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Manage Your Oily Skin and Fight Acne

Oily skin can lead to acne flare-ups. Learn what the experts recommend to manage oily skin and fight acne.

Oils produced by the body help keep skin healthy. But too much of a good thing can leave your face looking oily, which no one wants. Excess oil can also lead to blemishes and acne flare-ups. “Fortunately, there are definitely plenty of ways to cut down on oiliness,” says Andrea Cambio, MD, medical director of Cambio Dermatology in Cape Coral, Fla. Options range from over-the-counter cleansers to prescription lotions and cosmetic treatments. WebMD interviewed dermatologists from around the country to find out how they advise patients with oily skin. Here’s what they recommend.

Cleansers

Cleansing your face in the morning and at night is the single most effective way to manage oily skin, dermatologists agree. “Always use a gentle cleanser, since harsh soaps can trigger the skin to increase oil production,” says April Armstrong, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California, Davis.” Also, gently wash your face using your hands; a washcloth or buff puff can actually stimulate more oil secretion.

If a basic facial cleanser doesn’t do the trick, try a product that includes an acid such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or beta-hydroxy acid.  Acids help cut oiliness.  “Many products containing these acids are marketed as acne facial care products. They’re great for people with acne, but they’re also fine for people whose problem is just oily skin,” Armstrong tells WebMD.  “Since some of these ingredients can be irritating, buy a small size to see how your skin responds. People often have to try several products before they find the one that works best for them.” When washing your face, use warm water, not hot. Extremes of temperature can also irritate skin.

Toners

Some people love the feeling of splashing on a skin toner, which can help further reduce oiliness. As with cleansers, products that contain salicylic acid or other acidic ingredients are most effective at removing oils. But dermatologists are divided on whether to recommend them to everyone. “I’m not a big fan of astringent toners because they tend to irritate the skin and can lead to more oil production,” says Cambio. “Still, if people like using them, I recommend applying toners only on oily areas of the skin, such as the forehead, nose, and chin. Avoid using them on areas that tend to be dry or you’re likely to create dry patches on your skin.”

That’s worth remembering for all your skin care regimens. “There’s a myth that some people have dry skin, some people have oily skin. In fact, most people have combination skin, oily in some places, dry in others,” says Ellen Marmur, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and author of Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman’s Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin.

Medicated Pads

Another option is medicated pads with salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or other oil-cutting acid ingredients. “Medicated pads are a favorite among my patients with oily skin,” says Marmur. “You can carry them in your purse and use them on the run to freshen up your skin and remove excess oil.”  

Blotting Paper

Cosmetic blotting papers offer a great option for removing oil because they don’t dry out your skin.  “Patients with oily skin really love blotting paper, because it’s convenient and easy to use,” says Armstrong. Apply to oily areas, such as forehead, nose, and chin. Don’t scrub your skin with the sheet of blotting paper. Instead, simply press it against the oily area long enough to allow it to absorb oil, usually 15 to 20 seconds.  Some blotting papers are lightly powdered, which further reduces shine.  

Masks and Clays

Applying masks and clays to the skin helps draw out oils and cleanses pores. But like cleansers and toners, masks can also dry out the skin. “My advice is to apply them only to problem areas,” says Rebecca Kazin, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute and director of Johns Hopkins Cosmetic Center. “And use them only occasionally.” Masks and clays are great when people are getting ready for a big event, Kazin told WebMD -- a wedding, a birthday dinner, a big presentation.  

Moisturizers

“People who have oily skin often steer clear of moisturizers, worrying that they’ll make their skin look even shinier,” says Kazin. That’s a bad idea. “Even oily skin needs to be moisturized to look its best,” says Kazin. To avoid an oily sheen, choose an oil-free moisturizer. Vary the amount you apply depending on whether the area tends to be dry or oily.  

Oil-free Sunscreen

“Traditional sunscreens can pose a problem for people with oily skin, since they tend to go on pretty thick and can block pores,” says Armstrong. Even so, protecting skin from ultraviolet radiation is absolutely essential. Sunscreen gels are less likely than creams and lotions to make your skin look oily. And there are a variety of new oil-free products have been developed for oily skin. The latest innovation: facial powders laced with SPF protection. Some of the newest products offer SPF 30 protection, enough to ward off sun damage in most situations.  

Adapt Your Facial Regimen

How oily your skin looks can vary season by season, week by week, even day by day. “Oil production is influenced by hormones, by mood, even by the weather,” says Cambio. “Some people have problems with oily skin only in the summer, when they’re sweating, for example, but not in the winter.” To keep your skin healthy and looking great, it’s important to be aware of how your skin varies so that you can adjust your regimen accordingly. “You may need cleanser with glycolic acid or beta-hydroxy acid every day during the summer but only now and then during the winter,” says Kazin. “That’s important to know, since overusing these products can cause skin to dry out.”  

Talk to Your Dermatologist

If over-the-counter products aren’t enough to help you manage oily skin, talk to your dermatologist. Lasers and chemical peels can help reduce oiliness and improve the overall look of your skin. Creams laced with tretinoin, adapalene, or tazarotene can also help by altering pores and reducing oiliness. “Since these products can be irritating, it’s best to use only on oily areas and only as often as you really need it,” says Kazin.  

It’s worth remembering, too, that oil production is a normal part of healthy skin. “People with naturally oily skin tend to have fewer wrinkles and healthier looking skin,” says Marmur. So don’t go overboard in your efforts. Remove excess oiliness when you need to look your best. But be careful to preserve your skin’s natural antiaging mechanism.  

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