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What to consider when searching for the best moisturizer for oily skin

The skin is our first line of defense against the external environment, with sebum being one of the star players.1 

Sebum is a mixture of triglycerides, free fatty acids, squalene, wax esters, cholesterol esters, and cholesterol.1 This oily liquid is secreted by the sebaceous glands, which are highly concentrated on the face.1 

In fact, there are up to 900 sebaceous glands per cm2 on our T-zones.1

In addition to creating a protective layer on the skin, sebum provides insulation against weather, shields skin from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, and prevents loss of water.1 

Due to its roles in maintaining skin health, it is important to understand why the sebaceous glands on your face may be producing more sebum than normal if you have oily skin.

Why do some people have oily skin?

While everyone’s skin produces oil, excessive sebum production is a dermatological concern faced by many.

A multitude of factors can contribute to oily skin, including hormone levels, humidity, and temperature.1,2 Some people with increased oil production also experience acne, however oily skin and acne-prone skin do not always go hand-in-hand.2 

Besides acne, enlarged pores are also associated with having an oily skin type.2

If you have oily skin, it may stem from a combination of causes that ultimately make it difficult to pinpoint how to treat it.

That being said, using a moisturizer with the right consistency and active ingredients can go a long way in reducing oil production.3 

Given the plethora of moisturizers available and targeted to people with oily skin, how can you find which moisturizer is best for oily skin?

The 3 types of moisturizers: Emollients, humectants, and occlusives

Moisturizers can be classified into 3 main categories, namely emollients, humectants and occlusives, that are based on how they work and what skin concerns they target.3

Emollients maintain healthy skin and repair the epidermal barrier if it becomes compromised due to dryness and roughness.3 

Ingredients such as cholesterol, squalene, and ceramides are typically found in emollients.3 

All skin types can benefit from the use of emollients since this type of moisturizer is available in the form of lotions, creams, and oils.3

Humectants are water-loving, or hydrophilic, moisturizers.3 

This means that humectants are capable of drawing water into the top layer of the skin known as the epidermis from the dermis or environment.3 

Key ingredients found in humectants include glycerol, urea, and hyaluronic acid.3 

Oily skin is compatible with humectants particularly since they are often packed in gel-based moisturizers that are easily absorbed.3

Occlusives work to prevent water loss from the skin, medically referred to as transepidermal water loss, by creating a hydrophobic layer on the skin.3 

As ointments, occlusives commonly contain petroleum, beeswax, and lanolin.3 

This type of moisturizer is great for irritated skin, however even oily skin can benefit from retained hydration.3 

If you decide to use occlusives in your routine to combat oiliness, use a thin layer only at night as it will not sink into your skin.3

Active ingredients that may help manage oily skin

To find the best moisturizer for oily skin, you should also keep an eye on the ingredients list – some ingredients that may be helpful can include green tea, salicylic acid, tea tree oil, or aloe vera.

Figuring out which active ingredient works for you may involve some trial and error, but don’t jump into using multiple at once.

Consult your dermatologist before using these ingredients and determine skin sensitivity by patch-testing first.

To start, research shows that using a moisturizer with green tea can reduce the production of sebum by 27% when used daily for at least three months.4 

These anti-shine effects are attributed to compounds known as polyphenols, which are abundant in green tea and possess both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.4

Another powerhouse ingredient is salicylic acid.

People with both acne-prone and oily skin may benefit from using salicylic acid as it chemically exfoliates dead cells to clear pores and reduces sebum production.5,6 

Depending on the concentration of salicylic acid, research indicates that it can reduce facial oiliness by up to 14%.5

Tea tree oil and aloe vera have been extracted from plants for centuries due to their benefits for human health.7,8 Both tea tree oil and aloe vera possess anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and wound-healing properties, all of which can aid in managing acne and oiliness.7,8 

Aloe vera in particular is further associated with protecting the skin from photodamage, promoting skin elasticity as well as reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.7

How to find the best moisturizer for oily skin

Oily skin is sensitive skin. It indicates that your sebaceous glands are producing excess sebum, which can often feel like an oil spill occurred on your face.

To improve the health of your skin barrier, talk to a dermatologist to figure out what treatment may work best for you.

In the meantime, if you find yourself searching for an effective moisturizer, consider its consistency and the active ingredients it contains.

The best moisturizers for oily skin are typically gel-based formulations due to the non-comedogenic and absorptive nature of humectants.

Active ingredients that are suited for oil control can include green tea, salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and aloe vera.

Keeping this in mind, you may be able to find a moisturizer that helps manage oiliness throughout the day while keeping your skin clear and hydrated.


1.        Boer M, Duchnik E, Maleszka R, Marchlewicz M. Structural and biophysical characteristics of human skin in maintaining proper epidermal barrier function. Adv Dermatol Allergol. 2016;33(1):1-5. doi:10.5114/pdia.2015.48037

2.        Endly DC, Miller RA. Oily skin: A review of treatment options. 2017;10(8):49-55.

3.        Sethi A, Kaur T, Malhotra SK, Gambhir ML. Moisturizers: The slippery road. Indian J Dermatol. 2016;61(3):279-287. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.182427

4.        Mahmood T, Akhtar N, Moldovan C. A comparison of the effects of topical green tea and lotus on facial sebum control in healthy humans. Hippokratia. 2013;17(1):64-67.

5.        Agustina R, Raif MA, Ginting CN, Ikhtiari R. Effect of Skin Sebum Levels before and after Chemical Peeling with 30% Salicylic Acid. 2021;(Himbep 2020):248-253. doi:10.5220/0010296502480253

6.        Pretorius J. Respective Treatment Modalities with the Use of Combined Ingredients to Address Acne Prone Skin. J Dermatology Res Ther. 2021;7(2):1-10. doi:10.23937/2469-5750/1510104

7.        Surjushe A, Vasani R, Saple D. Aloe vera: A short review. Indian J Dermatol. 2008;53(8):163-166. doi:10.4103/0019

8.        Oliveira CS, Silva ABP, Fagundes LL, et al. Development and Preliminary Cosmetic Potential Evaluation of Melaleuca alternifolia cheel (Myrtaceae) Oil and Resveratrol for Oily Skin. J Dermatology Res Ther. 2016;2(4):2-7. doi:10.23937/2469-5750/1510032

Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

Harmeet Gurm
Harmeet Gurm
Harmeet obtained her Master of Science at McMaster University in 2021. Her research was focused on understanding how the placenta develops during early human pregnancy. Currently, she works as a Clinical Research Coordinator to investigate the safety and effectiveness of novel therapeutics in dermatology. As a content writer for Medical News Bulletin from 2022-2023, Harmeet worked towards making health-related information accessible to readers from different backgrounds.


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