I Asked a Dermatologist to Rate My Oily Skin Routine—Her Tips Changed Everything

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Faith Xue cleansing routine

As a beauty editor who has worked in the industry for over 10 years, I’d like to think that I’m pretty well-versed when it comes to skincare. I also receive lots of products to test every day (which is a lovely problem to have, I know), so I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to experiment and try different products to find what works best for me. My skin is finicky, however, and lately, it’s been looking duller than ever (probably thanks to my, ahem, lazy skincare routine as of late). I’ve been breaking out like I used to as a teenager, and my oily-combination skin has been looking congested and just… blah. Determined to get to the bottom of this and forever in the quest for the softest, most balanced skin possible, I spoke with dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry, MD FAAD, and asked her to please, please fix my skin. I braced myself for news I didn’t want to hear (would she tell me to ditch my favorite serum?! Surely not!), but as it turns out, the key to balanced, happy skin is ridiculously simple: It all goes back to your cleanser. “Cleansing your skin appropriately is critical to starting your skincare regime correctly,” Dr. Henry tells me. “Harsh cleansers that strip the skin barrier can make the skin irritated, uncomfortable, and potentially more prone to acne and blemishes.” Cleanser is not a one-size-fits-all product, which is why Neutrogena® recently released three new Skin Balancing™ Cleansers with ingredients specially formulated for each skin type. The Neutrogena Skin Balancing™ Milky Cleanser is great for anyone with dry and sensitive skin, the Neutrogena Skin Balancing™ Gel Cleanser is best for combination skin, and the Neutrogena Skin Balancing™ Clay Cleanser should be a go-to for anyone with oily skin (it’s my new favorite). 

Ahead, find Dr. Henry’s feedback on my current routine, as well as some life-changing cleansing tips that have changed my routine—and my skin—for the better.

My Current Oily Skincare Routine

Like I mentioned before, I have a lot of skincare products, but that doesn’t mean I have a 10-step routine. At night, I usually use a cleansing balm to remove my makeup followed by another gel cleanser (sometimes I skip this step when I’m too tired or lazy) and an exfoliating toner to keep my skin texture smooth and blackheads at bay. From there, I use an antioxidant serum to brighten and soothe and add a face oil to lock everything in. In the morning, I keep it simple. I usually splash my face with water or use a makeup wipe and apply a vitamin C serum, a light moisturizer, and sunscreen. I switch things up depending on the season, but this regimen has worked for me—until now.

Dr. Henry’s Game-Changing Tip

When I shared my current routine with Dr. Henry, she didn’t hold back. It turns out, I was making a grave mistake by not using the right cleanser for my skin type. “I would switch from the cleansing balm, which can often contain skin-clogging oil, to a cleanser like Neutrogena Skin Balancing™ Clay Cleanser with 2% polyhydroxy acid to help soften and gently exfoliate oily skin types,” she says. Why polyhydroxy acid? “PHA is similar to AHA (glycolic acid) in that it’s a humectant and helps to exfoliate the skin; however, PHA is a large molecule that doesn’t penetrate deeply in the skin, making it more tolerable for a wide range of skin types. It’s great for softening and decongesting down to the pores.” Oops. I’ve always thought that cleansing balms were the beauty god’s gift to humankind for their ability to remove makeup and cleanse at once, but as it turns out, they can be too heavy for oily skin types and can lead to dullness. I listened to her instructions and switched to the Neutrogena Skin Balancing™ Clay Cleanser with 2% polyhydroxy acid and was blown away. I have very high standards for cleansers—yes, you can call me a cleanser connoisseur if you want—and this cleanser met all my expectations and then some. The formula has a light texture and surprisingly removed all my makeup in one go. Afterward, my skin felt softer and cleaner than it had in a long time. The light, fresh scent puts me in a good mood every time I use it (I swear it makes me look forward to washing my face), and the clay formula is actually light and creamy instead of drying. I’m seriously impressed.

Neutrogena Skin Balancing Cleansers


Dr. Henry’s Skincare Routine

Of course, I had to ask Dr. Henry about her own skincare routine. She told me that she has oily skin with dry patches, and is also acne-prone. “It can be a challenge to find acne-fighting ingredients that are effective but gentle enough for the drier, more sensitive parts of my skin,” she says. She remedies this by using the Neutrogena Skin Balancing Milky Cleanser in the morning (to avoid stripping her skin’s moisture) and then follows with a retinoid, a rich moisturizer, and sunscreen. “For my p.m. cleanser, I use the Neutrogena Skin Balancing Clay Cleanser followed by a retinoid, hyaluronic acid serum and an ultra-rich moisturizer,” she says. “I love this cleanser because it’s slightly more robust than my a.m. cleanser and helps to get rid of dirt, oil, and debris from the day. I found the clay cleanser to be more absorptive and great for those days when I’m a bit oilier.”

After hearing about Dr. Henry’s routine and because my skin has been feeling drier in the changing of the seasons, I decided I needed to try the Neutrogena Skin Balancing Milky Cleanser, too—and wasn’t disappointed. If I could describe the process of using this cleanser, it would be like enveloping my skin in a cloud; like a soft hug for my skin. I loved the light, milky texture, and the way it cleanses without stripping or leaving a tight feeling behind. I always check a product’s ingredient list before using it, and I loved what I saw in this one. It’s made with sunflower seed oil for a hydrating effect and glycerin, a humectant that draws in moisture that your body naturally produces. I usually avoid milky cleansers because my skin is oily-combination and most milk cleansers still leave my skin feeling slightly greasy, but this one still left my skin feeling soft and cleansed, and helped with some of the dry patches I’ve been dealing with from over-exfoliating. I am, in short, obsessed (and I don’t use that word lightly).

More Cleanser Tips

Faith Xue post-face cleansing


Dr. Henry also recommended another tip: If you’re rocking a heavy makeup look, remove it before cleansing by using a gentle makeup remover. “I love the Neutrogena Skin Balancing™Micellar Cleansing Cloths to remove makeup and cleanse my skin before washing; I find them less irritating than traditional makeup wipes. They’re also great for freshening up your skin on the go.” I’ve swapped my traditional micellar water for these wipes too and have loved how they leave my skin feeling fresh and clean in the morning. Plus, I’m always a fan of any product with sustainability at the forefront, and these makeup wipes are plant-based and home-compostable. And for anyone else still figuring out their cleansing routine, fear not—the golden rule is to help your skin find balance instead of overstripping. Repeat after me: Oily skin does not need to be stripped. Instead, cleanse your skin gently and choose a cleanser that’s right for your unique skin type. Your skincare will work better if you cleanse properly—trust me. As for Dr. Henry, she shares these last few cleanser tips to take with you on your skincare journey: “1. Use lukewarm water for 20 to 30 seconds to avoid stripping the skin’s moisture barrier; overcleansing will not improve one’s skin concern. 2. Apply cleanser to slightly damp skin to enhance absorption. 3. Pat gently with your towel and don’t rub skin aggressively.” You’ve got this.