The 13 Best Serums for Oily Skin That Provide a Healthy Complexion

Our top pick is the Naturium Niacinamide Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products. Healthcare professionals review articles for medical accuracy. Learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
Commerce Photo Composite

Byrdie / Amelia Manley

From radiance boosters and exfoliators to plumpers and anti-agers, there's a serum for virtually every skincare goal and concern. But beyond what you'd like to achieve, your skin type should be considered when browsing products—and as you probably know, oily skin doesn't play well with all formulas.

"Oilier skin types should avoid serums packed with oil and other comedogenic (blackhead- and whitehead-forming) ingredients," says board-certified dermatologist Lian A. Mack, MD. Instead, she recommends products containing hyaluronic acid for plumping and smoothing, antioxidants like vitamin C for radiance-boosting, alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids for light exfoliation, and retinoids for, well … pretty much everything.

Meet the Expert

  • Lian A. Mack, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at GlamDerm in NYC. She specializes in skin conditions as they apply to people of color, along with various aesthetic enhancements, including laser treatments and injectables.
  • Dr. Dendy Engelman is a New York City-based board-certified dermatologic surgeon and lecturer specializing in dermatology, skincare, skin cancer, Mohs surgery, and injectables.
  • Alicia Yoon is an esthetician in the New York City area who specializes in K-beauty and glass skin. She is also the founder and CEO of Peach & Lily.

With this expert insight in mind, here are the best serums for oily skin.

Best Overall: Naturium Niacinamide Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%

Naturium Niacinamide Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%

Amazon

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Airtight container

  • Dermatologist-recommended ingredients

What We Don’t Like
  • Difficult to tell when bottle is empty

What do buyers say? 87% of 10,700+ Amazon reviewers rated it 4 stars or above.

Board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, is a fan of niacinamide (vitamin B3) for oily complexions, and this serum from Naturium serves it with a generous 12 percent concentration. Not only does the antioxidant help balance oil production, but it can also calm inflammation, prevent breakouts, and provide an all-around more radiant complexion.

It also contains zinc PCA (short for ​​pyrrolidone carboxylic acid) to optimize the benefits of niacinamide while reducing potential irritation. Lastly, you'll get hyaluronic acid, arguably the most popular ingredient found in serums, and for good reason. "Hyaluronic acid is a large molecule that sits on top of the skin," Dr. Mack says. "It pulls water to the cells, creating a plumping, smoothing effect."

Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, zinc PCA, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: Even layer twice daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Budget: The Inky List Niacinamide Oil Control Serum

The Inky List Niacinamide Oil Control Serum

Sephora

What We Like
  • Budget-friendly

  • Controls oil production

  • Dermatologist-recommended ingredients

What We Don’t Like
  • Reviewers note it doesn't layer well

You can always count on The Inkey List for exceptional formulas at wallet-friendly price points, and this serum is no exception. It calls on niacinamide and squalane to balance your skin's natural oil production, then plumps it up with hyaluronic acid.

Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, squalane, hyaluronic acid | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: Pea-size amount twice daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Drugstore: L'Oreal Paris Age Perfect Cell Renewal Golden Serum

L'Oreal Paris Age Perfect Cell Renewal Golden Serum

Walmart

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Hydrates

  • Airtight pump

What We Don’t Like
  • Contains synthetic fragrance

We also like L'Oreal's Golden Serum. The nongreasy, oil-free formula provides weightless hydration with glycerin and hyaluronic acid, plus a mild dose of salicylic acid, which Dr. Mack says "promotes cellular turnover, resulting in a light chemical peel."

Key Ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, zinc PCA | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: Small amount twice daily | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Splurge: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment

4.7
Best for Sensitive Skin: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment

Sephora

What We Like
  • Noticeable results

  • Airtight pump

  • Dermatologist-recommended

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive

  • Not ideal for sensitive skin

Dr. Engelman recommends the fan-favorite Good Genes for those in the market for an exfoliating formula. "Lactic acid, derived from dairy, is gentle on the skin and is even safe enough to use during pregnancy," she tells Byrdie. "It improves discoloration and age spots, and it corrects pH imbalances."

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, prickly pear, licorice extract | Size: 1 oz. or 1.7 oz. | Dosage: 1 or 2 pumps daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Plumping: Monat Hydration Booster

Monat Hydration Booster

Monat

What We Like
  • Smoothing

  • Non-comedogenic

  • Dermatologist-recommended

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive

  • Contains PEGs

"Products like Monat's Hydration Booster serum make the skin look softer, smoother, and more youthful in appearance without increasing oil production or clogging pores," Dr. Mack says. "The coconut water combined with hyaluronic acid is like a tall glass of water for the skin."

Key Ingredients: Coconut water, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: Small amount twice daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Vitamin C: Sephora Collection Ultra Glow Serum: Glow + Strengthen Vitamin C Serum

Sephora Collection C+E Super Serum

Sephora

What We Like
  • Enhances complexion

  • Noticeable results

  • Non-irritating formula

What We Don’t Like
  • Bottle isn't light-protected

  • Contains synthetic fragrance

Dr. Mack is a fan of vitamin C for oily skin. We like Sephora's Ultra Glow Serum, which combines the popular antioxidant with vitamin E and peptides to deliver a noticeably more radiant, healthy-looking complexion.

Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, vitamin E, peptides | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: A few drops daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Retinol: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum

4.7
Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum

Amazon

What We Like
  • Non-irritating formula

  • Noticeable results

  • Luxurious texture

What We Don’t Like
  • Expensive

Dr. Mack says retinol can work well with oily skin. When it comes to serums containing the vitamin A derivative, Fusion PM shines above the competition. It uses a time-release (aka encapsulated) version of retinol to minimize irritation and other potential side effects while maximizing the skin-smoothing, retexturizing, and complexion-enhancing results.

Key Ingredients: Microencapsulated retinol, squalane | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: Small amount nightly | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Gentle: Paula's Choice Resist Ultra-Light Antioxidant Serum

Paula's Choice Resist Ultra-Light Antioxidant Serum

Amazon

What We Like
  • Gentle formula

  • Dermatologist-recommended ingredients

  • Airtight pump

What We Don’t Like
  • Contains PEGs

This lightweight serum from Paula's Choice contains hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin C, three of the ingredients recommended by Dr. Mack and Dr. Engelman. The concentrate is gentle enough to use morning and night, offering soothing hydration and plumper skin.

Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, vitamin C | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: 1 or 2 pumps twice daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Mature Skin: No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum

4.7
No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum

Ulta

What We Like
  • Reduces fine lines

  • Plumping

  • Noticeable results

What We Don’t Like
  • Contains PEGs

Boasting a proprietary complex of retinol, peptides, rice protein, and hyaluronic acid, No7 Protect & Perfect covers all the bases for mature skin. In the brand's clinical trial, 96 percent of testers noticed fewer wrinkles and fine lines with regular use.

Key Ingredients: Peptides, rice protein, hyaluronic acid, retinyl palmitate | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: Small amount daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Serum

Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Serum

Sephora

What We Like
  • Retexturizing

  • Prevents breakouts

  • Reduces redness

What We Don’t Like
  • Not oil-free

If your oily skin is also pimple-prone, this little pink tube is your best bet. It leans on tranexamic acid and azelaic acid—which are much gentler than they sound—to provide mild exfoliation, smooth uneven texture, and improve the look of acne. The combo also helps prevent breakouts from occurring in the first place.

Key Ingredients: Tranexamic acid, azelaic acid, niacinamide, kojic acid | Size: 1.7 oz. | Dosage: Thin layer up to once daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Oil-Balancing: Glossier Super Pure

Glossier Super Pure

Glossier

What We Like
  • Oil-free

  • Helps decongest pores

  • Enhances complexion

What We Don’t Like
  • Bottle isn't light protected

We also like Glossier Super Pure. Niacinamide and zinc PCA are the heroes of this water-gel formula, helping balance oil production and decongest pores while enhancing your overall complexion.

Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, zinc PCA, vitamin C | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: A few drops daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best K-Beauty: It's Skin Power 10 Formula VB Effector Cera Guard

It's Skin Power 10 Formula VB Effector Cera Guard

Amazon

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Controls oil production

  • Dermatologist-recommended ingredients

What We Don’t Like
  • Contains synthetic fragrance

This affordable Korean serum from It's Skin was a hit with our home tester, and it's easy to see why. The super-lightweight formula contains niacinamide and vitamin C to balance oil production, boost radiance, correct discoloration, and offer a grease-free glow.

Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, vitamin C | Size: 1 oz. | Dosage: 1 or 2 drops daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Hybrid: Fenty Skin Fat Water Pore-Refining Toner Serum

Fenty Skin Fat Water Pore-Refining Toner Serum

Sephora

What We Like
  • Helps decongest pores

  • Byrdie Editor favorite

  • Controls oil production

What We Don’t Like
  • Contains synthetic fragrance

After trying it out first-hand, three Byrdie editors agreed on the hydrating, plumping, skin-enhancing effects of Fenty Fat Water. This toner-serum hybrid is especially great for oil-slick complexions as it minimizes the appearance of pores and balances oil production without inadvertently drying you out.

Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, vitamin C, witch hazel | Size: 5 oz. | Dosage: Palmful once or twice daily | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Final Verdict

Our number one pick for the oily-skin camp is Naturium Niacinamide Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%, which helps balance oil production, calms inflammation, prevents breakouts, and delivers a more radiant complexion. But if you can swing the price and are interested in exploring the benefits of retinoids, you can't go wrong with Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum.

What to Look for in a Serum for Oily Skin

Oil-Free, Non-Comedogenic, and Lightweight Formulas

If your skin is oily and/or prone to breakouts, Engelman suggests using serums that are oil-free and non-comedogenic. “This indicates that the product will not clog pores or worsen acne,” she says. In general, she recommends products with gel formulas, as these tend to be both oil-free and non-comedogenic in addition to those that are lightweight in texture. “These are less likely to sit on the skin and trigger more oil production or clog pores.”

Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients

Since acne is caused by inflammation, Engelman recommends products that contain anti-inflammatory ingredients since they’ll help calm down and soothe breakouts. Her picks? Green tea and CBD, whose anti-inflammatory benefits will help prevent future acne, and niacinamide, which has been proven to help absorb excess oil while also calming the skin.

Exfoliating Ingredients

According to Engelman, those with oily skin that is prone to breakouts can especially benefit from products containing alpha-hydroxy acid. “A serum containing AHAs like lactic acid, glycolic acid, and malic acid can help exfoliate to clear skin and minimize future breakouts,” she says. “However, to avoid over-drying the skin, be sure to balance it with hydrating ingredients.” More on those below.

Hydrating Ingredients

Engelman points out that when your skin is oily, it’s crucial to avoid anything designed to dry up oil that doesn't also balance it with hydration. Look for serums that include moisture-boosting ingredients that are lightweight, oil-free, and non-comedogenic. “Dry skin triggers the body to produce even more oil,” she says. “I see a lot of people stripping their skin with harsh products because they think that during it out will reduce the oiliness, but it only makes things worse. Making sure oily skin is hydrated can help control excess oil production.” Her favorite lightweight hydrator? Hyaluronic acid.

FAQ
  • Can you use serum on oily skin?

    Some serums are purely for moisturizing, but there are plenty that do a lot more than that or have other functions entirely. Serums can work well on oily skin, provided you choose one with the suggestions offered, such as no oils added and hydrating ingredients included.

  • Is face serum necessary for oily skin?

    Because of the wonderful things that serums can do, such as protect your skin from aging, there are plenty of reasons to use serums despite having oily skin. And some experts say that even certain moisturizing serums can work for oily skin because they may provide enough moisture that you don't need to use a face lotion.

  • Is vitamin C serum good for oily skin?

    Yes, vitamin C is good for all skin types. Skincare expert Alicia Yoon points out that not all vitamin C serums are created equal; in fact, they can differ hugely. Picking a vitamin C serum made for oily skin will ensure your choice is made for you.

  • How do I choose a serum for oily skin?

    The suggestions here offer a selection of serums full of ingredients that oily skin can benefit from. In selecting the right serum for you, keep your goals in mind. Are you looking to minimize oil production and shine? Get rid of pimples? Or give your skin a glowing boost of radiance? Fear not, there's an excellent option for you.

Why Trust Byrdie

Theresa Holland is a freelance beauty writer and bona fide skincare nerd with substantial experience researching, testing, and writing about serums. She compiled product suggestions and ingredient recommendations from two board-certified dermatologists for this story, and then looked at reviews from our at-home testers and considered dozens of formulas before making the final selections. From the above list, she has personally tried Naturium, Peter Thomas Roth, Sunday Riley, Sephora, and Fenty Skin. Theresa covers skincare, hair care, makeup, and wellness products at Byrdie.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Matts P, Oblong J. A review of the range of effects of niacinamide in human skin. Int Fed Soc Cosmet Chem Mag. Published 2002 Jan 1.

  2. Gupta M, et al. Tolerability of Topical Nicotinamide Plus Antibacterial Adhesive Agents and Zinc-Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid Versus Placebo as an Adjuvant Treatment for Moderate Acne Vulgaris in Indonesia: A Multicenter, Double-blind, Randomized, Controlled Trial. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 13,7 (2020): 27-31.

  3. Huang ZR, Lin YK, Fang JY. Biological and pharmacological activities of squalene and related compounds: potential uses in cosmetic dermatology. Molecules. 2009;14(1):540-554. Published 2009 Jan 23. doi:10.3390/molecules14010540

  4. Milani M, Sparavigna A. The 24-hour skin hydration and barrier function effects of a hyaluronic 1%, glycerin 5%, and Centella asiatica stem cells extract moisturizing fluid: an intra-subject, randomized, assessor-blinded study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol.

  5. Shields IV, et al. (2018). Encapsulation and controlled release of retinol from silicone particles for topical delivery. Journal of Controlled Release. 278. 10.1016/j.jconrel.2018.03.023.

  6. Wang, Jordan V et al. Tranexamic Acid for Melasma: Evaluating the Various Formulations. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 12,8 (2019): E73-E74.

  7. Fitton, A, and K L Goa. Azelaic acid. A review of its pharmacological properties and therapeutic efficacy in acne and hyperpigmentary skin disorders. Drugs vol. 41,5 (1991): 780-98. doi:10.2165/00003495-199141050-00007

  8. Sarkar R, et al. Cosmeceuticals for Hyperpigmentation: What is Available? J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2013 Jan-Mar; 6(1): 4–11. doi: 10.4103/0974-2077.110089.

  9. Jhawar N, Schoenberg E, Wang JV, Saedi N. The growing trend of cannabidiol in skincare productsClin Dermatol. 2019;37(3):279-281. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2018.11.002

Related Stories