Got oily, acne-prone skin? Then you’ve likely tried it all. And that could be the very problem: Instead of squashing flare-ups, too much washing and too many acne treatments can fuel more breakouts.
Enough already — give your skin a break! To bring back balance and get the clear, dewy-but-not-shiny look you’re aiming for, just follow these three skin-care commandments from bicoastal dermatologist Karyn Grossman, M.D. and makeup pro Rommy Najor.
1. Thou Shalt Not Treat Oil as the Enemy
“Oily-skinned people tend to wash their skin more than someone who has normal or dry skin,” says Dr. Grossman. After all, when you feel like a greaseball, going after oil with a vengeance seems like a smart game plan. So you pile on acne cleansers and alcohol-based toners, and soon you have breakouts and flaking — and a lot of confusion. Too much sudsing up and overuse of ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and alcohol can make your skin irritated AF. Even worse: “When you dry out the skin, you trigger more oil production,” Dr. Grossman explains. Which means — drumroll, please — more breakouts.
First, a little lesson in the skin’s sebum production: “It’s very much due to hormones and genetics,” Dr. Grossman says. In other words, your skin isn’t oily because your skin is dirty, and all the washing in the world won’t make it go away. To degrease without drying out your skin, use a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil DermaControl Oil-Control Foam Wash twice daily. Still have the urge to power-clean? Once a day, follow cleansing with an alcohol-free toner like Dickinson’s Hydrating Toner, which helps control oil with witch hazel. If your skin feels tight or dry after that, add a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid. “It hydrates skin — without adding oils,” Dr. Grossman says. One to try: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel.
2. Thou Shalt Go for a Shine-Free Foundation
A mid-day oil spill on your face? Consider that a thing of the past. A matte foundation formulated with silica “helps absorb oil throughout the day,” Najor explains. Layering on mattifying products can further keep shine at bay too. Start off with a primer like Rimmel London Stay Matte Primer on your T-zone (that’s your forehead, nose, and chin) and any other areas that get greasy during the day. Then smooth on a base like Rimmel Stay Matte Liquid Mousse Foundation, working from the center of your face — where you’d normally have the most discoloration — and moving outward with your fingers. Lastly, lock it in with a dusting of Rimmel Stay Matte Long Lasting Powder, particularly on the same areas you applied the primer.
One spot that’s best to skip powder? The high planes of your cheekbones. A little shine there is how makeup artists cheat model-like bone structure. And luckily enough, “women with oily skin tend to get really radiant with natural oils there,” Najor says. But that said, wherever your glow has turned into a hot mess, try M.A.C Blot Film to lift off grease and leave makeup intact.
3. Thou Shalt Not Overtreat Skin
A leave-on treatment can keep oil and acne under wraps. It’s especially essential to treating acne since zits brew for weeks below the skin’s surface before you see them. Luckily, a treatment derms have always loved — a vitamin-A derivative called a retinoid that was once available by Rx only — is finally over-the-counter. Look for Differin Gel online or at your drugstore. “Even if you don’t have acne, a retinoid can help keep pores from clogging,” Dr. Grossman says. Start by using this every other night, and if you see any dryness, layer on a hyaluronic acid moisturizer, like the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel.
Still, if you find that retinoids are too drying for you, try treating your acne with the other over-the-counter options, benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. “Benzoyl peroxide works really well, but it bleaches. I get a lot of complaints about white spots on sheets, pillowcases, towels, even school uniforms,” Dr. Grossman says. “For that reason, I’m not a huge benzoyl peroxide person.” Philosophy Clear Days Ahead, with salicylic acid, is a fabric-safe bet.
For skin that’s still feeling greasy, try a weekly clay mask like Fresh Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask. “Clay is great at absorbing oil,” Dr. Grossman explains. Whatever treatments you use though, always remember this rule of thumb: If your skin feels tight or dry, either the product is too strong or you’re using it too often, so ease up!