Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist) on 21st Jan 2021
The Ultimate Skincare Routine For Oily, Acne-Prone Skin
Looking 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 skincare 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 will 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 if you have oily skin.
- 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 if you have oily skin
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 several reasons, including pollution, a poor skincare 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:
Wash/clean your face with a gentle cleanser or a mild baby soap
Pat it dry, and don't apply any skincare product for an hour.
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 lacks water and has excess 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 adequate moisture inside while keeping out 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 block/log 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 acne.
Non-inflammatory acne majorly includes blackheads and whiteheads. A blackhead is a loose 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 to minimize pore size.
Inflammatory acne mainly refers to pimples. It usually happens when sebum and dead skin cells clog up pores, becoming 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
1. Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant. When you are very active, your skin might lose a lot of moisture. This is where hyaluronic acid comes and restores the moisture content of the skin.
- Gives skin a moisture boost.
- Creates a plumping effect.
- Hydrates the skin from within.
- Fights water loss.
When to use:
AM & PM. Although you can add it to your routine twice a day, hydrating your skin once a day will suffice as well.
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.
Niacinamide will become your darling ingredient that shows stunning results when you use it with Alpha Arbutin, as together they target acne marks. But using this combo along with your BPO (Benzoyl peroxide) treatment might become overwhelming for your skin, and so you can reduce the BPO spot treatment by once a day or skip it altogether.
- Decrease the pore size.
- Regulates sebum.
- Improves skin barrier function and even elasticity.
When to use:
AM & PM.
3. 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.
Exfoliation with the help of Salicylic Acid in your evening routine helps you curb the oil secretion and reduces acne dramatically. Being an exfoliator, it is best to use it only in your evening routine as it increases your skin's susceptibility to the sun.
- leans and tightens pores
- Fadeaway blemishes
- Increases cell turnover
- Kills bacteria and germs in the skin
When to use:
All direct acids
4. 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’. BPO is fairly effective in curbing your current acne breakouts as a spot treatment. You can use it twice a day or once a day, depending on the other ingredients in your routine.
Else you can go for 2% Benzoyl peroxide serum for daily use for the entire face.
- Reduces acne-causing bacteria
- Fights redness and inflammation
- Visibly clears out the skin.
When to use:
All direct acids
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 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
After cleansing, toners are used to adjust your skin's pH or give a hydration boost before using serums, treatments, or direct acids. For oily & acne-prone skin, it is best to use a water-based hydrating toner.
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 part of the treatment, 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 your skin and give you a matt look throughout the day.
Niacinamide works best for all skin types, including oily skin, and you can combine it with alpha-arbutin to get your skin going. A 10% niacinamide will work on reducing your blemishes and those stubborn acne leftovers- acne marks. Vitamin B3 improves your skin's appearance. It is good for you, and you know it works as it reduces melanin concentration, an acne mark variable.
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. It would help if you had a great sunscreen with at least an SPF of 35 and a UVA rating of PA+++ to save/protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays, which can cause long-term permanent damage.
When you use active ingredients in your night routine, it becomes extremely important that you protect your body from harmful UV rays. Active ingredients turn your skin more susceptible to sun damage, making SPF a mandatory step.
Look for water-based, lightweight, and soothing sunscreen, mainly aimed at oily skin. It should also be non-comedogenic and not clog your pores, which can aggravate acne.
Evening skincare routine
This is the best time for targeted treatments, overnight masks, and chemical exfoliants since your skin can absorb all the goodness overnight. You can give your skin all the time it needs to regenerate and recover in the day.
Step #1: Cleanser
It would help if you had a good cleanser to take off your makeup and sunscreen. If you don't use any makeup during the day, your morning cleanser should easily take off 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 up with your usual cleanser.
- Cleanser to take off makeup and sunscreen
Advice by Minimalist:
You should avoid using makeup wipes or harsh rubbing since they can be extremely harsh on the skin and increase your skin's sensitivity.
Dr. Harshna Bijlani -– Mumbai-based celebrity skin expert and Medical Head at The AgeLess Clinic, told Minimalist
I swear by the Korean double cleanse. I usually start with a 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 says,
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. Your skin feels smoother with regular exfoliation, and pores are unclogged, leading to fewer breakouts, whiteheads, and blackheads.
BHAs (Salicylic Acid) with 1-2 % percent concentration for chemical exfoliation. Your best bet at exfoliation for acne-prone oily skin is salicylic acid since it is a known savior for oily skin types. Its ability to destroy bacteria by penetrating the pores to fade blemishes will help you immensely in the long run. The exfoliation will also help other ingredients work more deeply into the skin.
Layering Salicylic Acid and BPO is okay, but you might be left with dry skin due to their extreme natures. So you need to amp up your moisturizing and hydrating abilities to avoid dryness.
Step #3: 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:
- Benzoyl Peroxide
Wait for 30 minutes after exfoliation and hydration before applying your treatment serums.
Benzoyl peroxide is an obvious, more appealing choice if you have inflammatory acne, and it will lead to lesser peeling than retinoic acid.
You may also opt for niacinamide here for acne marks and even acne. Studies point out that niacinamide effectively reduces future acne vulgaris by reducing excess sebum in your pores. Vitamin B3 can be used twice a day, so this is the step where you can opt for niacinamide if you have sensitive skin and are looking for a particularly gentle option compared to retinoids and BPO.
Step #4: 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 & 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.
- 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 glowing and plump.
- Chemical exfoliation with AHAs and BHAs should always be given preference 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 to reduce oil production. So make sure you always moisturize and use hydrating products.