Oil control: Care for oily skin

Managing an oily skin is all about following the correct skin care routine

woman looking in the mirrorOne of the many glands of our skin is a small oil-secreting unit known as the sebaceous gland. The role of this gland is to secrete an oily substance called sebum. Sebum not only helps in preventing water loss from the skin, but also acts as an antimicrobial. A large number of these glands are located on the face and scalp.

Oil spoil

The sebaceous gland is the epicentre of oiliness of skin and formation of acne. Excessive oiliness of the skin occurs due to hormonal stimulation of sebaceous glands, in humid and hot weather and when greasy cosmetics are used.

In individuals with oily skin, the pores through which the sebum is secreted can get blocked. This then leads to formation of blackheads and white heads. It can also cause pus-filled lesions. This dual problem of greasy skin and acne leads to immense embarrassment.

Are you the type?

There is no reliable home method to analyse your skin type. A piece of tissue paper placed on the skin, 15 minutes after washing the face with a gentle cleanser and looking for oil spots can give a rough idea about your skin type.

The correct method is by using a sebumeter in the form of a sebutape, which is applied on skin. When the micro-porous tape, available with cosmetologists, absorbs the sebum its transparent areas turn opaque. These then can be analysed by a naked eye or with the help of computer imaging for an objective analysis of the skin type.

The oiliness of skin can be all over the face or it may be more pronounced on the so-called T-zone, which includes the forehead, nasal bridge and areas near the mouth. It is important to assess the areas of oiliness, thereby using the right product for the right areas.

Managing the oil

There aren’t many prescription products for treating excessive sebum secretion. Managing oily skin is, therefore, all about following a correct skincare routine. Proper cleansing, selecting the right sunscreen and using the right makeup can go a long way in keeping a lid on the problem.


Cleanse your face with liquid cleansers, as they dislodge the oil molecules far better than bar soaps. Choose a liquid cleanser that has either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid helps in removing the dead cells from the skin and dries it. Besides their antibacterial properties, cleansers with benzoyl peroxide help unclog blocked pores.

Using a normal cleanser in the morning and a medicated cleanser in the afternoon [when oil production is at its peak] helps keep your face presentable.

Sun protection

Using sunscreens helps prevent sun-induced pigmentation and ageing. However, choosing a sunscreen becomes difficult, since sunscreens tend to increase stickiness. Choosing a gel-based sunscreen or a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide helps overcome this problem.

Zinc oxide is an effective physical sun block and helps absorb extra oiliness. Such sunscreens also come in nano particle size, which are not visible when applied.


Those with oily skin generally do not need to moisturise, except on an acne treatment or in cases where the skin becomes excessively dry in some areas and stays oily in others.

However, if you feel the need to use a moisturiser-based ‘night cream’, choose one that is non-comedogenic or non-acne forming. Also, there are many moisturisers that have salicylic acid that helps in reducing oil on the skin and keeps it soft. You can also go for oil-free moisturisers, which are water-based, helping control oil.


Choosing the right make-up regimen is important. Go for non-comedogenic or water-based make-up products. They are usually quite sheer. Adding a touch of powder make-up to them to further reduce oiliness. Avoid wearing make-up to bed. Individuals with oily skin usually have larger pores that get clogged by cosmetics if they leave it on for long.

Stubborn problem?

If your problem is resistant or extreme, you may require prescription products such as retinoids. Topical retinoids that are derivatives of vitamin A help in reducing the size of the sebaceous gland, thus reducing oil formation. Tretinoin is one such prescription product.

However, it can cause irritation and therefore has to be used under the supervision of a dermatologist. Another vitamin A available in some non-prescription product is retinol. In addition to reducing oiliness these products also help in reducing fine wrinkle lines and superficial scars.

Home remedies

Many household products also help in reducing oiliness.

  • Fuller’s earth [multani mitti] improves water retention of the skin and reduces oiliness.
  • Gram flour [besan] and oatmeal are cleansing agents and mild exfoliants that help in acne-prone skin.
  • Rose water is a good astringent for oily skin.

Tip: These may can cause irritation in some individuals; use them with care.

Vinay V Gopalani
Dr Vinay V Gopalani is a clinical dermatologist with special interest in paediatric and adolescent dermatology. He is a treasurer of the Dermatologists' organisation of Thane (DOT).


  1. This is a very lucid article and the author has covered all the vital points.

    I would just like to add that people with oily skin are fortunate to be relatively protected from skin allergies. This is because the sebum coating on the skin acts as a barrier and prevents external harmful chemicals from acting directly on the skin.

    Dr. Rajan T.D., MD, DVD, DNB
    Specialist in Skin & Sexually Transmitted Diseases


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