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 and the acne that comes with it:

Oily Skin Symptoms: How Do You Know This Is Your Skin Type?

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!)

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!).

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.

Related: The Truth About Sebum (Why It’s NOT As Bad As You Think)

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:

  • Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief Toner Normal To Oil ($21.00): available at Paula’s Choice
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner ($21.00): available at Paula’s Choice

Related: Why You Don’t Need A Toner

drunk elephant tlc framboos glycolic night serum

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 your 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 oil 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