Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Ritika Tiwari (Beauty Expert)  on 18th Aug 2020

The Ultimate Skincare Routine For Acne Prone Oily Skin

Vitamin C with Hyaluronic Acid

WLooking after acne-prone oily skin can be incredibly challenging. You want products that can help decrease the oiliness, reduce breakouts, fade acne scarring, and brighten your face - All while making your skin look healthy and glowy every day.

Chances are, you have even stumbled across products that claimed to do all of the above but never really worked for you.

Most skin care products in the market try to lure customers with big words like ‘oil-free,’ ‘acne-free,’ and ‘purifying.’ But they never really talk about how they are going to help achieve all that. Or the fact that your skin has natural oils that are good for you, and you don’t want to get rid of them.

The truth is, our skin needs certain ingredients in specific concentrations to fight different problems.

For instance, hyaluronic acid is an ingredient that is present in many water-based gel moisturizers and serums. It's a great ingredient that helps hydrate the skin without making it oily. But it is present so far down the line in the ingredient list of most products that its low concentration will make no difference to your skin in the long run.

Similarly, many expensive serums come packaged with numerous ingredients, which might be helpful. Still, they are present in such small percentages that they practically have no impact whatsoever on your skin.

More importantly, these products are filled with harmful chemicals that might not even suit your skin. After all, everyone’s skin is as unique as their fingerprint or DNA. What works for others might not work for you. 

To successfully get rid of acne permanently, you need to understand your skin’s needs, the science behind skincare, and focus on ingredients instead of products.

In this article, we will be discussing:

  • Identifying the type of skin and acne that you have
  • Finding the right skincare ingredients that work for you
  • Creating a dedicated morning and evening skincare routine that gives you visible results 
  • Things you should never do 

Identify your skin type 

It is common to link oily skin to acne. After all, excess oil is known to be a major contributor to breakouts. But people with dry skin can suffer from acne too because of a number of reasons, including pollution, poor skin care routine, hormonal changes, and clogged pores.

That is why you need first to identify your skin type before you select products to fight acne. Understanding whether your skin is more oily or dry will help you realize how much moisture and hydration your skin needs. 

How to identify your skin type:  


Step 1

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser or a mild baby soap

Step 2
Pat it dry and don’t apply any skincare product for an hour

Step 3
Examine your face in the mirror after 45 mn - 1 hour  

It is easy to confuse dry and dehydrated skin, but they are very different from each other. Dry skin is just a type of skin, but dehydrated skin is a skin condition. While dry skin lacks both water and oil, dehydrated skin only lacks water and has an excess of oil.

Dry skin needs moisture, while dehydrated skin needs hydration through the water.

That is why hydration is the key to beating acne, especially for people with oily and dehydrated skin.

Moreover, most people with oily skin have a compromised skin barrier. It is like a protective barrier for your skin that keeps all the good moisture inside while keeping harmful irritants and damaging chemicals.

With a compromised barrier function, it becomes difficult for the skin to retain moisture. As the moisture leaves your skin, it becomes dehydrated and produces even more oil. This extra oil can clog pores leading to breakouts, pimples, and inflammation.

It's a massive, vicious cycle that you can only break by using products that can repair the barrier and give your skin the much-needed moisture boost. 

Identify the type of acne you have 

‘Breakouts’ is a term that is usually used to describe all types of acne, but it isn’t an accurate description. Identifying the type of acne you are experiencing is the key to achieving clear skin.

Acne is divided into non-inflammatory and inflammatory.

Non-inflammatory acne majorly includes blackheads and whiteheads. Blackhead is an open skin pore where oil, bacteria, dirt, or dead skin cells get deposited. Whiteheads are closed pores with dirt in them. While it can be tempting to clean out your pores by just pushing the dirt out, you should never do that yourself.

The only healthy and correct way of getting rid of blackheads and whiteheads is through regular exfoliation and using products that can minimize pore size.

Inflammatory acne mainly refers to pimples. It usually happens when sebum and dead skin cells clog up pores, which can then become red and swollen. Bacterial infections deep beneath the surface can also cause painful acne spots. As a result, you don’t just have to use the right products to treat the clogged pores, but you also need to gently address the inflammation to make sure it doesn’t leave a scar.

The best ingredients for acne-prone oily skin 

Hyaluronic acid 

Hyaluronic Acid is a humectant. It is a moisture magnet that draws moisture from the air or the deepest layer of the skin into your skin.

Targets :
1. Gives skin a moisture boost
2. Creates a plumping effect
3. Hydrates the skin from within
4. Fights water loss

When to use: AM & PM

Conflicts: None

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) 

Vitamin C is an incredibly powerful antioxidant that fights free radical damage in your skin cells while treating acne.

Targets:
Reduces acne induced inflammation
Improves hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and acne scars
Antioxidant support

When to use: AM & PM

Conflicts: Niacinamide

Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a holy grail skincare ingredient that you will find in a majority of moisturizers and serums. Regularly using niacinamide can help with sebum control and make your skin less oily -- which will directly lead to fewer breakouts. It doesn’t precisely reduce the acne that you already have, but it can help avoid future breakouts altogether.

Targets:
Decrease the pore size
Regulates sebum
Improves skin barrier function and even elasticity.

When to use: AM & PM

Conflicts: Vitamin C

AHA (Glycolic acid)

Alpha Hydroxy Acids or AHAs help exfoliate the skin's topmost layer to break down the bonds holding the dead and dull skin cells on the surface to reveal your new smoother, plumper, and younger-looking skin beneath. They are water-soluble and help hydrate your skin while decreasing pigmentation.
While Glycolic acid is one of the most popular AHAs, it also includes lactic acid and mandelic acid.

Targets:
Reduces visible signs of sun damage and aging
Improves skin cell turnover rate (The rate at which your skin sheds dead skin cells)
Lightens dark spots and hyperpigmentation
Brightens and evens skin tone

When to use:  PM

Conflicts: All direct acids

BHA (Salicylic acid)

Unlike AHAs, which can only work on the topmost layer of the skin, Beta Hydroxy Acids or BHAs exfoliate by going deep within your skin to clear pore congestion. They are oil-soluble, which allows them to dissolve oil, meaning they can break down all the oily dirt in your pores and regulate sebum control. Just like AHAs, these also help remove the thicken and old dead skin cells to give you a visible glow. BHAs mainly include salicylic acid.

Targets:
leans and tightens pores
Fadeaway blemishes
Increases cell turnover
Kills bacteria and germs in the skin

When to use: PM

Conflicts: All direct acids

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredient. The acne-causing bacteria in your skin thrive in an oxygen-less environment. Benzoyl peroxide works by introducing oxygen into your skin, killing the bacteria, and getting rid of acne completely.

Though high concentration, Benzoyl peroxide ointment can cause skin drying or weaken your skin barrier, so you should only use it as a spot treatment.
Else you can go for 2% Benzoyl peroxide serum for daily use for the entire face.

Targets :
Reduces acne-causing bacteria
Fights redness and inflammation
Visibly clears out the skin

When to use: PM

Conflicts: All direct acids

Retinoids

Retinoids have vitamin A in them, which helps regulate your skin cell turnover rate. It is a powerful ingredient that doesn't even give your skin a chance to clog pores.

Depending on the type of retinoid you are using, you may face irritation, skin flaking, or dryness. If you are new to retinoids, you should start with low concentration products and work your way up according to what best suits your skin.

Targets:
Reduce sebum production
Decreases oiliness
Improves skin textures
Reduces signs of aging

When to use: PM

Conflicts: Other retinol products

Panthenol (Vitamin B5)

Panthenol helps repair and strengthen the skin barrier to make your skin more healthy.

It has the added benefit of being both humectant and emollient. As mentioned, humectants bring moisture and water to the top layer of your skin. Now emollients are responsible for repairing or filling in the cracks present in your skin barrier and locking all that moisture in which the humectant brings in.

Panthenol is useful for people with oily and dehydrated skin, especially when using drying treatments like Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic acid.

Targets:
Minimizes water loss and promotes water retention
Improves skin barrier function
Hydrates the skin from within
Makes the skin more plump and glowy

When to use: AM & PM

Conflicts: None

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring organic compound found in wheat, barley, and rye, which helps fight acne and lighten the pigmented area. It is an active ingredient that is much milder than benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, making this a great alternative to them for people who might find those two to drying.

Targets:
Decreases skin sensitivity
Clears general breakouts and even fungal acne
Brightens and evens skin tone
Promotes skin cell turnover
Anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial

When to use: PM

Conflicts: All direct acids

Skincare Routine

Morning skincare routine for oily skin 

For the morning, it's best to use minimal products because you are very likely to sweat. Moreover, you should use ingredients that don’t make your skin too sensitive in the sunlight. You also need an extra layer of moisture to balance out the transepidermal water loss (the loss of water from the top layer of the skin due to the surrounding atmosphere and evaporation) 

Step #1: Cleanser
If you religiously follow a night skincare routine, then your skin is already clean when you wake up. You only need a gentle cleanser (SLS free) that can refresh your skin without stripping off your natural oils.

Also, note that foam does not equate to cleaning. Often harsh surfactants are added to cleansers to create more foam and make you believe that they are more effective when all they do is dry out your skin.

So, avoid using cleansers that make your skin feel ‘squeaky clean.’ They are the ones that will dry out your skin the most. It's best to go for cleansers that can maintain the pH balance of your skin. A healthy skin’s pH can fall between the 4.5 to 6.5 range. So your skin is mildly acidic on average, and that’s where you want it to be.

Step #2: Toners
Toners are used after cleansing to adjust the pH of your skin or give a hydration boost before you use serums, treatments, or direct acids. For oily and acne-prone skin, it is best to use a water-based hydrating toner.

Minimalist Tips:You should avoid using alcohol-based toners completely. Alcohol might give you a short-term glow, but it will make your skin more sensitive in the long run.

Step #3: Serums/ Actives

It is the main treatment part where you use acids and other active ingredients to target your acne issues.

In the morning, you can use a Niacinamide serum and Vitamin C serum alternatively, which helps brighten up your skin and give a matt look throughout the day.

The idea is to use calming ingredients in the morning that don’t make your skin feel too sensitive since you will be out in the sun. Sunlight tends to decrease the efficacy of many ingredients.

Wait for 1 minute before applying moisturizer as you want your serum to get deep into your skin and then use a moisturizer that will lock all the good properties of serum inside.

Step #4: Water-based moisturizers

You can tell whether a moisturizer is oil-based or water-based by looking at the ingredient list. For any product, the first item on the ingredient list always has the most concentration. In the case of water-based moisturizers, it is ‘Aqua’ or water.

Look for non-comedogenic moisturizers (won’t clog your pores) with hydrating and repairing ingredients Vitamin B5, C, and E.

Avoid moisturizers with ingredients like mineral oil, petroleum jelly, and paraffin.

Step #5: Sunscreen

No morning skincare routine is complete without sunscreen. You need a good sunscreen with at least an SPF of 35 and UVA rating of PA+++ to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun, which can cause long term permanent damage.

Look for water-based, lightweight, and soothing sunscreens, mainly aimed at oily skin, to make sure your sunscreen doesn’t sweat a lot. It should also be non-comedogenic and not clog your pores, which can aggravate your acne. 

Evening skincare routine

This is the perfect time for targeted treatments, overnight masks, and chemical exfoliant since your skin can absorb all the good overnight. You can give your skin all the time it needs to regenerate and recover all a long day.

Step #1: Cleanser

You need a good cleanser to take out your makeup and/or sunscreen. If you don’t use any makeup during the day, your morning cleanser should easily take out the sunscreen.

For cleaning makeup, you can do either of the following:

  • Double cleansing where you use a light oil cleanser to break up all the makeup followed by a foaming cleanser 
  • Use a cleansing balm to take off all the makeup and follow it with your usual cleanser.
    Cleanser to take out makeup and sunscreen 

Minimalist Experts's Advice:

You should avoid using makeup wipes or harsh rubbing since they can be extremely harsh on the skin and increase your skin sensitivity. 

Dr. Harshna Bijlani -– Mumbai-based celebrity skin expert and Medical Head at The AgeLess Clinic told Minimalist


I absolutely swear by the Korean double cleanse. I usually start with Cleansing Gel, a heavier, oil-based gel for my stubborn eye makeup and SPF. Followed by a milder amino-acid-based foaming cleanser to get rid of any impurities that may have been left behind after the first cleanse.


Step #2: Chemical exfoliation (thrice a week)

Dr. Harsha Bijalani further told.

“For exfoliation, I use a direct acid exfoliator that uses glycolic acid instead of beaded exfoliants that tend to damage the skin.”

Chemical exfoliants are mainly acids that help get rid of dead skin cells. With regular exfoliation, your skin feels smoother, and pores are unclogged, leading to less occurrence of breakouts, whiteheads, and blackheads.

You can use both the AHAs (Lactic or Glycolic acid) 5-10 % and BHAs (Salicylic acid) with 1-2 % percent concentration for chemical exfoliation.

Though you should never mix strong direct acids or use them together, spread them throughout the week instead. The best way would be to use AHAs and BHAs on alternate days.

Step #3: Hydration

After direct acids or chemical exfoliants, you should always hydrate your face using a hydrating ingredient like Hyaluronic Acid. While exfoliation can be incredibly helpful in getting rid of acne and clearing out your skin, they can also be drying. By using hyaluronic acid, you can ensure that your skin doesn’t get too dry or sensitive.

Step #4: Serums/ Actives (Daily)

The night is the perfect time to use more potent active ingredients that you usually can’t use during the day like:

 - Retinoids
- Benzoyl Peroxide

Wait for 30 minutes after exfoliation and hydration before applying your treatment serums. 

Minimalist Expert's Advice:

While layering multiple serums, start with the lightest and move to heaviest. In this case, Benzoyl peroxide water-based serum shall be applied before Retinol oil-based serums.

Step #5: Moisturizer

You can use the same water-based moisturizer you use during the day. If your skin has been too patchy or dry lately, you can use an overnight hydration mask or a heavier non-comedogenic moisturizer (water-based).

Weekend peeling solution 

To get rid of acne scars and dark spots, you can go for peeling solutions on weekends. They are higher concentrations of direct acids, so you should use them once per week.
A peeling solution with 30% AHA and 2% BHA is a potent exfoliator to remove all dead cells and flush out impurities from pores. 

AHA 25% + PHA 5% + BHA 2%
AHA 25% + PHA 5% + BHA 2%

AHA 25% + PHA 5% + BHA 2%

₹ 689
A powerful peeling trio of 25% AHA, 5% PHA & 2 % BHA that provides multi-level exfoliation, both on the surface & inside the pores, giving you a healthy, plump, and glowing skin.
View details

Key takeaways 

  • Avoid harsh cleansers that strip your skin off of its natural oils
  • Water-based moisture with Vitamin B5, C, and E can help make the skin more glowy and plump 
  • Chemical exfoliation with AHAs and BHAs should always be preferred over physical exfoliation 
  • Never go out during the day without applying sunscreen 
  • Don’t try to poke your pimples or pull out blackheads and whiteheads 
  • Oily skin needs hydration through hyaluronic acid reduce oil production so make sure you always moisturize and use hydrating products