10 Best Exfoliators for Oily Skin That’ll Keep Excess Sebum At Bay

Brand courtesy / Paula's Choice
We may include products - handpicked by our editors - we find useful for our readers. When you buy through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission — view our product review process and sources of information.

Oily skin is the toughest to take care of, I know it even very well. Without proper care, the pores get clogged with oil, bacteria, and debris, making blackheads and pimples arise. This is where the best exfoliators for oily skin come to rescue you: due to their ability to dissolve dead cells and excess oil from the surface of the skin, they minimize the chances of pores getting congested. Regularly sloughing away buildup and bacteria is key in preventing blackheads and breakouts from occurring and you’re just about to find out which exfoliators should oily skin use for best-in-class results.

Types of exfoliators

There are three types of exfoliation that share the same goal: to eliminate dead cell buildup, unclog pores and regulate oil production. First, the traditional physical exfoliation method, aka scrubs and brushes, works with abrasive compounds through mechanical action, which is a less skin-friendly method, and not advised for easily reactive skin. Next, chemical exfoliators use acids — alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) — to dissolve grime and unclog pores while stimulating cell turnover. The last and gentlest is enzymatic exfoliation, which works with fruit enzymes to shed away dead cells and renew the skin.

What type of exfoliator is best for oily skin?

Oily skin has more sticky cells that don’t fall off easily, so the best exfoliator for oily skin is a chemical one containing actives that can penetrate the skin, such as salicylic and glycolic acids. However, between the two, salicylic acid is the gold-standard exfoliator for oily skin because it’s oil-soluble, so it can penetrate the fat layers and reach the pores to clear them out of debris, dead cells, and bacteria. Also, salicylic acid was found to regulate sebum production, which is something most people with oily skin want. Tea tree oil, witch hazel, and lemon oil also do wonders in exfoliators for oily skin as they have antibacterial and soothing benefits.

How often should I exfoliate oily skin?

I’ve already talked about how often you should exfoliate oily skin, but I’ll briefly repeat the basics. The general belief is that oily skin should exfoliate 2-3 times a week to expel pore-clogging elements. But this depends on the type of product you’re using, and how concentrated or abrasive is. You wouldn’t want to over-exfoliate since this can bring you the opposite effects — over-exfoliation can lead to irritations, a broken skin barrier, or stripping away too much moisture, leading to increased sebum production.

Best exfoliators for oily skin

Now that all your questions have been answered, scroll on to shop through the best face exfoliators for oily skin.

Paula's Choice Exfoliant for Oily Skin

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% Bha Liquid Exfoliant

There’s a reason Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant has raked in seventy thousand reviews — it really banishes excess sebum, enlarged pores, and pimples. Which is also why we (and everyone else) consider it one of the very best exfoliators for oily skin. The magic? Two percent of salicylic acid in a pH-optimized formula that allows it to work more effectively beneath the skin’s surface and remove the gunk that gets lodged inside the pores. And contrary to the expectations, it doesn’t dry out the skin, but feels pretty moisturizing and leaves the complexion smooth.

CeraVe SA Cleanser

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

This is the perfect introductory exfoliant for oily complexions, ideal if you’re nervous about using something stronger. While it dissolves makeup and pollution, the salicylic acid in the formula gets deep into the skin to unclog pores and eliminate bacteria. To not allow dehydration, CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser loads niacinamide, ceramides, and cholesterol, all of which contribute to more resilient skin. P.S: It also comes in an easy-to-use pump applicator, so you can easily dispense the cleanser without waste.

Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

Cosrx BHA 4% Blackhead Liquid Exfoliant

This liquid exfoliant also does a pretty good job balancing and clarifying oily skin thanks to 4% betaine salicylate, a much milder derivative of BHA that has equal benefits to 2% salicylic acid. Even more, the formula is made in a base of willow bark water, which further helps reduce sebum and shrink pores look; plus it increases hydration thanks to niacinamide and panthenol.

The Ordinary AHA Peeling Solution

The Ordinary AHA + BHA Peeling Solution

The Ordinary AHA + BHA Peeling Solution is my favorite exfoliant for oily skin, though it might be too strong for some. It combines a generous concentration of 30% AHAs (glycolic, lactic, tartaric, citric) with 2% salicylic acid, which are great at unclogging pores and speeding up cell turnover. Besides, hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 add moisture to the skin, helping minimize irritations and dryness. Since this is a potent product, you shouldn’t use it more often than twice a week.

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

This is a great exfoliator for oily skin prone to breakouts because it works in both deeper layers and on the surface to keep pores purified, sebum balanced, and skin soft, thanks to salicylic acid and fruit enzymes. More than that, the addition of colloidal oatmeal, allantoin, and green tea makes the formula as gentle as you can use it every day. In other words, it’s your daily solution against pollutants, debris, and bacteria.

best face exfoliator for oily skin

PCA Skin Pore Refining Treatment

Keep clogged pores and shine at bay with this exfoliator made with a trifecta of exfoliants. It combines mandelic acid to provide chemical exfoliation, papaya enzyme to slough off dead cells and debris on the skin’s surface, and rice powder and pumice, which give gentle manual exfoliation. On top of that, PCA Pore Refining Treatment includes a mix of clays to clear pores and draw impurities out, diminishing the chances of breakouts from appearing.

Murad Prebiotic MultiCleanser

Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

We love Murad products, and this exfoliating cleanser for oily skin is no exception. It gently polishes away the grime on the surface of the skin with jojoba beads, while salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acids help encourage cell turnover for softer skin. The cleanser performs excellently at removing makeup — even the most stubborn waterproof mascara, as one reviewer says — leaving skin clean and fresh instantly. Use it twice or thrice a week as an addition to your cleansing regimen, and you’ll forget about dull skin. 

Caudalie Exfoliator for Oily Skin

Caudalie Vinoperfect Face Exfoliator

Caudalie Vinoperfect Exfoliator works hard to sweep away dead skin and refine texture for an even complexion with a mix of glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids. This means it’s pretty powerful, so don’t use it more often than twice weekly — layer the exfoliating mask all over the face avoiding the eye area, rinse with lukewarm water after 10 minutes and watch the magic happen. As one of the best face exfoliators for oily, this product is non-comedogenic so it won’t ever congest your pores.

Some By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA Miracle Toner

Some By Mi Miracle Toner

A toner is ideal for those who want to take it easy and exfoliate the skin gently and gradually. Some By Mi Miracle Toner has a cult following for its exfoliating and brightening benefits; credit a mix of AHA, BHA, and PHA. The addition of a high concentration of green tea water gives this formula antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, while niacinamide, sodium hyaluronate, and plant extracts soothe and promote moisture. And it’ll definitely capture the debris left on your skin after cleansing.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

This mask is infused with 2% salicylic acid (maximum allowed in OTCs) plus phytic acid, so it does great at fighting dullness, unclogging pores, and dissolving dead skin, the reason it has gone viral. In plus, this weekly exfoliating mask includes kaolin which sops up excess oil, and squalane to moisturize and counteract dryness. It’s fragrance-free and has close to 3,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, so you should check it out asap.

Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter to get access to exclusive content, offers, and products.
Was this article helpful?
Awesome! Would you like to share it?
That's too bad. Thank you for your feedback!
More topics for you
Read more
What's new
Why trust us?
Women's Concepts relies on the latest scientific research to provide accurate, complete, and fact-based information in skincare, on which we're willing to stake our reputation. Our team includes skincare experts who are highly regarded in their fields and committed to upholding the best standards of research. We spend quality time vetting every single product we recommend and double-checking all the facts shared on Women's Concepts. We always stand on the side of inclusivity, and our mission is to help everyone fix their skin issues as they arise and leverage the products they buy to achieve their goals. You can view our expert review board and everything about our editorial guidelines here.
Women's Concepts Logo
Join Us