How to get rid of oily skin and stop oily skin causes acne

The science of oily skin and how to get rid of it for good

23rd June 2022 | Author: Katherine O'Shea

Looking for how to get rid of oily skin? It helps to understand what causes it in the first place, so you know which products to buy – and which to avoid. Let us help


If you suffer from oily skin, you’ve probably tried various products and methods to reduce the slick. But do you actually know the reasons why your skin is oily?

If you know more about the science of oily skin, you’ll have a much better chance of stopping the sebum, mattifying your complexion, and even getting rid of it.

At the least, it can help you choose which products and ingredients to buy, and which to avoid.


How to tell if you have oily skin

Before we get into the causes and treatments for oily skin, we wanted to explain how to tell if you have oily skin. We go into more detail in our What skin type do I have? guide, but in summary:

  • The biggest giveaway that you have oily skin is that your face looks shiny and feels greasy
  • Oily skin tends to create more visible pores
  • Oily skin is more prone to spot breakouts, particularly blackheads

However, if these three factors only impact part of your face – for instance, if you only have visible pores and shine in the centre of your face but not on the sides – then you have combination skin. The most common form of combination skin is dry cheeks with an oily T-Zone. And this T-Zone gets its name from the fact it creates a T shape on your face.

What’s more, the seasons and weather can play a part in how oily your skin is. You may find that it’s less of a problem in winter but becomes slick AF in the summer. This is because heat and humidity can lead to more oily skin. Lifestyle factors, such as stress can also play a part, as well as other hormonal imbalances or fluctuations.


What causes oily skin?

Skin PH scalemamabella

Everybody’s skin produces a waxy substance called sebum, released via sebaceous glands found beneath our pores. This sebum is useful because it helps to keep your skin hydrated and healthy and it sits in the middle layers of your skin, near your hair follicles.

The highest concentration of sebaceous glands is found on your face, scalp and back (which is why these are problem areas for excess oil and spots). You may have up to 900 of these glands per square centimetre in these concentrated areas. That’s a lot of oil being produced…

Specialised cells (sebocytes) dissolve and release sebum into the sebaceous glands. The sebum then travels through the follicular duct that connects the sebaceous gland to your hair follicle. The hair pulls the sebum up and onto the surface of your skin.

Once on the surface, this oily, waxy consistency moisturises the skin and hair through a mixture of fatty acids, sugars, and natural chemicals. This combination helps minimise water loss and protect your skin from external bacteria.

The oil produced by your skin is therefore completely natural and totally normal. However, for some people, the sebaceous glands go into overdrive. This causes them to produce too much oil which can lead to excess oil being stuck on your skin without anywhere to go. Due to its weight, it can’t be evaporated so it ends up leaving your skin feeling greasy.

It also clogs pores, and makes them swell, which in turn increases the amount of dirt and bacteria that can get inside, and all of this can lead to breakouts and acne. It’s not the sebum itself that causes problems, it’s the fallout from the extra oil.

FURTHER READING: Best foundation for oily skin, acne, spots and blemishes


Why is my skin so oily (and others aren’t)?

Face-oil-for-oily-skin-dry-skin-how-to-use-bestGetty Images/iStockphoto

For many oily-skin sufferers, it’s most likely caused by a hormonal imbalance, such as puberty or pregnancy. Some people also have a genetic predisposition to having oily skin. These are much harder to treat and manage.

However, there are potential contributors that can manage, and steps you can take to reduce the impact. According to celebrity facialist Dr. Debbie Thomas, “stress, diet, and general lifestyle can all impact how your skin behaves.” So taking time to chill, cutting back on processed foods and alcohol, and eating more fruits, veg, and whole foods can help. We explain more about this in our skin food guide.

Cerave foaming cleanser for oily skinCeraVe

Elsewhere, you’re going to want to look for products with proven oil-fighting capabilities. CeraVe is an expert when it comes to skincare products and it sells cleansers and moisturisers for oily skin that are both affordable and highly effective.

We love the brand so much, we wrote a whole article just about its range: The best CeraVe products for all your skincare concerns.

For oily skin, we particularly recommend the CeraVe foaming cleanser and the CeraVe moisturising lotion.

You might think that if you have oily skin, you don’t need a moisturiser. This is a myth. The best moisturisers don’t add water to your skin, but instead help to retain water and moisture in the outer layers. This keeps your skin hydrated. In fact, if your skin isn’t hydrated enough, it can produce even more oil to compensate.

Just be aware that you need a light, non-greasy option designed for oily skin if you really want to reap the benefits.

FURTHER READING: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser review: A superb cleanser that fixes the skin as it cleans


How to get rid of oily skin

If you want to treat oily skin you’ll need to:

Wash your face regularly (but not too much!)

Nail your skincare routineGetty Images/iStockphoto

Having oily skin means you have to be on top of your game when it comes to consistently sticking to your skincare routine. If you miss your daily face wash then you’re going to pay the price. Not washing your face regularly will mean you’ll get a build-up of oil or skin products, which can then clog your pores and lead to a breakout of spots.

However, washing it too much interferes with its pH balance and could make things worse.

Avoid soaps and cleansers with fragrances, added moisturisers, or harsh chemicals. Try not to use physical, as opposed to chemical, exfoliators, unless they’re specifically designed for acne.  Or are described as gentle. This is because using rough flannels or exfoliators can risk stimulating your skin to produce more oil, which makes breakouts worse.

A fantastic product to use daily to clean oily skin is the clarifying cleanser from facetheory. It’s not too expensive, at £12.99, but will make a big difference if used regularly because it contains salicylic acid. This gentle acid penetrates deep into your pores to keep them clear. This cleanser also contains glycolic acid and lactic acid, which helps exfoliate and deep cleanse your skin.


Use toner

A toner is great when you’re looking to get rid of oily skin because it penetrates your pores to give a more thorough cleanse. It will help to remove excess oil and other impurities.

“We know that one of the primary causes of breakouts is clogged pores, so it is imperative to flush them,” said Julia Marinkovich from skincare brand COSRX. “Adding a toner to your summer skincare regime can help close pores and tighten cell gaps after cleansing, reducing the penetration of impurities and environmental contaminants into the skin.

“Not only are toners great for de-congesting pores, but they can also support the skin inpreventing blackheads and stop blemishes from appearing. They are a fantastic preventative step for those prone to breakouts.” 

Like with cleansers, avoid toners that contain harsh chemicals, and alcohol. We’ve got a host of suitable recommendations in our best toner guide, and we explain more about why toner is important and how it works in our guide: What does face toner do – and why is it so important?. 

Carbon Theory takes our top spot though, with its Facial Purifying Tonic (£14). It contains natural tea tree oil, citric acid, and grapefruit extract meaning it gently cleanses and refines pores all while reducing redness and inflammation.

The £19.95 AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner from COSRX is also great for clearing the skin, keeping sebum under control, and preventing breakouts in the future.


Don’t skip moisturiser

Moisturiser is usually the first product to go when looking for how to get rid of oily skin. However, if you find the right moisturiser for oily skin it can actually be a gamechanger.

Aloe vera is a great ingredient to look out for when buying a moisturiser for oily skin because it can have a soothing effect. Gel formulas are typically better than creams. Lightweight lotions can also be beneficial. Also, make sure you’re buying a moisturiser that describes itself as non-comedogenic. This means that none of its ingredients should clog your pores and exacerbate the situation.


Be consistent

Skincare typically takes four to six weeks to make an impact. This is because of your skin renewal cycle so you need to give any products time to bed in before giving up. Changing your skincare too often can also cause your skin to become imbalanced and make oily skin worse.

Once you’ve found what works as part of your mission to get rid of oily skin, it’s vital to be consistent and stick to your skincare routine.

Also – sadly – in the process of clearing your pores and balancing your oil production, things might get worse before they get better. This is known as skin purging and we’ve got a whole guide on how to manage that here.


Oily skin: Pros and cons

Benefits and cons of oily skinmamabella | mamabella

It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to having oily skin. There are some pros, to go with the cons.

 Oily skin: Pros

The pros of having oily skin are as follows:

  • Softer skin: Your glands produce oil to help hydrate your skin, so if yours is oily, your skin will be a lot softer.
  • Fewer fine lines: Softer, moisturised skin means fewer wrinkles and fine lines. In theory, oily skin looks more youthful for longer.
  • Improved protection: Oil acts as a form of skin protection. If you have oily skin, you, therefore, have a better barrier against the sun, wind, and air pollution. The sebum transports fat-soluble antioxidants to the surface of your skin, where they can help protect your skin.
  • Faster tan: Extra sebum may also mean you tan better (safely, and with SPF of course…!) Speaking of which, a great SPF for oily skin is the COSRX Aloe Soothing SPF50 PA+++ Sun Cream. It costs £22, so is a little on the pricey side, but because it’s water-based and uses fewer ingredients than a lot of similar sunscreens, it can help reduce the chances of breakouts and excess oil production.

Oily skin: Cons

The downsides to having oily skin include:

  • Enlarged pores: The excess oil means more dead skin cells and dirt gets stuck in your pores, making them bigger. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have large pores, but they can make your skin look older or less even. Unfortunately, you can’t change the size of your pores, but you may be able to reduce their appearance. You can read more about how to get rid of large pores here.
  • Prone to breakouts: The biggest negative to having oily skin is that it can block your pores, which can then result in acne and breakouts
  • Affects makeup longevity: Having oily skin can cause havoc with your makeup – either causing it to gather in your pores, or making it slide off. This can also cause problems with your eyeshadow. You can read more about managing this in our How to master makeup for oily skin guide. Buying one of the best setting sprays can also help.

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