5 Common Skincare Ingredients to Avoid If You Have Oily Skin

Updated 07/12/19
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Crafting a skincare routine that works with—not against—your oily skin is easier said than done. Who among us with oily skin hasn't turned to products with strong ingredients in the hopes that they will sop up all our excess oil? (*Raises hand.*) But going overboard with exfoliation and toners can actually backfire and cause your skin to produce even more oil, which can lead to clogged pores. Sigh.

"If you have oily skin, you need to be careful about the products that you are using," Mount Sinai Hospital Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research Joshua Zeichner, MD, says. "The wrong ones can promote breakouts or even cause skin irritation." With that in mind, we asked him which five ingredients those of us with oily skin should avoid at all costs.

Here, five ingredients to avoid for oily skin—and what to use instead. Plus, our product picks for oily skin.

Oily Skin
Joe Robles/Unsplash

Petrolatum (Petroleum Jelly)

Greasy ointments plus your oily skin is a recipe for a pore-clogging disaster. "Stay away from greasy ointments and instead stick to light creams and lotions," advises Zeichner. "Also make sure to look for the term 'noncomedogenic' on the bottle. This means that the products have been shown not to block your pores and cause breakouts."


Hydro Boost Gel-Cream
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream $20


Luckily, Zeichner just means this in the context of your skincare products. (Though, alas, giving up booze can actually improve your skin, regardless of your skin type.)

"Alcohol-based products like toners may help remove excess oil from the skin but oftentimes goes too far to strip the skin, leading to irritation," Zeichner explains. When you overly dry out the skin, it disrupts your skin barrier and causes inflammation.


Sonage Tulsi Soothing Tri Clay Mask $48

Natural Oils

Most natural oils are going to exacerbate your oily skin and contribute to breakouts by blocking your pores, says Zeichner. He recommends tea tree oil and coconut oil as natural oils that are appropriate for oily skin. 


Soothing & Healing Green Tea Splash Mask 7 oz
Blithe Soothing & Healing Green Tea Splash Mask $45

Harsh Scrubs

"While gentle exfoliation may be useful to help remove dead cells from the surface of the skin, over-exfoliating can lead to skin irritation," Zeichner says. "Harsh scrubs can lead to cracks in the outer skin layer resulting in loss of hydration and inflamed skin."


Rice Enzyme Powder Gentle: Dry Skin 2.1 oz/ 60 g
Tatcha Rice Enzyme Powder Gentle $65


"What we put on our hair definitely can affect our skin," Zeichner says. Especially if your hair touches your face (e.g. bangs) or you apply product near your hairline. "Thick pomades are known to cause 'pomade acne' where they block the pores in the skin—especially around the hairline—leading to pimples.

Check out more of our favorite oily skin–friendly products below. 

Botnia Daily Face Wash $35

A natural, organic cleanser that's super gentle and doesn't strip the skin of moisture. 

Exfoliating Swipeys 50 single use pads
Go-To Skincare Exfoliating Swipeys $35

Lactic acid gently exfoliates skin, and aloe vera keeps it moisturized. 

Acne Healing Dots 20 Acne Healing Dots
Peace Out Acne Healing Dots $19

Because even with a solid skincare routine, sometimes pimples just pop up out of nowhere. 

Multi-Perfecting Pore Corrector Gel Moisturizer 2 oz/ 60 mL
Algenist Multi-Perfecting Pore Corrector Gel Moisturizer $65

A lightweight, noncomedogenic moisturizer that hydrates and improves the look of pores. 

Brightening Serum with Glycolic Acid 1 oz/ 30 mL
Skin Laundry Brightening Serum With Glycolic Acid $50

This serum contains glycolic acid, an AHA that helps degunk pores, along with vitamins and antioxidants. 

Kind to Skin Moisturizing Facial Wash
Simple Kind to Skin Moisturizing Facial Wash $8

Gentle on your skin but doesn't leave you feeling greasy. 

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