How to Control Oily Skin Without Drying it Out
When you struggle with a shiny T-zone, you’re stuck with a lot of beauty baggage. Most likely, you’ve tried all the skincare hacks: from oil-absorbing primers and finishing sprays to mattifying masks and powders, (combined with daily blotting sheets), the effort never stops. But try not to sweat over it! If your oily skin routine isn’t giving you that matte complexion you crave, it’s time to consider new treatments for your greasy pores. Let’s learn how to achieve a smooth, shine-free complexion without drying out your skin.
To get the latest tips, we turned to celebrity esthetician, Renée Rouleau and leading dermatologist, Dr. Jason Emer.
Oily skin characteristics
Oily skin falls on a spectrum, ranging from moderate to severe. Rouleau categorizes this condition into two groups: type 1) Extremely oily and acne-prone 2) Combination with occasional breakouts.
Symptoms of oily skin type 1: Extremely oily and acne-prone
- Extremely oily skin
- Enlarged or stretched pores, especially in the T-zone
- Frequent, severe acne all over the face, including blackheads and pustules
- Reddish dark scars that persists after pimple has healed
- Breaks out easily from comedogenic ingredients
- Desires clearer, smoother skin
Symptoms of oily skin type 2: Combination with occasional breakouts
- Large pores and produces oil mostly in t-zone
- Skin feels tight, reactive or sensitive after applying harsh products
- May occasionally get mild breakouts or cysts (weekly or monthly)
- Congested pores and blackheads
- Reddish dark scars that linger
- May have hyperpigmentation (brown spots)
Oily skin causes
Oil, also known as sebum, isn’t the enemy. It’s just our body’s natural way of lubricating our skin.
As Dr. Emer explains, “It’s a major component of skin-surface lipids and works with other ingredients to protect the skin barrier." This moisture barrier is vital for protecting your pores from intruders like dirt, bacteria and allergens. The problem arises when your face produces too much sebum, taking you from glowy to greasy.
Let’s learn how to avoid this condition with these top 4 causes of oily skin.
1. You wear too much makeup
Our skin needs to breathe. So when you mask on the makeup, you suffocate your pores, which triggers your skin’s defense system: extra sebum production.
As Rouleau explains, "The most likely outcome of wearing too much makeup is clogged pores and irritated skin. Highly comedogenic ingredients get trapped in our pores, along with dirt and bacteria, and cause blackheads and breakouts." That’s why we’re better off using minimal, water-based makeup with a light-handed application.
2. You’re stressed
The ups and downs of hormones and stress create a rollercoaster pattern of sebum levels. Let’s review how this problem leads to oily skin breakouts.
When your body is on high alert, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline for energy. These chemicals activate your skin's oil glands to release excess sebum, explains Healthline. If the sebum gets trapped in your pores and mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria, it creates a dreaded recipe for acne.
3. Your oily skin routine is too harsh
You might love those strong acne-fighting ingredients, but do they love you back? By using too many active ingredients, like Salicylic acid and Alpha-hydroxy acid, you can actually increase sebum production.
Although these acids are meant to clean your pores, people with sensitive skin can’t handle this intense exfoliation. According to Dr. Emer, “When you strip the skin of its natural oils, you're just tricking it into thinking that it is dehydrated and in turn, your glands produce more sebum.” Instead, he recommends an oily skincare routine filled with gentle botanicals and antioxidants to balance your skin’s moisture barrier.
If the sebum gets trapped in your pores and mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria, it creates a dreaded recipe for acne.
4. You’re dehydrated
Too much coffee and wine take a toll. If you don’t replenish the water in your body, your skin reacts by becoming greasy and tight.
As Rouleau explains, “Having tight skin doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dry. Dehydrated skin, as a skin condition, lacks water content, but may still produce oil.” In fact, your skin may be over-producing oil to balance the lack of moisture in the skin. To maintain healthy water levels in your skin, you should drink around 8 cups of water per day, according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
How to control oily skin
If your sebaceous glands are overactive and your skin is greasy, it’s a sign your body isn’t coping well with your cosmetic routine. By making changes to your regimen, you can train your body to produce less sebum.
Why your skin pH matters
Think of your skin as an ecosystem — a jungle of microbes, dead skin, oils and other organic matter. To stay healthy and balanced, its environment needs to maintain a pH of around 5.5 (slightly acidic), explains Rouleau.
At this pH level, the skin can maintain its protective barrier, in combination with natural oils and good bacteria, to function properly as an organ. Yet if you disrupt this delicate balance, the ecosystem weakens, resulting in issues like greasy pores and acne.
Let’s learn some dermatologist-recommended solutions for achieving a balanced complexion. Here’s how to control oily skin without drying out.
Avoid harsh setting sprays
Sure, setting spray makes makeup last longer — but there’s a catch: it can make your skin oily! One minute you’re enjoying a soft, airbrushed look, but by the evening, your handiwork melts into a shiny spill hazard.
Watch out for silicone-based formulas which contain heavy polymers (plastic). As Rouleau explains, “[Silicone] prevents moisture from getting into your skin which can affect your skin's pH level.” Even natural ingredients like coconut oil can be similarly comedogenic and cause oily skin breakouts, she explains.
Stick to water-based setting sprays which tend to offer a more lightweight finish.
Use a gentle face wash
Sensitive skin loves being treated with a “less is more” approach. Hollywood sweetheart, Eva Longoria lives by her minimalist routine to manage shine.
As she tells Hello Giggles, “Sometimes I use baby oil as a makeup remover.” Interesting — have you ever thought to fight oil with oil? Normally, we tend to fight oily skin by stripping it of its natural oils, using harsh acne cleansers that irritate the skin and cause inflammation. As Dr. Emer explains, “When you apply a high-grade oil specifically formulated for the face, the skin believes that it is hydrated and begins to scale back its sebum production.”
He recommends using a calming face wash like the Aurora Cleanser, included in the Beginner’s Set- Oily to Combination Skin. Made with firming peptides and anti-bacterial botanical extracts, it removes impurities from pores without stripping natural skin sebum.
Use a soothing daily moisturizer
Not all moisturizers are treated equally. Some brands skip corners when it comes to quality, adding buttery textures that won’t actually nourish your skin, although they might feel quite nice. But don’t be fooled; these moisturizers are not truly hydrating. And worse, they can make your skin greasier.
Rouleau warns to stay away from formulas containing mineral oil, petroleum and wax derivatives. Instead, go for calming ingredients that protect the skin’s moisture barrier with antioxidants from high-quality sources like Jojoba oil, Green tea extract and Bioplacenta. These ingredients help maintain your skin’s pH level to control oily skin without drying it out.
Finish with a mattifying powder
Mattifying powder goes a much longer way for a shiny face. These powders contain ingredients that soak up oil, while blurring imperfections to create a soft, poreless look.
Eva Longoria, who’s an expert at managing oily skin tells Allure magazine her secret. When it comes to controlling shine, “most people say ‘oh let me cover it’ but it looks much thicker and worse,” she explains. The trick is using a minimal amount of powder, just enough to create a matte complexion and prevent oily skin breakouts.
Although the beauty industry is obsessed with fixing shiny skin, just remember that we’re only human with sweats glands, grease and all. So the goal is never to look completely shineless (which is weird and unnatural); it’s about creating a healthy balance between sebum and moisture. By following these dermatologist-approved tips, you’ll be much closer to your goal.