Though washing away all that dirt and debris is critical for keeping your skin clear, you'll want to be sure you're using the right product. If you aren't using one of the best face washes for oily skin, you run the risk of either using a formula that's not strong enough to get off all the gunk, or one that's too strong, and strips your skin.
To help you make the best choice for your complexion, we tapped a group of derms to share their intel. Keep scrolling for what they had to say.
Best drugstore face washes for oily skin
“For those with acne or oily skin who cannot tolerate a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid cleanser, I recommend the CeraVe Foaming Cleanser, which is a great option to help eliminate excess oil without drying the skin out or leaving the skin feeling irritated,” says Dr. Garshick. “This cleanser also contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to help restore the skin barrier and hydrate the skin.”
“This classic salicylic acid 2 perent oil-free acne wash uses MicroClear Technology to improve delivery of the active ingredients to help reduce blackheads and breakouts,” says Dr. Garshick. “This oil-free formula won’t clog the pores and can be used once or twice daily and is safe for use on the face and body.”
“For those who prefer a bar, I recommend this bar from Dove as this bar effectively cleanses and washes away dirt, without drying out the skin as it helps to replenish moisture lost, unlike ordinary soaps which can strip the skin of its natural oils,” says Dr. Garshick. “This makes it a great multipurpose option as it can be used for the face, body and hands. It is formulated with 1/4 moisturizing cream which helps to leave the skin feeling soft and nourished. It is easy to use and can be used by all skin types. Additionally, it is non-comedogenic and won’t clog pores, and has been clinically-proven to work in those with acne-prone skin.”
“This gentle cream-to-lather cleanser uses salicylic acid to help clean out pores and reduce breakouts and oil without drying out the skin,” says Dr. Garshick. “This is a good option for someone who is oily and acne-prone, but also has sensitive skin.”
“This foaming cleanser works to effectively reduce oil, but also contains ceramides as well as niacinamide to support the skin barrier, minimizing the potential for dryness or irritation,” says Dr. Garshick. “It can be used once or twice daily.”
Designed for all skin types, this budget-friendly, foaming cleanser is comedogenic and non-drying. It’s a popular dermatologist favorite, says Melanie Palm, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Art of Skin MD, because it contains a salicylic acid for gentle exfoliation, combined with ceramides and niacinamide to prevent irritation and stripping the skin.
Best face washes for oily skin
Dr. Garshick is a fan of this dermatologist-designed cleanser, which contains multiple variations of oil-reducing clay. “This cleanser contains different types of clay including kaolin, bentonite and green clay, which help to absorb excess oil without drying out the skin,” she says. “It also incorporates menthol, sage, and cucumber which are soothing on the skin.”
This foamy cleanser is made with two derm-favorite ingredients for oily skin: glycolic acid and salicylic acid. The two work together to deliver a one-two punch of exfoliation, whisking dead skin cells from the surface of your complexion while clearing pores from way down deep.
Designed to whisk away oil while also strengthening your complexion, this foaming cleanser is made with skin-similar lipids to help fortify your skin barrier. It’s also got hydrating hyaluronic acid and calming aloe leaf gel on its ingredients list, which is why it’s landed a spot as one of Dr. Shirazi’s favorites for oily skin.
“This cleanser is formulated with clay that draws out impurities, reduce excess oil and unclog pores, leaving a clean, balanced complexion,” says Dr. Shirazi. It’s also made with glycerin, which aids in hydration and keeps the skin from drying out as you cleanse.
“This cleanser uses a combination of Japanese leopard lily, wild rose, and luffa fruit to help cleanse the skin, minimize oil production while also eliminating dead skin cells, leaving the skin looking brighter and refreshed,” says Dr. Garshick. “This is oil-free and non-comedogenic so it won’t clog the pores.”
With an 8 percent concentration of glycolic acid, this gel-textured cleanser stimulates cellular turnover and prevents clogged pores. And what’s more? With such powerful exfoliating properties, it will make your skin look brighter overall.
Why it's important to choose the right face wash for oily skin
Oily skin is characterized by an overproduction of sebum, which happens as a result of a few different factors. The environment, your stress levels, and your hormones can all play a role in how much oil your body is producing on a given day, and if you don't effectively get rid of it you're creating an optimal environment for breakouts. "Oils can trap dead skin cells, debris, and particles on the skin so it’s really important to cleanse properly," says Azedah Shirazi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist.
Here's the catch, though: While you want a cleanser that's strong enough to whisk away oil, you don't want one that's so harsh that it'll strip your skin. When that happens, your skin will start to produce more oil to try and make up the difference, which leaves you with more problems than you started with.
"Too-harsh cleansers have the potential to remove too much natural oil from your skin," says Dr. Shirazi. "If your skin dries out then your oil glands go into overdrive and start to over produce natural oils to try and combat the dryness. This can cause disruption in your skin’s natural microbiome and lead to a compromised skin barrier and breakouts. So it’s best to avoid over-stripping the skin by over-cleansing."
Ingredients to look for in a cleanser for oily skin
Niacinamide is one of those multipurpose ingredients that can seemingly do everything. A daily dose of the stuff will help fend off free radical damage, improve breakouts, fight dark spots, reduce fine lines, decrease redness, and improve skin elasticity. And in the case of oily skin, it can be particularly helpful for regulating oil production and reducing inflammation, says Dr. Shiraz.
"Some clay-based cleansers can be used by those with oily skin as the clay works to absorb excess oil," says Dr. Garshick. Just keep in mind that, though this ingredient is effective, it is also very drying, so you'll want to follow it up with a solid moisturizer to ensure your skin stays properly hydrated.
3. Glycolic acid
Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid that breaks the bonds holding dead skin cells to the surface of your complexion, effectively melting them away. According to Dr. Shirazi, it can be useful for helping to hydrate skin, and removing these dead skin cells will help prevent the oil build-ups that lead to acne.
4. Salicylic acid
"Salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that is oil-soluble, is a great option for those with oily skin as it penetrates deep into the skin, helping to unclog the pores and reduce oil," says Dr. Garshick. The ingredient is known for its ability to crystalize into a teeny, tiny form, allowing it to get way down into the surface of your skin and clear away gunk from the inside out. "Salicylic acid washes contain the beta hydroxy acid that is follicular tropic, meaning it is able to get down the hair follicle where the sebum emanates from," adds Dr. Palm.
5. Benzoyl peroxide
If your oily skin is prone to breaking out, benzoyl peroxide can help. It acts as an anti-bacterial to clear away the propionibacterium acnes (or p.acnes for short) that are responsible for causing zits.
6. Hydrating ingredients
Because oil-reducing ingredients are drying by nature, you'll want to choose a cleanser that's also got hydrators in its formula in order to avoid stripping your skin. Michele Farber, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York, recommends looking for something made with ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid, which will help protect your skin barrier.
The best type of cleanser for oily skin
Cleansers come in all shapes and sizes—gels, foams, oils, etc.—but not all are created equally when it comes to treating oily skin. "A gentle foaming cleanser is your best option for oily skin," says Dr. Farber. "Foaming cleansers work better than creamier cleansers to remove dirt without drying the skin." That's because they tend to have higher levels of surfactants or cleaning agents in them.
Because of this, gel cleansers can be overly drying, even for those with oily complexions. If you have very oily skin or don't feel like a foam cleanser is quite getting the job done, double cleansing is always an option. "Double cleansing helps if you have very oily skin and find it hard to remove all the excess oil, debris, and makeup or if a stronger single cleanse leaves your oily skin feeling tight and dry," says Dr. Shirazi. "It's definitely better to use two gentle cleansers than one harsh cleanser that dries out your skin."
If you have oily skin, you should also avoid any product that is not labeled as non-comedogenic, which denotes products that will not clog pores or cause acne, says Dr. Palm. Another thing to avoid: ingredients that are heavy moisturizers, which may be problematic for oil-prone skin and lead to oily or scan or possible breakouts.
Most importantly, though? "While it may be tempting, if you have oily skin, avoid using harsh soaps or abrasive scrubs to eliminate oil as these can be too irritating on the skin," says Dr. Garshick. "Certain soaps and scrubs while seemingly cleaning the skin can disrupt the skin barrier and lead to increased sensitivity and irritation, leaving the skin looking red and inflamed."
The biggest mistakes people make when cleansing oily skin
You might think that the best way to get rid of oil on your skin is to wash, wash, wash your face, but according to Dr. Garshick, that can actually do more harm than good. "Those with oily skin often think their problem is not washing their face enough, and while to an extent this may be true if it’s not part of a daily routine, it is important to avoid over-cleansing or washing too frequently as this can dry the skin out and lead to irritation," says Dr. Garshick.
While gentle exfoliating properties in your face wash can help manage oily skin, you also don't want to over-exfoliate, says Dr. Palm. "Using harsh washes can strip your skin and compromise a healthy skin barrier, which can lead to additional skin problems," she says.
Another thing that can lead to irritation? Using too many products. "Using harsh physical exfoliants or overdoing it with chemical exfoliants can cause significant irritation," says Dr. Farber."People often tend to use too many drying ingredients together in hopes of controlling oil, but it’ll strip the skin if you use a harsher cleanser along with toner or astringent."
Finally, it's important to follow up your cleansing step with a proper moisturizer. As you now know, oily skin (and all skin for that matter) moisture in order to function properly, so be sure to slather on some hydrating ingredients as the last step in your morning and evening routines.
Dealing with a complexion that's oily *and* dry? Check out the video below for your complete guide to treating combination skin.
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