if your skin gets progressively shinier or greasier as the day wears on and is prone to clogged pores and breakouts, or if your sunscreen and makeup might seem to slide off – then oh joy you have oily skin.

Chances are you looked for something to get rid of your oily skin… But what? So many options. All different, all a jumble of different ingredients. You could be forgiven for being confused and a tiny bit superstitious when it comes to choosing just one. Because what you really need more than a good product is a product breakdown. So why don’t you let the Naked Chemist help you out with that? With this oily skin ingredient guide? Where each ingredient is grouped by the exact kind of oily skin problem it treats?

Doesn’t that sound helpful? Let’s scroll together.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Best for: Whiteheads
AHAs are a class of acids that duh, exfoliate skin. Glycolic, lactic, malic, and mandelic acids are the most popular examples of AHAs. You know how pimples are caused by blocked pores? Old dead skin cells can block those pores, and AHAs work to loosen and remove those dead cells with very little effort. They also lighten post-acne scars—a twofer! They’re water-soluble, not oil-soluble, so they’re best applied to a clean face. One other thing to note, however—AHAs can be irritating to sensitive skin, but lactic acid, a gentler AHA, is a safe bet.

Azelaic Acid

A seen in:
Best for: Whiteheads
Oh look! Another acid. This one, as they say, is different. There’s plenty of research to demonstrate what azelaic acid can do, but the how is still a mystery. Let’s stick to what we know: It makes pimples smaller, less red, and it evens skin tone. That means that after it’s squashed your zit, you won’t have to worry about post-acne scarring. Good for rosacea, too!

Within the industry there are two common big guns used to take down oily skin, Salicylic acid and Benzoyl peroxide and they’re both great at doing entirely different things:

A is for “Absolutely you should be using vitamin A.”

“Vitamin A is extremely well researched and whilst proven to improve many skin issues, it works extremely well on an oily skin.

  • Retinoids work by normalising exfoliation of the pore lining – by influencing the turnover and maturation of skin cells and reducing follicular plugging
  • They are comedolytic and anti-comedogenic, making them an effective treatment for closed comedones, open comedones, and inflammatory papules.
  • They aid in penetration of other topical medications, decrease postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, and may have anti-inflammatory properties

If you’ve yet to dip your toe into the vitamin A pool, consider my workout plan – Begin with a lower strength topical formulation and then increase the strength over time, use twice a week at first, gradually building up. Retinoids can increase sensitivity to the sun, so sunscreen use should be encouraged.

Salicylic acid is an organic acid, so it can be found naturally occurring in nature,”The reason why it is so effective, is because it is oil-soluble, it penetrates the pore cutting through oil and gently exfoliating the pore lining. It is a beta hydroxy acid that has both comedolytic and anti-inflammatory properties, that can be used for breakouts and mild acnehe reason why BHAs are so effective is because they’re oil-soluble—so they can actually penetrate the pore to exfoliate

Benzoyl peroxide. This contains potent antibacterial properties and is most effective for the treatment of conditions often associated with oily skin such as papules, pustules and inflammatory acne. Concentrations range from 2.5% to 10% and can be found in washes, creams, gels, and lotion.

Note: One of the main issues with benzoyl peroxide is its potential for irritation, a number of my clients who have used benzoyl peroxide, have developed mild erythema and dryness.

Azelaic acid. This is generally well tolerated by the skin. It has comedolytic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, which make it effective against both mild comedones and inflammatory acne. It also helps decrease erythema and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Dapsone. This is a relatively new medication that has good antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, and can be used to treat mild-to-moderate inflammatory acne. It causes little to no skin irritation and is a good alternative to benzoyl peroxide.


All-natural heavy hitters,

like tea tree oil and witch hazel.

Treat and exfoliate regularly.

It’s a maximalist approach, but Jordana suggests regular clay masking paired with a gentle peel for maximum results. “Masks with clays can reduce oil for a few days, and leave your skin soft, smooth, and shine-free.” As for peels, “glycolic and salicylic acid are my go-tos. These get into your pore lining to exfoliate so oil doesn’t get backed up and cause bumps. You can use each separately or together.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Best for: Whiteheads and acne
Benzoyl peroxide has a very specific set of skills. Skills it has acquired over a very long career. Skills that will make it a nightmare for acne. It’s antibacterial—with a particular focus on killing the bacteria that leads to zits. Some might find it drying and a source of redness. The standard low concentration is 2.5% and is less irritating (and less effective) than 5% and 10% formulations. But you don’t need to go for the 10% guy—studies show that it works just as well as the 5%. And yet buyer, beware! Benzoyl peroxide is known to bleach, including your bedsheets and brows.


Best for: Oily skin and Blackheads
Clay, mud, dirt. It’s all more or less the same. Think of these earth ingredients as magnets—and the thing they’re drawn to is the dirt and oil in your pores. So, give them what they want! Masks work best when it comes to clay ingredients because it gives the clay more time to lock onto pore-sludge, but if you have dry skin and you’re scared that a mask will make it dryer, clay cleansers are an OK alternative. Or, you can use any clay mask as a spot treatment—up to you.


Best for: Severe cystic acne
A specific derivative of vitamin A (its isomer is tretinoin, meaning they share the same set of atoms, but are arranged differently, see below)—and a whole lot more controversial. You can apply it topically, but it’s more commonly dispensed as an oral medicine and only available via prescription. Known mostly by its former brand name, Accutane, the prescription is now distributed under several different other names (Accutane was taken off the market). It clears up acne extremely well—but at great cost. Users often describe the medication’s tendency to dry out their skin, lips, and inner mouth. Other potential side effects include rash, headache, photosensitivity, nosebleeds, achy muscles, and stomach issues. Read a much more extensive list here. You cannot take isotretinoin if you are pregnant.


Best for: Whiteheads, blackheads
Niacinamide—a derivative of vitamin B—is still a relatively new ingredient. The known scope of what it can do is somewhat limited. Here’s what’s on the list right now: It’s anti-inflammatory, which means it makes zits look smaller. A 2006 study concluded that niacinamide helps skin produce less oil—good news for folks prone to oil-induced zits. And here’s a nice little bonus—your pores will look smaller, too.


Best for: Oily skin Whiteheads, blackheads, cystic acne
Like isotretinoin, retinoids are also derived from vitamin A, but they’re linked to fewer side effects. The three retinoids you need to know about are tretinoin, tazarotene, and adapalene. All three require a prescription, with the exception of the smaller, .1% dose of adapalene (brand name Differin), which is available over the counter. These guys are more than pimple problem-solvers: They also prevent them from forming at all. They work like most other skin acids—they speed up cell turnover to keep pores gunk-free and your skin clear. You’ll just have to wait a bit to notice real results—at least six weeks, but usually closer to 12. Another thing to consider is that you must apply retinoids every day. It’s the new brushing your teeth. Or birth control.

Salicylic Acid

Best for: Oily skin Whiteheads, blackheads, Breakouts
It’s your old friend, Sal! This acid has been around for a while, and it’s a common ingredient in acne products—from spot treatments to all-over liquid formulas. It’s oil-soluble, so it glides past any oil on your skin and dives straight into your pores. There, it clears out pimple-causing clogs, like dirt and more oil. If your skin is pretty sensitive, there’s also capryloyl salicylic acid, which is an even gentler iteration of the original sal.


Best for: Whiteheads, blackheads
Anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and smells like rotten eggs. But it works…really well. It’s a keratolytic agent, meaning that along with killing acne bacteria, it also exfoliates—sweeping away oil and pore-clogging skin cells after each use. It absorbs oil quite well, but maybe a little too well if your skin falls on the dry side.

Tea Tree Oil

As seen in: Burt’s Bees Herbal Blemish Stick
Best for: Whiteheads
Did somebody ask for a natural solution? Here’s your best bet. Tea tree oil is antimicrobial, killing and stopping the growth of acne bacteria. It’s also anti-inflammatory, so it makes your big zits look smaller. Before you poo-poo tea tree because it wasn’t born in a lab, consider this: In scientific studies that compared tea tree with benzoyl peroxide, researchers concluded that it works just as well as BP, although it is not as fast-acting. Decisions, decisions.

Witch Hazel

As seen in: Thayers Witch Hazel Toner
Best for: Very mild acne
Witch Hazel is not your big gun against acne, but it does help to a certain degree. By now you can probably guess why—it’s anti-inflammatory. The plant is also naturally replete with tannins—you know, that red wine ingredient. Tannins contain “astringent properties,” so they’re good at getting rid of oil and zit-triggering dirt. Not much more happens with witch hazel though. At least it has a cool name.

Treatment Protocol for Oily Skin

The Oily Skin Routine


Whilst oily skin can be frustrating it’s a a delicate creature, and striking the balance can often feel like a quest for the holy grail.

Go to hard with your skincare to eliminate the oiliness and there is a good chance you could kick start sebaceous glands into overdrive, but overload that emollient train and chances are you risk suffocating your skin.

In order to return peace and balance to your skin, a customised multidimensional approach is necessary, because most people have a combination of symptoms.

Every morning
You’ll need a cleanser that can cut through the oil your skin produced overnight, so wash with one that is not to stripping, avoiding the ingredien. Next spray your skin or pat on a toner, specifically formulated for oily skin – which will help to neutrlise pH

Pat on a hyaluronic acid serum to prevent your skin from drying and thel ayer with your moisturiser.balancing, serum afterwards to trick your skin into producing less oil, and to prevent excess oil from clogging your pores.

The best ones include ingredients like niacinamide, salicylic acid, and tea tree oil. For extremely oily skin, sometimes hyaluronic acid can replace a moisturizer. Otherwise, look for a water gel moisturizer that’s lightweight yet extremely hydrating.Next, pat hyaluronic serum around the areas where you tend to get dry, and then rub a lightweight water gel moisturizer all over.

Every night
Double cleanse! Start with an oil cleanser first, and then wash again with your morning cleanser. Tone with your toner and then use a balancing serum to normalise your oily skin. top off with a water gel cream.

Good to have as needed
Every week or so apply a clay mask for 20 minutes. Find one that combines the clay ingredients with a little bit of hydration, like aloe, so the mask doesn’t completely strip your skin. Overdrying can lead to more oil, oddly enough.

Dietary supplementation

Nicotinamide (also known as niacinamide) is a component of the vitamin B complex. It works by inhibiting sebaceous lipogenesis and blocks the inflammation associated with various inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne vulgaris.41 Oral and topical nicotinamide supplementation have been shown to be useful as adjuvant treatment of inflammatory acne.42

Zinc is bacteriostatic against P. acnes and contains anti-inflammatory properties that may be beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory lesions.43 It has shown some success in the reduction of inflammatory lesions.44 However, the literature is still inconclusive regarding its true efficacy.

There is a relatively new dietary supplement on the market that combines nicotinamide, azelaic acid, zinc, pyridoxine, copper, and folic acid. As stated earlier, azelaic acid has antimicrobial activity and aids in normalization of keratinization. A recent study demonstrated that supplementation with the nicotinamide/azelaic acid combination resulted in a visible reduction of inflammatory acne lesions when added to the acne treatment regimen.41

How to Find the Right Treatment for You

Know that less might be more

“You unfortunately cannot determine the strength of a product strictly by the percentage of its active ingredients because how well a product works depends on how well its inactive ingredients help it penetrate the skin, “In other words, a 2 percent benzoyl peroxide may be more effective than another brand’s 5 percent benzoyl peroxide because there are other ingredients helping out.”

It’s tricky to say what these types of other ingredients are, there are no clear answers because your skin is too subjective. The best advice, is to use one that feels good and rubs into your skin well without over-drying it. The more comfortable the product is to apply, the more likely you are to keep up the regimen.

Get into a routine

The most critical part of combating oily skin is combating it every day with a customised routine. The only way to see good results is to use it on a daily basis waiting at least one four o six weeks before you deem a product ineffective, this is how long it takes for cellular turnover to occur on your skin.

Treat breakouts with care

If you are also prone to breakouts, they need TLC, too. The study on acne found that, in an attempt to dry out lesions, patients often use too many products or apply excessive amounts to problem areas, resulting in further irritation and over drying of the skin. Vigorous scrubbing and using harsh exfoliants can actually make your oily skin worse, by rupturing whiteheads and blackheads, turning them into painful red ones. And remember: no matter how satisfying it is, picking and popping your zits will also increase inflammation, re infection and hyper pigmentation.

Choose your makeup carefully

Oily skin can be made moot if you pile on pore-clogging cosmetics. Look for labels that state non-comedogenic.

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