Dermatologists Say This Is the Most Common Misconception About Oily Skin

Mackenzie Dunn
·4-min read

Delmaine Donson, Getty Images

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If you have oily or acne-prone skin, the last thing you may want to do is slather on a thick, heavy moisturizer after washing your face. This makes sense, since your skin produces excess oil and you may be trying to subdue the shine on your face, but ask any dermatologist about moisturizing and they’ll tell you it's a nonnegotiable step in a basic skincare routine. We know it might sound counterintuitive to add more moisture to a complexion that already seems greasy, but if you’re skipping out just because you have oily skin, you may be doing your skin a disservice rather than helping it.

To get to the bottom of the myth that people with oily skin don’t need to moisturize, we asked two dermatologists to debunk these misconceptions and give us the truth.

What causes oily skin?

“Oily skin occurs due to overproduction of sebum by the skin’s oil glands,” says Y. Claire Chang, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York. “Sebum is important in keeping the skin barrier hydrated and protected, but when sebum is overproduced, the skin can appear oily, shiny, and greasy,” she says. If you do have oily skin, Dr. Chang tells us that genetics, hormones, and improper skin care might be the reason.

Excess sebum from over-productive sebaceous glands can also easily accumulate and clog the pores, making your skin more prone to whiteheads, blackheads, and acne breakouts. Because of this, people with oily skin need to be cautious when it comes to keeping their skin balanced.

Is it true that oily skin doesn't need as much moisture as other skin types?

Here’s where the common misconception lies. Dermatologists say that just because your skin is oily doesn’t necessarily mean it's hydrated. To understand this concept, it is important to note that although the words “dry” and “dehydrated” are often used interchangeably, the two indicate very different underlying issues when it comes to your skin. While dry skin lacks sebum (something oily complexions have in abundance), dehydrated skin lacks water. If your skin is oily, it’s probably not dry, but don’t write off that it could be dehydrated. Remember: Hydrated skin is healthy skin.

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Anne Allen, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with FirstDerm.com, explains that sebum is just one component of the protective lipid barrier of the skin. If you have oily skin, it is indeed doing a lot of the work for you to keep skin hydrated. “[Oil production] not only prevents water loss from the skin (keeping it hydrated), but it also helps to keep infectious organisms and allergens out of the skin,” she explains. However, this does not mean that you can skip out on moisturizing completely.

“Although it may be tempting to avoid moisturizing if you have oily skin, it's important to keep your skin hydrated to protect that skin barrier,” says Dr. Chang. If you skip out on regular moisturizing or try to dry out excess sebum by using oil-stripping products or over-exfoliating your skin, it can do more harm than good.

In fact, “overly dehydrated skin can trigger your skin to produce more oil to compensate, leading to more clogged pores and acne breakouts,” Dr. Chang tells us. So yes, oily skin does need moisture.

How can you moisturize oily skin without making it greasy?

“Those with oilier complexions should opt for thinner textured lotions over thicker creams to avoid greasiness,” advises Dr. Allen. According to her, anything you have to scoop out with your hand is probably too heavy for the face of someone with oily skin. Instead, both Dr. Allen and Dr. Chang say to look for lightweight products that melt into your skin. Plus, they say you should keep your eye out for products that are labeled “oil-free” and “non-comedogenic,” which means it won't clog pores.

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Additionally, Dr. Chang says ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, peptides, and glycerin help draw moisture into the skin without clogging the pores, so products with these will keep your skin healthy and hydrated—without aggravating the regular oil production.