Oily skin occurs when glands in the skin make too much sebum, which is the waxy substance that seals in moisture. Gentle cleansing, oil-free moisturizers, and treatments to reduce sebum production may help.

Oil is vital for keeping the skin healthy, but too much sebum can sometimes lead to clogged pores and acne. Some people also dislike how it looks or feels.

In this article, we will explore the causes and treatments for oily skin, including a step-by-step skin care routine.

Close-up, top down image of a woman cleansing her skin with a cotton ballShare on Pinterest
Getty Images

Many factors may contribute to oily skin. Some are things a person can change, while others are not. For example, some people may have oily skin due to genetics.

Other causes include:

A 2021 study of young women in China also found a correlation between a higher body weight and frequent consumption of dairy or sweets with oilier skin.

The symptoms of oily skin can include:

  • a shiny appearance
  • very large or obvious pores on the skin
  • clogged pores and blackheads
  • occasional or persistent pimples

People with oily skin who wear makeup may also find that the makeup can mix with the sebum, giving it a different consistency.

Below is a skin care routine that may help reduce oiliness.

1. Use a gentle cleanser

Washing the skin with a cleanser can remove excess oil. However, using harsh cleansers that strip all the oil from the skin can have the opposite effect. If a cleanser is too drying, it may cause the skin to produce more oil to compensate.

As a result, it is advisable to strike a balance between cleansing oil away and maintaining hydration. Look for a cleanser that is pH balanced, meaning it has the same acidity level as the skin. This is typically between 4.1–5.8.

Face cleansers should also not contain harsh chemicals and soaps, such as alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate.

2. Use a toner

Toners are liquids that people apply after cleansing. They can have several properties that may help oily skin. For example, toners can be:

  • exfoliating, meaning they remove dead skin cells
  • astringent, meaning they tighten the skin
  • humectant, meaning they draw moisture to the skin without adding oil

Each of these has their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, exfoliating toners contain acids, such as salicylic acid or alpha-hydroxy acids. These acids may irritate some skin types, and they also increase sensitivity to UV light. However, they can smooth the skin’s surface and may help with acne.

Astringents draw moisture out of the skin, causing the tissue to tighten. This may make pores look smaller, but it can also be drying.

People should patch test any new product on a small area of skin before applying to the face to see how they respond to it.

3. Apply a moisturizer

Many people with oily skin avoid moisturizers, believing their skin will look greasier. However, not all moisturizers are greasy or heavy. Some add moisture to the skin without adding oil, helping it feel soft and hydrated.

To find a suitable moisturizer, people with oily skin can look for products that contain:

A small 2021 study of 40 females ages 18–30 found that a 3% niacinamide gel-cream may help to control oil production, but more research in a larger population is necessary to confirm these results.

4. Wear sunscreen

People of all skin types should wear SPF on exposed skin if they will be spending time outside, particularly if they are using acne treatments such as acid exfoliants or retinoids.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends wearing at least SPF 30. Look for sunscreens that are noncomedogenic and oil-free.

5. Use blotting papers

Blotting papers are portable sheets of absorbent paper that pull oil from the skin. They do not reduce sebum production, but they can reduce shine throughout the day.

Gently pat them on the skin, but do not rub, as this only spreads oil around.

For oily skin that is severe, causes acne, or has an underlying medical cause, treatments may be available. A 2017 review of previous research highlights several options, including:

  • retinoids
  • topical niacinamide
  • certain types of hormonal birth control
  • spironolactone, which is a drug doctors sometimes use for PCOS

A dermatologist can advise on the best option for a person’s situation.

It is not always possible to prevent oily skin. One of the best ways to manage oily skin is for an individual to find and maintain a consistent skin care routine that works.

When oily skin arises, it can be tempting to hide it with makeup. However, certain products, particularly oil-based products, could worsen symptoms or clog the pores.

Water-based makeup may be a better option for some, while others find wearing no makeup works best for their skin.

Some people anecdotally report that changing their diet helps to reduce oiliness. Some small studies suggest that this could be true.

For example, a 2019 study of 84 Korean adults ages 19–37 found that a diet higher in meats, dairy, and alcohol correlated with higher sebum production. Larger studies are necessary to confirm these results.

Learn more about whether dietary changes help acne.

Oily skin has an excess of sebum, which is the waxy substance that seals moisture into the skin and protects it. Sebum is important for skin health, but too much can result in a shiny appearance, clogged pores, or acne.

A regular skin care routine can help to manage oiliness, and may reduce it over time. If there is an underlying medical cause for the oiliness, a doctor may be able to advise on how to treat it.

A person with severe oily skin or acne should consult a dermatologist.