‘I’m a Dermatologist, and This Common Acne-Causing Skin-Care Mistake Makes Me Cringe’

Instagram and TikTok have made it increasingly difficult to resist the lure of the latest skin-care trend. Snail mucin? Sure. LED masks? Why not. But just because something is popular, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your skin—which is why derms are so often tasked with helping patients course-correct their routines after they've tried products that result in more harm than good. And the one misused trend that Elyse Love, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, says makes her cringe more than any other? When people with acne-prone skin slather on facial oil.

Experts In This Article

The domino effect that leads to acne starts with an overproduction of oil (known as sebum) in the skin. This can happen for a number of reasons: Your hormones stimulate sebaceous glands to create more oil, as can outside triggers like stress and environmental factors. When this sebum becomes trapped under dirt, grime, or dead skin cells, acne gets worse and pimples pop up.

Products that clog pores are known as comedogenic; and, you guessed it, facial oils fit the description. "Many [topical] oils have the potential to clog pores and cause breakouts," says Dr. Love. "So, using oils on acne-prone skin is akin to adding gas to a fire."

While some oils (like sunflower, mineral, safflower, and squalane) come with a lower pore-clogging risk than other, more comedogenic oils (like avocado and carrot seed oils), Dr. Love notes that there's still no good reason to layer them on acne-prone skin. So, instead of reaching for a facial oil to moisturize your visage, she suggests opting for oil-free hyaluronic acid serums and moisturizers. Her two favorite—Vichy Minéral 89 Face Serum ($20) and La Roche-Posay Double Repair ($20)–happen to be available at the drugstore, and will work to calm your breakouts instead of making things worse.

The only time it is dermatologist-sanctioned to use an oil product on oily skin is as the first step in your cleansing routine. Thanks to the principle of "like attracts like," cleansing oils can help remove some of the excess oil from your skin—and because you're washing the cleanser off, it doesn't come with the same risk of clogging your pores as the types of oils that are meant to be left on. "Just be sure to follow [your oil cleanser] up with a foaming cleanser to remove any excess product," says Dr. Love.

And the most important takeaway? Listening to your skin—and not the people on your social media feeds—is the best possible thing you can do for your routine.

For tips on how to deal with adult acne, check out the video below. 

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