How to Manage Oily Skin

Oily skin occurs when sebaceous glands in your skin produce too much of a waxy, oily substance known as sebum. Sebum keeps your skin lubricated and protects it against excess moisture, but can leave you with a greasy complexion and increase your risk of pimples and acne breakouts if there's too much of it. 

Stress, humidity, genetics, and fluctuations in hormones are just a few of the reasons why your face may be oily. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce oily skin and the risk of breakouts, including regular face-washing, home skincare remedies, and topical over-the-counter treatments.

This article explains the possible causes of oily skin and describes six simple ways to reduce skin greasiness whatever the underlying cause.

asian woman with oily skin

RyanKing999 / Getty Images

What Causes Oily Skin?

There are a variety of reasons why your skin could be oily, and they tend to fall into two categories: health reasons and environmental factors. Health reasons that can cause oily skin include processes going on in your body like fluctuating hormones. Environmental factors like humidity can also contribute to oily skin.

Possible risk factors for oily skin include:

  • Male sex
  • Premenopausal women during ovulation
  • Humid climate or summer season
  • African American descent
  • Chronic conditions affecting hormone levels

Skin oil is produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin. These glands are located all over the skin; the ones that are most likely to produce too much oil are located in the scalp, face, and upper body. Sebum has many benefits, including lubrication for the skin, antibacterial properties, sun protection, inflammation regulation, and wound healing. An oversupply of sebum, however, can lead to a shiny, greasy complexion, acne, and skin irritation. 

Oily skin can be caused by any combination of these factors:

  • Genetics may play a role in sebum production. Usually, the larger your pores, the more oil your skin will produce. The size of pores can vary by family and ethnicity. 
  • Androgens are hormones, such as testosterone, that are present in both males and females. Testosterone is produced in the sebaceous glands, and studies have linked higher levels of hormones to an increase in oil production. Female hormones like estrogen are associated with lower oil production in the skin.
  • Growth hormones are linked to sebum production and are believed to be related to the development of acne. These hormones reach their highest lifetime levels during adolescence, which is usually marked by oilier skin. 
  • Stress releases a flood of stress hormones into the bloodstream. One stress-related hormone, corticotropin-releasing hormone, is known to be able to bind to the skin’s sebaceous glands, increasing the production of oil. This may be one reason why stress seems to exacerbate acne. 
  • High-glycemic diets rich in sugar and simple carbohydrates may be linked to increased sebum production. Simple carbs may increase levels of growth hormones in the body, leading to increased oil. More research is needed, but recent studies have found a link between low-glycemic diets and a reduction in oil. 
  • Humidity can lead to increased sweating and oil production. Those who live in humid climates may be at higher risk of developing oily skin. You may be more prone to oily skin during humid summer months compared with dry winter months. High humidity may also lead to eczema. 

At-Home Treatments

At-home treatments for oily skin can help decrease the amount of oil on the skin and prevent complications like acne and redness. Many of these treatments, though, will not address the underlying cause of the overproduction of sebum. If your oily skin is caused by hormones, for example, it can be managed at home but not cured. Talk with your healthcare provider if you’re interested in prescription treatments. 

Wash Your Face Twice Daily

One of the most effective ways to manage oily skin is by washing your face twice daily. Use a gentle cleanser with water every morning and night; wash again after a vigorous workout. There is no need to wash more frequently since that could be irritating to the skin and produce more oil. When washing your skin, use gentle circular motions instead of scrubbing. 


It may feel counterintuitive, but using a daily moisturizer is an important way to manage oily skin. When your skin is overly dry, it stimulates your body to produce more oil to moisturize it. Look for a gentle, oil-free moisturizer with sunscreen and apply it every morning.

Use Blotting Paper

Use blotting papers throughout the day to absorb excess oil between washes. These products are great for on-the-go care. Gently dab your face and try not to rub the paper over your skin because this could spread the oil around. In addition, avoid touching your face as much as possible. This tip is hard to stick to because most of us frequently touch our faces without realizing it. Our hands can transfer dirt, oil, and bacteria to our faces, leading to an oil buildup. 

Try a Clay Mask

Clay masks may be helpful in soaking up excess oil from your face. Depending on which type of clay you choose, the mask can draw oil out of the pores and is washed away when you rinse off the clay. A study found a significant decrease in acne lesions in people who used a clay jojoba oil mask two to three times per week for six weeks. 

Add Green Tea to Your Routine

You probably know green tea for its antioxidants and health benefits, but did you know it could help oily skin? Rather than brewing a cup, try applying a green tea emulsion to your skin. Studies have found that applying a 3% green tea emulsion to the skin can significantly reduce sebum production. You won’t see results overnight, though; participants noted a difference after 60 days. 

Use a Hydrocortisone Cream

Excess oil on the skin can sometimes lead to redness and flaky patches. An over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help address skin irritation and reduce redness and scaling. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

When at-home treatments are not helping, it’s best to see your healthcare provider. A mild amount of excess oil can be managed with good skin hygiene. If you have been regularly washing your face twice daily and applying a moisturizer without any improvement in excess oil production, it may be time to see a dermatologist. Uncontrolled breakouts and blackheads are another sign to seek help from your healthcare provider. Your dermatologist has several prescriptions and treatments to offer, so don’t hesitate to reach out. 

A Word From Verywell

Oily skin can be caused by a variety of factors like genetics, hormones, stress, diet, and humidity. While sebum is beneficial for our skin, too much of it can lead to skin problems like acne and irritation. It’s helpful to remember that there are several possible treatments for oily skin, and they may take time to work. If one treatment does not help with your oily skin, others may be a better fit. Your dermatologist can help you determine the right course for you.

10 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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Additional Reading

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.