For all the cleansers, toners, serums, moisturizers, and masks that are marketed toward acne-prone and oily skin types, there might actually be a surprising element to your skincare routine that stands to target an even deeper cause of acne, breakouts, and clogged pores—and render much of those fast-acting products irrelevant. (Yeah, we said it—irrelevant.) Okay, now before you jump ahead of us, it should be said that the following product mentions are hardly one-and-done miracle workers but instead represent one key factor in your routine that could potentially make a noticeable difference in your skin's oil production and thus quell those pesky breakouts. All right, let's continue.
I personally find my skin to be on the oilier side and under normal circumstances do not touch any product that includes "oil" in the name with a 10-foot pole. Why on Earth would I want to add oil to my face if that's exactly what I'm trying to fight against? But several months ago, I met with Athena Hewett, a longtime esthetician and the founder of organic skincare brand Monastery, and our conversation kind of rocked my world.
While introducing me to her line, she informed me that swapping out my daily cleanser with a cleansing oil would not only help keep breakouts to a minimum, but it would actually curb my skin's oil production. Hewett even pointed out that by adopting a cleansing oil in place of a traditional cleanser, I might even find that my skin type was never truly in the oily camp all along, as many of her clients who have made the switch actually started categorizing their skin types differently.
Why is switching to a cleansing oil beneficial for acne-prone skin?
"Cleansing oils can help keep breakouts at bay by stabilizing our natural sebum, aka our natural oil production," Hewett shared. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but it's because there's an important distinction between the "bad" oils (those that clog pores, leading to acne) and the oils your skin naturally produces (the good stuff).
Hewett breaks down how this works: "The more that you strip your natural skin oils away with a traditional cleanser, the more oil your body will actually tell your brain to pump to the surface of your skin. Using a cleansing oil keeps the body from sending the message to the brain to send more oil, and our skin actually becomes less oily. Every time your body is triggered to send oil, there are more problems that can arise. First, there will be a higher presence of p.acnes bacteria (the bacteria present in acne), and there will be a higher chance of the oil getting stuck within the pores."
Why are they beneficial for all skin types?
We've established that switching to an oil cleanser might be most beneficial to curb overall oil production, but Hewett argues that they're worth incorporating into your routine no matter what skin type you identify with. This is because by keeping your skin's sebum intact—and natural oils are key here—your skin will be healthier overall.
"The other way in which cleansing oils help with acne," she continued, "is that they leave your natural bacteria intact within your microbiome or acid mantle. This is the natural layer of oil that coats your skin that contains good bacteria. Without a healthy level of good bacteria on our skin, our skin becomes susceptible to acne and dermatitis. These are just an example of conditions that can arise from the bad bacteria taking over."
How should you cleanse your face with an oil?
Hewett tells her clients to quit traditional cleansers like gels, lotions, and foams entirely. While avoiding harsh, stripping elements found in most of these traditional products is recommended, it's not a be-all and end-all. Celebrity esthetician Candace Marino preaches the benefits of oil cleansers as the first step of a double- or triple-cleansing routine. Marino tells her clients to use one at first to remove makeup, dirt, and debris while keeping the sebum intact and then follow up with either a milky gel or foaming cleanser to penetrate deeper after the oil has done its job on the surface level.
As for the actual how-to, using an oil to wash your face is a bit of a different process than standard cleansing because, well, oil repels water. Hewett says to wash your face with oil at night as you would your traditional cleanser, but instead of rinsing it away with water, you will wipe it away with a damp cloth.
So which are the best cleansing oils?
Now that we've espoused the benefits and heard from the experts, it's time to share our intel on the best cleansing oils. If you're inspired to make the switch or curious to add one into your cleansing routine, we're sharing the exact products that estheticians recommend, that beauty shoppers give rave reviews to, and that our very own Who What Wear editors have stamped with their seal of approval—11 cleansing oils in total. And since experts like Marino suggest using more than just cleansing oils, we've included a few traditional ones that are great for acne-prone and oily skin, too.
This is the cleansing oil Hewett had me try from her skincare line, Monastery, and I can truly say it's a luxurious experience. First of all, it smells incredible, but beyond the experience, the formula combines rose and hazelnut oils, which both have anti-inflammatory properties, and I found it to be nourishing on my skin.
With its completely plant-based formula, Caudalie's cleansing oil has earned a plethora of rave reviews from online shoppers who love that it actually cuts through makeup and thoroughly removes everything at the day's end without leaving a residue. One Dermstore customer shared, "I like to layer my mascara and this oil takes it all off without feeling harsh or with excessive rubbing. The smell is light yet relaxing and just amazing. Almost like eating an almond dessert!"
This fan-favorite cleanser counts our associate beauty editor Courtney Higgs as one of its supporters, who credits this deeply penetrating formula for combatting oil.
Biossance used a specific combination of antioxidant-rich oils like orange, lavender, oat, and evening primrose to deliver nourishing and healing properties to the skin, in addition to the brand's signature plant-derived squalane that locks in moisture.
With its luxurious combination of olive, moringa, kukui and argan oils, this solution gently breaks down dirt, excess oil, and makeup to heal and detoxify the skin. The addition of turmeric and orange extracts balances the sebum to ensure a luminous glow.
This esthetician-approved pick from Fresh has also earned a near-perfect rating from hundreds of Sephora shoppers thanks to its omega-rich formula and ability to break down even waterproof makeup.
Rose-hip oil is revered in the beauty world for its skin healing properties and ability to help protect against environmental stresses, and Pai's lightweight oil puts the hardworking ingredient front and center in this oil.
Experts and beauty editors alike adore this clean skincare brand for its nontoxic, results-driven formulas, and its cleansing oil is no exception.
Everything that makes Sunday Riley's C.E.O. Oil a cult favorite can be found in here, working double overtime to deliver nourishment and the product's signature brightening, luminous effect.
I have to give a shoutout to this affordable balm because it's truly an experience to use, transforms your bathroom into a eucalyptus-scented spa, and is made with clean ingredients.
Those with severely dry and inflamed skin will relish in this French soap-free cleanser that deeply hydrates and calms the skin from issues associated with atopic dermatitis and eczema.
Additional Non-Oil-Based Cleansers for Oily Skin
Celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau's namesake formula clears away the bacteria from the surface to detoxify—but not strip—the skin and clear pores. According to the brand, it plays a key role in combatting the early signs of breakouts to keep them in check.
This affordable pick is safe for all skin types, and although it is a gel cleanser, it's formulated specifically to balance the skin's natural pH level, making it one of the only non-oil-based cleansers that's on par.
If you want your cleanser to do the most, look no further than this pick, which not only cleanses without stripping the skin but exfoliates and tones as well. Say hello to a minimal routine.
Black charcoal melts away impurities and breaks down the buildup of dirt and other pore-cloggers. Boscia's cleanser is loaded with this as well as glycolic acid to help neutralize breakouts and cut down on oiliness.
Like a superfood salad for your face, this gel cleanser combines superfood ingredients with prebiotics to correct and protect the skin. Shoppers have noted that it smells a bit "green," likely from the food-like ingredients, but that it gets the job done.