Ingredients to Control Oily Skin

Control and Treat Oily Skin

You might consider oily skin to be a beauty problem, but a shiny complexion is not without benefits. First, oil helps trap moisture in your skin, so you're less likely to look dry and scaly in winter months. While an excess of oil may be associated with acne breakouts, oil also protects your skin from the signs of aging. Plus, no one wants a dull complexion — so consider yourself lucky that yours is naturally dewy.

Learn to love your complexion with this expert advice on selecting the best skin care products — and avoiding the worst ingredients — to control and treat oily skin.


"Kaolin is a naturally occurring white clay that helps absorb oil and mattify skin," explains Dennis Gross, MD, a dermatologist in New York City, who adds that bentonite is another effective clay option. The fine consistencies of both clays yield an almost velvety feel. Maria Dolanescu, an aesthetician at Guerlain Spa in New York City, recommends applying a clay mask to absorb excess sebum. Try Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Clarifying Colloidal Sulfur Mask ($42), which contains a cocktail of bentonite, prickly pear, colloidal sulfur, licorice root, and retinol to treat blackheads and pores.


Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at the Mount Sinai Medical Center Department of Dermatology, suggests that those with shiny skin stick with an oil-free moisturizer. "These types of moisturizers tend to use dimethicone instead of petrolatum, which can clog pores," he says. Robert Anolik, MD, medical director for, agrees and adds, "Dimethicone mimics oils, leaving skin feeling healthy yet dry after use." Dr. Zeichner also advises those with oily skin to choose a sunscreen with an SPF of no more than 30, since higher SPFs contain more intense concentrations of sun-blocking ingredients, which can feel greasy and make oily skin even shinier. La Roche- Posay Anti-Aging Primer with Sunscreen ($39.99) contains dimethicone and aerated silica to produce a mattifying effect.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is a powerhouse ingredient for oily skin, especially if you're prone to breakouts. "Many patients with oily skin benefit from washes, lotions, and creams that contain glycolic acid to help reduce excessive oil and prevent the plugging of pores that leads to acne breakouts," says Dr. Anolik. Keeping the top layer of skin freshly exfoliated is also key to maintaining smooth, balanced skin. A toner containing glycolic acid offers an easy daily solution. Try Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 10% Toning Complex Clarifying Toner ($40) after cleansing at night.

When shopping for a toner, make sure to read labels. Avoid SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol — all common ingredients in toners. "Alcohol will strip the skin of water, which results in the buildup of dead cells and dull-looking skin," says celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau. "Trying to dry up oily skin can backfire, as this buildup traps oil and leads to breakouts and more oil production."

Hyaluronic Acid

Having oily skin does not mean you can skip moisturizer. Oil is not the same thing as moisture, and it's very common for oily skin to peel and feel dehydrated because of the harsh ingredients often used to control oil.

That being said, traditional moisturizing ingredients can feel too heavy on oily skin and cause pores to become clogged and skin to shine. "Avoid mineral oil, petroleum, and petrolatum in your moisturizer, as they will suffocate oily skin and clog pores," Rouleau says. Look for oil-free moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid, which is intensely hydrating yet lightweight. Try Renée Rouleau Skin Drink serum ($37.50), which bathes skin in hyaluronic acid, aloe vera gel, and sodium PCA to soothe it and help it retain its natural hydration.


"Evidence shows that niacinamide absorbs sebum," says Diane Berson, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University who has a private practice in New York City. Also referred to as vitamin C3, niacinamide bolsters the skin barrier, stimulating the natural production of collagen. It also strengthens the outer layer of skin and increases its surface renewal rate to help reverse the appearance of damage, such as hyperpigmentation and large pores. Olay Total Effects CC Cream Tone Correcting Moisturizer ($17.59) is a great option because it offers light makeup coverage, the anti-aging vitamins B and E, and sun protection, allowing you to reduce the number of products you need to layer.


This vitamin A derivative is commonly found in anti-aging formulations that target problems like wrinkling and hyperpigmentation, yet it's just as effective for oily skin. "Anything that builds collagen and firms up skin, like retinol, will help keep pores tighter so that they create and emit less oil," explains Dr. Gross. Tighter pores therefore help downplay any shine that may form on skin. SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 ($60) contains 1 percent pure retinol and, when used regularly, helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots in addition to controlling oil production.

Salicylic Acid

Many people believe, incorrectly, that washing often is the best way to prevent oily skin. Overcleansing, though, actually puts you at risk for breaking out. Excessive washing strips the skin and causes a compensating overproduction of oil, Dr. Gross explains. Instead, cleanse just twice a day, with a targeted formula. "Salicylic acid is lipophilic, meaning it likes oil. It gets into the pore, which is a sebaceous follicle filled with oil, and sucks the oil out," says Dr. Berson. This helps unclog the pore, making it appear smaller. Try Bioré Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser ($5.99), which contains 2 percent salicylic acid to refresh oily skin.

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