Having to constantly blot your T-zone in a futile attempt to make it look less shiny can get annoying. If you've ever been in that position, you've probably tried to mattify your skin using harsh cleansing products, only to have the oiliness get worse. We've been there too. Here's the thing: Just because you have oily skin doesn't mean that you should strip it of all its oils with drying ingredients and a lack of moisturizer. It sounds counterintuitive and pretty confusing, so we reached out to Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, NYC-based dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology.
Meet the Expert
Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin is an NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Entière Dermatology. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society of Dermatologic Study, and the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery.
She sets the record straight once and for all, laying out a clear skincare routine for anyone with oily skin as well as tips to keep things balanced and healthy. Read on to find out the exact routine you should follow and which ingredients you should be avoiding, according to a skincare professional.
Figuring Out Your Skin Type
Before you commit to a new skincare routine, it's well-advised to make sure you know your skin type. Though that may sound like something you need a professional opinion to confirm, there are actually some simple ways to find out on your own. For example, you can wash your skin in the morning, avoid applying any products, and then examine it midday.
Levin explains that if it feels pretty unchanged with a mildly oily sheen in the T-zone area, you probably have normal skin, but if it's still shiny and oily, then you have oily skin. It's pretty common to live somewhere in the middle, and if you do, keep reading for the ideal skincare routine that will help balance and beautify your complexion.
The first step is pretty obvious: cleansing. Levin tells us that the best ingredient to look out for in a cleanser if you're oily and acne-prone is benzoyl peroxide. She recommends Differin Deep Daily Cleanser because it contains 5% benzoyl peroxide, which treats acne by delivering oxygen to the pores, something that bacteria-causing acne hates. It's also an effective anti-inflammatory, so you'll like it if you have redness and swelling. On top of that, it also breaks down skin cells to prevent clogging.
And if you're oily but have pretty clear skin, look for cleansers with glycolic acid or salicylic acid. These are slightly less severe so they won't over-cleanse and worsen your complexion, but they will gently exfoliate it.
Levin also reminds us that it's really important to wash your face post-workout to clear out sweat, dirt, and pollution. On the other hand, it's just as important not to over-wash the skin. When you wash it too much, you're stripping the skin of its natural oils, which can result in an increase in oil production, the opposite of the desired effect.
"The problem with oily skin is that patients tend to use very harsh and irritating ingredients in order to 'de-grease' the skin, but in return, it can strip the skin of essential natural oils of the skin, resulting in worsening oily skin as well as uneven skin tone," she explains.
Toners are a lesser-known but instrumental tool in keeping oily skin in check. Their main job is to balance the pH levels in your skin and to neutralize and mattify the surface so your other products can also be more effective. While cleansers can do that too, they don't usually get all the accumulated dirt and dead skin off. Think of it as a reset. That being said, be wary of overdoing it with harsh toners that leave your skin feeling tight.
Levin's rule of thumb is to avoid alcohol-heavy toners, acidic toners, or any with harsh astringents. "My favorite over-the-counter ingredient for oily and acne-prone patients is salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide," she tells us.
In a similar category to toners and serums, it's important to use a good exfoliant. Exfoliating the skin ensures cell turnover, which also makes your moisturizer more effective and prevents breakouts. Look out for ingredients like retinol/retinoids, antioxidants, and/or fruit acid, Levin suggests.
The next step is applying a serum, which deeply penetrates the skin and delivers more long-lasting results. It's basically a leave-on treatment that goes under your moisturizer. When it comes to oily skin—and any skin type really—look for something that contains antioxidants. "Besides sunscreen, daily antioxidant use is so important to protect the skin from infrared radiation and environmental stressors," Levin tells us. Her favorite is SkinBetter Alto Defense Serum because it's a combination of 19 different types of antioxidants.
Some Antioxidants to look for while your shopping for a serum include C, vitamin E, turmeric, green tea extract, Mediterranean olive extract, superoxide dismutase, coenzyme Q10, and more. Some clarifying serums also contain antioxidants, too, which help with blemish control without drying out the skin.
And last but not least, it's time to find a moisturizer. Since you have oily skin, Levin suggests using an oil-free moisturizer. This also includes moisturizers that have ingredients like glycerin or other humectants because they're less clogging. Also, don't feel tied down to traditional creams and lotions. You could consider using liquids and gels that have a lighter consistency.
Don't forget to apply SPF either. Even though it adds an extra layer, Levin says it won't cause acne breakouts, despite the myth that it creates another layer of grease. In fact, she tell us, "Wearing sunscreen is important for people who have acne since the sun can worsen inflammation and hyperpigmentation, prolonging and worsening scars from the inflamed acne." The key is to look for sunscreens that say "non-comedogenic" or "acne-prone skin," for example, Differin Oil Control Moisturizer with SPF 30.
When it comes to things to avoid, definitely try to stay away from heavy moisturizers with fatty substances, like lipids, petrolatum, coconut oil, cocoa butter, or vegetable oils that could cause occlusion of your pores.