Skincare Basics for Oily Skin

Skincare Basics for Oily Skin

Wvery skin type has its issues. Skincare isn’t one size fits all—everybody has different needs and concerns for their skin, from redness to dryness to wrinkles, and lots of people aren’t using a skincare routine that really suits them. People with oily skin find themselves dreading sweaty summers, reapplying runny makeup and wrestling with frequent breakouts. It’s a stubborn skin type, and unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad info out there on how best to manage oily skin. Fortunately, though, we do know what actually works for cutting back that pesky shine, so let’s get into the basics.

How Does Oily Skin Work?

Everybody has a little bit of oil on their skin. In fact, it’s a crucial part of your skin biome that keeps the whole organ (yes, the skin is an organ) healthy and hydrated. Every one of the thousands of pores on your face has something called a sebaceous gland, which produces sebum, a kind of natural oil. Some people have sebaceous glands that go a little overboard with sebum production, leaving a greasy, uncomfortable sheen on the forehead, nose and cheeks. If that’s not annoying enough, the oil commonly mixes with dead skin cells to clog pores and cause clusters of zits, somehow always just in time for a dinner date or picture day (science can’t explain how that happens, but it does). Factors like your age, your genes, the climate where you live and your menstrual cycle all affect how much oil your skin produces.

How Do I Take Care Of It?

Managing oily skin is tricky. Most people’s impulse is to obsessively wipe out all the oil on their face with aggressive washing, alcohol-based astringents and mattifying creams and powders, only to find their skin even greasier than before. Your skin needs oil on it, and if you strip it all away, your sebaceous glands will go into overdrive to compensate. So, if getting rid of skin oil actually makes the problem worse, what will make it better?

One approach is to get to the root of the problem, which is overactive sebaceous glands. Properly caring for oily skin means reducing sebum production, rather than just cleaning up the sebum over and over. Promising studies have shown that niacinamide, also known as Vitamin B3, decreases sebaceous gland activity when used consistently, with the known added benefit of soothing inflammation. The compound retinol also temporarily shrinks pores, according to another study which was published in Clinical Interventions in Aging. Because larger pores usually produce more sebum, topical retinol is another possible way to proactively combat oily skin.

Retinol can also help prevent breakouts by speeding up cell turnover, which discards old and dead skin cells and replaces them with fresh new ones. By degrading the dead skin which commonly clogs pores, retinol takes care of breakouts before they happen, which is a must for anybody dealing with excess skin oil. Salicyclic acid similarly breaks down dead skin, and it’s also made of particles small enough to sink down into pores and clean them right out. Another trick that’s on-trend is sulfur-based acne treatments, which hamper the growth of bacteria and soften the outer layer of skin to keep pores from getting clogged. If a cleanser or moisturizer says “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic”, there’s a good chance it includes one of these ingredients.

Oily skin is still skin, and it needs to stay hydrated, so definitely incorporate hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine. It’s super common in moisturizers, and keeping moisture locked in on your face will keep your sebaceous glands from working overtime and making you greasy. Finally, when it comes to washing, less is more. Twice a day with a foaming oil-free cleanser is plenty, and don’t scrub too hard or exfoliate too often—that will also dry out your skin and aggravate your oil glands. A clay mask once or twice a week can also help soak up excess oil and keep your skin soft and firm.

What to Avoid?

Now you know what ingredients to look for when you’re shopping for skincare, but which products should you leave on the shelf if you’re dealing with extra oil?

As I mentioned before, alcohol is a no-go. It might give you that matte feeling you’ve been wanting, but it’ll dry your skin out and make it look dull, and then your sebaceous glands will replenish all the oil you removed anyway. Make sure to know how to identify denatured and isopropyl alcohol in ingredients lists so you can steer clear.

I also mentioned that over-exfoliating, no matter how good it feels, is really bad for your skin. Face scrubs with abrasive particles like almond shells damage the skin on top of stripping it of its sebum. To exfoliate oily skin, a gentle wash with a cloth twice a week should do the trick just fine.

Dr. Batul Patel, a dermatologist with the Bombay Skin Clinic, also recommends staying away from certain face oils and occlusives. Specifically, oils high in oleic acids, like camellia and coconut oil, tend to clog pores, so they don’t work well with oily skin types. Instead, oils with linoleic acids, like rosehip oil, will moisturize your skin without provoking breakouts. Occlusives like mineral oils or petroleum are included in a lot of moisturizers for drier skin types, but they’ll just feel heavy and sticky on oily skin. Dr. Patel suggests going for a non-greasy gel-based moisturizer instead.

So now that you’re armed with knowledge, feel free to check out our selection of skincare products! We’ve got something for every skin type, so you might find just the thing to tackle oily skin and keep yourself looking and feeling great.

Rowan Thompson - May 31, 2021

Cherney, Kristeen. “7 Causes of Oily Skin.”, 26 Sept. 2018,

Heiser, Christina. “13 Best Skin Care Products for Oily Skin, According to Experts.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 16 June 2020,

Sabhnani, D. V. (2019, November 29). 6 makeup and skincare ingredients you need to avoid if you have oily skin. Vogue India.

Weiner, Zoe. “Dermatologists Say the 'Big Four' Are All You Need to Beat Oily Skin.” Well+Good, 14 Feb. 2020,

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