Cleansers for oily skin

The complete guide to cleansers for oily skin

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We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

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Think of your oily skin like a well-meaning friend who’s trying a little too hard to be helpful. It’s a good thing that our skin naturally produces oil (aka sebum), but sometimes it can overdo it! Some people are genetically prone to oilier skin, which may include larger pores in the T-zone area, while some people experience increased oiliness due to their hormones or, in some cases, their diet. Your skin might even get oilier due to warmer weather in the summer. In any case, choosing the right cleanser for your skin can be a big help in the oil control department — read on for our pro tips and product recommendations.

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Best face wash for oily skin

The cleanser by Curology Curology’s cleanser and moisturizer are designed to work well for all skin types, including oily! The cleanser helps maintain your skin’s natural moisture barrier, and the moisturizer locks in moisture while keeping your skin’s hydration levels balanced over time. They’re also great for sensitive, acne-prone skin, because they’re formulated with non-comedogenic ingredients and free of parabens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, or other common irritating ingredients.

We also recommend…

If you have another favorite cleanser that your skin likes, feel free to keep on using it!

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Best cleansers for acne-prone oily skin

Oily skin doesn’t necessarily cause acne, but it doesn’t exactly help, either. Excess oil (sebum) can get trapped in your pores, along with dead skin cells or dirt, leading to clogged pores and comedones — blackheads, whiteheads; you get the picture. Your typical anti-acne cleanser contains ingredients like salicylic acid (a BHA, or beta hydroxy acid), which helps keep pores clear and controls mild breakouts. But feel free to use any gentle, non-comedogenic cleanser that leaves your skin feeling refreshed and your pores looking squeaky-clean.

We recommend…

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Oil cleansers for oily skin

Yes, really. Counterintuitive though it may be, certain oil-based cleansers or cleansing balms can effectively cleanse oily skin of both makeup and excess oil. Whatever you do, just don’t use coconut oil to cleanse your face. Coconut oil is a notorious pore-clogger!

We recommend…

Closeup of a face with cream on it

What ingredients to look for and what ingredients to stay away from

Avoid using hand soaps (like SoftSoap), body washes, and harsh bar soaps (like Ivory, Dial, and Irish Spring) on your face. Avoid any cleanser with the pore-clogging ingredient sodium laureth sulfate, too.

Look for…

Benzoyl peroxide, AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), and BHA (beta hydroxy acid) Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid are a few ingredients found in skincare products you can buy over-the-counter that can help clear excess oil from your pores and reduce mild acne 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.

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.

Avoid…

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.

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 don’t use it on your face.

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 recommend checking even products labeled non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.

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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.

Check out our guide to using CosDNA.com to screen your products!

Micellar water: the oil- and makeup-removing cleanser alternative

Another good option for a quick-and-easy cleanse is micellar water, a skincare staple originating from French pharmacies that has become widely popular stateside. Micellar water is a quick, easy, gentle way to cleanse your face, remove makeup, or freshen up if your face feels oily. It’s a non-rinse, soap-free cleanser, made of tiny oil molecules called micelles suspended in soft water. Micellar water pulls dirt, excess sebum, and makeup out of your skin, all in one step! Simply dampen a cotton pad with the stuff and swipe it all over your face.

For oily skin, we recommend Bioderma Sébium H2O. If your skin is also sensitive, try Bioderma Sensibio H2O.

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Top it off with a custom formula, whatever your skin type

If a cleanser alone doesn’t seem to be enough to keep oiliness and acne at bay, it might be time to up the ante with a custom formula from Curology. If you haven’t given us a try already, sign up for a free trial (you just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling) today to get your very own custom acne-fighting cream! 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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