As anyone with oily skin will tell you, dealing with a consistently slick complexion can be a full-time job, requiring multiple different products and seemingly constant attention. Just like you can’t control your eye color or hair color, some people are simply born with more sebaceous glands, resulting in an overproduction of oil. While we naturally produce oil to keep our skin soft and supple, too much of it results in that perpetually shiny and greasy look.
Other external factors play a role, too. While high temperatures and high humidity levels won’t necessarily make you produce more oil, they can make you sweat more; once that sweat mixes with oil, your complexion can look and start to feel greasy. The good news is there are plenty of oil-fighting products out there, but here’s the thing: If you don’t lay the proper foundation by using the right cleanser, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle from the very beginning. (FYI, your cleansing technique matters, too. Celebrity aesthetician Joshua Ross recommends using a washcloth to remove your cleanser. “The natural grit of the fabric grabs onto the dirt, dry skin, and makeup particles easily and makes for a gentle, daily exfoliation,” he explains. And that’s always a good thing when it comes to oily skin.
We conducted hours of research on the best face washes for oily skin, evaluating formulas on active ingredients that can zap up oil without over-drying skin, extra formula benefits, and what skin type it's best suited for, as people can be acne prone, sensitive, or combination skin types in addition to being prone to oil. After considering dozens of different brands and consulting with a celebrity aesthetician, we narrowed down our list to give you the best in show.
First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Deep Cleanser With Red Clay
Great for sensitive skin
Protects against environmental stressors
Comes in a tube bottle
If you have oily and sensitive skin, it can be tough to find a face wash that removes makeup and grime sans irritation—but this foaming gel cleanser from First Aid Beauty is a solid option. Absorbent red clay and rosemary leaf oil work to clear the skin and balance sebum production, while a powerful antioxidant blend helps protect against environmental stressors. Plus, it's allergy-tested and totally free of parabens, sulfates, and artificial fragrances—all things that make it extra safe for sensitive skin. For those who prefer a pump bottle, be advised that this wash comes in a tube. We don't think that's a dealbreaker, as you can still moderate how much product you dispense.
Price at time of publish: $24
Active Ingredients: Red clay, rosemary leaf oil | Skin Type: Oily, sensitive | Size: 4.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser
Doesn’t contain specific oil-fighting ingredients
This budget-friendly face wash features a gentle foaming action that whisks away impurities and excess sebum, so all you're left with is skin that's refreshed, balanced, and clean. Like all CeraVe products, the formula boasts three essential ceramides to cleanse the skin without stripping it in the process. Hyaluronic acid adds an extra moisture boost (because oily skin needs hydration, too!), while niacinamide helps calm skin.
Price at time of publish: $16.99 for 16 oz
Active Ingredients: Glycerin, ceramides | Skin Type: All | Size: 12 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
What Our Testers Say
“I'm more on the combo-leaning-oily side of things, and this face wash has been my favorite for several years now. It's simple, effective, and affordable, and I love how well it lathers (which is directly tied to cleanliness in my brain for some reason).” — Eden Stuart, Byrdie Associate Editor
Best for Acne-Prone Skin
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash With Salicylic Acid
Contains an oil-fighting ingredient
Can be a bit drying if overused
Having oily skin doesn’t necessarily make you more likely to have acne, but the two do often go hand-in-hand. No matter your issue, this blemish-busting face wash is the solution. The star of the show is 2% salicylic acid (the maximum strength you can get in an over-the-counter product). The beta-hydroxy acid is one of the best ingredients for both those with oily and acne-prone skin, given its ability to help dissolve excess oil, explains New York City board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. Bonus: Salicylic acid also helps keep pores clear and reduces blackheads, whiteheads, and even milia.
Price at time of publish: $9.98 for 9.1 oz (pack of 1)
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Size: 6 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Sensitive Skin
Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating Cleanser
Great for sensitive skin
Doesn’t lather or foam
This drugstore cream cleanser is so gentle it can be used on super-sensitive skin. Whether you have eczema, rosacea, or acne, this face wash is formulated to clean without stripping or irritating the skin. Still, while it may seem better suited for the dry skin crowd, it is oil-free, so even those with oily skin can use it.
Price at time of publish: $8.77
Active Ingredients: Glycerin | Skin Type: Al | Size: 12 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
What Our Testers Say
"I tried Neutrogena's Ultra Gentle Hydrating Cleanser out for a week, and each morning I woke up to soothed, hydrated skin. The results weren’t dramatic, but I was pleased with how easily this new product fit into my existing skincare routine." — Nicole Kliest, Product Tester
NutraNuva Face Food All-in-One Cleanser, Exfoliator, and Toner
Has multiple benefits
Free of many harmful ingredients
What you will find in this multi-tasker: A laundry list of natural ingredients that work to sop up excess oil, tamp down shine, and so much more. Think oil-absorbing kaolin clay, coupled with hydrating glycerin to keep skin balanced, and naturally antibacterial and antiseptic ingredients like cinnamon bark and lavender oil.
What you won’t find: Parabens, dyes, petrochemicals, or GMO ingredients, just to name a few. Gentle enough to use daily, it not only cleanses your skin but acts as an exfoliator and toner, too, helping to tighten pores and balance the pH of your skin. To reap the maximum benefits, gently massage it onto wet skin and let it sit for 20 to 30 seconds before rinsing.
Price at time of publish: $19.95
Active Ingredients: Aloe, kaolin clay | Skin Type: All | Size: 6 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
AcneFree Blackhead Removing Scrub
Contains oil-fighting ingredients
Only for those who like physical exfoliation
One of King’s top picks, she lauds it for containing both salicylic acid and charcoal: “Charcoal absorbs excess sebum, so it's a great choice if you have oily skin. And the salicylic acid penetrates into pores and dissolves sebum, so the combination is great to prevent and treat clogged pores,” she explains. Because it’s a scrub, it helps to physically exfoliate (always important for those with oily skin), though it still contains jojoba oil to soothe and moisturize, she says.
Price at time of publish: $11.53
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, charcoal | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Size: 5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
iNNBEAUTY PROJECT Foam Around Clarifying Daily Cleanser
Contains two different acids
Doesn't strip the skin
Sure, it may be somewhat of a placebo effect, but there’s something about using a luscious, foamy cleanser that just makes us feel like we’re getting our skin extra clean. This formula delivers exactly that, thanks to its cloud-like texture, yet it is still never stripping or over-drying (because your skin should never feel ‘squeaky’ clean, FYI). It combines both oil-dissolving salicylic acid with gently exfoliating glycolic acid, a combo that both helps absorb excess oil and generally leave your complexion smoother and more radiant.
Price at time of publish: $20
Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid, salicylic acid | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 8.4 or 16.9 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Foam, Runner-Up
Kiehl’s Calendula Deep Clean Foaming Face Cleanser
Creates a nice lather
Not clean or cruelty-free
Another formula that delivers a luscious lather, this is particularly noteworthy because, even though it is a foam, it’s sulfate-free. (Most foaming washes contain higher levels of sulfates, which can be potentially drying to the skin.) That ensures it’s not overly-drying or stripping, making it a nice choice even for those who skew toward more normal or combination skin rather than straight-up oily. But arguably our favorite part? The scent, a mix of the skin-soothing calendula that’s in the mix, along with a touch of citrus.
Price at time of publish: $38
Active Ingredients: Glycerin, calendula extract | Skin Type: Normal, oily | Size: 2.5 ounces; 7.7 ounces; 16.9 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser
Can be drying
This soap-free gel cleanser from French pharmacy staple La Roche-Posay is designed with oily skin in mind. Formulated with zinc pidolate, it cleanses impurities and reduces the production of excess oil—all without drying out the skin.
Price at time of publish: $15.99
Active Ingredients: Zinc pidolate | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 6.76 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Occasional Oiliness
CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser
Doesn’t contain specific oil-fighting ingredients
For those who don’t necessarily have slick skin all the time, this pick is an excellent choice. It’s slightly more hydrating than the other CeraVe mention on this list, making it a good pick for overall daily use. It hits just the right balance between being very mild and gentle, yet with a nice foaming action that makes it feel effective when your skin does start to feel a little oilier (think on a hot summer day).
Price at time of publish: $18.99
Active Ingredients: Glycerin, ceramides | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 11 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Atticus Mineral Cleanser
Great for sensitive skin
Has multiple benefits
This formula combines two different clays—bentonite and kaolin—to really up the oil-absorbing ante. The formula is meant to not only cleanse the skin but also help boost the production of collagen and elastin, which is always a good thing in our book. It’s also a good option for those seeking a formula that doesn’t contain any acids. While you can order it just once, you can also get it via a convenient subscription model, so you never have to worry about running out.
Price at time of publish: $16
Active Ingredients: Bentonite clay, kaolin clay, arctic root | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 3 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
"My skin is both oily and sensitive, which means I can't add any more acids into my routine than I already do. It's rare to find a cleanser made for oily skin without AHAs or BHAs, that's calming and cooling while washing away grease. This is my new hero product—the bentonite and kaolin clay work together to sop up oil for a fresh feeling with no irritation." — Kathryn Vandervalk, Byrdie Editorial & Strategy Director
Ghost Democracy Transparent Gentle Exfoliating Daily Cleanser
Improves tone and texture
Doesn't strip the skin
Not for sensitive skin
Exfoliation is important for all skin types, but those with oily skin are generally able to tolerate more of it, making an exfoliating cleanser that can be used daily, like this one, a great choice. “The sulfate-free formulation cleanses and gently exfoliates without stripping the skin of moisture,” says King of another one of her favorites. “It contains glycolic acid, mandelic acid, and willow bark extract to gently remove dead skin cells and pore-clogging debris, as well as niacinamide, which is helpful for improving tone and texture,” she says. Fun fact: Willow bark extract is actually the natural precursor to salicylic acid.
Price at time of publish: $26
Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid, mandelic acid, willow bark extract | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
Effectively cleanses and exfoliates
Contains both chemical and physical exfoliants
May be too strong for everyday use on some skin types
Here’s an easy way to exfoliate regularly. This pick combines both chemical exfoliating ingredients—namely an assortment of alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic, glycolic and mandelic plus salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid that’s oil-soluble and great for oily skin—along with jojoba beads for physical exfoliation. The end result? A formula that leaves skin brighter, smoother, and generally glowier, all while effectively removing excess oil. Still, it’s both sulfate- and fragrance-free, so even sensitive skin types can try it (they just may want to use it slightly less often at first). Although this product is more expensive that others on our list, it does contain a robust variety of acids, making it worth the spend.
Price at time of publish: $48
Active Ingredients: AHA blend, salicylic acid, jojoba beads| Skin Type: All | Size: 6 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
If you’re dealing with oily skin, choosing the right cleanser can make all the difference. The First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Deep Cleanser With Red Clay is our all-around fave, relying on, among other things, red clay and rosemary leaf oil to combat oiliness and keep skin clear. Plus, the non-irritating formula makes it a great pick for those with sensitive complexions. If you’re on a budget, nab the CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, which balances your skin without ever stripping it. And the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash is another great affordable choice that, you guessed it, earns our vote as best for acne-prone skin, thanks to the addition of oil-busting salicylic acid.
What to Look for in a Face Wash for Oily Skin
Ingredients Targeted for Oily Skin
According to Ross, you want to make sure the cleanser you pick has some type of ingredient that’s going to help actually combat the excess oil and not simply wash it away. Two of his faves? Oil-dissolving salicylic acid and naturally antibacterial tea tree oil.
Many cleansers targeted for oily skin are foamy; they typically contain a higher amount of sulfates to help better remove oil. That being said, a little bit of foam goes a long way. Formulas that are too foaming can actually end up stripping and over-drying the skin, cautions Ross (in turn triggering the production of more oil), who says a low level of foam is best.
Gel textures are Ross’s top choice for oily skin. They’re strong enough to remove dirt and oil but tend to be a bit more hydrating than those super-foaming variants.
How do you use a face wash for oily skin?
Use it as you would any other face wash. One caveat: If you are trying to get the most bang for your buck from an active ingredient, such as salicylic acid, leave it on for 30 to 60 seconds before rinsing off. This allows the ingredient to be in contact with your skin long enough to work.
What ingredients should you avoid in a face wash for oily skin?
Ideally, any kind of oil, as well as thicker, heavier, moisturizing ingredients, think shea butter or coconut oil.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Her skin veers more towards combination than oily, though she does regularly use many of the picks on this list (the CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser is her current go-to).
Meet the Expert
- Joshua Ross is a celebrity aesthetician and founder of SkinLab, a medspa in Los Angeles. Ross has worked in the beauty industry for over 15 years and studied under some of the leading plastic surgeons in LA.
- Dr. Hadley King is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and specializes in both medical and cosmetic dermatology.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough face washes for oily skin from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.
Shannon JF. Why do humans get acne? A hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses. 2020;134:109412. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2019.109412
Serji B, Bouhout T, Chablou M, Ussman EE, Harroudi TE. Ostomy skin complications treated with rhassoul: case studies. British Journal of Nursing. 2018;27(5):S20-S21. doi: 10.12968/bjon.2018.27.5.S20
Fu Y, Zu Y, Chen L, et al. Investigation of antibacterial activity of rosemary essential oil against propionibacterium acnes with atomic force microscopy. Planta Med. 2007;73(12):1275-1280. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-981614
Berkers T, Visscher D, Gooris GS, Bouwstra JA. Topically applied ceramides interact with the stratum corneum lipid matrix in compromised ex vivo skin. Pharm Res. 2018;35(3):48. doi: 10.1007/s11095-017-2288-y
Gehring W. Nicotinic acid/niacinamide and the skin. J Cosmet Dermat. 2004;3(2):88-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2130.2004.00115.x
Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. CCID. 2015:455. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S84765
Williams LB, Haydel SE. Evaluation of the medicinal use of clay minerals as antibacterial agents. International Geology Review. 2010;52(7-8):745-770. doi: 10.1080/00206811003679737
Julianti E, Rajah KK, Fidrianny I. Antibacterial activity of ethanolic extract of cinnamon bark, honey, and their combination effects against acne-causing bacteria. Sci Pharm. 2017;85(2):E19. doi: 10.3390/scipharm85020019
Orchard A, van Vuuren S. Commercial essential oils as potential antimicrobials to treat skin diseases. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:4517971. doi: 10.1155/2017/4517971
Sharad J. Glycolic acid peel therapy — a current review. CCID. 281. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S34029
Piquero-Casals J, Hexsel D, Mir-Bonafé JF, Rozas-Muñoz E. Topical non-pharmacological treatment for facial seborrheic dermatitis. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2019;9(3):469-477. doi: 10.1007/s13555-019-00319-0
Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006;19(1):50-62. doi: 10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006