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Ask A Licensed Esthetician: Are Facial Oils Good for Oily Skin?

Your oily skin actually needs more oil. Here's why.
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If you deal with oily or acne-prone skin, the mere thought of applying more oil probably makes you want to instantly click out of this article. But before you do, hear me out—face oils can actually help regulate oil production and fight acne. The problem is finding the right oil that won’t clog pores or make breakouts worse, which, unfortunately, might be difficult given that most are notorious for doing so. To shed some light on this, I’m going to break down everything about using facial oils on oily skin without making your complexion even more oily.

What are face oils and how are they different from serums?

Let’s go back to basics for a bit.

Oils and serums are both products that nourish and improve the appearance of the skin, but they have some key differences, the biggest one being their base. Serums are water-based products formulated with a blend of one or more ingredients, while face oils are oil-based and extracted from plants and other natural compounds.

Serums often contain a blend of active ingredients to target specific skin concerns, such as fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and acne. They can contain powerful ingredients such as vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, or retinol. Serums are generally lighter and more easily absorbed than oils and are typically used in combination with a moisturizer to lock in their active ingredients and provide hydration.

Oils, on the other hand, are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and fatty acids and soothe, hydrate, and protect the skin rather than treat it. They also help to replenish the skin’s natural oils and improve its texture and elasticity. They can be used alone or in combination with other oils, mixed in with your moisturizer, or on their own.

Is it ok to use face oils if you have oily skin prone to breakouts?

Absolutely! While applying facial oils to oily skin may seem counterintuitive, there are some good reasons to do it so. 

Facial oils are more nourishing and moisturizing than serums or other types of products due to their content of fatty acids, which are emollients. Most of them are great at soothing and softening the skin, calming redness, and providing a burst of hydration that anyone’s skin would benefit from.

Better than that, some oils can actually help regulate oil production, like squalane and jojoba oil, by mimicking the natural sebum in your skin. Others have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that work great on acne-prone skin. Also, unlike most synthetic products, facial oils are typically free from harsh chemicals, preservatives, and artificial fragrances, which makes them ideal for natural skincare lovers.

However, oils also have a reputation for congesting the pores and causing blackheads, which is why most people with oily skin avoid them.

But the secret to using them without making your oily skin greasier or worsening acne is to rely on only those that are non-comedogenic (that won’t clog your pores), lightweight, and not sticky. A bonus would be to use facial oils that have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties to help fight against acne-causing bacteria. I’ll go back to this later, where I’ll share some of the best face oils for oily skin prone to breakouts.

What about cleansing oils?

Cleansing oils are definitely something your oily skin would love. There’s this theory based on the principle of “like dissolves like” that adds weight to the idea of using oil to break down and dissolve the oil trapped in your skin, and these types of cleansers are the perfect weapon to do that.

Cleansing oils are able to break down and dissolve impurities, such as makeup and sebum, which can be difficult to remove with traditional water-based cleansers. When applied to the skin, the oil in the formula binds to the impurities accumulated on the surface. As the oil is massaged into the skin, it emulsifies and turns into a milky texture when combined with water. This allows the sebum to be easily rinsed away, along with the impurities, leaving the skin feeling clean and balanced.

Oil cleansers are typically used as the first step in a double-cleansing routine, followed by a water-based cleanser to remove the oil and any remaining impurities. They’re ideal for oily skin (as long as the formula is made for it) because they remove sebum more thoroughly than other products. This can help a lot in reducing sebaceous filaments, blackheads, and a greasy appearance.

What are the best face oils for oily skin and acne?

Lightweight and non-comedogenic face oils like jojoba, squalane, rosehip, and bakuchiol are the best choices for oily skin.

These are what I like to call dry oils—that is, oils with a much lighter and drier feel that doesn’t leave the skin looking shiny and greasy. Non-comedogenic simply means that it won’t clog pores, so they don’t cause acne, blackheads, or whiteheads or contribute to excess sebum.

Here are the best face oils for oily and acne-prone skin:

  • Jojoba oil: It’s lightweight, non-greasy, and has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe acne-prone skin without weighing it down. It also reduces oil production because it’s similar to your body’s natural sebum.
  • Grapeseed oil: Grapeseed oil is high in linoleic acid, which is a fatty acid that hydrates and protects the skin’s barrier. Also, linoleic acid makes the sebum secreted by the sebaceous glands more liquid and soft so that it can be cleared more easily from the follicles.
  • Rosehip oil: It’s rich in linoleic acid and vitamin A, which are both great for oily complexions since they regulate sebum and reduce the chances of pore clogging. Rosehip oil is also rich in antioxidants and can promote a more even tone and reduce the appearance of acne scars. Its lightweight texture absorbs quickly and does not leave oily and sticky residues.
  • Squalane oil: It’s a lightweight and non-comedogenic oil derived from squalene, a natural component of human sebum. Squalane has a smaller molecular size than other oils, which makes it easier to penetrate the skin without clogging pores or feeling heavy. It’s often used in skincare products due to its ability to mimic the skin’s natural sebum and increase moisture.
  • Geranium oil: Regulates sebum production, which is why it’s one of the best choices for oily, congested skin.
  • Sunflower oil: Contains the highest amount of linoleic acid. It’s also light and absorbs well into the skin without leaving residues.
  • Bakuchiol oil: It’s a plant-based alternative to retinol known for its anti-aging and anti-acne benefits. It increases cellular turnover, meaning it removes the buildup of bacteria and dead cells trapped in pores that can lead to blackheads.
  • Hempseed oil: Contains a lot of omega fatty acids (so it reduces skin oiliness) and provides hydration without blocking the pores.
  • Tea tree oil: People with oily skin prone to acne and redness love tea tree oil due to its antibacterial, anti-swelling, and soothing properties. Its quick and dry absorption won’t make your complexion greasy. Instead, it reduces shine and purifies the skin by shrinking pores and soaking up excess sebum.

Oils to avoid if you have oily skin

It’s simple: avoid face oils that are comedogenic and feel heavy and greasy on the skin. Generally speaking, the thicker the oil, the more you should avoid applying it on the face if you have oily skin or acne.

Comedogenic is a word that gets thrown around a lot in skincare and the definition of what actually makes an ingredient comedogenic is often up for debate. However, there is a general consensus on certain oils known to be the worst offenders to avoid if you have oily skin:

  • Coconut oil
  • Mineral oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Cocoa butter
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Carrot seed oil
  • Chia seed oil 
  • Marula oil
  • Olive oil

Remember that everyone’s skin is different, and just because an oil is labeled as comedogenic doesn’t mean that you have to entirely avoid products containing it. Concentration matters as well—the lower on the ingredient list an oil is, the less likely it is to clog the pores. Here’s a list of all comedogenic ingredients you need to avoid if you have oily skin.

How to use face oils on oily skin

  • Choose the right oil: Look for a lightweight, non-comedogenic oil such as jojoba, grapeseed, rosehip, or squalane.
  • Do a patch test: Before going all in, do a patch test before applying the oil all over your face to see how your skin responds.
  • Use sparingly: Start with just a few drops of oil and gradually increase as needed. Using too much can make already oily skin look and feel even more oily.
  • Start at night: If you’re worried about looking too greasy during the day, try using the face oil before bedtime. Our skin does most of its regeneration as we sleep, so a face oil can go a long way to nourishing your complexion overnight.
  • Apply it after your serum/moisturizer: In general, you should layer skincare products from thinnest to thickest consistency, which means that your oil should be the last step in your routine, whether you use it alone or mixed with your moisturizer. If you use face oil in the morning, let it absorb for a few minutes before applying sunscreen.
  • Be patient: While oils can be beneficial to the skin, they won’t work overnight, and it may take a while for your skin to adjust to using face oil. Be patient; give it a few weeks to see if it works.
Who wrote this?
Picture of Rebecca Byrne
Rebecca Byrne
Rebecca Byrne is a licensed master cosmetologist who has held her license since 2015. She has worked in several areas of the beauty and skincare industry, where she consulted one-on-one with clients and treated different skin conditions. Rebecca now writes beauty and cosmetology content to help others achieve their best selves and make them feel better in their own skin.
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