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Have oily skin? This is the skin care routine derms suggest

Your skin doesn’t have to shine in the spotlight anymore, thanks to a new regimen.
TODAY Illustration / Sephora / Target / CeraVe

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As teenagers, we deal with our fair share of skin woesoily skin and acne to name just a couple of the top offenders. Unfortunately, for many people, those skin challenges can follow us long into adulthood.

If you’re someone who deals with a perpetually shiny face along with breakouts, you are far from alone. The American Academy of Dermatology reported that acne affects up to 50 million Americans every year, with 15 percent of women experiencing adult acne. But as it turns out, those with oily skin are oftentimes not correctly caring for their skin. A 2017 survey from skin care company CeraVe found that almost 50 percent of people with oily skin simply use hand or body soap to wash their face, as opposed to a targeted cleanser and related skin care products.

Boca Raton, Florida dermatologist Dr. Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, and Dr. Ted Lain, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Austin, Texas-based Sanova Dermatology, are here to share much better ways to care for your oily skin, and they’ve explained the causes behind it as well.

Why is my skin so oily?

Even if you aren’t carrying your school backpack and learner’s permit these days, you can still be prone to oily skin and the acne and clogged pores that go with it.

No matter what age you are though, Fromowitz explained that oily skin results from increased sebum production — otherwise known as a clinical word for “oil” — which comes from oil glands in the skin called sebaceous glands. And don’t fret — that thing your mother always told you about chocolate leading to poor skin is a myth.

“[Oiliness] is often genetically determined, and not the result of food intake or something someone is doing right or wrong,” said Fromowitz.

According to Lain, oil glands in the skin are just doing their job when they respond to multiple factors that may increase their activity. This can include stress, hormones and climate.

Can oily skin happen to anyone at any time?

Although oily skin can happen at any age, it typically pops up during adolescence. This is due to hormones, which “induce growth in the oil glands in the skin,” as Fromowitz put it. He continued to say that as we age, our skin tends to become more “sensitive and drier as hormones can again change, and the oil glands reduce in size and density.” But that’s not always the case for everyone.

In adulthood, you may not have full-on oily skin. You could instead have something called combination skin, which, you guessed it, is a combination of oily and dry skin. If you are oily, the sheen is probably landing somewhere on your T-zone, or the central portion of your face which has a higher concentration of oil glands.

Since oil glands are “so responsive to fluctuations,” as Lain shared, a change in complexion from dry to oily to combination is entirely possible as an adult.

The good news is that you don’t have to deal with oily skin forever. It’s as straightforward as tweaking your skin care products and daily routine from sunup to sundown.

Best morning skin care routine for oily skin, according to experts

Step 1: Begin with a gentle cleanser

Between the oil, breakouts and clogged pores, your skin is already going through enough, which is why Lain recommended using a gentle foaming cleanser to reduce oil and exfoliate. He said, “Foaming cleansers contain a high load of surfactants, which are essentially detergent molecules meant to trap and remove the sebum.” But he warns, “Be careful not to overdo it — removing too much oil, or drying out the skin, can trigger more oil production.”

Cetaphil Pro Oil Removing Foam Wash

To use this top cleanser pick from Lain, he advised washing gently using your fingertips in a circular motion for 15 to 30 seconds. It carries no synthetic fragrance, it’s pH-balanced and it won’t overdry your skin.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser for Acne-Prone Skin

Fromowitz has a different take on what cleanser to use for oily skin. He’s a fan of cleansers with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, two ingredients that have been clinically proven to reduce oil. If you don’t have sensitive skin and can handle these ingredients that can occasionally cause dryness or redness, this La Roche-Posay cleanser with salicylic acid could be a good bet for your skin, especially if you’re prone to breakouts.

Step 2: Use an antioxidant serum

Lain explained that a high sebum output, another way of saying that you have very oily skin, increases something called lipid peroxidation, “a phenomenon whereby the sebum is converted to free radicals, potentially causing premature aging and acne,” he said. Yes, that’s right — you can absolutely have acne and wrinkles at the same time. That’s where antioxidant serum comes in.

Obagi Medical Professional-C Serum

“Applying an antioxidant serum blocks the effects of lipid peroxidation,” Lain said. He recommends this antioxidant serum, which is pricey, but reviewers swear by it. One Amazon reviewer said they were left with “smaller pores” and it “took years off.”

Vichy LiftActiv Vitamin C Serum

For something on the more economical side, this Lain pick is also very much praised for its skin-benefiting qualities. The vitamin C component will brighten and firm skin, while antioxidants go to work on the oiliness.

Step 3: Apply an oil-free moisturizer

If you’re facing an oily complexion and acne, it’s imperative to seek out a moisturizer that’s non-comedogenic or won’t cause breakouts. Another way of describing this is “oil-free,” since your skin certainly does need any additional oil.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Daily Face Moisturizer for Oily Skin

Lain explained that this oil-free moisturizer from La Roche-Posay helps protect and repair your skin's barrier, allowing it to maintain its moisture content and stay in equilibrium. He added that if you live in a dry climate, oil-free moisturizer is necessary but is perhaps not as necessary in a more humid area.

Step 4: Finish with sunscreen

Whether you have oily skin or not, sunscreen is a must to combat sun damage and guard yourself against melanoma and skin cancer. Lain said that you should aim for at least an SPF 30 with broadband protection. You’ll finish your routine with this because “sunscreen partners with the antioxidant serum to prevent lipid peroxidation, as well as to directly block the effects of UV light on the skin cells themselves,” said Lain.

Black Girl Sunscreen Make It Matte Sunscreen

Lain likes this SPF 45 pick, which has been specifically formulated for women of color. It’s well-known for its matte finish, and as an extra, it’s clean, vegan and cruelty-free.

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with Sunscreen

Fromowitz stressed the importance of choosing a sunscreen that’s “non-comedogenic” and “non-acnegenic,” so it won’t bring on breakouts. He’s partial to this budget-friendly, yet deeply beneficial, moisturizing lotion with sunscreen, but also says that brands like Neutrogena and La Roche-Posay also carry sunscreens that won’t cause acne.

Best nightly skin care routine for oily skin, according to experts

Step 1: Start with cleanser

As you did first thing in the morning, you’ll start your evening routine with a cleanser. Unlike those in the study that only washed their faces with hand or body wash, you’ll once again use a cleanser that targets your oily skin. You can use one of the aforementioned cleansers, or you could try this additional suggestion from Lain.

Eucerin Hydrating Foam Facial Cleanser

As another foaming cleanser that specifically works on oily skin, this Eucerin option hydrates while it focuses on removing oil, along with sunscreen and makeup. It’s perfect to use in the evening, so you can wash off the day before going to bed.

Step 2: Apply antioxidant serum

The antioxidant serum proves to be essential once again, just as it was in the morning. By using it at night, you’ll give your skin a double-whammy of combatting oily skin, acne and aging. For evening, Lain recommends choosing ingredients that mimic or support the body's nighttime repair mechanisms to aid in recovery and help the skin manage oil-inducing triggers.

Pixi Beauty Overnight Glow Serum

One such night serum specifically geared toward nighttime is this pick from Pixi, which contains ingredients that not only deal with existing damage but also prevents free-radical damage and premature aging. And of course, it’ll go to town on that oily skin as well.

Step 3: Apply retinol

Here’s something you’ll add to your nighttime routine that’s different from your morning routine: retinol, something that both our experts agree is important to use if you’re addressing oily skin. For this, you’ll have the choice to use retinol or a retinol-like lotion, cream or serum. “As a derivative of Vitamin A, retinol acts biologically to help increase cell turnover and reduce pore size,” Dr. Lain said.

Paula's Choice Clinical 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment

Lain suggested this particular plant-based retinol treatment for oily skin. It’s a great option if you’d like to do away with deep wrinkles and enlarged pores. Lain added, “While the direct effects of retinol on oil production are unknown, we do know that retinols help reduce pore size and there is a correlation between pore size and oil production.”

The Inkey List Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Moisturizer

How’s this for a retinol product that’s easy on the wallet and expert-recommended? Lain shared this retinol-infused moisturizer from The Inkey List, which improves several skin concerns such as aging and dullness and is lightweight, which will feel pleasant on oil-prone skin.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Topical Retinoid Acne Treatment

Fromowitz is also a proponent of retinol skin care products, including this specific treatment from La Roche-Posay. It’s prescription-strength, but you can buy it over-the-counter, and it’s specially formulated for those with oily skin, stubborn blackheads and blemishes. The bonus is that it’s also kind to sensitive skin.

Step 4: Moisturize your skin

As you did in the morning, you’ll need to apply moisturizer again. But at night, it’s even more crucial. “Given the use of retinol may lead to dryness, a lotion or cream is incredibly important as the final step in the regimen,” Lain said.

Cetaphil Intensive Healing Lotion with Ceramides

Lain is partial to a repairing moisturizer with ceramides to use at night, like this pick from Cetaphil. It’s perfect for this skin type because it doesn't leave an unpleasant residue and will work for combination skin as well. And since it "absorbs really well without feeling greasy or sticky" as one Amazon reviewer shared, this lotion is best for warmer weather, as Lain said. (For colder months, he recommended using an oil-free moisturizer with a creamier consistency.)

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