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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 of SkinLab in Los Angeles 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.)
Choose from any one of our picks of the top face washes for oily skin to stop oil in its tracks.
Best Overall: Dermalogica Dermal Clay Cleanser
Clay is to oily skin what kryptonite is to Superman; few ingredients are better at removing and absorbing excess oil. This formula uses not one but two types of clay, specifically kaolin and green clays, which act like magnets to pull out unwanted sebum. But the oil-fighting benefits don’t stop there: A trio of astringent Sambucus, ivy, and lemon extracts also help mattify skin. Plus, cucumber and sage deliver soothing benefits.
Best Budget: CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser
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.
Best Drugstore: Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating Cleanser
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.
Best Natural: NutraNuva Face Food All-in-One Cleanser, Exfoliator, and Toner
Glycerin is a naturally occurring compound in the body; in topical skincare, it is derived from plants. It functions to draw water to the skin and continue hydrating it, making it a great ingredient for extreme dryness.
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 and purifying white charcoal powder, coupled with hydrating glycerin to keep skin balanced, and naturally anti-bacterial 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.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
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), one of the best acne-fighting ingredients out there, known for its ability to dissolve oil to keep pores clear and breakouts at bay. True to its name, it does have a refreshingly citrus-y grapefruit scent, but that grapefruit does more than just smell nice. It’s also a great source of vitamin C, an excellent skin-brightening ingredient.
Best Calming: Rosen Skincare Earth Cleanser
This clay cleanser packs through dirt and oil to reveal clear, clean skin. It contains the antibacterial qualities of Fuller's Earth Clay, zinc oxide, and eucalyptus oil, as well as the oil regulating properties of niacinamide. Users love that it also provides a cooling, calming feeling that makes it a hero to acne-prone skin.
Best for Removing Makeup: Drunk Elephant Beste No.9 Jelly Cleanser
We'll just say it–some face washes are pretty subpar at removing makeup. This Drunk Elephant cleanser is not one of them. Its creamy formula contains a blend of mild surfactants and emollients to remove all makeup, oil, and grime, and it rinses off totally clean. A bonus? It's gentle enough to use around the eyes, which we love.
Best Micellar Water: Garnier SkinActive Micellar Foaming Gel Facial Cleanser
Micellar waters are fan favorites among both sensitive and oily skin types; the former appreciate that they’re free of potentially irritating detergents, while the latter like that they’re oil-free and don’t leave behind any residue. They work thanks to micelles, tiny particles that attach to and whisk away dirt, oil, and other grime.
This particular option is especially great for oily skin since it has the added benefit of foaming up ever so slightly, leaving your complexion feeling extra clean, though still soft and hydrated. It’s also gentle enough to use on eyes and lips and requires no rinsing. Simply dab some onto a cotton pad and swipe it across your entire face.
Best for Sensitive Skin: First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Deep Cleanser With Red Clay
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. 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.
Best Gel: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser
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.
Best for Large Pores: Origins Zero Oil Deep Pore Cleanser With Saw Palmetto & Mint
If your skin veers toward oily, odds are you’re also constantly trying to tamp down shine, too. This foaming formula combines skin-clearing saw palmetto with pore-minimizing salicylic acid to reduce both excess oils and shine in one easy step. And thanks to the addition of cooling mint, it also feels pleasantly refreshing, a top pick for muggy summer days.
Best with Antioxidants: Youth to The People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser
Board-certified dermatologist Sonia Batra recommends cleansing with a foamy formula if you're dealing with excess oil. "Foaming cleansers often work well for oily skin because they help break apart and dissolve oil on the skin surface," she says.
This superfood-based cleanser is loaded with healthy ingredients such as kale, green tea, and spinach to help remove all the bad stuff and deep cleanse the pores. The foamy texture feels silky on the skin, and it's gentle and non-drying, so redness-prone and sensitive skin will love it.
Best Cream: French Girl Fleur De Néroli Charcoal Wash
Activated charcoal is created from carbon-rich materials burned at high temperatures, like coal, coconut shells, and wood. In skincare, there are claims that it binds to and removes impurities from the skin, but more research is needed.
If you prefer a creamy texture over foam for face wash, this cleanser is the perfect solution. With active ingredients such as green tea extract, calming and soothing aloe, activated charcoal, and jojoba oil, you get a natural, yet effective cleanse while skin is brought back to its equilibrium.
Best Organic: The Organic Pharmacy Peppermint Facial Wash
Oily skin breeds bacteria, which leads to breakouts, so dermatologists recommend washing oily skin two or three times daily. Just be sure to not dry your skin out with sulfates, detergents that can irritate dry skin. This antimicrobial peppermint cleanser is gentle enough to use multiple times a day.
If you’re dealing with oily skin, choosing the right cleanser can make all the difference. The Dermalogica Dermal Clay Cleanser is our all-around fave, relying on, among other things, two different types of clay to pull out excess oil. If you’re on a budget, nab the CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, which perfectly 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 activity 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-astringent tea tree oil.
Foam, but not too much foam
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, caution 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.
Why Trust Us?
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 most leading plastic surgeons in LA.
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.