If you have naturally oily skin (and aren’t exactly thrilled about it), there’s a high chance you’ve received unsolicited advice from friends, tried sketchy DIYs from the internet and bought a drawerful of products to curb the shine that lives rent-free on your face. But two very important facts you need to hear: Not only is oily skin perfectly natural and does not need to be “fixed,” it’s also not fully in your control—regardless of what you’ve been led to believe. To help us clear up misinformation you might have heard, Cheri Frey, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Maryland, debunks the four biggest myths surrounding oily skin.
MYTH: Oily skin is caused by “bad” habits.
It’s easy to blame yourself whenever your skin doesn’t do exactly what you want, but this one is on your parents—and their parents. “Oily skin has a genetic basis with a hereditary component to it,” says Dr. Frey. “How active your oil glands are going to be is programmed in your genes from day one.” Yes, you can manage some of that oil with the right routine (more on that below), but your baseline shine is in your DNA.
MYTH: A “bad” diet can increase your oil production.
Nope! French fries aren’t the enemy. “I get this one a lot, but the oil you eat won’t later come out of your pores,” says Dr. Frey. “It’s not made of the same component as your sebum, and it won’t have an effect on your body’s oil production, no matter how much of it you eat.” That’s not to say food has no role in your skin health, though—a diet high in dairy and sugar has been shown to trigger an inflammatory response in your body, leading to potential breakouts and blackheads. But as far as oil production goes? That’s genetics.
MYTH: You can dry up excess oil with the right products.
Using alcohol-based toners morning and night, clay masks every day and setting powder every hour? Sure, they suck up excess oils—but also all of your skin’s very necessary moisture, too. “Dehydrated skin is irritated skin, and you’ll start to see dullness, fine lines, wrinkles and potentially even an increase in oil,” says Dr. Frey, noting that “evidence is mixed on whether or not drying out your skin signals it to produce even more oil.” Still, why risk it?
Skip the harsh ingredients (which will only exacerbate acne, rosacea and skin sensitivities), and instead apply an oil-free, mattifying moisturizer, like La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Mat Daily Moisturizer for Oily Skin, morning and night, then brush on a powder sunscreen to control shine and, double whammy, protect against sun damage.
MYTH: You’re stuck with oily skin for life.
Yes and no. Though you can’t change your DNA (sorry), you can use a host of topical and prescription treatments to help decrease some of your oil. The easiest at-home options? Retinoids (“they help regulate oil levels and can tighten pores over time,” says Dr. Frey) and salicylic acid (“it’s lipophilic, meaning it’s going to sink into your skin, find those oily spots, and dissolve them”). Try incorporating a lightweight retinol (like SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3) into your routine every night, alternating with a gentle salicylic acid toner (like Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant).
There are also prescription options, says Dr. Frey: spironolactone, an oral medication that “helps reduce the activity of your sebaceous glands” within four to six months, and combination birth control pills (those that contain both estrogen and a progestin), which help regulate your oil production. Both are also incredibly effective against hormonal acne, so chat with your dermatologist if topicals just aren’t cutting it.