Top 10 Tips for Moisturizing Oily Skin

woman applying moisturizer
We may not all need sparkly nails, but we do all need moisturizer.

Shiny, greasy-looking skin with large pores -- the hallmarks of oily skin. Oily skin not only looks shiny and greasy, it is -- it has excess sebum. Sebum is the natural fatty, oily substance produced by the body's sebaceous glands and secreted through our hair follicles to keep our skin and hair soft and healthy. These glands are all over the body, but most are concentrated on the face, chest, shoulders and upper back. When the body makes too much sebum, a state called hyperseborrhea, pores can become clogged by the excess. That excess oil, along with old skin cells and bacteria that have become trapped by sebum, can cause acne. While having oily skin doesn't necessarily mean you have a problem with acne breakouts, many people with this type of skin do also find they're fighting blemishes.

If sebum is the problem, let's get rid of it, right? Well, it's not that simple. You don't want to strip away all of the sebum when taking care of your oily skin, and it's a tough balance to strike when products designed for oily skin are often harsh and can over-dry skin. It's a myth that people with oily skin don't need to moisturize -- dermatologists recommend you add a moisturizer to your daily skin care routine to help combat the harsh drying effects of these oil-busting products.


The goal of moisturizing your skin is to hydrate your skin, and to do that you don't need to add oils. Let's begin our 10 tips for moisturizing oily skin by figuring out what types of moisturizers are out there and what they do.

10: Occlusives, Humectants and Emollients

Before you can narrow down the best type of moisturizer for your skin, we first need to understand a few things about how moisturizers work.

Moisturizers hydrate and smooth the skin. There are a few types out there, but it basically breaks down to products that seal moisture into the skin, products that smooth the skin and products that attract moisture to the skin.


Occlusives and emollients soften and smooth the skin. Occlusives include petroleum jelly, parafiin and collagen, and they work by sealing in moisture: This type of moisturizer creates a layer -- a physical barrier -- on your skin to keep moisture from escaping, similar to how all that extra sebum your body naturally produces helps seal moisture in. Emollients are oils and lipids (fats), such as stearic acid and essential fatty acids, that help to repair and smooth skin – the creamier the moisturizer, the more emollient it's said to be. Humectants such as panthenol, urea and glycerin, on the other hand, work by attracting moisture from the deeper layers of skin to the outermost layer of the skin. In humid climates, they also attract moisture from the air.

Most moisturizers rely on a combination of humectants, occlusives and emollients to attract and seal in moisture as well as improve skin texture, while also repairing and hydrating. Oily-skinned faces take note: Occlusives can be thick and are notoriously greasy, and if your skin is already oily, these ingredients can trap sebum and cause blemishes.

9: Exfoliate

Your dead skin. It's probably not something you think about. It's everywhere, though -- your body naturally sloughs off its outermost layer of dead skin cells about every 30 to 45 days or so (depending on your age). Why do these old skin cells matter? When dead skin cells are left to build up on the surface of the skin, they can turn a once dewy cheek dull. Skin may be flaky or scaly. It may also be excessively oily and acne may flare up.

Luckily, you can help Mother Nature by adding weekly exfoliation to your skin care regime. There are many exfoliating products on the market, from cleaners to scrubs to peels. Following suit, you'll find moisturizing products with exfoliating benefits. Choose products that contain glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid or salicylic acid -- all alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). AHAs loosen up the dead skin cells on your skin, helping them to turn over more quickly. And an added benefit of AHAs for oily faces: They also help to reduce the amount of oil on the skin.


8: Use Light-weight, Oil-free Products

The best moisturizer for oily skin is one that is lightweight, non-comedogenic (which means it won't clog your pores) and oil-free. Those thick, heavy creams aren't designed with oily skin in mind. A light, oil-free formula won't fight blemishes, but it won't cause breakouts, either. Additionally, some moisturizers also contain ingredients such as talc to control shine, and if you want your lotion to help control acne flare-ups, look for one with anti-bacterial agents. There's a moisturizer out there for every skin type -- it just might take some trial and error to figure out which one works the best for you.


7: Cleanse, Treat, Moisturize

The order of your skin care routine is important, especially when you're working with products that tend to dehydrate skin. First, wash with a mild cleanser and gently dry your skin. Apply any topical products you use to treat or prevent acne flare-ups next. Then, it's time for a light moisturizer. Applying a daily lotion to oily skin will help reduce the dryness, redness and irritation both prescription and over-the-counter blemish and oil control products can cause. What you might not know, though, is that routine daily moisturizing can also help those treatments work better, because you'll be using them on healthy, smooth skin.


6: How to Apply

young woman applying moisturizer
Yes, you really can apply moisturizer incorrectly. As a rule of thumb, you want to use gentle strokes in an outward motion.

Applying your facial moisturizer may seem like a no-brainer, sure, but there is a correct technique to it. Always apply lotions sparingly with your fingers, and always with a gentle touch.

Moisturize your cheeks first, using smooth outward strokes (not circles or up-and-down). Use very gentle strokes around your eyes, applying outward toward the temples, and also between your brows. When applying lotion to your neck and forehead switch to gentle upward strokes. Re-apply your moisturizer after every time you wash your face (once or twice a day for oily faces), within three minutes of cleansing for the biggest hydration benefits.


5: Adapt to the Seasons

Do your skin's hydration needs change with the seasons? What might work best in the hot, humid summer months may not tame oil production effectively during the colder, dryer wintertime. Depending on the temperature and humidity, you might need to scale back or bump up your moisturizing needs. Also, don't shy away from trying different products during different seasons. Stick with lightweight lotions, and use only as much as you need, which may be less on certain days or certain times of the year.

And it's not just the seasons that have an effect on how oily or dry your skin may be. Watch out for flare-ups from hormonal changes, certain medications (such as steroids) and even the frames of your glasses or the chin strap of your bike helmet (the pressure from the glasses on the bridge of your nose or strap on your chin can be irritating for some oily-faces).


4: Combine Moisturizer and Sunscreen

This is an important tip for everyone, regardless of your skin type. A healthy skin care regimen, says the American Academy of Dermatology, includes moisturizing and applying sunscreen to keep skin hydrated and protected from sun damage and premature aging -- every day, no matter what your skin type.

If you're one of many people with oily skin who's treating acne breakouts, it's especially important you wear sunscreen daily -- not only is it a myth that sun exposure will clear up acne, some acne treatments such as topical retinoids (for example, Retin-A) make skin extra sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light. If applying both a lotion and a sunscreen daily sounds like a lot of moisturizing product on your skin, don't skip it. Just try a combination product: Look for a lightweight, oil-free lotion with at least SPF 15 UVA/UVB sun protection to do double-duty. Otherwise, choose gel or spray style sunscreen products for your oily skin.


3: Keep It Cool

Here's sad news for everyone who likes to linger in a hot shower or bath: Hot water strips the natural oils from your skin. While that might sound like a great idea if you have oily skin, hang on. Hot water also causes your skin to lose moisture. The result of your relaxing bath? Add flaky, rough patches to already oily, acne-prone skin.

How is it that you could lose skin moisture while sitting in a hot bath? Water that's hotter than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) may be a luxurious bath, but when your body temperature begins to climb, your body instinctively tries to cool off. The sympathetic nervous system responds to the heat by dilating the blood vessels in the skin in an effort to lower the body's temperature. That's a fancy way of saying the body senses it's too hot and is trying to cool off -- kiss your skin's hydration goodbye at the hands of evaporation.


Water temperatures that are between 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 to 35 degrees Celsius) -- or even room temperature if you can handle it -- are optimal for keeping skin hydrated and healthy. Keep showers short, and keep face washing to less than one to two minutes.

2: Moisturizing Combination Skin

Not all oily skin is created equal. Some people find the skin they're in can be both rough, flaky and tight as well as shiny, greasy and prone to blemishes. This is face washing.

Combination skin is skin that's both oily (usually in the T-zone of the face) and dry (usually on the cheeks), and because different parts of the face have different skin care needs, combination skin can be tricky to care for. Choose mild, oil-free products to take care of business on both dry and oily alike.


Use a light, liquid moisturizing lotion (creams will be too thick and heavy) with sunscreen for your daily face moisturizing needs. Add products with AHAs to combat acne and fine lines -- a little will go a long way, and AHAs may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so don't forget to wear sunscreen.

1: Use Gentle Products

While your oily, shiny skin may make you want to scrub your face several times a day with harsh products and slather on acne-busting products, resist that urge. Those harsh ingredients are known to dry out your skin -- yes, even oily skin can get dried out -- which will only trigger your body to produce more oil. Products that contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and rubbing alcohol, as well as exfoliants with large or rough-edged particles such as coarse salt or pieces from crushed walnut shells, are too harsh for the face. Although oily skin can usually stand up to some ingredients that may be too irritating for dry or sensitive skin, it doesn't mean oily skin isn't sensitive to scrubbing and drying agents, and even to dyes and fragrances. Gentle products won't cause skin to become inflamed and irritated, which can lead to acne flare-ups.

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