The Unexpected Skincare Swap Estheticians Recommend for Oily Skin


(Image credit: @aysha.sow)

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. 


(Image credit: @joannacoops)

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."


(Image credit: @itsheymorgan)

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.

Additional Non-Oil-Based Cleansers for Oily Skin


(Image credit: @brosiaaa)

Next up, discover the morning beauty rituals our editors never skip, even when we work from home.


Anna is an editor on the fashion team at Who What Wear and has been at the company for over five years, having begun her career in the Los Angeles office before relocating to New York, where she's currently based. Having always been passionate about pursuing a career in fashion, she built up her experience interning at the likes of Michael Kors, A.L.C., and College Fashionista before joining the team as a post-graduate assistant editor. Anna has penned a number of interviews with Who What Wear's cover stars over the years, including A-listers Megan Fox, Issa Rae, and Emma Chamberlain. She's earned a reputation for scouting new and emerging brands from across the globe and championing them to our audience of millions. While fashion is her main wheelhouse, Anna led the launch of WWW Travels last year, a new lifestyle vertical that highlights all things travel through a fashion-person lens. She is passionate about shopping vintage, whether it be at a favorite local outpost or an on-the-road discovery, and has amassed a wardrobe full of unique finds. When she's not writing, you can find her shooting street imagery on her film camera, attempting to learn a fourth or fifth language, or planning her next trip across the globe.