How to Prevent and Reduce Oily Skin

Stop the shine with these tips.
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Stop the shine with these tips.
How to prevent and reduce oily skin

Welcome to our Ask Beautyeditor column, where our experts answer your hair, skin and makeup questions. To request skincare advice:

  • Email info@beautyeditor.ca with “Skincare Question” in the subject line.
  • Briefly describe your skin issue.

Please note: All photos will be published.

Q: How do I get rid of my oily face? No matter which products I use in the morning, my forehead and chin are a grease slick within a few hours. — Sandra

A: Sandra, I feel you. The dewy look may be on trend right now, and oily skin does have the consolation prize of getting fewer wrinkles later on in life. But those are hardly reassuring when you're dealing with makeup melting off and bangs clumping together.

Naomi Watts, Calvin Klein party, Cannes 2014

There's a fine line between "dewy" and "greasy."

So here's what I suggest for oily skin, both topically and internally:

1. Avoid Sulfates and Harsh Skincare Products

Often, skincare products targeted at oily complexions can do more harm than good. Sulfate-based face washes, for example, can over-cleanse your skin, strip its barrier and alter its pH for hours. Over time, this may trigger more oil production as your skin tries to compensate.

The same goes for harsh toners and "oil-controlling" treatments. Even hot water can dehydrate your skin and cause it to produce more oil than it needs.

It's better to stick with a light but gentle skincare routine. Wash your face with a mild, sulfate-free cleanser like Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser or First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser and warm (not hot) water. 

Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser

Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser.

We'll talk about moisturizers and toners next!

2. Lighten Up Your Moisturizer

Consider lightening up your moisturizer, if you haven't already. You don't need a rich cream if your skin is already producing plenty oil of its own.

Light, hydrating serums and face mists are perfect for you. The product I recommend time and time again as a light-as-air moisturizer is Consonant HydrExtreme, a clear liquid serum containing just two ingredients: vegetable glycerine and Cassia angustifolia seed extract. 

Consonant HydrExtreme

Consonant HydrExtreme.

It's become a year-round staple for me, and in the summer months, is usually all I wear for moisturizer. Guaranteed NOT to make you greasier.

Other good serum choices include SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel or Schaf Radiance and Firming Serum.

If you want to go even lighter, look for a hydrating mist such as Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Essence or Pai Lotus & Orange Blossom BioAffinity Skin Tonic.

3. Try Jojoba Oil

If you're looking for a natural topical remedy to control oil, then consider jojoba oil. Yes, an oil. On oily skin.

The reason is because jojoba (technically a plant wax) is known to help regulate sebum production. It's the closest thing to the sebum we produce naturally, and when you apply it, the skin registers that sufficient oil is present—therefore it doesn't have to release as much.

I've experienced that to be true. Odacité Jojoba Lavender Serum Concentrate is the product I've been using; it contains cold-pressed certified virgin organic jojoba oil, certified organic lavender essential oil and certified GMO-free vitamin E oil. That's it!

Odacite Jojoba Lavender Facial Serum

Odacité Jojoba Lavender Serum Concentrate.

Another good choice is MV Organic Skincare Pure Jojoba.

You just want to use the tiniest amount—say, one or two drops—and see how it works for you. As with any oil (or skincare product in general), there's still a chance that it may be comedogenic for you... but definitely worth a shot!

4. Add Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid can make a huge difference with oil production. As a beta-hydroxy acid, it is unique because it can get into the pores to dissolve oil. (Alpha-hydroxy acids, in contrast, are water-soluble, not oil-soluble.)

I've had great success with COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, which is a clear moisturizing gel infused with willow bark extract (a natural form of salicylic acid), niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. Try applying it once or twice a day... you don't need to have blackheads to use it!

CosRx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

CosRx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid should have a similar effect, although I've heard it leaves an oily residue, which you probably don't want. 

SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense (reviewed here) is another alternative. It contains salicylic acid plus dioic acid, which is specifically helpful to reduce excess sebum.

5. Keep Blotting Papers Handy

To instantly take away oil during the daytime, make sure to always carry blotting papers in your handbag. I like the Boscia Green Tea Blotting Linens.

Boscia Green Tea Blotting Linens

Boscia Green Tea Blotting Linens.

For oil control, you may want to try a mattifying primer under your makeup. My suggestion is BECCA Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector (reviewed here). Since it contains silica, not silicones, it shouldn't clog pores. It's the most mattifying primer I've ever found!

6. Prescription Options

If you want to call in the big guns, then there is a topical option at the prescription level: Retin-A. Although retinoids are technically prescribed as a treatment for acne, they usually have some effect on oil production as well. (Some people report that Retin-A gives them more oiliness, not less, but that might have to do with using too high of a strength.) 

Talk to your physician about whether this treatment could be appropriate.  You can read more about Retin-A benefits here, and my application tips here.

Also at the prescription level, there are oral medications that can help with oil production: the birth control pill, spironolactone (an anti-androgen prescribed off-label for acne) and antibiotics. But I'm reluctant to suggest those as they usually provide just a temporary fix and come with side effects.

If you really want to get at the root causes, consider that your oily skin may be connected to low thyroid, a vitamin A deficiency or both...

7. Boost Your Thyroid Function

As I mentioned when I wrote about the cause of "hormonal" acne, hypothyroidism is extremely common and may not show up on blood tests. As this MD points out, oily skin is just one of the possible symptoms.

Thyroid

Low thyroid could be a factor in oily skin.

I suggest monitoring your pulse and temperature to get an idea of your thyroid status (see here for directions). 

If you suspect your thyroid is low, you can try boosting its function by following some of these common-sense nutritional suggestions. (Nutritionist Emma Sgourakis also has some great ideas.)

8. Get More Vitamin A

Oily skin may also indicate that you aren't meeting your body's vitamin A requirements. In this interview, Ray Peat, PhD, talks about how the skin produces more moisture and oil as thyroid function improves. However, "an increasingly warm, moist, functioning skin needs more vitamin A."

The best source of vitamin A is liver. Yep, the animal kind. To put it into context, liver has got 22,175 IU of vitamin A per serving compared to 260 IU in one egg. One serving once a week is usually enough meet vitamin A needs, but you may need to do some self-experimentation to find the right level.

An alternative to liver is the supplement Genestra A-Mulsion. It contains vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate, and each drop has 10,000 IU.

Genestra A-Mulsion

Genestra A-Mulsion.

You can find more information about the connection between vitamin A and skin, along with dosing tips, over here

I hope this helps!