What is oily skin? (Sometimes) Oily skin is just dehydrated
Your skin produces oils designed to keep it healthy and hydrated. But sometimes it produces not enough (dry skin) or too much (oily skin). You can also have certain areas that over-produce oil while other under-produce oil (combo skin, usually an oily T-zone and dry cheeks). This excess oil can be problematic since it can cause blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and cause makeup to wear off part way through the day. Sometimes when skin over-produces oil, it’s actually because it’s dehydrated. I know that if I overuse retinol or if I overexfoliate my skin ends up being oily but also feels tight at the same time (particularly through my forehead). I can also end up with skin that’s oily but flaky at the same time. Not awesome.
So the trick is to find the perfect balance for your skin that involves exfoliation, treatments, and hydration without overdoing it on any of those individual items. It can be tempting to exfoliate multiple times per day if you are trying to get rid of hyperpigmentation or breakouts, but you will just make it worse. Slow and steady wins the race. If you’re dehydrated, it can also be tempting to moisturize repeatedly to rehydrate your skin. But if you use the wrong products you will just end up causing breakouts which will then lead you to overexfoliate with AHAs or BHAs, thus repeating the cycle. Balance is key.
Since I’ve started to hydrate my skin more effectively, I’ve definitely noticed a reduction in overall oiliness.
Hydrate oily skin with light layers of moisture
Technically, this is an approach that can be beneficial for all skin types. But it’s especially useful for oily skin. It can be tempting to slather on layers of heavy creams since it seems like they will hydrate your skin and solve the problem. Most creams are fairly heavy and, in my experience, this can overdo things and end up causing breakouts. Plus, creams aren’t really that helpful if your skin is actually dehydrated. You need to get moisture in to the deeper layers of your skin, not just the surface.
Cleanse your face
It’s important not to strip all the oils from your face while cleansing oily skin. This just causes an oil rebound and can make your skin even oilier. Gentle, but effective cleansers are best. Another option, if you wear more than just a little makeup, is to do a pre-cleanse with micellar water or an oil cleanser.
If you opt to do a dual cleanse, here are my top pre-cleansing options: Jurlique Purely Age-Defying Nourishing Cleansing Oil, L’Occitane Shea Cleansing Oil, Simple Hydrating Cleansing Oil, Simple Micellar Cleansing Water, and Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Solution.
Once your makeup is removed via oil cleanser or micellar water, you can do your regular cleanse. I try to find cleansers that lather well without sulphates (these help soap to lather up, but can dry skin out). Here are some of my favourite cleansers that clean your skin effectively without causing it to dry out: Peter Thomas Roth Gentle Foaming Cleanser (my all-time favourite), Algenist Purifying & Replenishing Cleanser, philosophy Purity Cleanser, and Simple Foaming Facial Cleanser. A couple times a week I use these cleansers with my Clarisonic Mia 2 for a deeper clean. I only use the Radiance brush heads since I find all the others to be too harsh on my sensitive skin.
Start with a hydrating toner or mist
As an oily-skinned person, I used to use all the astringent toners I could find to try to strip all the oils from my skin. But guess what, this just dries out your skin and makes it produce even more oil than before. If you use a very astringent toner, it dries out your skin and tricks it into believing that it needs way more oil since it’s so dry. This is the opposite of what you want.
Try a hydrating mist or toner, like Cosrx Centella Water Alcohol-free Toner, Clinique Moisture Surge Spray Mist, or Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Essence. A good drugstore option is Simple Soothing Facial Toner. Adding moisture makes your skin think that it is already hydrated enough, and therefore doesn’t need to produce more oil.
Follow with an essence
Essences fall somewhere between toner and serum. They can also be a replacement for toner if you don’t want to do both steps. Essences are usually more potent than toners and contain more active ingredients. But they also have a very light and watery texture so that the ingredients soak in to skin rapidly and can penetrate deeply without leaving any residue. Many essences contain hydrating ingredients, like glycerin or hyaluronic acid to add moisture. If you use an essence (or two or three…), this step can be used to target various skin issues you may have.
A lot of really popular essences contain yeast ferment filtrate, called galactomyces or saccharomyces ferment filtrate. This ingredient helps brighten dark spots and even out skin tone. A few good examples are: Cosrx Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence, Clinique Even Better Essence for Oily to Very Oily Skin, SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, and MISSHA Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence. These come at varying price points, with SK-II being at the high end of the spectrum and Cosrx at the bottom.
You can also find essences focused solely on hydration, like Cosrx Hyaluronic Acid Hydra Power Essence. Or an essence focused on exfoliation, like Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (seriously awesome) or Cosrx AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid which are both intended to exfoliate but contain hyaluronic acid for hydration as well. (Can you tell I’m in love with Cosrx products right now…?)
Essences are great for both morning and evening, and you can have different ones for each. For example, an exfoliating or hydrating essence for morning, and a brightening one for evening. I recommend exfoliating essences in the morning, or on evenings where you won’t be using other potent treatments like retinol.
If you are quite oily, a hydrating mist and hydrating essence may be enough moisture for you. If you want a bit more, follow with an antioxidant serum.
Then your serum (AM)
After toner and/or essences, a hydrating serum with antioxidants is a good choice for morning. This can add some more light hydration in addition to antioxidants to help fight free radicals. Antioxidants also help boost your sunscreen’s ability to protect your skin. The following options are all hydrating and contain a good amount of antioxidants: Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Concentrate Hydration Booster Serum (what I’m using right now and its amazing for dehydrated skin), Kypris Antioxidant Dew, Elizabeth Dehn for One Love Organics Vitamin C serum, and Serumtologie Vitamin C serum 22 (less hydrating than the other options).
Finish with Sunscreen (AM)
In the morning, your last step before makeup should be sunscreen. I know, I know, sunscreen makes oily skin even oilier and feels gross and is just generally awful. I feel the same way. Finding a good sunscreen for oily skin that isn’t super greasy and pore clogging can be really difficult. It’s a long process. Here are a couple of my favourites this summer: Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47 (a bit heavy for summer on oily skin), Cane & Austin Protect SPF50 Ultra Sheer Sunscreen (a bit shiny, but otherwise amazing and so, so light), Hynt Beauty Sun Prep Broad Spectrum SPF30, and Cosrx Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF50.
Add your treatments or serums (PM)
Treatment products, like super potent serums, strong exfoliants, or retinol products are best left for evenings. This is partly because a lot of ingredients in these products degrade in sunlight. But also because evening is generally when we have a bit more time to spend on pampering our faces. Evening is the best time to do intensive treatments since our skin regenerates while we sleep. This way we get the most out of each product since it can be thoroughly absorbed and “used” while we are asleep. This is a great time to do acid peels, like Dermatologic Cosmetic Laboratories Glycolic 10 Radiance Peel, B Kamins Lactic-10 peel, or exfoliating masks like Herbivore Botanicals Organic Blue Tansy Resurfacing Mask or Caudalie Glycolic Peel treatment. If you’re doing an acid peel, it should be done right after cleansing and then follow it with essences and any other serums you may want to use.
If you aren’t doing any chemical exfoliants, then evening is a good time for retinol treatments. Here are a few I’ve used: SkinMedica Retinol 0.5, Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid and Retinol Brightening Solution. Or if you’re up for a splurge, try Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil or Verso Super Facial Oil, both of which contain proprietary retinol formulas in an innovative oil based product rather than the usual serum or cream.
Retinol is great for oily skin (and can work on sensitive skin too, if you find the right formula). Oily skin is less likely to experience the extreme dryness and flaking that can come with getting used to retinol use. But if you’re oily and sensitive, like I am, then you will probably have to go through the adjustment period. Just incorporate it into your regimen slowly to minimize side effects. Retinol can help reduce oil production, which can be super useful. But the reduction in oil can also lead to skin dehydration. So making sure your skin is well hydrated becomes even more important.
If you like to do chemical exfoliants and retinol at night, using each on alternating days is a good idea. Technically you could use them on the same day, but you are much more likely to experience redness and flaking. So if you’re sensitive, don’t use them the same day. I also like to give my skin a “rest” day at least once a week. On that day I will usually just do essences, hydrating antioxidant serums and moisturizer.
Finish with moisturizer or oil (PM)
The final step in your evening regimen should include some kind of moisturizer. You can use either a cream, lotion, or oil. I like to use moisturizers with lots of natural ingredients that are hydrating without being too heavy. Some of my current favourites include: Josie Maran Whipped Argan Face Butter (a bit heavy for summer though), Cosrx Oil-Free Ultra-Moisturizing Lotion, Kahina Giving Beauty Facial Lotion, and Darphin The Revitalizing Oil. Or sometimes I’ll just use Josie Maran’s 100% Pure Argan Oil, or Argan Oil Light.
Well, if you’ve made it all the way through my very long-winded post, then congratulations! I hope my experience and recommendations have been helpful for you. I wish you luck in finding the perfect products to help balance your oily skin!