The Oily-Skin Myth Dermatologists Say You Need To Stop Believing

If your skin type errs on the side of excessively oily, chances are you've taken countless different approaches to combat it: acids, mattifying primers, oil-free foundations... the list goes on. But there's one "tip" currently doing the rounds in the skin care-enthusiast stratosphere that has dermatologists less than thrilled.

You may have come across information that suggests your overly oily complexion could actually be a result of dehydrated skin, which lacks water or moisture and typically results in tightness, fine lines, and dullness. Some experts argue that this is what kickstarts our skin into producing more oil to compensate. Cue a number of people shelling out on expensive facial oils and occlusive moisturizers to counteract the shine — only to find their skin is getting oilier or breaking out.

ADVERTISEMENT

Confused? We don't blame you. We asked dermatologist Emma Wedgeworth whether dehydrated skin really produces more oil to make up for a lack of moisture. She explained to us that oil production and skin hydration are two separate things, and the myth that oiliness should be combated with extra hydration is just that: a myth. "It's something we dermatologists see all the time," Dr. Wedgeworth said. "People often come into the clinic and I ask them to run through their skin-care routine and they tell me they've been using oils to hydrate, even though they've got really oily skin and [are blemish-prone]. It is really interesting."

So what really causes oily skin, if it's not overcompensation due to lack of moisture? "It's all about the 'settings' on your sebaceous glands, and everyone is different," Dr. Wedgeworth said. As dermatologist Anjali Mahto told us, much of it is genetically controlled; in fact, we "inherit" the size of our sebaceous glands in the first place. But there are other risk factors associated with oily skin, including exposure to humid climates, ethnicity, and conditions like PCOS that cause elevated androgen hormones. "People are referring to two different things here," Dr. Mahto said. "Dehydration is a lack of water in the skin (or increased water loss through the skin barrier), which can occur due to using harsh skin-care products or air conditioning, for example. But there isn't any evidence that oily skin is due to dehydration or lack of water."

Now that that's settled, you can stop overwhelming your already-oily skin with rich oils and heavy creams, and stock up on smart products that minimize oil production effectively — without leaving skin dehydrated, to boot. Ahead, the ingredients you need to know, and the one thing you should never, ever forget to do.

At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

Retinoids

Research supports the idea that topical retinoids visibly reduce pore size — and larger pores have a tendency to produce larger amounts of oil. There are plenty of excellent retinoids available over-the-counter to address numerous skin concerns, not just enlarged pores and excess oil production; this formula, for example, combines a vitamin A derivative with niacinamide, turmeric, and anti-inflammatory plant extracts to reduce and prevent fine lines as well as it does blemishes and excess oiliness.
Verso Blemish Fix$90.00 Buy
ADVERTISEMENT
Niacinamide

An anti-inflammatory form of vitamin B3, niacinamide has seen increased popularity in skin care as a way to regulate oil production and strengthen the skin's natural barrier, which helps shrink the appearance of pores and prevent hydration. Dr. Mahto recommends a minimum strength of 2% in topical products, like in this best-selling serum, which contains a high concentration of niacinamide alongside vitamin-rich peach extract and a potent peptide complex.
Peach and Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum$39.00 Buy
Salicylic Acid

Blackheads and clogged pores are no match for good old salicylic acid, which exfoliates the surface of the skin and penetrates pores to dislodge buildup of oil and dead skin cells. This lightweight, non-sticky gel is perfect for daily use since it smooths and refines skin without irritating or drying it out, thanks to the combination of 2% salicylic acid with probiotics, sodium hyaluronate, and glycerin to keep skin balanced. As with any kind of acid, always apply sun protection during the day, since they tend to increase skin photosensitivity.
Tula Acne Clearing + Tone Correcting Gel $36.00 Buy
... & Remember To Moisturize

You've heard it before and you'll hear it again: Just because your skin is producing extra oil doesn't mean you can forgo moisturizer. Instead, swap heavy, potentially pore-clogging creams for light, oil-free products to hydrate without contributing to shine. This bouncy "water cream" is beloved for its gel-like texture that leaves skin feeling thoroughly well-moisturized without the weight. You can also look for a moisturizer with acne-fighting ingredients, like Ole Henriksen's Counter Balance Oil Control Hydrator.
Tatcha The Water Cream$68.00 Buy
ADVERTISEMENT
Load more...