Of all the skin types a man can have, an oily one is by far the most annoying. Usually the result of the male sex hormone testosterone triggering sebaceous glands to produce an oil spill’s worth of sebum (the skin’s natural oil), greasy skin doesn’t just look like it’s been coated with gloss varnish, it’s more prone to blackheads, whiteheads and unsightly breakouts, too.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are several things you can do to solve oil-slick skin without having to call in Greenpeace. All you need is the right tools and a little sage advice from the experts.
Here’s how to ease the oozing:
Ditch The Soap
Cleansing is the bedrock of any solid grooming routine but guys with oily skin are often overzealous with the products they use, thinking that, by using powerful cleansers frequently, they’ll get rid of the grease for good.
Bad move, says Sally Penford of The International Dermal Institute. “If you’ve got oily skin, you should avoid using aggressive soaps and alkaline cleansers, as well as over-cleansing,” she says.
“Your skin is a well-designed organ that […] needs a balance of lubricants for protection. If you strip it of all of its natural oils, it will a) become dehydrated and probably quite sensitive, and b) it will gradually start to produce more oil in an effort to compensate for all your scouring – the last thing you want!”
Instead, Penford recommends using glycerine-based cleansers especially formulated for oily skin or those featuring oil-absorbing clay.
Turn Down The Heat
Both stress and friction can stimulate oil production, so keeping a level head and not fiddling with your face are key in avoiding excessive oiliness.
Heat is another trigger, so skip long, hot showers and wash your face with warm, rather than piping hot, water. Remember that warmer weather can also have an impact. “People with oily skin can suffer a little more in the summer,” says Penford. “Heat causes sebaceous glands to become more active, leading to excess oil production and therefore more oily shine and potential breakouts.”
Skip The Toner
Toners are often cited as miracle fixes for those with greasy skin but according to dermatologist Nick Lowe, they’re not necessarily a must-have.
“Much is claimed for toners but little of it is possible,” he says. “When used for oily skin they certainly remove grease, but they can’t stop your skin from producing it, and just as over-cleansing can strip away the oils your skin needs to keep it healthy, so can excessive use of the wrong toner.”
Keep Your Pores Clean
Regularly exfoliating skin is an integral part of any man’s grooming routine. But it’s critical if you have oily skin, as dead skin cells can combine with sebum to form a kind of human cement that clogs pores and leads to spots.
Try using a gentle product like dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant so as not to irritate the skin too much and look out for products containing salicylic acid. As well as acting as an exfoliant, this ingredient has other useful properties for guys with spot-prone, oily skin.
“Salicylic acid penetrates through sebum, dissolving any blackhead-causing plugs and eliminating acne-causing bacteria,” says Dr Des Fernandes, co-author of Vitamin A Skin Science: A Scientific Guide to Healthy Skin.
“It’s a common misconception that oily skin doesn’t need a moisturiser,” says Penford. “But no matter what your skin condition, pretty much all of us suffer with dehydration due to diet and lifestyle. As such, a moisturiser will add that critical hydration while also protecting skin against the environment.”
It’s crucial you use the right product, though. To add moisture without grease, opt for lightweight, oil-free moisturisers especially formulated for oily skin (they’re usually labelled ‘oil control’).
If spots are a problem, look for moisturisers containing salicylic acid like Neutrogena’s Visibly Clear Oil-Free Moisturiser, which will help prevent follicles from becoming blocked by grease and dead skin cells.
Make It Matte
Like the specialists that are drafted in to clean up oil spills, you’ll occasionally have to call on your own rescue team to salvage an oil-slick nose or disco ball forehead.
Key agents in operation anti-oil are mattifying moisturisers and oil-control lotions. “These [products] contain microsponges to absorb oil on the skin’s surface, helping to combat shine and maintain an all-day matte finish,” says Penford.
Since oil production varies throughout the day, and everything from temperature changes to a stressful meeting with your boss can send oil-production into overdrive, it’s worth keeping a mattifier in your office drawer or gym bag.
Or, for the ultimate on-the-go solution, pop some shine control papers in your pocket.
Factor In Sun Care
Many guys with darker skin, which naturally tends to be a little oilier, often think sun protection isn’t as important for them as for their fairer-skinned brothers. But proper coverage is still essential.
“Darker skin, which is usually oiler, does have a greater degree of built-in protection in the form of melanin, but the pigment cannot be relied upon to protect the skin indefinitely,” says Lowe. “Oily skin will also wrinkle if overexposed to the sun’s UV rays.” Not only that, skip the sun cream and your skin runs the risk of sagging and developing sun spots and uneven pigmentation, so it pays to protect it.
Sunscreens have come a long way in recent years. According to Penford, brands have finally realised that a one-size-fits all approach doesn’t work for every skin type, with many now offering more bespoke formulations as a result. “Look out for ones designed specifically for oily skin that shield the skin from damaging UV rays but which control oil production and leave a matte finish,” she says.
Mask Your Problems
Face masks aren’t for everyone (if you have dry or sensitive skin you need to be especially careful when using powerful clay ones), but they’re great for guys with oily skin. “A clay-based or anti-bacterial mask is also a powerful treatment for reducing oily shine at the source: the sebaceous glands,” says Penford.
A bit like a vacuum for the skin, masks suck up excess oil, keeping pores from becoming blocked with grease and grime and helping to prevent zits and blackheads from forming.
Opt for products containing kaolin clay (which is especially good at hoovering up the oil) and use once or twice a week, taking care to avoid the delicate eye area. To improve a mask’s efficacy, apply when your pores are open – e.g. after using a face scrub or washing your face with warm (but not hot) water. You can also apply solely to problem areas like the nose if necessary.
To make things more fun, opt for something like Lab Series’ new Urban Blue Detox Mask which is, as the name suggests, bright blue and great for terrifying small children. Always useful.
It can seem – when you’re in the midst of an oil mop-up – the bright shine and the spots it can cause will never abate. But they do. “Oil production falls off with age and if your skin has always been greasy this is a welcome by-product of the ageing process,” says Lowe.
“In the meantime, you can console yourself with the knowledge that your skin is less likely to age as quickly as your drier-skinned counterparts!” Every cloud and that.
An award-winning journalist and former magazine editor, Lee Kynaston is one on the UK’s best known and most experienced male grooming experts.
He writes for The Telegraph, Men’s Health, Harrods Magazine and numerous other publications and websites, is Lifestyle Grooming Editor of Niven Joshua, and was voted Best Beauty/Grooming Blogger 2013 at the Fashion Monitor Journalism Awards for his Grooming Guru blog.