Tips for Treating Acne and Oily Skin

With oily skin and acne, you're probably not always in love with your skin. But oily skin isn't all bad. One bonus—your oily skin is less prone to wrinkling than dry skin types.

Still, oily skin, and the acne breakouts that often come with it, can be frustrating. With the right care, you can tame oily shine, improve acne, and learn to embrace your skin type.

treating acne and oily skin
Verywell/Brianna Gilmartin

Cleanse Face at Least Twice a Day

A simple way to keep oily skin in check is to cleanse your face regularly. Wash your face twice a day, both morning and night.

Use a foaming soap or facial cleanser over cream-based or lotion cleansers. Foaming cleansers do a much better job cleansing away excess oil and leave your skin feeling fresh and clean.

You should also cleanse your face (and body, if body breakouts are a problem) after you sweat, like after gym class or work out. Sweat can irritate breakouts and lead to a specific type of acne called acne mechanica.

If soap and water aren't immediately available, keep a stash of premoistened cleansing cloths in your bag to give your skin a wipe-down. There are plenty of facial cleansing cloths on the market, but even fragrance-free baby wipes will do.

Beware of over-cleansing, though. Cleansing your face too often can irritate your skin. And since acne isn't caused by an oily or dirty face, just washing more frequently isn't going to clear breakouts.

Use an Astringent

An astringent is another good way to control oil. Astringents are like toners, except they are made especially for oily skin types. Astringents help remove excess oil from the skin and tighten the pores (temporarily, at least).

To use, apply to a cotton ball or cotton pad and wipe over the entire face and neck area. Do this after cleansing but before applying your moisturizer or topical acne medications.

Astringents are also great to use between washings to clean away excess oil and get rid of oily shine that appears during the day. Some astringents contain ingredients, like glycolic acid or salicylic acid that can help clear breakouts, too.

But you don't need a fancy brand. Even simple witch hazel works to remove excess oil, and it's super cheap (about a dollar for 16 ounces).

Use Oil-Free and Water-Based Products

Obviously, you don't want to put any more oil onto your skin than is already there. Look for "oil-free" on the label, especially for those leave-on products like moisturizers, sunscreen, and makeup.

You may also want to use products labeled noncomedogenic. This means they are less likely to cause pore blockages (comedones), and less likely to trigger acne breakouts.

Water-based products are another great option for oily skin types. Water-based products use a gel base and don't leave any heavy residue on the skin. They feel virtually weightless on the skin.

You can find water-based moisturizing gels, sunscreens, and makeup foundation. Check the label; many of these are marketed to people with oily and breakout-prone skin.

Your topical acne medications have water-based options too. Differin, Retin-A, Onexon, and more all come in a gel form. If your current acne medication feels too heavy or greasy for your liking, ask your dermatologist if there is a gel option.

Don't Scrub at Your Skin

Those of us with oily skin seem especially conditioned to scrubbing away, and it can be a hard habit to break. After all, won't scrubbing at the skin help deep-clean the pores, clear acne and reduce oiliness?

Surprisingly, no. Rubbing the skin with abrasive scrubs, pads, or washcloths won't make your skin less oily and won't improve acne. It will irritate the skin, though. Oily or not, be kind to your skin and treat it gently.

Exfoliate and Use Acne Treatments

Acne treatments and exfoliating products reduce excess oil, and can also improve the look of large pores. Oily skin and large pores often go hand in hand and can be just as frustrating as acne itself. While you can't permanently shrink your pore size, you can make them look smaller.

Many acne medications pull double-duty and reduce enlarged pores while clearing breakouts. Topical retinoids, in particular, are good at minimizing large pores. Over-the-counter salicylic acid is another option.

If acne isn't a big problem for you but you'd like to reduce the look of your large pores, exfoliating products are the way to go. Alpha hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid, keep pores clear of debris making them look smaller.

A Word From Verywell

Just like all good things, improvement takes time, whether you're looking to clear breakouts or just reduce the amount of oily shine on your skin. A good skincare routine tailored to your oily skin type will help you do just that. Don't hesitate to call your dermatologist if you need help.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5):945-73. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

Additional Reading
  • Gerson, Joel, Janet DAngelo, Shelley Lotz, and Sallie S. Deitz. Miladys Standard Esthetics: Fundamentals. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar, 2009.