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Beauty & Skincare

The Best Skincare Routine for Oily, Acne-Prone Skin

Large pores? Check. A shiny T-zone? Check. Red, angry zits that are the size of volcanic craters? Triple-check.

Excess sebum and acne breakouts often seem to go hand in hand. Overactive sebaceous glands that produce sky-high levels of sebum causes your pores to clog more easily compared to other skin types. Dead skin cells, makeup debris, dust, and other environmental pollutants are trapped within the pore, leading to the appearance of blackheads, whiteheads, and acne.

An effective skincare routine for oily and acne-prone skin seeks to tackle the problem areas of this particular skin type — addressing overzealous oil production, minimizing active breakouts, and fading away leftover hyperpigmentation.

Reasons for Your Oily, Acne-Prone Skin

Before we go into the actual skincare routine, let’s delve into what causes a shiny and zit-filled complexion first. Here are some of the most common causes:

1. You’re Not Removing Your Makeup Completely

We’ve all been guilty of going to bed without removing our makeup, be it too zonked out from an exhausting workday or too tipsy after a night’s worth of club-hopping. Yet, this simple action, or inaction I should say, is the no. 1 culprit for clogged pores and future breakouts.

2. Your Skin Is Actually Dehydrated

Dehydrated skin
Image by Aleksei Алексей Simonenko Симоненко on Unsplash

Oftentimes, the culprit behind the high levels of sebum production in skin dehydration. To compensate for being constantly parched, the sebaceous glands crank out more sebum than usual which then leads to extra shine in your T-zone. Excess sebum also clogs up your pores easily, inevitably resulting in acne breakouts.

3. You Live in a Hot and Humid Area

The environment you reside in may also contribute to oiliness and breakouts. High temperatures and humidity promote sweat and oil production, gunk that quickly fills up your pores to create blackheads and whiteheads.

4. You Live in a Polluted Area

Heat aside, poor air quality can also do a number on your complexion. Based on a 2017 study featured in the Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, an increased level of air pollution was linked to “increased sebum secretion and a higher number of acne lesions”.

5. Your Diet Is Rich in Sugar

Indulging in high-glycemic foods such as chips, sweets, and white bread is ill-advised for your skin type. A high-glycemic diet increases insulin levels, which in turn, promotes sebum production and skin inflammation.

6. You Are Using the Wrong Beauty Products

Buying beauty products for an acne-prone and oily complexion can be tricky. Focusing too much on astringent, mattifying products can wreak havoc on your skin’s natural sebum production, throwing it into a tailspin. Conversely, using ultra-moisturizing products that contain occlusives and other comedogenic ingredients can result in skin congestion and aggravate your acne.

7. Your Skin Type Is Inherited

Sometimes, you just have to blame plain ol’ genetics for your skin type. If your Mom (and/or Dad) has griped about skin woes similar to yours, chances are, you may have inherited the overzealous pores and oiliness from them.

As shown above, there is a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic factors for your skin type. It could be one, or a combination, of these factors that’s responsible for the excess shine and extra-large pores. Understanding the exact causes behind it will help you build up a more effective beauty ritual to control shine and ward off acne.

The Best Skincare Routine for Oily, Acne-Prone Skin Is as Follows

1. Start With an Oil-Based Cleanser

You’ve heard that right. Even those with greasy skin types will benefit from using an oil cleanser or cleansing balm. And why’s that?

Most of you may already be using makeup like a mattifying foundation to hold back the extra oil production or concealer to disguise unwanted red acne marks. But while they do a good job of covering up these imperfections, it can be tough to remove them thoroughly from your skin.

Case in point: Waterproof sunscreen and unbudgeable glittery eyeshadows. The makeup debris left behind will then contribute to a never-ending cycle of more breakouts and scarring.

Oil
Image by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

This is why you need an oil cleanser in your routine. The oil-based cleansing formulae is specifically designed to clear away excess sebum, makeup residue, and other oil-based impurities.

And to avoid further pore-clogging activity, make sure your oil cleanser contains non-comedogenic oils like hemp seed oil or grapeseed oil.

2. Follow up With a Water-Based Cleanser

Your oil cleanser is indeed quite the champ for removing SPF and excess sebum, but not so much for water-based impurities like sweat. As such, you should follow up with a water-based cleanser afterward.

Go wild with your cleanser’s texture here. If you have a kink for gel cleansers, don’t be shy. For those who prefer a foamy feel, knock yourself out.

Regardless of the cleanser you choose, just make sure it’s low-pH without comedogenic ingredients. Examples like coconut oil, myristic acid, and isopropyl palmitate shouldn’t appear in the ingredient list. For more details, check out this list of pore-clogging ingredients by AcneClinicNYC.

3. Stay on Top of Your Exfoliation Game

One of the usual complaints about oily, acne-prone skin is the whiteheads, blackheads, and active acne that never seem to go away. The common theme of these skin concerns is clogged pores. One easy way to keep your pores clear is to exfoliate regularly.

Scrub
Image by Amplitude Magazin on Unsplash

The golden rule of thumb is to exfoliate once a week for most skin types. But this rule may be slightly different for those with oily and acne-prone skin.

You may have to up your frequency to meet the needs of a skin type that gets congested easily.

For example, instead of clay masking once a week, you may want to use it twice or even thrice a week instead.

Besides that, look at different types of exfoliants to keep ahead of your problematic skin type. Clay masking is a great way to detoxify pollutants and regulate excess shine. But if post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and an uneven skin tone are what’s troubling you, opt for chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid instead.

Glycolic acid reduces the buildup of melanin for a clearer skin tone. On the other hand, salicylic acid is great for unearthing congestion deep within the skin while keeping the Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria at bay.

4. Tone Up

Toners with their watery consistency may seem to do nothing much for your skin. But in truth, toners are the “primer” in skincare:

  • Removes leftover cleanser residue which may not have been rinsed away completely
  • Preps your skin’s pH level so that it’s open to absorbing all the skincare goodness later on — think essences, serums, and moisturizers

“Think of your skin like a sponge — it’s more difficult to rehydrate it when it’s dried up and hardened than when it’s already a bit damp.”

Soko Glam

By applying a hydrating, low-pH toner right after cleansing, you’re creating the perfect damp canvas that will boost the absorption rate of whichever products that come right after.

Tip — Make sure your toner also contains antibacterial and/or oil-regulating ingredients like salicylic acid to keep shine and breakouts in check.

5. Choose Your Essence

Liquids
Image by Chris Ralston on Unsplash

Lightweight in texture but packs a punch with its formulation, an essence often consists of one active ingredient that hydrates, brightens, and/or slows down signs of aging. An iconic example would be SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence which uses more than 90% PITERA™ to firm, brighten, and smoothen the skin.

For oily and acne-prone skin types, the ideal essence should contain an active that targets your skin concerns — in this case, hydrating, redness-reducing, or texture-smoothening. One ingredient that has worked well for my oily, acne-prone skin is snail mucin. While its slimy consistency did take some getting used to initially, the ultra-hydrating and soothing formula quickly won over my skin.

6. Indulge in Serums and Ampoules

Here’s where the really fun part of skincare comes in. Serums and ampoules are more concentrated and powerful in terms of formulation compared to that of essences.

This is also why you normally apply a serum or ampoule to the affected area on your face, e.g. a pimple or wrinkles, rather than slathering it all over your face.

So which ingredients will help with your skin type? To reduce redness while evening out skin tone, opt for one that contains niacinamide. Otherwise known as vitamin B3, niacinamide is anti-inflammatory, helping to soothe the skin and lessen the angry, red state of your breakouts. Plus, niacinamide regulates oil production, thus controlling shine and reducing the appearance of large pores.

Another ingredient to love is bakuchiol. Derived from plants, bakuchiol works in similar ways to retinol but with lesser irritation. This gentle alternative makes it more suitable for acne-prone skin types which are often already sensitized from the active breakouts and acne treatments.

7. Lay on the Moisturizer

Moisturizer on hand
Image by ian dooley on Unsplash

It’s often the misconception that thanks to a natural abundance of sebum, oily skin types can skip the moisturizing step in their beauty ritual. Unfortunately, this is not only very wrong but also backfires on your skin in the worst way possible. How you may ask?

First of all, moisturizers don’t add oil to your skin; they add water. This helps to hydrate your skin which is essential to good skin health. Secondly, just because your skin is oily doesn’t mean it’s adequately hydrated because oil does not equate to water.

As mentioned earlier, dehydrated skin is often in need of water. The lack of moisture in your skin causes your sebaceous glands to produce much more sebum than is needed. The extra sebum then becomes trapped in your pores, along with dirt, sweat, dust, and other skin debris which leads to congestion and ultimately breakouts.

To break this vicious cycle, introducing a moisturizer into your routine is crucial.

But before you switch to the Sephora site, do note that this only works if you find the right moisturizer for your oily, acne-prone skin type. And what does that ideal moisturizer look like?

Appearances notwithstanding, the right moisturizer includes hydrating ingredients that don’t clog your pores, a.k.a. humectants. This category of moisturizing elements adds the right touch of hydration for your skin type — not too heavy, not too little, and just right.

But how do humectants work? According to a 2016 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, humectants help the stratum corneum to attract water and retain it. More importantly, as humectants have a low molecular weight, they are unlikely to clog your pores.

Water droplets on hand
Image by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

One of the most widely used humectants is hyaluronic acid. While hyaluronic acid is naturally produced in the body, factors like aging and UV rays can deplete your body’s natural reserves over time. Applying hyaluronic acid on your skin not only addresses skin dehydration but also keeps your skin smooth and supple.

Of course, hyaluronic acid doesn’t have to be limited to only your moisturizers. Being a versatile skincare ingredient, hyaluronic acid is also often found in toners, essences, serums, and ampoules.

8. Apply a Facial Mask

Sometimes, you just want to pamper your skin and give it the TLC it’s been looking for. That’s where facial masking comes in.

While there are many different types of facial masks on the market — sheet masks, clay masks, sleeping masks — not all of them are suited for oily and acne-prone complexions.

First up, which facial masks should you avoid? Contrary to popular masking trends, sheet masks and sleeping masks are two types of masks that may not work very well with your skin type. The reason being that these masks are too moisturizing for your skin to handle. Translation: They contain things like occlusives and emollients that are far more likely to clog your pores.

Charcoal
Image by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

So which facial masks should you go for? Detoxifying masks made of clay or activated charcoal are a great choice. These two ingredients help to remove toxins and regulate oil production.

Besides that, exfoliating masks that contain physical exfoliating beads, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), or beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are also ideal for your skin type. These ingredients slough off dead skin cells which nip the problem of pore congestion in the bud quickly.

One thing to note though, is that exfoliating masks can take a toll on your skin if you overdo it. Try an exfoliating mask once a week first and see how your skin reacts to it. If it gives you the green light, slowly increase that frequency to twice a week for a few weeks. This ensures your skin has sufficient time to get used to the intensity and is less likely to revolt.

9. Don’t Forget Sunscreen

Girl in the sun
Image by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Sunscreen is an integral part of any good skincare routine. But the trouble with sunscreens is that most of them are water-resistant which makes it difficult to remove them completely. Leftover sunscreen residue will ultimately lead to pore congestion.

In addition, most sunscreens contain silicones, like cyclomethicone and dimethicone, to enhance the cosmetic feel. As such, the sunscreen glides on smoothly so that you’re less likely to experience a pilling effect when you apply makeup on top of it.

Unfortunately, silicones are considered occlusives — they seal in moisture but also trap sebum, dirt, and other skin debris that are potentially pore-clogging.

At the same time, certain sunscreen formulations may not play well with your skin type. For instance, many chemical sunscreens contain filters that have a reputation for irritating the skin. Some sunscreens are also heavy on the oils and comedogenicity level, increasing the risk of skin congestion and breakouts.

To choose the sunscreen that’s made for your complexion, opt for one that’s lightweight, oil-free, and non-comedogenic. If skin sensitivity is an issue, try a physical sunscreen that contains zinc oxide. Zinc oxide sits atop your skin to form a physical barrier against UVA and UVB rays. An added bonus is that zinc oxide has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which can help with active breakouts.

It’s Possible to Still Win at Skincare With Your Skin Type

Overall, if you have been struggling with finding the right skincare routine for your skin type, don’t give up yet! While it may be tedious to research extensively on the type of products and ingredients that are suitable for you, the end results will be well worth the trouble. Hopefully, the list above will give you an inkling on where to begin building your own beauty ritual. Let me know how it goes!

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Disclaimer: I am not a professional. All opinions are my own.

By fel.

Hi, I'm Fel. I hail from sunny Singapore where summer is experienced all year round. I am a strong advocate of beauty, positivity, and healthy living which is why I decided to create a blog to share my thoughts and experiences on these subjects. Also, caffeine runs in my blood and I'm always on the lookout for the next skincare trend — whether it's a buzz-worthy ingredient that has taken the beauty world by storm or a new masking technique that I've yet to try.

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