The Best Skincare Routine for Oily Complexions

Follow these steps to keep shine at bay all day (and night) long.

If you’ve ever looked in the mirror only to see a shiny face staring back at you, you’re not alone—so many women and men struggle with oily skin. Luckily, there are plenty of expert-approved ways to care for this specific skin type. With that in mind, we tapped a few of the industry’s leading dermatologists to determine, once and for all, the best skincare routine for oily skin.

woman applying face mask

First, understand what constitutes an oily skin type.

It’s important to first understand what oily skin is. People have active or even over active oil glands (sebaceous glands). This production may cause you feel greasy or not having makeup stay on. The highest areas of oil production are in the T-zone, which is the forehead, chin, and…nose!

Understand that you need oil.

The thing about balanced oil glands is that they’re beneficial to the health and appearance of the skin. In addition to hydrating your complexion, oil production actually helps to remove dead skin cells and other irritants by pushing them out of the pores. However, when they are overactive, the pores expand and they experience a back-up of dead cells and sludge sticking to the walls of the pore, which is too heavy to be secreted.

Asses your skin.

If you’re still reading this, there’s a good chance that you know you have oily skin—or have a feeling that you might. If you see large, dilated pores, your skin is most likely oily. Another good trick is to wash your face and pat it dry, then assess your skin five to 10 minutes later without having applied any products. If your skin feels tight all over and you see flaking, your skin is dry. If it is perfectly comfortable, it is likely oily. The silver lining? Dermatologists claim research and real-life evidence show that people with oilier skin tend to develop fewer wrinkles over time, compared to those with complexions on the drier side.

Bookmark these ingredients.

The trick to managing oily skin is to know which ingredients combat shine—and which to avoid entirely. Exfoliating ingredients—think alpha hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid and lactic acid, and beta hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid—work wonders to break up dead skin cells and built-up sebum, effectively cleansing pores to the core. Due to salicylic acid’s oil-loving properties, it penetrates oil glands more readily than alpha hydroxy acids. For those with more sensitive skin, micronized formulations of salicylic acid are equally as effective but less irritating.

In addition to exfoliating acids, embrace hydrating hyaluronic acid (it will help balance your skin’s oil production without clogging pores), oil-reducing niacinamide, and oil-absorbing clay, as well. And don’t forget about retinol. Among many other skincare benefits, retinol is the anti-aging holy grail in part because it builds collagen. Beyond helping to restore plump, more youthful-looking skin with fewer fine lines, retinol firms the skin and inadvertently tightens pores, resulting in less oil production and emission.”

As for the ingredients to steer clear of? Stay away from heavy oils that contain saturated fats, like avocado, coconut, and olive, as they tend to clog pores and may lead to breakouts and even more oil production. Also a good idea to nix alcohol from your routine because, although it’s marketed to remove excess oil, it actually dries out skin and prompts even more oil production.

Develop a routine—beginning with a workhorse cleanser.

Getting oily skin under control starts with an oil-free, non-comedogenic cleanser. More specifically, look for one formulated with exfoliating salicylic acid or, if your skin is on the more reactive side, glycolic acid (which is gentler). The Sorella Orange You Jelly Cleanser or Environ Sebu Cleanser would be your go to. This type of cleanser will help unclog pores while working to balance oil production. If your skin is easily irritated, you may need to slowly work an exfoliating cleanser into your routine, substituting it with a gentle cleanser every other day.

Treat your skin with an antioxidant-rich serum.

Antioxidants (like THD vitamin C) are a must because they not only repair damage caused by the sun, but they also minimize the hyperpigmentation that acne (which often accompanies oily skin) leaves behind; they’re best absorbed in serum form. What’s more, they can help diminish sebum production if used regularly. Scoop up Sorella’s Pomegranate Acai Antioxidant Serum ($64) if you’re looking to work this active into your regimen. As for an antioxidant to avoid entirely? Vitamin E as it can cause breakouts for those with oily skin.

Apply moisturizer.

You don’t want to encourage the greasy nature of your skin, so opt for a light, oil-free moisturizer, like Environ’s Hydroxy Acid Sebu-Lac Lotion ($46). Avoid heavy creams and, as with cleansers, look for products that are non-comedogenic and oil-free. Also recommend looking for moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid to mitigate any dehydration from potent actives, which can trigger excess oil production.

Finish with SPF during the day and retinol at night.

No matter the weather—and regardless of whether or not you are headed outdoors—it’s important to establish the habit of applying an SPF of 30 or higher each and every day. We recommend physical sunscreens, meaning those containing minerals like titanium and zinc, over chemical sunscreens, as they tend to be less irritating and are less likely to induce acne. Look for oil-free and non-comedogenic formulations, like Sorella’s Tropical Topical Matte SPF 30 ($46). At night, swap SPF for retinol or a retinoid and keep the rest of your routine the same.

Incorporate an exfoliant twice a week.

We recommend incorporating hydroxy acids in a more concentrated form twice weekly. Remember, over-exfoliating is not the key.

Don’t forget to mask.

Adding in a clay mask once weekly also helps to decongest pores and reduce acne.

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