How do dermatologists treat oily skin?

What causes oily skin?

Oily skin is caused by overactive sebaceous glands in the skin that produce excess sebum, an oily substance that lubricates and protects the skin. Several factors can contribute to overactive sebaceous glands and oily skin:

  • Genetics – Some people are just predisposed to having oily skin due to their genetic makeup.
  • Hormones – Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can increase sebum production.
  • Stress – Stress causes the body to produce more cortisol and other hormones that stimulate sebaceous glands.
  • Hot and humid climate – Hot and humid weather causes the sebaceous glands to work harder and produce more sebum.
  • Medications – Some medications like steroids, birth control pills, or lithium can increase sebum production.
  • Diet – A diet high in carbohydrates and sugar may contribute to oily skin.
  • Oily skin products – Using occlusive moisturizers and heavy makeup on oily skin can clog pores and lead to more oiliness.

What are the symptoms and signs of oily skin?

People with oily skin often experience:

  • Shiny complexion, especially on the forehead, nose and chin (T-zone).
  • Visible pores.
  • Thick, dull skin texture.
  • Blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Acne breakouts.
  • Oil blotting sheets show oil when pressed against the skin.

Oily skin may feel uncomfortable with a greasy, slick texture. Makeup and hair also appear oilier andmay “slide” off the face more. Oily skin is more prone to clogged pores, blackheads and acne breakouts. The extra sebum oxidizes and mixes with dirt and bacteria on the skin, leading to these common oily skin problems.

How do dermatologists diagnose oily skin?

Dermatologists use a few methods to diagnose oily skin:

  • Visual inspection – Dermatologists examine the skin, looking for a greasy sheen and large, visible pores. They may also stretch the skin to check for oil pooling in creases.
  • Blotting paper test – Blotting paper is pressed against different areas of the face, like the forehead, cheeks and chin. The amount of oil absorbed indicates the extent of oiliness.
  • Skin analysis machine – Special cameras and devices analyze moisture levels, sebum production, pore size and other skin oil parameters.
  • Patient history – Dermatologists ask about diet, medications, skin care regimen, climate and other factors that provide clues about oily skin causes.

These diagnostic methods help dermatologists gauge the severity of oily skin and decide on the best treatment approaches. Mild, moderate and severe grades of oily skin may warrant different therapies.

How do dermatologists treat oily skin?

Dermatologists use a variety of methods to treat oily skin, including:

1. Cleansers

Cleaning oily skin properly is crucial. Dermatologists recommend washing with gentle cleansers twice daily. The best cleanser ingredients for oily skin include:

  • Salicylic acid – Clears away dead skin cells and oil from pores.
  • Glycolic acid Alpha hydroxy acids
  • – Exfoliate and remove the top dull layers of oily skin.

  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • – Kills acne-causing bacteria on the skin.

  • Sulfur – Absorbs excess oil from the skin surface.

Avoid cleansers with harsh scrubs, alcohol and fragrances which can irritate oily skin. Use lukewarm water to rinse cleansers off fully.

2. Toners

After cleansing, dermatologists advise using an alcohol-free toner containing ingredients like glycolic acid or witch hazel. Toners further cleanse oily skin and tighten enlarged pores. Cotton pads can be used to apply toners to oily areas.

3. Exfoliators

Gentle exfoliation 2-3 times per week sloughs off dead cells and unclogs pores. Oil-absorbing clay masks are ideal for oily skin. Chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid and lactic acid solutions also provide exfoliation without abrasion.

4. Oil-free moisturizers

Moisturizing seems counterintuitive for oily skin. However, dermatologists recommend using an oil-free, water-based moisturizer to maintain the skin’s moisture barrier. Silicone-based moisturizers are suitable for acne-prone skin. Avoid thick, greasy moisturizers.

5. Oil-absorbing products

Dermatologists may prescribe topical products containing oil-absorbing ingredients like:

  • Niacinamide
  • Zinc
  • Kaolin clay
  • Silica
  • Salicylic acid

These are found in acne treatments, serums, lotions, masks and blotting paper. They help manage oily shine throughout the day.

6. Retinoids

Retinoids like tretinoin and adapalene treat acne while controlling oil production. They are available as gels, creams and solutions by prescription. Side effects like dryness, peeling and sun sensitivity may occur.

7. Antibiotics

For inflammatory acne, dermatologists may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics like clindamycin, erythromycin or doxycycline. Antibiotics combat the bacteria that cause acne and reduce sebum production. Long term antibiotic use often causes resistance.

8. Hormonal therapies

Contraceptive pills, estrogen creams and anti-androgen medications like spironolactone can reduce oil production in women. These hormonal therapies counteract the effects of androgens like testosterone on sebaceous glands.

9. Isotretinoin

In severe, scarring acne, isotretinoin capsules may be prescribed. Isotretinoin reduces oil gland size and sebum excretion. It has potential side effects and requires strict monitoring. Significant improvement of acne is often seen after one course of isotretinoin lasting a few months.

10. Procedures

Dermatologists also use special procedures and devices to treat oily skin:

  • Chemical peels – Glycolic acid or salicylic acid peels exfoliate and deep clean oily skin. Reduces acne lesions.
  • Laser therapy – Infrared laser light destroys oil glands and improves acne.
  • Photodynamic therapy – Light therapy with a photosensitizing chemical clears sebaceous gland blockages.
  • Dermabrasion – Controlled surgical scraping removes surface oil and smooths skin texture.
  • Comedone extraction – Manual extraction of blackheads and whiteheads by a dermatologist.

These methods directly remove sources of excess oil and acne blemishes on the skin. Some procedures require local anesthesia and downtime for recovery.

11. Lifestyle measures

Dermatologists recommend these daily habits to help control oily skin:

  • Use oil-free cosmetics labeled “non-comedogenic.”
  • Shampoo hair regularly to prevent oil and hair products from worsening facial oiliness.
  • Avoid frequently touching the face to minimize oil transfer.
  • Wear oil-absorbing face powder to manage shine.
  • Wash face masks and hats frequently to prevent oil buildup.
  • Drink plenty of water to promote toxin clearance.
  • Limit dairy intake which can stimulate oil glands.
  • Manage stress levels with relaxation techniques like yoga.
  • Avoid excess sun exposure which can worsen acne breakouts.

Making these simple lifestyle changes can significantly control oily skin symptoms. Dermatologists work together with patients to develop an integrative skincare plan.

What is the best daily skin care routine for oily skin?

Dermatologists recommend this daily regimen for oily, acne-prone skin:


  1. Cleanse with a gentle, antimicrobial cleanser
  2. Apply alcohol-free toner
  3. Spot treat with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide
  4. Moisturize with an oil-free, lightweight lotion
  5. Apply mattifying sunscreen SPF 30 or higher


  1. Remove makeup with micellar water or cleansing oil
  2. Cleanse with a medicated, acne-fighting cleanser
  3. Apply a serum with niacinamide or retinoid
  4. Moisturize with a non-comedogenic moisturizer
  5. Spot treat with benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid or salicylic acid

This routine provides thorough cleansing, hydration, oil control, sun protection and treatment for acne and clogged pores. The key is using products labeled non-comedogenic or oil-free.

What ingredients should you avoid if you have oily skin?

Dermatologists advise avoiding these inappropriate ingredients in skincare products for oily, acne-prone skin:

  • Mineral oil
  • Petrolatum
  • Lanolin
  • Cocoa butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Heavy moisturizing creams
  • Thick foundations
  • Harsh alcohols like SD alcohol
  • Fragrances
  • Harsh scrubs

These thick, greasy ingredients tend to clog pores and lead to more oiliness and breakouts. Always check if a product label specifies “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic.” Avoid any products that feel heavy on oily skin.

When to see a dermatologist for oily skin?

Consult a dermatologist for oily skin if you have:

  • Persistent severe oiliness not controlled with over-the-counter products
  • Moderate to severe acne not resolving with basic care
  • Enlarged pores and thick sebaceous filaments on the nose and cheeks
  • Frequent pimples and cysts leading to scarring or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
  • Signs of hormonal imbalance like hirsutism, hair loss, irregular periods, premenstrual acne flares in women

A dermatologist has specialized training, access to prescription therapies and procedures to treat stubborn oily skin problems. Book an appointment if greasy skin is affecting your appearance and quality of life.


Oily skin can be frustrating to manage but dermatologists have many effective solutions. The key is using gentle, oil-free cleansers and non-comedogenic moisturizers. Medicated topical treatments, oral medications, procedures and lifestyle changes also help regulate overactive sebaceous glands. See a dermatologist if you have severe, unresponsive oily skin. With professional guidance and consistent care, your skin texture can be transformed from greasy to fresh and healthy-looking.

Leave a Comment