9 Skincare Actives You Should Look For If You Have Oily Skin

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Oily skin can be both a blessing and a curse. While sebum keeps skin moist, helping prevent early wrinkles, and contains vitamin E, which fights free radicals, excess sebum often clogs pores, leading to blackheads, breakouts, and sometimes large pores.[1] The key is to learn how to balance sebum and keep skin clear of dead cell buildup that may block the pores, and this post will teach you just that. Adding the best skincare ingredients for oily skin to your routine will help you keep sebum balanced without over-drying your skin. Ironically, if the skin gets dry, the sebaceous glands start to secrete more sebum in an attempt to replenish the loss, leading to even more sebum. This means the trick is to choose the best skincare ingredients for oily skin to balance it instead of getting rid of the oil altogether.

What causes oily skin

Oily skin is the result of the overproduction of sebum, which can be inherited, or due to hormonal imbalances, exercise, diet, excessive dryness, or environmental factors.[2]

The best ingredients for oily skin

Luckily we came up with the most thoroughly researched skincare ingredients for oily skin to help you control that oil once and forever.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that works by sinking into the skin, where it lifts dirt that clogs pores. Additionally, salicylic acid exfoliates the outer skin’s layer, sopping up oil, and shedding dead cell buildup, while also decreasing redness and swelling due to its anti-inflammatory benefits.[3] Use a salicylic acid serum to banish excess oil, and twice a week, apply salicylic acid peels. And if you can’t tolerate this BHA, you can always count on these salicylic acid alternatives.


This vitamin A derivative is often used in anti-aging products to tackle hyperpigmentation and wrinkles, but it is just as effective for oily skin too. In fact, retinol is one of the best ingredients for oily skin because it facilitates cell turnover, which in turn decreases sebum production and unclogs pores. Add that to the fact that it spurs collagen growth, and you’ve got the right recipe for smoother skin and less visible pores — large pores are often a concern of folks with oily skin.[4]

More than that, due to its ability to spur collagen growth, retinol helps resurface and diminish the look of post-acne marks that people with oily skin (myself included) usually struggle with. So, do your skin a favor and add a retinol serum to your nighttime routine. Just one thing: people with sensitive skin can experience redness and irritations after retinol. so it’s best to apply a moisturizer after using retinol to reduce the risks.

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that attracts water molecules from the environment into your skin, bursting hydration without feeling heavy or blocking pores. Hyaluronic acid is excellent for oily skin because it helps regulate sebum production by keeping skin hydrated. We bet you’ll love these hyaluronic acid serums to keep your oily skin balanced and plump.

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is a member of the alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) family that works by exfoliating the outer layer of the skin, helping get rid of dead skin, excess oil, and gunk and preventing the buildup that ultimately leads to blackheads and pimples. Glycolic acid is also excellent for maintaining proper moisture levels and has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a go-to for inflamed pustules.[5]


Niacinamide is among the best ingredients for oily skin because it strengthens the protective barrier by helping induce collagen production — a weakened barrier can be a cause of excess oil. Besides, niacinamide regulates sebum. According to a study, a product infused with 2% niacinamide significantly reduced sebum production after two weeks of daily use.[6] We recommend these niacinamide serums to fight excess oil.


Applying a clay mask once in a while is nothing but a one-way ticket to a balanced complexion. Clay is one of the most hailed ingredients for oily skin thanks to its ability to draw excess oil from pores and reduce shine. Think of it as a magnet that deeply cleanses and draws out pore-clogging elements, impurities, and debris from the skin’s surface.


Activated charcoal is often used in skincare products that target clogged pores, excess sebum, and breakouts. It’s one of the best ingredients for oily skin because it soaks up sebum, removes toxins, minimizes acne, and shrinks the pores’ look. Its drying effects are also great for reducing shine, plus it has exfoliating and antibacterial benefits. Starting with a charcoal cleanser brings you one step closer to a shine-free look.


Squalane is another great ingredient for oily skin because it mimics our skin’s natural sebum, helping to control excess oil production. When you apply squalane, the skin will recognize it as the naturally occurring sebum and, consequently, produce less on its own. Plus, squalane is lightweight and non-comedogenic, so it won’t ever clog your pores.

Grapeseed oil

Naturally obtained from pressed seeds of grapes, grapeseed oil is one of the very best ingredients for oily skin. You might be thinking about how safe it is for your already oily skin, but this oil is absolutely safe. It’s lightweight, non-comedogenic — so it won’t ever clog your pores — and absorbs quickly without feeling greasy. Besides, grapeseed oil contains certain anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that effectively tackle breakouts and other concerns associated with oily skin. Grapeseed oil also forms a protective veil on the outer skin layer which preserves moisture, so fewer chances for your sebaceous glands to secrete excess sebum.

The takeaway

In the end, having oily skin is not bad at all. You just have to find the proper products to add to your arsenal and the list above is perfect to get some inspiration about what a proper routine for oily skin should include.


Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

  1. Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage S, Thiele J. DieTalgdrüse als Transporter für Vitamin E [Sebaceous glands as transporters of vitamin E]. Hautarzt. 2006 Apr, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16477469/
  2. Lim S, Shin J, Cho Y, Kim KP. Dietary Patterns Associated with Sebum Content, Skin Hydration and pH, and Their Sex-Dependent Differences in Healthy Korean Adults. Nutrients. 2019 Mar, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6471406/
  3. Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 Aug 26, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4554394/
  4. Endly DC, Miller RA. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017 Aug;10(8):49-55. Epub 2017 Aug 1, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605215/
  5. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. 2018 Apr 10, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017965/
  6. Draelos ZD, Matsubara A, Smiles K. The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2006 Jun, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16766489/
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder and editor-in-chief of Women's Concepts. She has over 5 years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and dermatological research and was an acne sufferer for over a decade. Ana is now an IAO and CPD-accredited skincare consultant keen to teach others about the importance of a consistent routine. She covers a wide range of topics in skincare—from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences from the National School of Political and Administrative Studies. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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