The Best Skin Care Routine for Oily Skin (A Derm's Guide)

The Best Skin Care Routine for Oily Skin (A Derm’s Guide)

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skin care routine for oily skin

Oily skin is a very common skin problem that plagues millions of people worldwide.

While most people who have oily skin consider it a bad thing, oily skin does have some benefits.  As with every skin type, there are pros and cons.

Since there is no cure for oily skin, you will have to adopt a skincare routine to keep it under control.

There is no one best skin care routine for oily skin for all people. Since not all oily skin is exactly the same, you need a treatment plan personalized to you.

I will show you some basic steps to incorporate into your skincare routine and some advanced ones.

Be patient and consistent with whatever products you choose because it takes time and patience to see good results.

Understanding oily skin

How do I know if I have oily skin?

People with oily skin generally have a shiny complexion that requires blotting several times throughout the day.  They may also have large pores, which may or may not become clogged and lead to acne.  Also, their skin may appear thick, dull, and rough-textured.

Where is oil produced?

Everybody’s skin produces oil, or sebum, to some extent.  People with oily skin have an excess production of oil.  We all have pores, or openings, in our skin.  Hairs grow out from these pores.

Also, oil is secreted from these pores because an oil gland is attached to the pores below the skin’s surface.

People with oily skin have larger oil glands that produce more oil.

What causes acne?

When dead skin cells and oil get trapped inside your pores, this causes a type of acne called comedonal acne. If the pores are open, it is called a blackhead; and if the pores are closed, it is called a white head. These are non-inflammatory types of acne.

If bacteria gets trapped in your pores along with the dead skin cells and oil, this is called inflammatory acne.  Inflammatory acne can present as papules (small pink bumps), pustules (pink bumps with white pus on top), nodules (large pink-red bumps), and cysts (deep larger red bumps).

Nodules and cysts can be painful and difficult to eradicate. Oftentimes, they can lead to permanent discoloration and scarring, and therefore require help from a board-certified dermatologist.

Does oily skin have any benefits?

Oily skin is not all bad.  Oil helps to hydrate and protect the skin from environmental assaults. People with oily skin tend to have thicker skin, which is less prone to wrinkling and keeps you looking younger for longer (1).  Dry skin tends to make wrinkles more pronounced as well.

It is actually easier to care for oily skin since it does not need as many аs products as dry skin. People with dry skin are constantly applying moisturizers to keep hydrated.

Possible causes of oily skin

why do i have oily skin

Why do I have oily skin?

There are several reasons why people get oily skin or have an overproduction of oil. They can be internal causes, such as genetics, or external causes, such as the products they use.

How does genetics lead to oil production?

Oily skin, overproduction of oil, and large oil glands tend to run in families. Also, enlarged pores can run in families as well.

People who have enlarged pores tend to have enlarged oil glands, which leads to increased oil production.

Does stress cause oil production?

Stress can cause an increase in the production of the hormone cortisol, which leads to increased production of oil from the oil glands.

Do hormones cause the overproduction of oil?

With an increase in male hormone (testosterone) production during male puberty can lead to overproduction of oil and acne.

Also, during female menopause, there is an increase in male hormones, leading to the overproduction of oil and acne.

Certain medical conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), features elevated male hormones leading to subsequent increased oil production and acne.

Can medications cause increased oil production?

Certain medications can increase oil production and acne formation, such as hormones (oral contraceptives, testosterone, anabolic steroids), oral steroids, antiepileptics, antidepressants, immunosuppressants, and certain chemotherapy agents.

When I get older, will my skin still be oily?

Younger people tend to have oilier skin, which may dry out as they get older. With age, your glands may slow down the production of oil. However, some people are oily for life.

Lifestyle habits, hygiene, and oily skin

lifestyle habits hygiene and oily skin

Does diet play a role in oily skin?

It is important to stick to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods with a high glycemic index and carbs, leading to increased oil production and acne (2).

Also, stay well hydrated with 8 – 8 ounces glasses of water a day. Otherwise, your dehydrated skin will cause an increase in oil production.

Will smoking cause oily skin?

Smoking of any kind (cigarettes, marijuana) leads to increased production of oil as well. This can lead to pimples as well.

Is touching my face bad?

Keep your hands off your face.  You do not want to transfer the oil and dirt from your hands to your face.

Does a hot climate cause excess oil production?

Hot, humid tropical climates cause more oil to be produced from your skin. Also, in general, summertime heat causes more oil production.

Do I have to clean my hats?

Make sure hats, caps, headbands, phones, and athletic equipment are cleaned after every use because they can collect oils from your face. You do not want to transfer the dirt and oil from your hats, etc., to your face.

Do I need to wash my pillowcases?

Pillowcases, towels, and washcloths need to be cleaned daily because dirt and oil collect on them. You do not want to rub dirt and oil into your pores.  This can cause a form of acne called acne mechanica.

Do I have to wash my masks?

Make sure you use a clean mask every day.  Oils and dirt collect on masks throughout the day.  Change it after you sweat as well.  You do not want to transfer the oil and dirt from your mask onto your face, causing oilier skin and leading to acne.

Do I have to clean my makeup brushes?

Make sure you clean makeup brushes and sponges often because they can collect oils from your face. You do not want to transfer the oil from your brushes, etc., to your face.

Can hair products make my oily skin worse?

Make sure you use oil-free, non-comedogenic products on your hair, just as you do on your face, and keep your hair off your face. You can transfer the oil from your hair onto your face, making your skin oilier.

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Skin care habits and oily skin

hygiene and oily skin

Do I have to wash my face every day if I have oily skin?

It is important to cleanse your face twice a day and after your sweat at the gym or when you do work outside. You must wash at night to remove dirt, oil, and bacteria accumulated throughout the day.

Also, you need to wash in the morning to remove the oil that has accumulated overnight.

Washing your face in the morning is a crucial step in your morning skincare routine for oily skin.  If you have oily skin, you may want to choose a gel cleanser and not a thick creamy one, such as Neutrogena Hydroboost Gel Cleanser or Cetaphil Daily Cleanser.

Some ingredients in cleansers, such as benzoyl peroxide (BP) and salicylic acid (SA), and glycolic acid (GA), can help control oil production.

Neutrogena Acne Wash contains SA, and Panoxyl Wash contains BP  to help control oil production.

Use lukewarm water to wash your face, and use a soft washcloth or fingertips to gently massage the cleanser on your skin.

Then rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry with a clean, soft towel.  If you irritate your skin by scrubbing or rubbing it or using hot water, it will cause an increase in oil production.

Is there such a thing as overdrying my oily skin?

If you use too many harsh chemicals, like products containing alcohol, or wash your face too much, that will overdry your skin and cause your oily skin to produce even more oil.

You need to strike a balance with your skin, so you are lowering oil production but not too much where your body goes into overdrive producing more oil (3).

Will scrubbing my face get rid of oil?

If you use too many irritating sponges, loofahs, or washcloths, this irritation to your skin will cause it to produce more oil to protect itself.

You can wash with a soft washcloth or clean fingers.  Pat dry with a soft towel. Never rub or scrub.

Can the products I use cause oily skin?

Always use products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic, so you are not adding more oil to your face and cause acne. Water-based products are the best.

This applies to all products that you use on your face, such as cleansers, moisturizers, sunscreens, makeup, and concealers.

If I have oily skin, do I need to moisturize?

Even people with oily skin need to moisturize. If you do not replace the moisture on your face and cause your skin to dehydrate, it will lead to overproduction of oil and even oilier skin.

If you have oily skin, stick to moisturizers that are light,  such as gels, like Neutrogena Hydroboost Gel Moisturizer, or lotions, like Cetaphil Lotion, that are water-based and non-comedogenic.  Heavy creams will just make your skin oilier.

Why do I need sunscreen if my skin is oily?

Everyone needs to wear sunscreen regardless of their skin type (4).  No one is safe from the harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.  These UV rays lead to wrinkles, dark spots, droopy skin, and skin cancers.

If you have oily skin, stick to gel, lotion, or ultra-dry sunscreens. Cream sunscreens will just make your skin oilier.

La Roche Posay Melt In Sunscreen Milk SPF 60 is one of the top sunscreens and dries very quickly, so it doesn’t feel like you are wearing any sunscreen.

Not only should you use sunscreen every day, even if it is cold or cloudy, or rainy, you need to reapply every 1-2 hours that you are outside or driving in the car.

The UV rays go through glass.  No sunscreen lasts all day, which is why reapplication of sunscreen is essential to sun protection.

Should I exfoliate every day because my skin is oily?

There are 2 types of exfoliating products: chemical and physical.

Chemical ones work best for oily skin.

They use chemicals, such as glycolic acid, like in Avene Gentle Exfoliating Gel, to breakdown and get rid of dead skin cells, brighten your complexion, and help control oil production.

Physical ones use beads to remove dead skin cells.  This can be irritating to your skin and cause more oil to be produced.

If exfoliators are overused, it can lead to abrasions, scarring, and infection.  You should only exfoliate 1-2 times a week. Otherwise, you may cause more harm than good.

The best skincare products for oily skin

best skincare products for oily skin

What over the counter (OTC) acne products can I use for my oily skin?

There are many good OTC acne products for mild to moderate acne (5).

If your acne is severe, you need to seek immediate care from a board-certified dermatologist before getting permanent scarring.  If you need help finding one, check out the American Academy of Dermatology’s website AAD.org.

If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, please consult with your doctor before starting any products.  Here are some products considered the best skincare products for oily skin.

Benzoyl peroxide (BP)

This is one of the most popular acne products that will also help with oily skin. BP works by removing dead skin cells, decreasing oil production, unclogging pores, and killing bacteria.

It can be found in creams and face washes, such as Panoxyl Wash.  Just be careful as it can bleach clothing, towels, sheets, and even skin.

Depending on how sensitive your skin is, you may need to start with a lower percentage product and use it infrequently and then build up to once or twice a day as tolerated.

Salicylic acid (SA)

SA works by removing dead skin cells, decreasing oil production, unclogging pores, and decreasing inflammation. It can be found in creams and washes, such as Neutrogena Acne Wash or Oxy Pads.

Depending on how sensitive your skin is, you may need to start with a lower percentage product and use it infrequently and then build up to once or twice a day as tolerated.

Retinoids/retinol

Retinoids/retinol work by removing dead skin cells, decreasing oil production, fading dark spots that come from acne, and smoothing out some acne scars.

It is also great for anti-aging as it helps rebuild collagen.  It can be found in creams and gels, such as Differin Gel.  It is best to start slowly using these products, such as twice a week for 2 weeks, then increase to 3 times a week for 2 weeks as tolerated.

If it is well-tolerated, you can use it every night.  Wait 30-60 minutes after washing your face before you apply it.  Only apply it once a day, at night.

You may need to use a light moisturizer while using this product.  Also, make sure you are diligent with your sunscreen use every day.

Can toner help oily skin?

Toners work well at removing dead skin cells and excess oil from your skin to help clean out your pores and even reduce acne.

You want to select one without alcohol because that will be too drying for your face, causing a paradoxical increase in oil production.

Toners that decrease oil production contain ingredients, such as SA, like in La Roche Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Acne Toner.

If you prefer natural ingredients, ZELEN Life Toner uses geranium and lavender to decrease oil production, and it does not contain alcohol.

How can a serum help my oily skin?

Serums are great at delivering concentrated amounts of potent ingredients.  All you need is 2-3 drops to cover your face.

They can treat a variety of skin problems, such as oily skin.

La Roche Posay B5 Pure Glycolic Acid Serum contains glycolic acid, which will help decrease oil production, smooth out fine lines and wrinkles, and get rid of dead skin cells.

La Roche Posay Vitamin C Serum has vitamin C, which helps brighten your skin, and SA, which helps fight acne and decrease oil production.

La Roche Posay Retinol B3 Serum contains retinol, which decreases oil production, gets rid of dead skin cells, gets rid of dark spots, and helps rebuild collagen to fight aging signs, like fine lines and wrinkles.

Serums also deliver antioxidants to your skin to help combat free radical damage from the sun.  Skinceuticals makes CE Ferulic and Phloretin, which are both excellent.  These are potent antioxidants that are good for any skin type.  Antioxidants are necessary for all skin types.

If you are just looking for a good moisturizing serum that hydrates without feeling heavy or greasy, B5 Gel by Skinceuticals with hyaluronic acid works well.

Hyaluronic acid will absorb incredible amounts of water, about 1,000 times its weight, and keep in your skin to visibly plump your skin while hydrating it (6).

Do I need a special night cream if I have oily skin?

Many people use night creams that are thick in order to deliver extra moisture while you are sleeping. These thick creams are not needed for oily skin types.

However, there are night creams that deliver growth factors and peptides that nourish and rejuvenate your skin. Nighttime is the best time to deliver these nutrients to help repair your skin in a safe environment since your skin is not being exposed to UV and pollution.

Dermal Repair Cream and TNS Essential Serum by Skin Medica are 2 great products to help repair your skin without being too greasy.

Why do I need a special eye cream if I have oily skin?

All skin types need a moisturizer.  If you have oily skin and you do not moisturize, it will cause your skin to overproduce oil, making your skin even oilier.

However, you should not use your regular moisturizer on the eye area because the eye area has different skin than the rest of your face.

The skin is the thinnest on the body and needs a thicker product. These creams need to be applied gently with a tapping motion, not rubbed into the skin as you would on the rest of your face.

Also, eye creams can address problems specific to the eye area, such as dark circles, puffiness, and fine lines.

Products with vitamin C, hydroquinone, and kojic acid help to diminish dark circles, like Revitalift Triple Power Eye Cream by L’OrealPigmentclar Eye Cream by La Roche Posay contains caffeine to help decrease puffiness around the eyes.

Retinol, found in Redermic Eye Cream by La Roche Posay, will help with fine lines around the eyes.  If you are just looking for moisture, Skin Medica Illuminating Eye Cream with hyaluronic acid will deliver the moisture without the greasiness.

A skin care routine for oily skin

skin care routine for oily skin

What is an easy basic skincare routine for oily skin?

While everyone’s skin is different, there are some basic tenets to all skincare routines, even oily skin. These are cleanser and moisturizer twice a day, toner once a day, and sunscreen every day.

You can build on this foundation and add more products to create an advanced skincare routine specific to your needs.

Make sure you only use oil-free, non-comedogenic products for your oily skin.  It is also important to use them in the proper order, so they are effective.

Products are layered from thinnest to thickest, so they are readily absorbed by your skin.  You also need to wait for one to be absorbed before you apply the next one.  Usually, a few minutes does the trick.

Basic skincare routine for oily skin

Morning:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner or acne product
  3. Moisturizer
  4. Sunscreen
  5. Makeup

Evening:

  1. Makeup remover
  2. Cleanser
  3. Acne treatment
  4. Moisturizer

Advanced skincare routine for oily skin

Morning:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Serum
  4. Eye cream
  5. Day cream/moisturizer
  6. Sunscreen

Evening:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Acne treatment or retinoid/retinol
  4. Serum
  5. Eye cream
  6. Night cream/moisturizer
  7. Exfoliate 1-2 times a week (after toner at night)

How long before I see good results from my skincare routine?

It can take a couple of months of regular use of these products to start seeing some good results from your new routine.  Be patient and do not give up.  Consistency and patience are the key to decreasing oil production while keeping your skin healthy.

Conclusion

Oily skin is a very common skin problem that requires specific products in order to keep it under control. Selecting skincare products can be daunting and frustrating, causing many to abandon their regimen.

Keep it simple and build from there if you can. Always use oil-free, non-comedogenic products that will not clog your pores and add oil to your skin.

Everyone needs to wash their face twice a day, moisturize twice a day, use toner once a day, and use sunscreen every day.

Once you feel comfortable with the basics, start adding other products to your routine slowly. Everyone’s regimen is different and should be tailored to their specific needs, desires, and abilities.

The most important thing to remember is to be patient and consistent in order to achieve success with your oily skin care routine.  If you need professional help, seek treatment from a board-certified dermatologist.

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References

  1. AAD.org
  2. Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, Makelainen H, Varigos GA. The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007;57:247-256.
  3. Draelos ZD (ed) 2005. Cosmeceuticals. Elsevier Inc., PA.
  4. skincancer.org
  5. Zaenglein AL, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris.  J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016; 74: 945-73.
  6. Baumann L (ed) 2015. Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients. McGraw-Hill Education, NY.

About The Author

Dr. Jennifer Trent MD FAAD
Dr. Jennifer Trent MD FAAD

Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Trent completed a 6 year combined BS-MD at the University of Miami with an undergraduate major in biology and a minor in chemistry. She completed her internship in Internal Medicine and her residency in Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital. Dr. Trent is a world recognized dermatologist, who has published over 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals. She also co-authored a textbook on dermatologic diseases and therapy, which was published by McGraw-Hill Co, Inc. She has had the opportunity to present her clinical research several times at national medical meetings. Dr. Trent has been the recipient of several awards for research, teaching and clinical practice, including the prestigious Young Investigators award for research from the American Academy of Dermatology as well as the coveted Castle Connelly Top Doctor award.

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