How to care for oily skin

by Gio
how to take care of oily skin: best skincare routine

Is there anything more annoying than oily skin?

It looks like a greasy frying pan ALL day long. Pores are so large, you can see them from the moon. And why can’t pimples leave you alone?

It feels like you can never catch a break. But… you can. Here’s how to take care of your oily skin and finally say bye bye to all that excess oil:

How do I Know I Have oily skin?

You probably already know if you have oily skin. I mean, why else would your face be shiny ALL the time?

But, in case you’re still not sure, and you need some help figuring out if your skin is really oily, here are the symptoms you should look out for:

  • Your skin is shinier than a frying pan.
  • Your pores are so big, they can be seen from Mars (ok, maybe not, but it definitely feels that way).
  • Breakouts galore! Whiteheads, blackheads, pimples… you have them all.
  • Your skin ages more slowly and you get less wrinkles – there had to be something positive about it, right?

Related: How To Determine Your Skin Type (+ Free Test!)

What causes oily skin?

Workaholic sebaceous glands.

You see, skin MUST produce sebum. Yes, really. Sebum is skin’s natural moisturizer. It’s what keeps skin naturally smooth and hydrated, and the reason why your skin ages so much better that your dry-skinned’s best friends.

In moderation, sebum is a good thing. It’s when your skin starts producing way more than it needs that problems start. But, why are you cursed with it, while lots of your friends aren’t?

You’re not gonna like this. It’s hormones and genetics.

Basically, it’s the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that controls the production of sebum. And, hear this, its levels are genetically determined – that’s why you have to put up with all that oil, and your friends don’t.

DHT levels also tend to be higher during puberty and menopause. That’s why oily skin is worse during those awful high school years and after your 50s.

I told you you weren’t gonna like this. But, if it can make you feel better, you can blame this one on men. DHT is a male hormone. It just so happens that both men and women have it.

How Do You Take Care Of Oily Skin?

The key to saying “goodbye oily skin” is to keep oil production under control WITHOUT drying out skin. Here’s how to achieve this seemingly unachievable balance:

foaming cleansers bad for oily skin

1. Choose a Low ph Foaming cleanser

The biggest mistake you’re making? Cleansing skin with a harsh cleanser in the hope it’ll remove ALL that oily from your face.

Trust me, you DON’T really want that. Skin needs a little sebum. Take it all away, and your skin is gonna go into a frenzy and start producing even more to compensate!

What you need is a gentle foaming cleanser that removes the most of the EXCESS oil, but still leaves some behind, so skin won’t be tempted to produce too much oil again too soon.

Best Picks:

  • Corsx low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): pH 5.5. Available at Sokoglam and YesStyle.
  • Paula’s Choice Moisture Boost Cleanser One Step Face Cleanser ($18.00): pH 5.5. Available at Paula’s Choice.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser ($18.00): pH 5.5. Available at Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice. 


Related: Are Foaming Cleansers Bad For Skin?

2. If You Must Use A Toner…

(You totally don’t), choose one with antiaging or anti-acne ingredients.

Anything with antioxidants or niacinamide (a skincare superstar that moisturises skin and treats acne) fits the bill.

Unfortunately, they’re hard to find. 99% of toners for oily skin out there are astringents (you know, those crappy toners that contain alcohol and little else). Like harsh cleansers, they strip all sebum from your skin, tricking it into believing it needs to produce more (as if!).

Best Picks:


Related: Why You Don’t Need A Toner

the ordinary salicylic acid 2 solution

3. Exfoliate & Unclog Pores With Salicylic Acid

I don’t care what you’ve heard of the wonders of glycolic acid or the benefits of lactic acid. There’s ONLY ONE WAY to exfoliate oily skin: salicylic acid.

You see, all these acids exfoliate the surface of the skin. But salicylic acid is the ONLY ONE that can get inside the pores and remove all the gunk that clogs them up and gives you pimples and blackheads.

I’ll say this again: salicylic acid is the ONLY exfoliant that can get rid of pimples and blackheads. Cheat on it at your own peril.

Best Picks:


Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Keeping Oily Skin Spot-Free

4. Use An Oil-Free Moisturizer

Let’s face it, most moisturizers don’t work for you. They’re way too heavy and greasy, and turn your face into a shiny war zone.

Blame oils. Your skin has enough of it already and they add another dollop. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Instead, opt for oil-free moisturizers. They contain emollients, i.e. ingredients that behave like oils: they lock in moisture into your skin BUT without adding more oil.

Plus,  they’re rich in humectants. These are ingredients like hyaluronic acid that attract and bind moisture to the skin. Again, without adding more oil. Awesome, right?

Best Picks:


Related: Oily Skin? Here’s Why You Should Use An Oil-Free Moisturiser

5. Wear Sunscreen

I know, I know, it’s an extra layer. A super greasy one at that. But, you need to protect your skin from UV rays too.

Sunscreen is NOT optional. You’re already dealing with shine, breakouts, and excess oil. Do you want to add wrinkles, sun spots, and maybe even cancer to the list?

Thought so. Pick a lightweight sunscreen and wear it daily.

Best Picks:

  • EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): available at  Nordstrom and Ulta
  • Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 ($34.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore


Related: The Best Sunscreens For Oily Skin

how bubble masks work

6. Use Clay Masks

Covering your face in mud may not make for a good look, but it certainly helps keep all that extra oil in check.

Clays like bentonite and kaolin are very absorbent, and can soak up all excess oil, so that it doesn’t end up trapped in your pores and gives you breakouts.

Best Picks:


Related:All You Ever Wanted To Know About Bentonite Clay

7. Don’t forget a mattifying primer

Oily skin and makeup don’t go that well together, do they? You spend all that time putting makeup on and, after a few hours, it’s all gone. Shine is reigning supreme again.

To give your makeup a fighting chance, always use a mattifying primer. It’s an extra layer and an extra step in the morning, but it can really make a world of difference.

Best Picks:


Related: What Are The Best Primers For Oily Skin?

8. Blot, blot, blot The Shine Away

When you have oily skin, you always have to be on the alert for any sign of shine starting to appear on your face.

If you notice any, no problem. Blot it away with an oil-blotting paper. It gets the job done without ruining your makeup.

Best Pick:

  • Boscia Green Tea Blotting Paper ($10.00): available at Sephora


Related: The Trick To Keep Oily Skin Shine-Free In Summer

Need help creating the best skincare routine for you oily skin? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Oily Skincare Routine Cheatsheet” (it includes product recommendations, too!).

How do you take care of your oily skin? Share your skincare routine and fave products in the comments below.



Dao December 8, 2009 - 6:44 pm

To me, oily skin is not that bad unless you also have acne-prone skin to boost. The positive side of having oily skin is you will look younger as you age, since dry skin makes you look older.

Tavia December 8, 2009 - 8:17 pm

Thanks Gio for this useful post. My skin is oily so it needs extra care 🙂 I always use a tonic 2-3 times a day and exfoliation is really an important step. I want to buy now Clinique Acne Solutions oil control cleansing mask cause I’ve read so many positive reviews about it and it seems that can keep the oil under control.

beautifulwithbrains December 8, 2009 - 8:36 pm

Dao, I think oily skin can be a real pain sometimes but you’re right, at least it tends to age quite well, which is good 🙂

beautifulwithbrains December 8, 2009 - 9:55 pm

Tavia, you’re welcome, i hope they help you 🙂 I think toners are essential for people with oily skin cos, apart from removing any makeup residue and give skin a fresh feeling, they can also remove excess shine. I’ve heard raves about the Clinique mask too and I hope it works well for you too 🙂

Invie December 9, 2009 - 5:44 am

I suffered from oily skin and acne for a long time before i learned how to take care of it my own way. The key for me was NOT to dry my skin out. My problem was that my skin had a lot of trouble exfoliating itself so the pores would get clogged easily. The more i dried my skin out, the more dead skin built up and the more oil my skin produced.

My key processes to maintenance is to exfoliate with a gentle physical (as opposed to chemical) exfoliator everyday. I exfoliate after i cleanse my skin first so I am not rubbing dirt into my pores. I wouldn’t use salicylic acid unless you are using it as a spot treatment because it will dry out your skin and cause it to produce more oil. Listen to your skin. If it feels dry, thats a bad sign.

I moisturize with a good moisturizer. It doesnt need to be oil-free. Oil is good for your skin. Your skin produces oil anyway. Well moisturized skin won’t overproduce oil so drink lots of water!

I use sunscreen everyday. This also prevents scarring if you do break out.

And I don’t use a toner that stings. I use one that is soothing so i don’t irritate my skin.

I am making this long post because i feel that ppl with oily acne prone skin are misinformed about how to manage it. Forget about drying your skin out and forget about oil-free products. The key is to get your skin balanced.

Products I love are:
Philosophy Purity- A gentle deep cleanser that won’t overdry your skin
Philosophy the microdelivery exfoliating wash- gentle enough for everyday use but very effective with micro grains.
Philosophy Hope in a jar – I used to hate it when i tried a sample but i got this as part of a set and it ended up being very easily absorbed by my skin. It has lactic acid in it which helps with a very gentle chemical exfoliation that helps the moisturizer sink in.
Clinique moisture surge- I used this on top of hope in a jar if my skin is dryer during the winter.

prettybeautiful December 9, 2009 - 8:56 am

great tips. usually i will use deep cleansing facial wash, mattifying moisturizer in the day but hydration one at night. sometimes over-cleansed skin will break me out even more.
.-= prettybeautiful´s last blog ..Review: Deep Cleanse Your Skin with Cellnique Advanced Bio Renewal Masque =-.

beautifulwithbrains December 9, 2009 - 5:01 pm

Invie, hi and thanks for your comment. It’s always helpful to hear tips from those who have oily skin and find out how they treat it. I agree with you that it is very important to find the right balance. You need to remove excess oil but if you remove too much, it will just dry skin that, as a result, will produce even more oil.

As for Salicylic Acid, I think it depends on the product and its formula. If used in a cleanser, then it will be rinsed off so its benefits are limited and shouldn’t dry skin too much. Also, I would use products that list this ingredient a bit down (but not too down or it’ll be useless) the ingredient list so that its concentration is not too high but still beneficial.

Of course it also depends on the skin. Each one is different and reacts to an ingredient differently so if Salicylic Acid dries your skin, by all means stop using it. Or if a moisturizer that isn’t labelled as oil-free works best for you, use that. These are just general tips, but the most important thing is to listen to your skin and see how it reacts to the different treatments until you find the best skincare regimen for you.

I also agree that toners should be soothing, if it stings or irritates skin, it’s not good. Still, a good toner would help remove excess oil without drying skin. Alcohol-based toners instead should only be used in extreme cases as they do more harm than good.

Thanks for the product recommendations too, they’re useful and I hope they’ll help other people with oily skin.

beautifulwithbrains December 9, 2009 - 5:07 pm

Prettybeautiful, you’re welcome and thanks for sharing your routine too 🙂 I agree about not overcleansing skin or you’d dry and irritate it even more.

Chic Enjoyed Reading | Chic Profile December 13, 2009 - 11:14 am

[…] How to care for oily skin – Beautiful with Brains […]

Somasam August 12, 2013 - 9:57 pm

Which toner is better for oily skin? and should it be used once a day? Is it safe to use toner after neutrogena face wash and than put moisturizer before going to bed?
I have a T ZONE

beautifulwithbrains August 13, 2013 - 5:59 am

Somasam, personally I don’t recommend the use of toners. They usually contain a huge amount of alcohol, which is drying to the skin. And when skin is dry, it produces even more oil. Instead, you should use a moisturiser or serum with salicylic acid, which will help keep oil production under control.

Nadia June 11, 2019 - 4:59 pm

Hi Gio,
What is the best and safest way to use salicylic acid?
I love the ordinary one, but I find my skin gets red when I use too much. I’ve been mixing it with skinceuticals phyto corrective gel.
How much should I be using, I’ve been noticing results but I don’t want to burn my face.
Also, is it safe to use the ordinary’s resveratrol 3% and Ferulic Acid 3% with salicylic acid? What vitamin C from the ordinary would you recommend for oily skin?

Gio July 6, 2019 - 1:22 pm

Nadia, the safest way depends on your skin type. If yours get red, it means you need to use it less often. Try every other day only in the evening. In the morning, you can use MAP 10% followed by Ferulic Acid.

Lori Dennis July 30, 2019 - 6:21 am

Hi Gio:

What kind of eye cream is the best for stubborn dark eye circles and puffiness? I am nearly 60 years old and I have oily skin that still breaks out occasionally.

Gio August 9, 2019 - 4:37 pm

Lori, unfortunately eye creams can’t help with dark circles:

Renee January 1, 2020 - 3:08 am

I just found No.7 illuminating eye cream at target! It is worth the $18. It controls the puffiness and although dark circles may never go away, i can see the difference!

Geo55 November 23, 2019 - 5:02 pm

I recently acquired two new habits that seem to have helped quite a bit with my oily skin. One is washing my face with organic hemp seed oil as a first step before using a water-based cleanser after. I understand the linoleic acid in the oil helps oily skin since oily skin is missing that. Second, is applying The Ordinary Niacinamide every morning after I wash my face. It’s the only thing that has gotten rid of my blackheads and seems to really control my oil as well. I apply 2% salicylic acid over that. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how much less oily my skin is now!

Daniel March 5, 2020 - 12:02 pm

Pardon, can u do a low budget one please? Cause out there, still have people like me earn not much money, but still want to improve our skin. And could Simple ( a brand from England ) is a option for oily skin ?

Gio March 6, 2020 - 3:37 pm

Daniel, if money is a concern, stick to the essentials, like cleanser (CeraVe Foaming cleanser is a good one), salicylic acid exfoliant, sunscreen and oil-free moisturiser (The ordinary Natural Moisturising Factors or CeraVe PM Lotion are both good). You can add more later on.


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