A little over a year ago, my skin (which, historically, had only ever been dry/combination) went a little bonkers. I was stressed, I had gone off a medication that affected my hormones, my diet was all over the place, I was abusing acid-heavy exfoliating products, and as a result, my skin seemed to flip personalities practically overnight. All of a sudden, my skin had become uncontrollably oily, and I'd wake up to at least three new pimples every single morning. As a beauty editor, I'm super blessed to have plenty of top-notch products at my disposal and experts on speed dial, but nothing I implemented seemed to make a dent in my oily, acne-prone skin until a friend from the industry recommended I see celebrity facialist and Brentwood-based esthetician Vanessa Hernandez.
To make a long story short, I was able to stop by Hernandez's gorgeous studio, where she quickly put me on a strict skin protocol—one of four curated healing methods she's famous for in the L.A. area. (To help get my oily skin and acne under control, she prescribed her Acne and Congestion plan, but she also has plans geared toward pigmentation, texture enhancement, and tightening. As her website outlines, the VH Method is a personalized and curated skin treatment protocol Hernandez and her wonderful team specifically customizes for your skin type and concerns.
"We not only address all of your skin's needs both externally and internally but also develop a combination of in-office treatments and at-home routines that fit your lifestyle and budget," she explains. "The VH Method incorporates the most advanced technologies that trigger collagen production, smooth and refine the skin's texture, brighten skin tone, and give you an overall healthy, youthful, and radiant glow."
Since I can personally vouch for how knowledgeable and effective Hernandez's skin expertise is, I asked both Hernandez and her fellow esthetician Dakota Katt (who I still see for regular skin check-ups) to share all of their best tips and product recommendations for oily skin. Keep scrolling!
4 Telling Signs That You Might Have Oily Skin
If there's anything I've learned after talking to countless skin experts, it's that pinpointing your skin type is a lot more complicated and personal than the product industry would like us to believe. Even within one category (like, for instance, oily skin), there are so many variables that come into play, and just because someone may exhibit a particular symptom, such as acne, that doesn't automatically mean they fall into the oily-skin camp. (Hello, hormones, pollution, diet, etc.)
Consulting a dermatologist or licensed esthetician to assess your skin type and any concerns you're having is the best way to Nancy Drew your skin type, but in general, Katt says (a) having significant shine on your face by midday; (b) noticing enlarged pores, especially around the T-zone; (c) experiencing frequent congestion and/or breakouts; and (d) applying foundation only to have it pill off quickly after application are all common signs your skin is on the oilier side.
What causes or worsens oily skin?
As Katt explains to me, oily skin is essentially too much of a good thing, and it manifests when our sebaceous glands begin to produce an excess amount of sebum. (FYI: Genetics, diet, environment, overwashing, hormones, medications, and cosmetics are just a few of the factors that can cause or exacerbate oily skin.)
That said, sebum is important. It helps keep our skin hydrated, healthy, and supple, and it even diminishes visible signs of aging by keeping our complexion dewy and moisturized. In excess, however, it can lead to acne, congestion, and unwanted shine, and using products that are either too rich or overly drying can definitely make oily skin worse.
"Oily skins don’t need additional oil (which is why lightweight or oil-free moisturizers are recommended), but what you do need is water," explains celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. "When the skin doesn’t have the adequate water levels it needs to function properly, it attempts to balance itself by stimulating the nerve endings at the base of the pore. These nerve endings are connected to oil glands and send a message that it's time to make more oil." Additionally, Rouleau says that when the oil starts pushing through it may also encounter a clog, triggering bacteria that could potentially lead to a breakout or blemish. Simply put, she says, skin cells are like fish: "They need water to live, and without it, your skin will appear oiler with an increased chance of breakout activity."
The Best Skincare Products to Prioritize for Oily Skin
"Above all else, I recommend products that gently exfoliate for oily skin types," Hernandez shares. "There are two ways to exfoliate: physically and chemically. Gentle scrubs, facial tools, and even washcloths are considered physical methods, while AHAs (like glycolic and lactic acids) and BHAs (like salicylic acids) are considered chemical." Additionally, Hernandez recommends swapping super-rich moisturizers for lightweight or oil-free options instead, as formulas that are too heavy or have too much oil will only congest your pores.
Gentle Exfoliating Cleansers
According to Rouleau, people with oily skin might need to wash their face more frequently throughout the day, which is okay as long as you're not using a cleanser that is too drying, abrasive, or harsh.
As someone who has personally dealt with oily skin and breakouts, I swear by Rouleau's miracle blemish-banishing concoction above. Dermalogica's Daily Microfoliant Exfoliator is another great option that's safe for daily use, but just be sure to combine it with the brand's Special Cleansing Gel to exfoliate and cleanse all in one go.
Lightweight or Oil-Free Moisturizers
"For those prone to breakouts, the goal is to have less oil on the skin," explains Rouleau. Both Hernandez and Rouleau recommend opting for a light, oil-free option that will still keep your skin's water levels topped up without contributing to excess oil.
Not a fan of oil-free moisturizers? Moisturizers that have lightweight oils that are noncomedogenic (hello, jojoba and rosehip—buh-bye, coconut) are typically safe to use for oily skin types as well. Lately, I've been obsessing over these new options from Peach & Lily and Allies of Skin with nary a shiny complexion or pimple in sight!
Acids—Especially Salicylic Acid
As Hernandez explains, incorporating both methods of exfoliating, chemical and physical, is important for keeping excess oil at bay, but make salicylic acid your new BFF chemical acid if you're struggling with an oily complexion.
"Salicylic acid is a keratolytic beta hydroxy acid (BHA) famous for its ability to smooth the skin without causing irritation and reduce acne-causing bacteria and oil to prevent blemishes, all while penetrating the pores to help clear out impurities," says Rouleau. You can find the acid in just about every category of skincare product—from cleansers to serums to moisturizers to masks and peels—so feel free to pick your poison, but to avoid irritation, overdrying, or stripping (which might lead to a retaliatory overproduction of oil), cap your application to a few times a week or once daily, tops. (Rouleau's iconic Triple Berry Smoothing Peel will make you glow like no other while also sucking up excess grease.)
Your A.M. and P.M. Oily-Skin Protocol
In a perfect world, we'd all have our very own skin experts on speed dial or within walking distance from our homes, but in-office appointments can be spendy, and since we're still doing our best to stay at home as much as possible right now, we asked Hernandez to share her recommended oily-skin product protocol with us. Below are the morning and evening lineups she typically recommends for clients with oily skin. Keep scrolling!
The first time I met her, Hernandez suggested I begin using this exfoliating cleanser every morning to help ease breakouts, curb oil, and smooth out my skin texture. The brand is under the radar, but I've been hooked ever since. The key is in the strategic mix of benzoyl peroxide and tea tree and manuka oils, which work harmoniously to disinfect acne bacteria, decongest pores, and diminish redness.
Packed with nutrition and high-quality active ingredients, this hydrating essence leaves skin balanced, brighter, more even, and noticeably smoother. (It's an investment, but a little goes a long way!)
For daily hydration that's noncomedogenic and laden with potent anti-aging ingredients, Hernandez likes this top-rated cream from SkinCeuticals. (We have a hunch you'll love how velvety and firm it makes your complexion feel post-application.)
No matter you skin type, everyone needs to be wearing sunscreen 365 days a year. That said, lots of formulas can be cloying and problematic for people with oily or acne-prone skin. Hernandez recommends a brush-on option like this fan favorite from Colorescience for lightweight yet effective sun protection. (However, if you're not a fan of powder sunscreens, she recommends EltaMD's UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $36, which plays safely with oily skin types and likely won't cause breakouts.)
Think of this gentle, nutrient-rich cleanser as a turbo-charged green juice specifically designed to heal your complexion. Ingredients like vitamin C, green tea, and aloe (to name just a few) lead the charge in combating blemishes, excess oil, clogged pores, and even wrinkles.
A few nights per week post-cleanser, Hernandez recommends her very own at-home peel. It's a gentle yet powerful blend of active exfoliants, skin nutrients, and stem cell technology formulated to "refine and replenish skin for a smoother, healthier complexion."
If you're someone with oily skin who doesn't deal with frequent breakouts, Hernandez recommends this lightweight, non-oily moisturizer from SkinMedica. Vitamins C and E and hyaluronic acid are all top-billed ingredients.
However, if you're someone with oily skin and stubborn breakouts, she suggests opting for this special oil-free clarifying number from Ayur-Medic instead. It includes salicylic acid, mallow extract, arnica, cucumber, sodium hyaluronate, and other lush natural ingredients to keep oily skin balanced and happy.
If you're someone who already uses a retinol or wants to start using retinol, Hernandez suggests switching over to this strategic bottle from SkinMedica. It's far less likely to cause any reactionary irritation or breakouts, and I've been using this 0.25 concentration (per Hernandez's suggestion) with great results.
To cap off your evening skincare routine, Hernandez suggests this wrinkle- and dark-circle–defying eye cream from SkinCeuticals.
"We are also big fans of lymphatic drainage for encouraging healthy, well-circulated skin," says Hernandez. "You can incorporate this ritual at home (a minimum of three nights per week) either with a manual massage using your fingertips or using a rose quartz roller."