William Shakespeare famously said, â€œSome are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.â€ Swap in â€œgood skinâ€ for â€œgreatnessâ€ and youâ€™ve got a saying that applies directly to my life. I fall squarely into the second category, having â€œachievedâ€ good skin through meticulous and painstaking product research, testing, and analyzing. When people compliment me on my complexion, I beam like a kindergartner, who was complimented by her teacher for remembering to hold scissors the right way (and walking, not running). This might sound vain and superficial, or maybe even the slightest bit psychotic, but Iâ€™m not ashamed. In fact, Iâ€™m proud. I wasnâ€™t born with good skin, and sadly, did not have good skin thrust upon me. I worked for the skin I have now, and though it is far from perfect, itâ€™s far less oily and acne-prone than the skin I had growing up.
But I havenâ€™t forgotten my pimply, oily days of yore. They linger on in the periphery of my brain, and the familiar flood of stress and anxiety floods over me still on occasion whenever I see the hint of a breakout forming. Thus, I wanted to share some key things Iâ€™ve done and learned that have helped my skin go from supremely greasy to pleasantly dewy in the hopes that it might help anyone who has ever struggled with an oil slick of a T-zone. Yes, I have to give nature some creditâ€”most of my acne-filled days were during my hormonally-crazy teenage yearsâ€”but in general, my skincare routine is the key reason I no longer have to blot my face 10 times a day (true story). Also, keep in mind that these are tips that have worked for me. If you have a skincare routine you love that goes against every single point I bring up ahead, by all means, stick to it. But if youâ€™ve been struggling with oily skin for a long time and are on the verge of shaking your fists at the sky, screaming, â€œWhy me?!â€ you might find some helpful information ahead.
Meet the Expert
- Donna Tol is a strategic account manager and esthetician at SkinMedica.
- Amir Karam, MD, is a double-board certified facial plastic surgeon in San Diego, CA.
I Said Bye to Sulfates
Flip through any of your cleansers or shampoos and youâ€™ll most likely see ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate. They are cheap detergents and surfactants that cleanse your skin and hair and give you that nice, satisfying bubbly lather. Hereâ€™s the thing: Theyâ€™re way too harsh for the skin on your face, and could be making your oil problem worse. â€œWhen you use something thatâ€™s too drying, it eliminates too much oil, so your body goes into overdrive and it ends up producing more oil,â€ explains Tol.
One of the biggest paradigm shifts I went through in my journey to good skin was to realize that I shouldnâ€™t necessarily be reaching for products that say theyâ€™re â€œfor oily skinâ€ because theyâ€™re usually filled with sulfates. "People with oily skin should avoid sulfates because they can cause more irritation, which can cause more acne. Sulfates typically found in foaming agents can dry out the skin. Different types of sulfates can lead to clogged pores and acne breakouts," Karam points out.
I might even go as far as to say that most traditional foaming cleansers have sulfates, so itâ€™s really about doing your research and going out of your way to find a good non-sulfate cleanser that still leaves your skin feeling clean. Some of my favorites are RenÃ©e Rouleau Moisture Protecting Cleanser ($39), Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Foam ($38), and BareMinerals Smoothness Hydrating Cleansing Oil ($30) (itâ€™s an oil cleanser but gets rid of all your makeup and turns into a slight lather when you add water).
Everyone on the ishonest team is obsessed with Eve Lom Cleanser ($80) and Iâ€™ve recently seen the light, too. If youâ€™re looking for something more affordable, I always look to Korean brands; Purito From Green Cleansing Oil ($24) feels utterly luxurious, while the 107 Chaga Jelly Low pH Cleanser ($22) is made with delicate green tea powder for a low-stakes exfoliation moment.
If you tend to wear a lot of eye makeup, youâ€™ll want to double-cleanse with a richer oil cleanser first.
I Realized the Difference Between Dryness and Dehydration
Tol also told me something else that pretty much blew my mind. â€œThereâ€™s a difference between having oil in your skin and having moisture in your skin,â€ she told me. â€œWhen youâ€™re dehydrated, youâ€™re lacking moisture and hydration. When youâ€™re dry, youâ€™re lacking oil. Itâ€™s two separate things.â€ In other words, even if your skin looks oily, you could still be dehydrated and lacking moisture. This means that even oily skin types could benefit from a light moisturizer.
Karam explains in more detail, "Typically dehydrated skin looks and feels rough, looks dull and feels tight, shows more fine lines and is more sensitive. Sun is a big factor in dehydrated skin, so is hard water and aging. Dry skin, however, feels rough and appears dry and flaky."
Look for light, hydrating ingredients in your serums and moisturizers like hyaluronic acid, which holds up to a thousand times its weight in water.
Keeping your skin healthy and hydrated will keep it happily in balance, and Iâ€™ve found that using a hyaluronic acid serum like Pestle & Mortar Pure Hyaluronic Serum ($59) morning and night soothes and calms my otherwise-temperamental complexion. So, repeat after me: Moisture is your friend, not your foe.
But I Still Had My Acne Backups
I went through a strange phase about a year ago where I kept getting a breakout in the middle of my forehead consisting of small, poppable bumps. It would rear its ugly (white) head every few weeks without warning, and I would pile on the concealer and just hope and pray it would go away. Then, I tried this miracle product from the U.K. called Medik8 Blemish SOS Rapid Action Target Gel ($45). This product cleared my forehead breakout overnight, quite literally. It's formulated with salicylic acid that unclogs pores, skin-brightening niacinamide, and antibacterial azelaic acid.
I Treated My Skin Like the Queen It Was All Along
Hereâ€™s the truth: If you arenâ€™t born with naturally perfect skin, then youâ€™ll probably have to put in some work. In the past, I saw skincare as a chore, left to the last five minutes before bed, and executed as hastily as possible. But then I started seeing real results from the products I was using, and gradually, skincare became more of a ritual and an indulgence rather than an annoying necessity.
I started to look forward to my weekly mask (Charlotte Tilbury Goddess Skin Clay Mask, $55, is utterly luxurious and never dries out; Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack, $22, is a great affordable alternative), and I would take time to treat myself, usually settling in the bath or cuddling up in bed with a good book as I waited for the mask to work its magic.
I Already Said This, But: Treat Your Skin With Love (and Moisture)
â€œI think people get confused,â€ Tol says. â€œWhen you have oily skin you want the oil gone. But the oil is there to provide a natural layer of protection on your skin, so you need to have it there.â€ She brings up how oil breaks down oil, so you shouldnâ€™t shy away from an oil cleanser. Iâ€™ve recently gotten over my aversion to face oils, and now reach for Vintnerâ€™s Daughter Active Botanical Serum ($185) and May Lindstrom Skin Blue Cocoon ($180) any time my skin feels dull or tired; Kahina Giving Beauty Argan Oil ($36) is another great option and can be used on your hair and body, too.
"It is good for someone with oily skin to use the right oils because the right oils balance the skin and regulate sebum production. Dehydrated skin actually tends to overproduce sebum in order to compensate for the lack of moisture. Examples of healthy oils are Jojoba oil which prevents moisture loss and chaulmoogra oil which has fatty acids," says Karam.
Instead of over-exfoliating, I exfoliate just once or twice a week with a more intense treatment (i.e., Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel, $88), or I use a gentle chemical exfoliator like Ever Biomimetic Peel Pads ($70) every day to increase cell turnover and help my hydrating products penetrate better.
Nowadays, I welcome moisturizing masks, essences, and other lightly hydrating skincare products with open armsâ€”and since then, my skin has never looked better. I can go a full day without reaching for my blotting papers, which gives me time to focus on more important things, like whether or not I should start Vanderpump Rules (all signs point to yes). It seems to go against logic, but this paradigm shift has changed my life (and skin) for the better, and Iâ€™ll never go back to harsh cleansers, exfoliators, and drying treatments againâ€”just try and take my hyaluronic acid serum from me, I dare you.
Opening Image: Pepe LeÃ³n
Oily skin can be caused by a number of factors, including (but not limited to): hormonal fluctuations, genetics, weather, and certain skincare products containing alcohol.
Despite sounding pretty counterintuitive, using an oil on your skin can actually help balance out oil production.
Oily skin really benefits from lightweight oils like jojoba, argan, and squalane oil. If you have acne-prone skin, rosehip seed oil is a great option, as it can also reduce acne scarring.
Environmental Working Group. Sodium laureth sulfate.
Environmental Working Group. Sodium lauryl sulfate.
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