Oily Skin Care Tips
By Cynthia Bailey MD. This page was updated on Mon, Jul 13, 2020
Oily skin care tips from a dermatologist are something my patients with oily complexions are eager to learn. That's because oily skin doesn't feel good with many of the products that work for other complexion types. Excess sebum is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, you won't suffer dry skin but how to control the shine and oily feel is tricky.
What are the symptoms and signs of oily facial skin?
- Your skin looks shiny and greasy soon after washing and gets worse as the day wears on;
- There is often a heavy and greasy feel to your skin, even right after washing;
- Pores often look large and are clogged with oil and dead cells, especially in the T-zone;
- It’s hard to find the right skin care products because most products make an oily complexion feel even oilier and greasier.
FAQs about your facial oil glands:
Oil glands are located at the side of a hair follicle pore to form a pilosebaceous unit. The oil gland secretes oil into the pore where it coats the hair root and travels to the skin surface. Not all pilosebaceous units contain a hair.
- You have pilosebaceous units (oil glands) on all the skin of your face and body except your palms, soles and the top of your feet.
- You have the highest concentration of pilosebaceous units (oil glands) on the T-zone of your face and your scalp.
- Sebaceous oil glands are composed of cells called sebocytes which synthesize sebum.
- Sebum is a natural skin moisturizer made of a complex mixture of oils including triglycerides, fatty acids, wax esters, squalene, and cholesterol.
- Sebum has a protective function and contains antioxidants and antimicrobial components that help fight skin damage and infections.
- Your hormones and stress can increase sebocyte function and oil gland activity.
- The classic 'Western Diet' is associated with greater skin oil and compositional changes in sebum that promote acne. Diet changes to fight acne are proven to alter the sebum composition and reduce acne.
- The exact composition of skin oil components varies between people and in certain skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, and facial dandruff. (In fact, seborrhea translates into "the running of sebum" and is a name for dandruff). Long ago it was believed that oil production was increased in some skin conditions, but now that is controversial. Even in acne, the severity of the acne is not directly related to sebum production! Acne lesions are probably more related to the composition of the sebum and skin oil, and this is impacted by factors like diet, hormones, and stress.
The bottom line is that your facial oil production is complicated.
Dermatologist's tips for choosing the best products for oily skin
It’s easy to keep your pores clean and your skin looking great all day! Here are some things to consider:
- Oily skin does best when cleansed and treated twice a day. You want to find products that you use twice a day.
- It’s important to pick products that will deeply clean your oily skin, removing as much oil as possible without irritating or over-drying your skin.
- You’ll need to find products that treat your skin problems (for instance, acne, hyperpigmentation, age spots, wrinkles, rosacea and facial dandruff) but that don’t feel heavy when you put them on.
- Don’t be afraid to use different products on your oily areas than you use on your drier areas of skin. It will help you more precisely balance your complexion so that it looks and feels great all over.
- Remember, your T-zone is oilier than the sides of your face because it has more oil glands. Your chest and upper back skin is also oilier than the skin on other parts of your body. You may need stronger cleansers and treating ingredients on your oilier facial areas. You may also need lighter textured products there, too.
What is the best skin care routine to control oily skin?
There are four key steps to a Complete Skin Care Routine that gives your skin everything it needs to be healthy. These four steps are done in the morning. Three are done again at night.
Step 1: CLEANSE
Step 2: CORRECT
Step 3: HYDRATE
Step 4: PROTECT
Step 1: CLEANSE
Best facial skin cleansers for oily skin
Look for a foaming cleanser that matches your skin type and goals. Foaming action allows the cleanser to lift and remove more oils. Some people are confused about foaming cleansers because they have heard that they are harsh. That is a generalization that isn't true. There are many different types of cleansers that foam and some are gentle, others remove more skin oil. Find the one that is right for you. I group them by goals. If you have more than one goal, you can alternate one cleanser in morning and another in the evening. Here are some examples of cleansers I recommend for oily complexions that address certain common goals:
Anti-aging, hyperpigmentation, clogged pores and skin brightening for all skin types: Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser exfoliates with gentle eco-friendly beads while penetrating deeply into oily pores with just the right amount of salicylic acid. Glycolic acid brightens skin surface. This is my overall favorite daily facial cleanser for oily skin!
- Pustular and cystic acne blemishes: Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser is medicated with a full 10% benzoyl peroxide to treat the acne causing germ C. acnes. This helps to treat pimples and blackheads while removing oil, dirt and debris.
- Normal acne and/or acne with benzoyl peroxide intolerant skin: Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser is medicated with a full 2% salicylic acid and contains glycolic acid to brighten skin.
Facial seborrhea or rosacea, or fungal acne benefit from pyrithione zinc in Calming Zinc Soap. It gently removes excess oil, dirt and debris from skin and is fortified with a full 2% pyrithione zinc to fight Pityrosporum yeast.
- Daily Foaming Facial Cleanser: a non-medicated all-purpose facial cleanser that also creates the perfect lather for wet shaving.
Using a Clarisonic Sonic Cleansing Brush System with your favorite cleanser can provide additional deep cleaning of your pores to remove excessive skin oil and pore clogging debris.
Oily skin benefits from an additional cleansing step with a facial toner.
This helps to remove even more oil from the skin. Pick your oil-removing toner based on your skin’s needs and sensitivities:
All skin types: Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Facial Toner is a blend of pore tightening astringents organic witch hazel and rose hydrosol combined with hydrating glycerin and hyaluronic acid. I highly recommend this toner for oily skin.
- Acne: Salicylic Acid and Glycolic Acne Treatment Pads
Step 2: CORRECT
Use products that help unclog your pores and treat your skin problems. The skin toners I mentioned above begin to add pore cleaning and treating ingredients. You can layer additional treating products on top for even greater results.
Dermatologist's top choice for skin care products to correct and treat skin problems for oily skin:
My absolute top choice product for oily skin is Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy That's because topically applied high concentration green tea polyphenol antioxidants have been shown to reduce sebum production. There is not much else that can accomplish this feat! Green tea is the best antioxidant for skin care overall and helps to calm inflamed red skin from rosacea, facial dandruff and acne.
...this Green Tea Antioxidant is fabulous. Both my husband and I use it as part of our skin care regime. We both have seen marked improvement in our skin. - SBC
At night apply Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Skin Cream to help unclog pores and fight uneven skin pigment, acne, fine lines and wrinkles. Skin experts all agree that retinoids are the single best ingredient to fight skin aging second only to daily use of sunscreen.
- If your challenge is wrinkles, uneven pigmentation and acne: Try adding my oil free Glycolic Acid Anti-Wrinkle Face Cream (a professional AHA product). This cream will also double as your facial moisturizer. You can use it alone or top your Retinol with it at night.
- If your challenge is acne: Try the Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cream
Step 3: HYDRATE
Even oily skin can become dehydrated! It's true!! Oily skin may produce enough oil in the T−zone and not require a moisturizer. The drier areas of your facial skin such as the cheeks and around the eyes usually do. Don’t let your skin become dry in these areas because water will be lost and skin will become dehydrated!
Maintain healthy skin hydration for oily skin by using the right moisturizer applied in the right places to prevent skin dehydration.
- With oily skin you may find that my Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy or Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream is enough moisturizer for the T-zone. That’s because both of these products hold moisture with high concentration hyaluronic acid.
Most oily complexions need a little more hydration around the eye area, along the jawline and the sides of the cheeks. Here, I recommend a lightly textured high-tech moisture-trapping product such as the Daily Moisturizing Face Cream Oily to Normal Skin. This is the perfect moisturizer for oily skin. It is formulated with squalane (not squalene, which can cause acne), glycerin and antioxidants to balance skin hydration without ever feeling heavy or clogging pores. My Advanced Corrective Eye Cream is perfect for around the eye area and contains skin brighteners and lighteners to fight fine lines, wrinkles, under eye circles and puffiness.
Step 4: PROTECT
Best sunscreen for oily complexions.
Sun protection during the day is the single most important anti-aging skin care step you can take. It helps to prevent wrinkles and irregular skin pigment, not to mention skin cancer. Finding the right sunscreen that does not feel heavy is key for oily complexions. My three favorites for oily skin are:
Sheer Strength Pure Physical Matte Tinted Creme SPF 50+ Sunscreen. This is my absolute top choice sunscreen for oily skin. It has a light silky feel that is mattifying and absorbs oil. The subtle tinting comes from iron oxide that uniquely absorbs visible light which also contributes to skin pigment problems such as melasma and age spots. If you wear makeup you can apply your powder directly on top of it because this sunscreen acts like a primer to give you a great look. It’s a brilliant product. I wear this on my face every day and love it!
Sheer Strength Pure Physical Spray SPF 50+ Sunscreen. This is the best product to work into facial hair making it a men's favorite.
I’m using your Spray sunscreen and I love it. It is easy to apply and stays on. Even when I’m fishing and in exposure that includes reflection of UV off water I don’t get burned. I keep some in my boat to reapply when I’m fishing. - Carl
Sheer Strength Pure Physical Invisible Creme SPF 50+ Sunscreen. This ultra-light textured sunscreen is loved by both men and women who want a cream sunscreen and who don't want a tinted product.
Sheer Strength Pure Physical SPF 30 Refresh Powder Sunscreen is a great powder to refresh sun protection and cut complexion shine at the same time. Keep it in your pocket or purse and reduce oily shine anytime. Also formulated with over 3.2% iron oxide to fight skin pigment problems from visible light. Tinting technology blends with all skin color tones and gender-neutral packaging make this a great option for men as well as women fighting oily skin.
What is the best makeup for oily skin?
Mineral makeup with kaolin clay is the single best makeup for oily skin. It's brilliant in fact because the kaolin clay will absorb oil as your skin produces it over the day. My Loose Mineral Makeup Foundation Powder is ideal for oily skin and contains the right amount of kaolin clay combined with finely milled mineral powders for a flawless finish. Click here to see all of my beautiful mineral makeups. They are triple milled and go on so fine that you get a natural look that's never flaky.
DIY clay mask for oily skin to help tighten pores
Clay masks give a tightening feeling to skin that helps tone pores. We've used them in my med spa for years and clients and patients love them. Even people with sensitive skin love clay masks. They are easy to make yourself. Mix cosmetic grade clay powder and a wetting solution, apply to skin, let dry then rinse off the mask for instant skin tightening.
I like white kaolin clay mixed with French green clay. I add a few drops of my Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Toner (for the addition of organic witch hazel and rose hydrosol, both of which are astringent to help contract pore diameter) and diluted further with chilled brewed green tea. I mix in enough green tea until I have a spreadable consistency. Apply to facial skin and let dry for 10 to 20 minutes then rinse well and towel dry. I like to do this while I relax in a hot bath with a handful of Epsom salts scented with a few drops of lavender or rose geranium essential oil. Lighting a candle and playing spa music transports me to some of my nicest spa memories. Why not, it's 'me time'?!
Can astringents, alcohols, and harsh products cause more oil production from sebocytes (the oil-producing cells in oil glands)?
I have been asked this daily in my dermatology practice for over 30 years. Believe me, I keep my eyes open for the answer in the scientific literature. To date, I still have not seen a study that answers this question. If you have a scholarly article that shows an increase in facial skin oil production in vivo caused by removing skin oil with soaps, detergents, alcohol or acetone, or from the presence of an irritant dermatitis, please forward the reference to me!
What’s the bottom line for treating your oily skin?
Find the right oily skin care products that address your specific skin concerns. Once you start your new skin care routine, you should start seeing some impressive, oil−controlling results!