Oily skin is a concern that plagues so many of us with overly shiny and greasy faces, or worst, noticeable acne breakouts that keep coming back. The sticky, oily substance—or sebum—is produced by middle layers of your face’s skin called the sebaceous glands.
Excessively washing to rid your face of sebum may seem like the logical thing to do, but by doing so, you could cause other issues. Dr. Stacey Tull, MD MPH dermatologist and owner of St. Charles County Dermatologic Surgery, tells Men’s Health, “Washing your face too much can result in your skin trying to produce excess oil to compensate.” She adds, “It also removes the skin’s natural protection (sebum) that combats inflammation and bacteria while supplying antioxidants to guard the skin’s cells.”
Your first and most important step to defeating oily skin is to wash your face with a cleanser at least twice daily. Do so once in the morning to wash away the oils and shedding skin cells your face produced while you were asleep; and again in the evening before going to bed to wash off the unwanted dirt and grime collected throughout the day.
In addition to the cleansing twice daily, there are times where another face wash is needed, according to dermatologist Dr. Maya Thosani, MD, FAAD. “If you are cleansing at the sink after an exercise workout, or a sweaty day on the job, you may want to consider a double cleanse step,” which is cleansing your face twice — once with an oil-based product, then followed by a water-based cleanser. This step, Dr. Thosani adds, “can be essential to getting near the hairline, behind the ears, and the back of the neck.”
Dr. Thosani recommends water-based PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash or Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser for Sensitive Skin.
Dr. Tull recommends using an exfoliating cleanser. Her choice is SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser.
Shop the Best Face Wash for Oily Skin
2. Use a Toner
After washing off the oils, dirt and grime from your face with a cleanser, a toner will finish the job by taking care of any left-over gunk. Dermatologists warn of potential damage from overusing toners. If you begin to experience dryness, redness, or irritation, cut down the frequency to every other day or even less often than that.
Dr. Tull recommends using toners that are alcohol free. “When we apply alcohol to our face, it tricks the skin into thinking that it needs to produce more oil and it becomes a vicious cycle that leaves you with much oiler skin than before.”
You also want to consider a toner that contains salicylic acid, which is a beta hydroxy acid. “Beta hydroxy acids are better suited for oily skin,” according to Dr. Tull. Alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid or lactic acid, “are better for dry/sensitive skin types.”
Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2 BHA Liquid Exfoliant is rated one of the best toners by Men’s Health. However, if you are using an exfoliating cleanser, then avoid an exfoliating toner. A great non-exfoliating option is the First Aid Beauty Oil-Minimizing Toner with Salicylic Acid.
An alternative to a toner, Dr. Thosani suggests, is a gentle exfoliating polish “to manually scrub off excess sebum and peeling skin that sometimes occurs from overly drying medications.” The certified dermatologist recommends ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Polish or ALASTIN ReSURFACE Skin Polish.
Shop the Best Toners for Oily Skin
3. Treat Trouble Areas
If you’re prone to acne, treat your troubled areas with benzoyl peroxide or sulfur after applying toner in the morning. This crucial step will help prevent breakout. However, Dr. Thosani warns, “leaving benzoyl peroxide on for many hours can cause irritation and worsening of the acne.”
Retinol should be applied in the evening, which will help keep your pores clear and allow your skin to glow. “Retinol is ideal for building new collagen, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and can help lighten sun spots,” according to Dr. Thosani.
A great option for acne treatment, according to Dr. Tull, is La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Spot Treatment Cream. For retinol treatment, consider CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum. Other great options can be found in our best retinol for sensitive skin guide.
Moisturizing when you have oily skin may seem counterintuitive, but it is a necessary step for all skin types and should be applied in the morning and evening after treatment. “Since damp skin is 10x more permeable than dry skin, it is the ideal time to maximally absorb product right after washing,” Dr. Thosani told Men’s Health. “When this step is skipped, your skin will in fact be greasier over the course of the day as your oil glands work overtime to pump out moisturizer for your dry skin.”
However, Dr. Tull has a differing opinion. She adds that “patients with oily skin often do not need to use moisturizers on a regular basis.” However, the board-certified dermatologist does recommend using it more often “in the winter when the air is drier or when visiting a dry climate.”
For oily skin, get a moisturizer that is oil-free, lightweight, and water-based. You also want the moisturizer to be free from harsh chemicals or fragrances, and noncomedogenic so it does not clog the pores you are trying so desperately to unblock.
Dr. Thosani and Dr. Tull both recommend Neutrogena Hydro Boost as a great option, which we have also singled out as the best affordable moisturizer.
Read more: Best Moisturizers for Oily Skin
5. Apply SPF
This final step is often forgotten, especially on cloudy or rainy days, but dermatologists adamantly recommend protecting your skin from the sun and its rays all year around. Apply SPF 30 (or higher) every morning regardless of the forecast. Some moisturizers are already equipped with SPF, which would allow you to skip this step. However, if yours doesn’t, consider Dr. Tull’s recommendation of Eucerin Sun Oil Control SPF 50 Face Sunscreen Lotion, Dr. Thosani’s choice of ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica Zinc Oxide and 100% Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50+.
While there are many options for SPF, Dr. Thosani says “every dermatologist will agree that the best sunscreen is the one that you are actually going to wear.”
Shop the Best Sunscreens for Oily Skin
Meet the Experts
- Dr. Stacey Tull, MD MPH is a dermatologist and owner of St. Charles County Dermatologic Surgery in St. Peters, MO.
- Dr. Maya Thosani, MD, FAAD is a dermatologist based in Scottsdale, AZ.
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Ehab is a contributing commerce writer. He has covered consumer products for various publishers throughout the years including Forbes, Digital Trends, The Manual and US News & World Report.