If your skin type is oily, for the most part, it’s down to genetics. “Oily skin happens when the sebaceous glands in the skin make too much sebum,” explains Gretchen Frieling, a board-certified dermatopathologist. “Sebum is the waxy, oily substance that protects and hydrates the skin, and it’s essential for keeping the skin healthy. However, too much sebum can lead to oily skin, clogged pores, and acne.”
And though you can’t change your genetics, you can certainly adapt your skin-care regimen to suit your skin type. To prevent clogged pores (and breakouts), you may want to incorporate an oily-skin-specific face wash into your skin-care routine, suggests dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, who says you can “minimise the appearance of oily skin by using specific skin-care products.”
But which oily-skin-specific face wash is the best? Or, rather, which one is the best for your skin? Selecting a new skin-care product is often fraught with trial and error, so we spoke to eight skin-care experts, pored over ingredient lists, and drew on our (extensive) skin-care reporting to do the legwork for you. Read on for our thoroughly vetted list of the very best face washes for oily skin.
What we’re looking for:
Noncomedogenic: According to Michelle Park of Washington Square Dermatology, an excess of sebum can lead to clogged pores due to dead skin cells sticking to the sebum, which results in acne. Ingredients such as sunflower oil and cocoa butter add to this problem by further blocking pores — they’re what are known as comedogenic ingredients. Cleansers ideal for oily skin will forgo such ingredients, so we’re looking for noncomedogenic ingredients such as salicylic acid and niacinamide.
Nondrying: When skin is harshly stripped, it becomes dehydrated, which actually leads to the production of more oil. “The goal is not to strip skin of all oils,” says Park. “In fact, if you do that, it will lead to worsening acne and skin quality, as the dryness will send a signal to the skin to make even more sebum to compensate, leading to even oilier skin.”
To avoid this, it’s key to find a face wash that exfoliates impurities gently. We’re looking for exfoliating ingredients — such as phenolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid — in small concentrations. It’s also important to avoid formulas that include alcohol, as these will dry out the skin over time.
As foaming face washes penetrate the pores so deeply, Park warns that they have the potential to leave the skin feeling slightly parched. So, as well as some foaming options, we’ve also included gel, gummy, and peeling options for those who find that foaming cleansers don’t agree with their skin.
Best overall face wash for oily skin
Noncomedogenic | Foaming | Moisturising hyaluronic acid
Park and Frieling both recommend CeraVe’s Foaming Facial Cleanser. It’s safe to use for all skin types, including oily. “I love this product because the formula has three essential ceramides to cleanse the skin without stripping it in the process,” says Frieling. She notes that ceramides repair the skin’s outer barrier over time, preventing damage and visible ageing. The face wash also contains highly moisturising hyaluronic acid, plus niacinamide, which calms the skin. If you find a foaming cleanser too drying, Park advises experimenting with various formulas until you find one that works for you. “And it’s important to remember to continue to moisturise the face,” she adds. (Read our list of the six very best moisturisers for oily skin here.)
Best gentle face wash for oily skin
Noncomedogenic | Foaming
Zeichner also praises foaming face washes, saying that they “more effectively remove oil as compared to cleansing lotions or balms.” He often recommends this foaming cleanser from Neutrogena to his patients. It’s designed for daily use and has “hydrophobically modified polymers,” which “effectively cleanse and remove dirt and oil without disrupting the outer skin layer.”
Best gel face wash for oily skin
Noncomedogenic | Gel | Cooling
If foaming cleansers are simply a nonstarter for your skin, makeup artist Shara Strand recommends a cleansing gel. She particularly enjoys this one from Mario Badescu. “Any gel is great for oily skin, as gel is really cooling and it has moisturising elements to balance out oily skin,” she explains. The gel from Mario Badescu contains refreshing fruit enzymes and alpha hydroxy acids, which remove impurities from the skin via gentle exfoliation. To leave skin both clean and dry, Strand suggests first removing makeup with some micellar water and following the gel with a lightweight moisturiser.
Best acid-based face wash for oily skin
Noncomedogenic | Peel | Acne-targeting
Jennifer MacGregor of Union Square Laser Dermatology recommends light peeling agents for those with persistently blocked pores. Ingredients such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid are instrumental in helping to curb excess oil production. “For those with oily skin that tend to get blocked pores, I love gentle glycolic cleansers,” she says. She recommends “using it in the morning before applying a light, oil-free sunscreen moisturiser.”
Best gummy face wash for oily skin
Noncomedogenic | Gummy | Antibacterial
“I love the Olixa gummy cleanser for oily skin, as it has eucalyptus, so it’s antibacterial,” says Katie White, facialist and founder of Re:lax, a skin studio in Hackney. As well as exfoliating phenolic acid, the cleanser also “contains skin-balancing oils, such as macadamia oil, but doesn’t leave skin feeling oily,” she tells us. “It’s a gummy cleanser that emulsifies into a milk. It lifts makeup, SPF, and excess oil.”
Best face wash for acne-prone oily skin
Noncomedogenic | Runny gel | Acne-targeting
If you find you’re often breaking out, Park recommends looking for a face wash that can exfoliate the skin gently. “Products that contain low amounts of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid will achieve this without being too harsh,” says Park. Tara Rao of Schweiger Dermatology Group agrees that those two ingredients can help reduce some of the oil buildup that occurs on the skin throughout the day (which goes on to cause breakouts). As Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Wash has salicylic acid as an active ingredient, Park recommends it as a reliable option for a face wash that’s gentle but will effectively cleanse away oils.
Some other face washes we’ve written about:
Melissa Bedi, makeup artist
Gretchen Frieling, a board-certified dermatopathologist
Jennifer MacGregor of Union Square Laser Dermatology
Michelle Park of Washington Square Dermatology
Tara Rao of Schweiger Dermatology Group
Shara Strand, makeup artist
Katie White, facialist and founder of Re:lax
Joshua Zeichner, dermatologist
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