Skincare for Oily Skin: Causes, How to Stay Matte, and More

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Oily skin is the most unjustifiably maligned skin type. Do you get a little (or a lot) shiny over the course of the day? Sure, but that's not necessarily a bad thing! We're still living in the dewy skin era, and your skin's natural and superior ability to retain moisture should be celebrated. 

However, we know oily skin also comes with some troubles. Your skin is much likelier to break out, your pores might be larger than you wish, and when that healthy sheen progresses into a greasy layer it can feel uncomfortable. 

In this guide, we've set out to help you nurture your skin. Oily skin doesn't need harsh cleansing or constant mattification - it's all about developing a skincare routine for oily skin that keeps you feeling balanced, smooth, and lightly hydrated while also addressing any specific concerns you might have. 

What is oily skin?

Oily skin, simply put, produces a lot of oil. As part of our body’s natural defense mechanism, the skin produces sebum, an oily substance that keeps the skin lubricated and waterproof. The oil keeps pathogens out of the skin while keeping moisture inside, which is incredibly important for our skin’s health. That said, when our bodies produce too much of it, it can be disruptive. 

The oil can create a greasy sheen over the skin. It can also combine with dead skin to clog pores, leading to acne, or it can feed yeast growing on the skin leading to seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff.    

Signs of oily skin?

Oily skin produces and excretes a lot of sebum - if that’s something you’re dealing with on an ongoing basis, it’s pretty easy to notice. With that said, here are the key signs:  

  • Your skin appears shiny even on days when you haven’t applied anything to the surface. If you touch it, you can feel the oily residue. 
  • You have larger or visible pores, especially on the forehead and the center of the face (i.e., the T-zone). 
  • You might be a little more prone to clogged pores and acne, although this is not a guarantee. 

If your skin type isn’t totally clear to your after reading that, you may want to check out our complete guide to figuring out your skin type.

What causes oily skin?

Oily skin is largely genetic, but it’s also heavily influenced by hormones and hormonal fluctuations. Androgens, the male sex hormones, are largely responsible for oil production in the skin, which is why oiliness tends to be most severe during puberty when hormones are surging. 

Because of that, anything that impacts your hormones can also alter how much oil your skin produces, including certain medications or periods of stress. There may even be a correlation between certain diets and skin sebum content, although this connection is not well-researched or clearly understood.   

Oily skin concerns

Having oily skin isn’t necessarily a problem or something to worry about, but the problems it can cause are a different story! Here are some specific concerns that can come along with having skin that produces a lot of oily. 

  • Acne: Acne is an extremely common condition with a complex and multifactorial pathophysiology. Oil production plays a role, but so does the actual composition of your sebum, your pores' propensity to clogging, your skin's tendency towards inflammation, and how hospitable an environment your skin is for the acne bacteria (which also depends on a broad range of factors). 
  • Dehydration: Those with oily skin often experience dehydration (i.e., lack of water in the skin) as a result of having an overly stripping or non-moisturizing skincare routine. When dehydrated, the skin feels tight and often looks flakey. The worst part is that dehydration can lead to a disrupted skin barrier that’s more susceptible to damage or inflammation, including breakouts. Ironically, a disrupted barrier may also lead to increased oiliness at the surface of the skin.
  • Pore size: Having oily skin correlates with larger pores. Although having visible pores is perfectly normal, many people find them undesirable. Thankfully, their appearance can be somewhat reduced through exfoliating or skin-renewing skincare. 
  • Signs of aging: While we don’t often associate preventing signs of aging with oily skin types, chances are that wrinkle prevention is still something you care about. Thankfully, many skincare ingredients that help reduce texture or fade breakouts can also help with premature aging - especially retinoids. 
  • Scarring and pigmentation: For those with oily, acne-prone skin, it’s common to develop scars or hyperpigmentation after breakouts heal. 
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: Those with oily skin are a little more prone to seborrheic dermatitis, which is a condition that causes flaky or itchy rashes and is closely related to dandruff. 
  • Sensitive skin conditions: Having oily skin and rosacea or atopic dermatitis at the same time can be difficult. You'll need to prioritize keeping your skin soothed and intact, while addressing signs of oiliness should come second. 

Best skincare products for oily skin?

It’s incredibly important to choose skincare products that will help you address your specific concerns, while also helping your oily skin look and feel a little more balanced. That means following a complete skincare routine with a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen, along with a few specialty treatments that will help you achieve your skin goals. 

Here are the factors you should consider when choosing the best skincare products for oily skin, category by category. 

Face wash for oily skin

Those with oily skin are often tempted to over-cleanser their skin or use very harsh, stripping cleansers, from the misconception that any oily on the surface of the skin is a problem, or that their skin is somehow “dirty”. 

In reality, while washing is useful for removing excessive oily buildup, overdoing it is very damaging. Over-cleansing can dehydrate and irritate your skin, leading to it feeling uncomfortably tight or raw, as well as increasing your risk of breakouts (or causing prolonged breakouts that don’t heal). 

How many times a day should I wash my face?

In reality, washing your face once a day in the evening is probably enough. When you’re feeling particularly oily, you can wash again in the morning but it’s not mandatory! 

Nowadays, there also are a lot of gentle cleansers on the market that are designed to cleanse thoroughly but without stripping the skin to the same extent. Any simple, gel-based cleanser that doesn’t foam up too much will likely suit your skin. We generally prefer affordable, fragrance-free cleansers from more clinical drugstore brands. 

If your skin is ready for a more proactive skincare routine, combining exfoliation and cleansing can go a long way toward smoothing your skin, addressing any flakiness, and helping to clear the pores. Our AHA cleanser is a gently foaming gel that removes oil thoroughly while also helping to dislodge rough, dead skin. Made with glycolic acid, lactic acid, aloe vera, and green tea, it leaves the skin clean, balanced, and soothed - never dehydrated. 

If your skin is acne prone, you might prefer using a cleanser with salicylic acid, which will do a better job of unclogging pores and cutting through oils.  

Moisturizer for oily skin

Keeping oily skin moisturized is essential for preventing dehydration and maintaining balance. When your skin is hydrated, its outer layer immediately becomes springier and smoother, which actually correlates with pores looking smaller! Plus, moisturized skin acts as a stronger barrier that’s more resistant to damage, infection, and inflammation - in other words, if you’re oily AND acne-prone, it’s a literal must.  

The key is to choose a light moisturizer that'll feel good on your skin and will include effective moisturizing ingredients. Look for humectants that’ll infuse the skin with moisture, and occlusives that’ll seal that moisture inside. 

Finally, a great moisturizer will also include beneficial ingredients that'll help balance your skin. One ingredient worth looking for is niacinamide, which is one of the stars in our Hydration Cream. In addition to reinforcing the skin barrier, niacinamide is able to regulate oil production and reduce pore size

Sensorially, gel moisturizers with silicones like dimethicone are also a great choice. Dimethicone seals water into the skin but it feels dry and smooth rather than oily, while the abundance of water hydrates the skin while feeling very light and easy-spreading. 

That said, if your skin is more severely dehydrated, it's worth also adopting a habit of moisturizing immediately after showers using a slightly more occlusive cream. 

Sunscreen for oily skin

Have we mentioned that sunscreen is important? Like, really, really important? There's literally no other skincare product that's as effective at keeping your skin looking young and healthy. 

If your skin is acne-prone, sun protection helps prevent the worsening of inflammation, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and post-acne redness. Oh, not to mention the essential fact that sunscreen prevents skin cancer and sunburn!

Unfortunately, finding sunscreen for oily skin can be tough since so many products can make the skin feel greasy, especially when you reapply or on hot days. The key is to find sunscreens with a very light, easy-to-spread texture and a matte or demi-matte finish. That way, they’ll protect you while still feeling good on your skin. 

To that end, we’re big fans of Asian sunscreens from brands like Bioré, Etude House, and SkinFood. Their formulas (especially the ones made with cyclopentasiloxane) blow us away with their super light texture and immense cosmetic elegance. There are also some reasonably-priced Western brands with mattifying sunscreens, like Eucerin and La Roche-Posay.  

Treatments and serums for oily skin

When it comes to addressing specific skin concerns, from wrinkle reduction to pore size, serums for oily skin are often best for the job. Serums have a light texture that penetrates well, and the best ones include active ingredients that can renew the skin and reverse a variety of concerns without feeling heavy or like you’re applying too many layers.

When in doubt, serums with retinoids are an excellent choice because they can address almost every single skin concern at once. They regulate skin cell behavior and encourage faster regeneration, so they can prevent, reverse, or fade a lot of the issues that often come with having oily skin. 

While retinol serums are most famous for their anti-aging effects, their ability to speed skin cell turnover also helps prevent clogged pores. Over time, they can improve skin texture and make pores look smaller. Retinol can also address dark marks caused by acne and may improve the texture of scars (although severe acne scarring usually requires clinical interventions like laser or microneedling). 

Vitamin C can be a useful add-on, as well. Its powerful antioxidant protection may help prevent the proliferation of bacteria, and it definitely helps amp up sunscreen and protect from discoloration or premature aging. 

If your skin is oily and acne-prone, you may also want to introduce anti-acne treatments in your routine, like benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, or salicylic acid. These ingredients usually come in the form of medicated creams, medicated cleansers, or spot treatments and are often classified as OTC medications. 

We know that combining active skincare treatments can get pretty complicated, so check out our guide to advanced skincare layering to learn more about how to combine these products effectively. 

Sample skincare routine for oily skin

Now that you have a basic idea of what to look for in the best skincare products for oily skin, here’s a quick example of how to combine it all in one skincare routine. 


  • Splash your skin with water, or cleanse when feeling extra oily.  
  • Apply a serum to address specific concerns - this is the perfect time for a vitamin C serum.  
  • Optionally, apply a thin layer of light moisturizer and let it sink in completely. 
  • Apply at least a ¼ teaspoon of mattifying sunscreen to the face and neck. 


  • Cleanse your skin with a light foaming cleanser, or use an exfoliating or medicated cleanser as needed. Leave your skin damp. 
  • Apply a treatment serum to address specific concerns - nighttime is ideal for retinoids and acne treatments. 
  • Finally, apply a light moisturizer.

How to stop your skin from getting oily throughout the day

Managing oily skin in the long term is all about finding balance. In severe cases, you can also speak to your doctor about medications that can reduce oil production, like oral isotretinoin.  

But if you want to stop your skin from becoming oily day to day, mattifying and oil-absorbing cosmetics are your best bet. 

Certain silicones, and especially cyclopentasiloxane, leave the skin with a powdery matte finish, almost like a makeup primer. 

If you’d rather keep your routine as simple as possible, a mattifying sunscreen with cyclopentasiloxane is the best choice. Sunscreens from Asian brands are often made with this silicone, resulting in an excellent oil-controlling formula. 

Other options for controlling oil include using mattifying primers (again, cyclopentasiloxane is your friend) and even translucent face powders (especially ones with SPF, which can reinforce your protection throughout the day). 

One option we don’t necessarily recommend is blotting sheets. They’re okay at night or if you’re indoors and away from windows. Research shows that these oil-absorbing papers, though effective at reducing sheen, will also take off layers of your sunscreen and compromise your protection.  

Embrace your natural glow 

Oily skin isn't something to be eradicated; just managed. For your skin to look and feel its best, you don’t need to force it into dryness. Instead, it’s all about finding balance by cleansing gently and keeping your skin lightly hydrated. 

With those basics covered, you can start to focus on your real skin goals, whether that means refining your skin texture, controlling acne breakouts, preventing signs of aging, or anything else! 

If you’re ready to start tackling real concerns, our SMOL collection makes it easy. It includes the Protocol Lab range of highly-active, gentle, and non-comedogenic skincare products, with oily skin-friendly ingredients like retinal (the most potent yet ultra-gentle cosmetic retinoid), our powerfully protective vitamin C serum, skin-clarifying AHA cleanser, and niacinamide-enriched hydration cream.

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