Having oily skin isn't all bad. Those natural oils protect and preserve the skin meaning people with that natural glow typically have fewer wrinkles, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. But with those perks comes quite a few annoyances, like a super-shiny face, clogged pores, breakouts, and the horror of watching your makeup melt off by mid-afternoon.
So what causes oily skin, anyway? On a biological level, oily skin is caused by hormonal stimulation of the sebaceous glands (oil glands), says San Diego-based board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm, MD. Oil produced is excreted from the gland through our pores to the surface of the skin, causing a characteristic shiny or slick appearance.
Oil glands tend to be clustered in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, nose, mid-cheeks, and chin (better known as the T-zone), says Los Angeles-based board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD. (Hence why these areas tend to look super-greasy if you're prone to oily skin.) The amount of oil that's produced varies from person to person, and things like hormonal changes (menstruation, pregnancy, menopause), diet, stress, and even the weather can all influence the amount of oil churned out by your skin. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to get oily skin under controland we went to the experts to find out exactly what to do.
How to Get Rid of Oily Skin
1. Read the labels on your skincare products
Certain keywords and ingredients can indicate whether skincare products will help you tame oil production or make it worse. Use products labelled with terms like non-comedogenic', non-acnegenic', doesn't clog pores', or won't cause breakouts', says David Lortscher, MD, California-based board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology. This indicates the manufacturer considers the product to be designed for people with oily or acne-prone skin. It's not a guarantee, he adds, since everyone's skin reacts differently, but it can be a useful guideline.
Also, look for active ingredients that help the oil gland function more normally, like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, niacinamide, zinc, retinoids, and sulfur. Lighter formulations are likely to be better toleratedthese include serums, gels, lotions, or powders, rather than creams or ointments, says Dr. Palm.
If you're unsure about a product, Dr. Lortscher recommends using cosDNA.com to research your skincare products in their database. Pull up and run the ingredient list through the analyze cosmetics section, and check out the acne column: If there are any 3s, 4s, or 5s listed, consider swapping out the product for a different one.
2. Use an oil-fighting cleanser
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to use an aggressive face wash to de- grease your skinin fact, going too strong may cause rebound oil production. Go with a gentle foaming cleanser instead, says Dr. Lortscher, preferably one that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which penetrate your pores and keeps them gunk-free. Try the following dermatologist approved options:
3. Then, let your cleanser do the work
Scrubbing your skin can strip your skin of its natural protective oils and, paradoxically, trigger increased oil production. The goal is to remove physical dirt and emulsify the excess oils and grease so they rinse offit isn't to irritate your skin, says Dr. Shainhouse. Simply wet your skin, and using a nickel-sized amount of cleanser, lather up the product and gently massage it onto your face. Your cleanser will take care of the rest.
4. But don't wash your face too often
It can be tempting to wash your face several times a day with oil-zapping cleansers to keep your skin looking matte, but doing so can actually backfire. When you over-wash, you remove the protective natural oils, which can leave your skin feeling dry, tight, and parched, says Dr. Shainhouse. Because your skin can't produce its own moisture, it responds to the dryness by making more oil. To stop this cycle, only wash your face in the morning, at night, and after exercise.
5. Tweak your toner usage
Don't use drying toners (think: alcohol-based), apple cider vinegar, or rubbing alcohol to evict grease from your skin. These solutions will physically remove surface grease, but dry out the top layer of your skin, says Dr. Shainhouse, and potentially lead to rebound oil production. If you feel like you need a toner step, Dr. Shainhouse recommends going with a micellar water that contains both astringent (charcoal, witch hazel) and moisturizing ingredients (glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera) to both mattify and protect your skin.
If your skin can tolerate micellar water without getting irritated, consider a gentle formula like Simple Micellar Water (it's great for sensitive skin, says Dr. Shainhouse) or La Roche Posay Effaclar Micellar Water for Oily Skin, which cleanses, hydrates (with glycerin) and keeps oil production at bay (with zinc).
6. Never skip moisturizer
It seems counterintuitive to moisturize skin that's always shiny and greasy, but doing so gives your skin an added layer of protection against rebound oil production, says Dr. Shainhouse. Apply a light, oil-free moisturizer after washing your face (or toning if you want to include that step), such EltaMD AM Therapy or Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel.
7. Always wear sunscreen
Sunscreen doesn't have to make your face look greasy, so long as you choose the right product for your skin type. Opt for a lightweight formula that contains mineral blockers, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, says Dr. Shainhouse. Chemical formulations are fine toojust make sure to choose a gel or light liquid formula that's made for faces.
Dr. Palm's top pick is Elta MD Clear SPF 46, as it's a non-comedogenic formulation that contains no heavy moisturizers. Plus, zinc oxide and niacinamide are anti-inflammatory and don't promote oil production, she says. And if you find you're still on the shiny side, use a loose mineral powder sunscreen for touch-ups, such as Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection SPF 50, suggests Dr. Shainhouse.
8. Apply a mattifying agent
Applying a mattifying agentafter sunscreen and before makeupcan help control shine during the day. Dr. Palm recommends OC8 Professional Mattifying Gel: It contains a polymer called acrysorb, which attaches to and absorbs oil on the skin, she says. Best of all, it helps to reduce shine for up to eight hours.
9. Switch up your makeup
Switching makeup products from creams to powders is a great way to keep excess oil in check, says Heidi Prather, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas. Creamy makeups can give off a cakey vibe and leave more room for clogged pores to take shape, whereas mineral-based powders are non-comedogenic and help to soak up shine. Hourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation, for example, controls oil and draws out impurities without drying your skin, while RMS Beauty Un Powder acts as a translucent setting powder, keeping oil at bay and minimizing pores without any pesky white residue.
10. Exfoliate weekly
It's important not to over-exfoliate or you can actually cause an uptick in oil productionexfoliating once or twice a week should do the trick. I generally recommend non-particle based chemical exfoliants that contain a combination of glycolic and salicylic acids, says Dr. Palm. This combo effectively lifts off excess oil and dead skin cells, preventing clogged pores in the process. Try the Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads after cleansing or SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser as your first step.
11. Add retinoids to your repertoire
Regular use of retinoids helps to shrink sebaceous glands and reduce oiliness, says Dr. Prather. But take note: When you're a newbie to retinoids, they can dry the skin's surface and induce peeling, so you may find that you wake up with greasier skin in the beginning, that dissipates once your skin adjusts, says Dr. Shainhouse.
Most retinoids require a prescription from your dermatologist, but you can find one over-the-counter: Differin Gel, which is raved about for its ability to reduce acne. To help prevent the initial uptick in oil production, you can also start with a retinol cream at night (a gentler sister to retinoids) like RoC Retinol Correxion Night Cream or Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair before you work your way up to a stronger formulation.
12. Apply a sulfur mask a few times a week
Not only does sulfur draw impurities out of the skin, it's also anti- inflammatory, helping to calm irritation within the hair follicle-oil gland unit that can cause oil production to go into OT, says Dr. Palm. Sulfur masks (like Kate Somerville's EradiKate Foam-Activated Mask) should be rinsed off completely with water or a gentle cleanser. If skin feels tight post-mask, apply your go-to moisturizer to avoid rebound oil production.
13. Keep a stash of blotting papers handy
When you need to sop up excess oil on the go, blotting papers make for a convenient quick fix, says Dr. Prather, who recommends using Tatcha Japanese Blotting Papers. They're made with abaca leaf and gold flakes for a natural product that helps to absorb excess oil sans messing up your makeup. Gently press onto your face to absorb the oil, then mosey on with your day.
14. Mist your way to cool skin
Research suggests that hot and humid climates can trigger excess sebum production. (Cue sad trombone.) Avoiding overheating during the spring and summer months can help to minimize the amount of sweat and oil production on the skin, says Dr. Prather. Water sprays, such as Avene Thermal Spring Water, can be misted onto your face to cool you off without increasing oil or shine.
15. Avoid touching your face
It's super-tempting to touch your face, especially when you're stressed out or deep in thoughtbut when your skin is already oily, the last thing you want to do is transfer more oil from your hands to your face, not to mention dirt and bacteria. The repetitive action of touching your face can further clog pores and result in acne, says Dr. Prather. Only touch your face (with clean hands) when you're cleansing or applying sunscreen, moisturizer, and makeup.
16. Cut back on sugar and refined carbs
Eating sugar and refined carbssay, like white bread, sweet drinks, and junk foodscauses your blood sugar levels to spike and your pancreas to release insulin to level things out, says Dr. Lortscher. Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) production is stimulated, which can boost oil production and acne severity. Do your best to nix sugar and refined carbs from your diet, and replace them with foods that are considered low GI (meaning they don't spike blood sugar), such as high-fiber, unprocessed foodswhole grains, seeds, legumes, veggies, and many fruits (strawberries, peaches, mangoes).
17. Drink spearmint tea
The science is not crystal clear yet, but there's some convincing evidence that drinking two cups of organic spearmint tea per day can reduce blood levels of circulating androgens, which are male-type hormones that all women have. Androgens trigger oil gland production, and can worsen acne, so reducing levels of circulating androgens through drinking spearmint tea may conceivably help oiliness, says Dr. Lortscher. If you want to give it a whirl, stick to just two cups per day, and keep tabs on your shine level.
18. Get your stress levels in check
During stressful times, our bodies tend to produce more cortisol, and this also triggers excess oil production, says Dr. Lortscher. Do your best to create pockets of time throughout the day to partake in stress-busting practices, such as relaxation techniques (yoga, deep breathing), workouts (power walking, dancing), and downtime rituals (dinner with buds, Netflix and actually chilling).