How to Treat and Prevent Oily Skin

Whether you are trying to get rid of oily skin because your face is always shiny or because the oil is clogging your pores and causing pimples, one thing is true—it's challenging. That's partly because, often, oily skin is inherited or the result of your hormones. You can’t control your genes, and usually you can’t do very much about hormonal changes either.

You can, however, adjust how you care for your skin. Simple changes can reduce the amount of oil on your skin and give you a healthier complexion.

This article explains how you can treat oily skin by properly cleaning your face, choosing the right products, and paying attention to things that can affect your skin.

treating acne and oily skin

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Follow the Right Skin Care Routine

Regularly washing your skin and using the right skincare products won't cure your oily skin, but it can reduce oil on your face day by day.

Clean Your Skin Twice a Day

Washing your face in the morning and at night is essential. Add an extra wash after exercise or on a hot day.

The goal is to remove sebum, the oily substance released by glands under the the skin. Your facial cleanser should also take off dirt, dead and dry skin cells, and sweat.

For skin that’s oily and more likely to break out, you'll want a cleanser that is:

  • Noncomedogenic: The product won’t block your pores.
  • Nonacnegenic: It won't make existing pimples worse and doesn’t cause new ones.
  • Not irritating: It won’t cause itchiness, rash, or redness.
  • Nonallergenic: It shouldn’t cause a skin allergy. This is a little different than hypoallergenic, which means the risk of an allergic reaction is less but not totally gone.

Choose foaming soap or facial cleansers, which are better at rinsing away extra oil than creamy or lotion cleansers. The cleanser should leave your skin feeling fresh and clean.

Gently cleansing twice a day or after sweating is good. Cleaning your skin more often or scrubbing your skin hard is not. Overdoing your face cleaning can aggravate oily skin and make it worse.

If body breakouts are a problem, wash your body as well with an appropriate cleanser. This can help you avoid acne mechanica, pimples on the face or body caused by sweat.

Don't have access to soap after a workout? Use pre-moistened cloths instead.

Use an Astringent

An astringent is another good way to control oil. Astringents, like facial toners, help remove dirt and make up left behind after cleansing. Astringents also take off excess oil and tighten your pores.

Witch hazel is a common and effective astringent for oily skin. This solution is made from a flowering plant and has been shown to help with acne and other skin problems. Some use it as-is, while others may opt for products that blend witch hazel with other ingredients.

In addition to witch hazel, astringent ingredients that effectively treat oily skin include:

  • Alcohol (avoid if you have dry skin, however)
  • Citric acid, which comes from citrus fruits
  • Salicylic acid, a compound found in plants that's also known to help treat acne

If you have rosacea, don't use an alcohol-based astringent. It can irritate your skin.

To use an astringent, first wash your face. Apply the liquid astringent to a cotton ball or cotton pad. Then, wipe your entire face and neck with the cotton.

If needed, you can use an astringent between washings. It will remove oil and get rid of that shine that sometimes shows up during the day.


Cleaning your skin regularly and gently with a foam cleanser will help you keep oily skin in check and reduce breakouts. Using an astringent afterward can help remove whatever impurities your cleanser misses.


After you've washed and applied an astringent, you should moisturize your skin. It may seem like oily skin is lubricated enough, but oil isn't the same as the moisture you need to keep skin healthy. In fact, you can have a lot of oil and still have dehydrated, overly dry skin.

When skin is dehydrated, water isn't absorbed into the layers of the skin. That means your skin will lack elasticity and plumpness. Without these, skin looks red, inflamed, and wrinkled.

Oil is a natural barrier that locks in moisturizer. Taking away excess oil can dry skin out, so moisturizing your face after using a cleanser and astringent is very important.

Moisturizers for oily skin should do three things:

  1. Seal in moisture: Products that do this are sometimes known as occlusive. They form a barrier that keeps your skin from drying out. Lanolin and petroleum jelly are occlusive products, but they're too greasy for your oily skin. Instead, look for moisturizers that have dimethicone or cyclomethicone as an ingredient. These help balance your skin.
  2. Draw water up to the surface from lower layers: Lotions that do this are humectants. They have a special chemical structure that creates bonds with water molecules. This lets them pull water molecules to the skin's surface like a magnet.
  3. Smooth and soften skin: Moisturizers for oily skin should have emollients, which are chemicals that can stop skin from becoming scaly or wrinkled.


Exfoliation is when you remove dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin. This can make you skin appear smoother and healthier. It can also help with two common problems of oily skin: clogged pores and enlarged pores.

There are many over-the-counter exfoliation products that you can choose from. Popular types include scrubs and gritty facial creams, which are not recommended for oily skin. Instead, look for a chemical exfoliant that's specifically designed for oily types of skin. These include at-home peels, which are solutions you spread on your face, leave on to solidify slightly, and then peel off.

If you have darker skin or skin that gets discolored after bug bites and burns, use a mild chemical exfoliator. Otherwise, you may end up with dark patches on your skin.


Removing dead skin cells through exfoliation can prevent oil from clogging your pores. Moisturizing your skin, while it sounds counterintuitive, is important to combating dehydrated skin that can result from your cleansing routine.

Use Oil-Free and Water-Based Products

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

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

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

If you use topical acne medications, look for water-based options of these as well. Differin, Retin-A, Onexon, and others all come in a gel form. If your current acne medication feels too heavy or greasy, ask your dermatologist if there's a gel option.

Many acne medications reduce enlarged pores while clearing breakouts, so it can help your skin look smoother while stopping pimples. Talk to your doctor about different medications that could relieve these and other issues related to oily skin.


Managing oily skin may seem like a daily fight until you are consistent about your skincare routine—and you have the right one.

Wash your skin twice a day and apply products made for oily skin. Look for gentle cleansers, exfoliants, and astringents, and don't scrub too hard or wash too often.

If you're not successful with your efforts, consider seeking help from a dermatologist.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, it takes time to see results. Whether you're looking to clear breakouts or just reduce the amount of oily shine on your skin, you can't expect perfect results overnight.

Be patient with your routine and be kind to yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes oily skin?

    Oily skin is caused by the overproduction of sebum in your sebaceous glands. It increases significantly in your teenage years as hormones fluctuate and tends to decrease as you get older. Other factors that can increase oily skin include ovulation, humid climates, and genetics.

  • How can you tell if you have oily skin?

    You will likely notice larger pores and a dull or shiny complexion. You may be more likely to get pimples and blackheads.

  • What is the best moisturizer for oily, acne-prone skin?

    Look for a moisturizer that's oil-free, won't clog pores, or is non-comedogenic. Use it after you wash your face and anytime your face feels dry.

5 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.
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  2. Conforti C, Giuffrida R, Fadda S, et al. Topical dermocosmetics and acne vulgaris. Dermatol Ther. 2021;34(1). doi:10.1111/dth.14436

  3. Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K, Pongparit K. Moisturizers for acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(5):36-44. PMID:24847408

  4. Rodan K, Fields K, Majewski G, Falla T. Skincare bootcamp: the evolving role of skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2016;4(12S):e1152. doi:10.1097%2FGOX.0000000000001152

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By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.