Finding a Radiant Complexion Under Your Oily Skin

The T-zone is that notorious facial region spanning the forehead, nose and chin where oil glands are most highly concentrated. Mother Nature intended oil glands to serve a beneficial purpose. They produce our own natural and protective skin moisturizer.

Posted on | Audrey Kunin, MD | Comments ()

The T-zone is that notorious facial region spanning the forehead, nose and chin where oil glands are most highly concentrated. Mother Nature intended oil glands to serve a beneficial purpose. They produce our own natural and protective skin moisturizer.

Hot, humid weather triggers an increase in oil production. Many who struggle with greasy, shiny, oily skin might argue that the mere existence of sebum (the medical term for skin oils) is actually a curse. The good news is that T-zone terror can easily be  controlled.

Let's talk daily care, cleansing, oil control, moisturizers and SPF. While oily areas can be limited to the t-zone (combination skin), or affect the entire face (oily skin type), I'm a big believer in simplicity and convenience when it comes to skin care. Today's cosmetic technology allows one to use products over the whole face avoiding the anxiety of where exactly to apply something.

The first rule of controlling oily skin: Don't remove too much oil and end up with parched, irritated skin.

Cleanse. Use either a gentle soap-free cleanser or if you're really wanting to cut through and remove grease and grime, use a cleanser containing between 10-15% buffered glycolic acid.

Oil Control. We have come a very long way in oil control technology. Microscopic polymer sponges literally soak up excessive oiliness without leaving skin dried out.  When reading labels, look for the ingredient acrylates copolymer. Avoid silicon- based skin primers/oil-control products. These lie upon the surface of the skin on top of the oil. Skin may appear mattified, but in reality, it's an illusion. Envision plastic wrap on top of olive oil. Skin becomes smothered and oils push more deeply into the glands, encouraging acne outbreaks.

Moisturize. If your skin is oily, does it need a moisturizer? Probably not; at least not one used all over every single day. Remember, sebum is a moisturizer. Combine that along with hydration provided by sunscreen and any anti-aging creams/lotions and skin is good to go. Of course, this may vary by season or if you have extremely dry zones. The best rule of thumb is pay attention to what your skin is telling you and act accordingly.


Sun Protection. No skin care routine is complete without sunscreen. I have my personal bias as I have been plagued throughout my life with oily skin. While I have found that there are innumerable sunscreens on the market labeled as oil-free, or lightweight, none were equal to the challenge of my skin. Look for those containing oil-reducing polymers which soak up only the excessive skin oils. They mattify without leaving your skin dry or irritated (meaning they are ideal for any and all skin types). And make certain your sun protection is labeled broad spectrum (UVA and UVB), and use a minimum of SPF 30.

Finally, Some Common Misconceptions About Oily Skin 

  • Using oil-control products will lead to an increase in oil production. Simply untrue. The oil glands beneath the skin have no idea how dry or oily the surface is. Instead, they make more oil due to hormonal influences and an increase in blood flow (which occurs with heat and exercise).
  • Blotting facial oils helps to reduce the production of oil. The truth is they actually only temporarily blot off surface oil.
  • Oily skin is not a concern for those with rosacea. False: Even those with sensitive or rosacea-prone skin can be oily.
  • Prescription Accutane fully eliminates ("cures") oil production. This serious acne med may reduce oiliness but is only temporary.
  • You can't wear makeup while using oil-control products. False: Simply choose one labeled non-comedogenic.
  • Oil-control products cause unpleasant dryness and smell. False: Polymer-based oil-control will only soak up excessive oils and leave dry areas alone. Plus, there are products without fragrance or a "chemical" scent.

With proper care, you can find a healthy, radiant complexion under oily skin.

Blog written by Audrey Kunin, MD
Dr. Audrey Kunin is a board-certified dermatologist, author, clinician, educator and President of DERMAdoctor, Inc. Dr. Kunin...