I’ve always thought of my oily skin as the enemy in a never-ending battle. It starts when I wake up every morning wondering if a new zit has emerged. I dread afternoon trips to the bathroom because I don’t want to see the oil-induced mess my makeup has become. Before bed I go on the offensive, hitting excess oil with every skin-care product in my arsenal. If you’re anything like me, this dermatological war of attrition might sound familiar. But I’ve decided to call a truce. I’m going to blow your freaking mind here. What if—WHAT IF!—you just let your skin be. Instead of attacking and fighting oil production or breakouts, just aim for healthy, balanced skin.
“The truth is the oils are there for a reason: to guard the skin against the elements [and] keep it supple,” says Ole Henriksen, the man behind the eponymous skin-care brand. His approach? Embrace your oil. Use it to your advantage. He says it creates “a beautiful glow to the skin,” as long as you maintain the right amount of oil. It’s a total mental shift from how most people view oil-prone skin (or at least how I did for my own). Most times the first instinct is to strip away all the oil, but too many astringent products isn’t the way to go. “Using anything that’s too stripping just makes [skin] really irritated and dry,” explains RealSelf dermatologist Michele Green, M.D. “You’re making it worse. Now you have really dry skin and before you had oily skin.”
And it turns out that having overactive oil glands isn’t all bad. “[People with oily skin] are less likely to have wrinkles later [in life because] all the sebum is lubricating the skin, so it’s an internal moisturizer,” says Dr. Green. So, it’s time to stop fighting against genetics (which is one of the main factors behind oily skin) and work with what you’ve got. Once I started being kind to my skin, the shine went away, and glowing skin followed.
“We always have to remember: Whenever you want to achieve results, whether it is a fitness routine or learning a new language, you have to stick to the basics,” Henriksen says. “Consistency is what matters.” Ahead, three simple steps to take every week to keep oily skin balanced.
1. Incorporate acids into your cleansing routine.
Alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic and lactic acids) and beta hydroxy acids (like salicylic) have stood the test of time for a simple reason: They work! These gentle exfoliators slough off dead skin cells, clear up clogged pores, and get rid of bad bacteria. Dr. Green says exfoliation is especially important for oily skin because this skin type is more likely to get breakouts (more on that later). But don’t overdo it. Choose one step in your routine to incorporate AHAs or BHAs.
I typically will look for them in a face wash, like in Murad Time Release Acne Cleanser ($30; murad.com) or the Ole Henriksen Find Your Balance Control Cleanser ($25; olehenriksen.com). Or try using a toner, like the Balancing Force Oil Control Toner ($26; olehenriksen.com), to clear up excess oil in the areas where shine tends to appear. When you apply, “dab the soaked cotton ball on the face, don’t swipe,” says Henriksen. “Then let it sit until it’s dry, about a minute or two, before applying a serum or lotion.”
2. Control oil all day with a mattifying moisturizer.
Midday shine is one of the biggest woes for those with oily skin. Around 3 P.M., my T-zone would be coated with a thin layer of oil. Not cute. It made me really self-conscious, and way more likely to pull out my over-drying products later that evening. Now, I stick to mattifying products. Henriksen’s Counter Balance Mattifying Moisture Crème ($40; olehenriksen.com) uses sodium PCA and oat flour to keep skin hydrated and shine-free. I top it off with Urban Decay All Nighter Liquid Foundation ($40; urbandecay.com), which is a matte formula. Dr. Green recommends pressed powder, like Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Microfinishing Pressed Power ($37; sephora.com), if you need a quick fix for forehead shine after lunch.
3. Exfoliate and start fresh once a week.
“Oil makes skin cells become sluggish,” says Henriksen, “so dead ones don’t come off the face as easily.” Dr. Green agrees, explaining that these sticky cells can end up clogging pores. That’s a surefire recipe for acne. An exfoliating treatment once a week will help. Refine the surface with a physical option (which uses tiny particles to buff the surface) like the Pore-Balance Facial Sauna Scrub ($28; available in April at sephora.com). But if you’re in the midst of a breakout, avoid grainy exfoliants that can tear or irritate pimples during the healing process, says Henriksen. Instead, try a chemical option like Rodial Glamoxy 15 Percent Fruit Acid Exfoliating Pads ($60; nordstrom.com) or Pixi By Petra Glow Peel Pads ($22; target.com). Note: Keep in mind that you don’t want to dry out skin, so Dr. Green recommends using a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil ($10, target.com) and skipping toner when exfoliation is on the agenda.