Oil cleansing for acne-prone skin

Take your skin on a hydration vacation

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Curology Team
Sep 17, 2019 · 5 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

You may have heard of fighting fire with fire, but what about fighting oil with oil? This is what it’s all about with the oil cleansing method (better known as OCM). The idea behind OCM is that oil dissolves oil, including the sebum in your pores. If you’re acne-prone, you might have been advised to only use oil-free cleansers, but what if we told you it doesn’t have to be that way?

Surprise! You can use oil on your face if you’re acne-prone

Yep, you heard right: certain oil cleansers are okay for acne-prone skin! Counterintuitive as it sounds, certain oils are super-effective at cleansing your skin of both makeup and excess oil without stripping, drying, or irritating. Especially if your skin tends to be dry.

Oil-based cleansers include not just straight-up oil but cleansing balms and oil-based cleansing creams, all of which can leave the skin looking and feeling more hydrated than traditional cleansers do. We’d recommend cleansing oils and balms for those with drier skin to lock in that extra hydration, but it can work for even oily skin types (depending on the ingredients).

Whatever you do, just don’t use coconut oil to cleanse your face. Coconut oil is a notorious pore-clogger!

Oil cleansers we recommend

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What kind of ingredients to look for and what ingredients to stay away from?

Look for…

AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid). Glycolic acid and salicylic acid are found in skincare products you can buy over-the-counter that might help with mild breakouts. These can be irritating to sensitive skin, however, so start with one ingredient at a time, and use it 2–3 times per week at first. This way, you can see if your skin tolerates the first ingredient without dryness or irritation.

Zinc. Zinc pyrithione is a mineral-based antimicrobial that restores balance and blocks messy bacteria and fungi from multiplying. Zinc soap may also be helpful for those who suffer from fungal acne — especially if you sweat a lot or live in a hot, humid climate. We especially recommend trying zinc soap to get rid of body acne, but it may help with your face, too! (Some zinc soaps contain pore-clogging ingredients like coconut oil, so be sure to check the label.)

Niacinamide. Niacinamide is an antioxidant derived from vitamin B3 that fights acne while keeping inflammation and dark spots at bay. A cleanser with niacinamide in it, such as CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, can work well for normal to oily skin.


Alcohol. Alcohol is unfortunately used in a lot of skincare products, even though it dries out the skin and can damage its protective barrier! Watch out for alcohol (usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.”) on the ingredients list of your products, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it. However, some products have alcohol at the end of the ingredients list, likely meaning there’s not too much of it — in that case, it may not irritate the skin as much. But it’s best to avoid it whenever possible.

Bar soaps, hand soap, or body washes. Stick to cleansers that are designed for your face — body soaps and those basic bar soaps are too harsh for the skin on your face.

Isopropyl myristate, sodium laureth sulfate, myristyl myristate, and laureth-4.You’ll want to look at the ingredients list, because these pore-clogging ingredients are actually used in some so-called acne products!

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). SLS can often dry out the skin, and some people find it may lead to more acne when their skin is in frequent contact with SLS. Many people can tolerate SLS in body washes, though — just avoid using it on your face if you tend to break out.

Products not labeled with terms “non-comedogenic,” “non-acnegenic,” “does not clog pores,” or “won’t cause breakouts.” The label “non-comedogenic” (or similar) indicates that the product has been designed with acne-prone people in mind. It’s no guarantee of safety, but it can be a useful guideline! We still recommend checking products labeled non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.

How to check if any cleanser has pore-clogging or skin-irritating ingredients

CosDNA.com is such a valuable (free!) tool — it’s a must-have for your Bookmarks. We recommend using CosDNA.com to research your skincare products (including body washes and lotions) in their product database. Pull up and run the ingredient list through the “Analyze Cosmetics” section of their website. Once you click “Analyze”, look in the “acne” column — if there are any 3’s, 4’s, or 5’s, consider stopping using that product. Of course, these ratings are a guide; your (sk)individual reaction may vary.

Read more: How to use CosDNA.com to screen your skincare products

When in doubt, custom skincare is what it’s about

If a cleanser alone doesn’t seem to be enough for your acne-prone skin, it might be time to add on a custom formula of prescription ingredients with Curology. If you haven’t given us a try already, sign up for a free trial today and pay just $4.95 to cover the cost of shipping and handling on your first bottle of custom acne-fighting cream, plus a non-comedogenic cleanser and moisturizer paired with it if you wish! Just apply it at night, after cleansing your face, and let it do the work while you get some beauty sleep.

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