, erasing dark spots and scars, and re-surfacing your skin texture), which tend to go hand in hand with oily skin.
Dr. Ofodile recommends getting monthly HydraFacials (a cleansing, moisturizing, and exfoliating treatment that uses a pore vacuum) to reduce clogged pores, deep-clean the skin, and reduce oil production.
For the same pore-clearing reasons as the HydraFacial, Dr. Ofodile also recommends quarterly TCA (trichlorecetic acid) chemical peels. You’ll also love this treatment for the way it improves skin texture and gets rid of non-inflammatory acne.
There’s no use in stressing over your oily skin and constantly checking your reflection for that 5 o’clock shine, because guess what? That’s just gonna make things worse (seriously—stress triggers hormone spikes which can lead to acne and excess oil). You can try all of the above, but if you’re mad stressed all the time, your cortisol stress hormone will send your oil glands into overdrive.
So take a breather, follow the steps above, don’t overdo it, and you’ll have your oil skin under control in no time.