If you have oily skin, your sebaceous glands are pumping out an overabundance of sebum, the waxy substance that protects your skin. When there’s too much, skin looks oily, and that overabundance of sebum may contribute to acne. Heredity plays a part: For instance, people with dark hair make more oil than fair-haired folks. But there are other contributing factors, including stress and changes in hormone activity. Pregnant women and those taking oral contraceptives are more likely to have problems with oily skin.
Look on the bright side: Oily skin tends to age better and develop fewer wrinkles than dry or normal skin. But it does require more attention, since you need to keep cleansing those overproductive pores. The key is a firm but gentle hand. You want to wash away dead skin cells, dirt, and excess oil without scrubbing so hard that you cause irritation. (Ironically, if you overdo the scrubbing, your skin produces even more oil.)
• Wash your face with hot water. It dissolves oil more effectively than cool or lukewarm water.
• Choose the right cleanser. Whether you prefer bar soap or liquid cleansers, avoid products, like Dove, that have added moisturizers. Bar soaps like Ivory, Dial, or Lever 2000 are perfectly effective, though you can also use cleansers formulated specifically for oily skin (they’re likely to be more expensive).
• If you’re having acne outbreaks, choose an antibacterial soap formulated with benzoyl peroxide or triclosan. These discourage growth of acne-causing bacteria.
• Use a liquid face wash that contains alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as citric acid, lactic acid, or glycolic acid. The AHAs work in several ways, helping to slough off dead skin cells, reduce the oil in your pores, and combat infection.
Make Your Own Toner
• After you’ve washed your face, soak a cotton pad in distilled witch hazel and dab it all around. Use it twice a day for two to three weeks. After the third week, apply it once a day. Witch hazel contains tannins, which have an astringent effect, making the pores tighten up as they dry.
• The herbs yarrow, sage, and peppermint also have astringent properties. To make a homemade skin toner that will improve the look and feel of oily skin, put a tablespoon of one of these herbs in a cup, then fill to the top with boiling water. Let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and let it cool before you dab it on your face. Whatever’s left over can be stored in a squeeze bottle. It will stay fresh for three days at room temperature, or five days if you keep it in the refrigerator.
• Hyssop, a member of the mint family, also makes an excellent herbal toner. In folk medicine it’s considered good for the complexion. Add 1 tablespoon hyssop to 1 cup water. Boil for ten minutes, then strain. Let the mixture cool. After cleansing your skin, apply the toner with a cotton ball.
• A combination of lavender and neroli essential oil (derived from orange blossoms) acts as a skin cleanser and toner. Pour some lavender floral water in a hand sprayer, and add a drop of neroli oil. Spray the mixture on your skin several times a day.
Give Your Face a Massage
• A fine-grain powder can help absorb oil and get rid of dead skin cells that clog pores. Grind and sift 2 teaspoons of dry oats, then moisten with some witch hazel to form a paste. Using your fingertips, massage this paste gently into your skin, then rinse it away with warm water.
• Several times a week, massage your face with buttermilk after washing it. The active cultures in buttermilk contain acids that help to clean away dirt and tighten pores. Leave it on for a few minutes, then rinse.
Use a Grease-Cutting Facial Mask
• Clay masks or mud masks reduce greasiness and help tone your skin and draw out impurities. The masks are available at most drugstores. Or you can make your own using facial clay (like bentonite, available at natural foods stores and on the Internet) and witch hazel. Don’t use pottery clay; it won’t have the same effect. Add 1 tablespoon witch hazel to 1 teaspoon facial clay, and stir until they’re blended. If you like, add 2 drops cypress oil and 2 drops lemon oil for fragrance and to help control overactive oil glands. Sit back, relax, leave the mask on for 10 minutes or until the clay is dry, then rinse it off.
• Egg-white masks are said to firm the skin and soak up oil. Mix one teaspoon of honey with an egg white and stir well. Then add just enough flour to make a paste. Apply the mask to your face, avoiding the eye area. (Be careful not to ingest any of the egg mixture.) Let it dry for about ten minutes, then wash it off with warm water.
• Some Indonesian women use mango to make a face mask to dry and tone the skin. To make the mask, mash a mango until it turns into soft pulp, massage it into your skin, leave it on to dry for a few minutes, then rinse off. It is said to help unclog the pores.
• Lemon juice is used in another grease-cutting mask, along with astringent herbs and a chopped apple as the base. Place the apple in a pot, add water to cover, then simmer until it’s soft. Mash the apple, add 1 teaspoon lemon juice, then 1 teaspoon of either dried sage, lavender, or peppermint. Apply this mixture to your face, leave it on for 5 minutes, then rinse with warm water.
Take the Shine Off
• Throughout the day, powder your face with loose face powder, which will blot up excess oil. Don’t use pressed powder—it contains oil and it may foster blemishes or make existing acne worse.
• Clinac OC is a cream that can be used several times a day to absorb oil. You can buy it as an over-the-counter medicine at the pharmacy, as well as on the Internet.
• Look for foil-wrapped packets of alcohol-saturated wipes for oily skin. You’ll find them in the skin-care section of the drugstore. Keep some in your handbag or briefcase, so they’re handy when you need them. The alcohol cuts through the oil to temporarily de-shine your face.
The Power of Prevention
• Take 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil a day. While it may sound kooky to add oil to your diet, there’s good rationale. Flaxseed is high in essential fatty acids, which have been shown to help improve many skin conditions, including oily skin. You’ll find flaxseed oil in health-food stores. To protect it from light and heat, buy the cold-pressed oil in an opaque container and store it in your refrigerator.