How I Helped Control My Oily Skin

Grace Gavilanes is a freelance writer-editor based in Queens, New York. Here, she recounts her years-long journey with oily, blemish-prone skin.

Out of all the topics I cover as a writer, skincare is the one I write and report on the most regularly. But being a skincare writer doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve had a flawless complexion my whole life or an error-free routine that would make any dermatologist proud. No — my desire to write and edit skincare content followed years of battling and learning to control my blemish-prone skin. The lessons I learned along the way, with help from industry experts, have made a big difference in how I approach caring for my skin on a daily basis.

Table of Contents

    On the Surface

    I had relatively clear skin in high school. It wasn’t until I started college that things began to change. The transition from having a clear complexion to one that was riddled with blackheads and cystic acne was jarring, but not completely unexpected. While I credit my oily skin to genetics, my diet at the time — which mostly consisted of chicken tenders, fries, and mozzarella sticks — was also a major cause of these newly-surfaced blemishes. 

    Facing this congestion made me resent the overly oily skin I seemed to have developed overnight. But Jodi LoGerfo, DNP, a dermatology nurse in New York City, stresses that oily skin shouldn’t be viewed as a unique skin concern. This increase in sebum production is common, and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re headed for a lifetime of acne. “The amount of sebum a person produces varies throughout the course of a person’s life,” says LoGerfo, adding, “Unfortunately, sebaceous glands get a bad rap. We do need them for healthy skin.” This includes helping to lock in moisture and protect the skin barrier from UV radiation.

    My skin began improving after I made daily swaps in my diet, like hydrating with water instead of sweetened iced tea, or introducing more greens to my carb-heavy meals. Skin health starts from the inside, and cleaning up my diet proved that to be true. But now, it was time to tackle the more intimidating — especially at the time — part of skincare: the daily routine. 

    Fresh Start

    Ensuring your skin is properly cleansed goes without saying, but extra care must be taken when you have oily skin. Over-cleansing is a big no-no, says LoGerfo, as this can strip the skin of natural oils, which may lead to drying and irritation. Another don’t? Overusing skincare products that promise an oil-free complexion. This may do the opposite — instead leading to redness and inflammation. As with most things in beauty: Less is usually more. The same can be said with at-home extractions. Personally, this was one of the more difficult parts of my skincare journey; it’s tough not to pop pesky pimples that are staring right back at you in the mirror. But refraining from doing this helps to avoid scarring and dark spots from acne.

    Once I committed to gentle cleansing — this step came after thoroughly washing my hands, of course — I turned to powerhouse ingredients like salicylic acid (a chemical exfoliator) and niacinamide, both of which LoGerfo recommends for those with oily skin types. The pair has also been clinically proven to help combat blemishes and hyperpigmentation

    Another game changer? Adding a moisturizer to my regimen. It may seem counterintuitive, but an overproduction of sebum is actually a sign that your skin is craving hydration. “Even though you may have oily skin, it is still important to apply moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated,” says LoGerfo. “Moisturizing prevents and alleviates skin irritation and soothes the skin by decreasing the evaporation of water.” 

    I’d be lying if I said I haven’t experienced breakouts since implementing a skincare routine that works for me. While yes, I do feel like I’ve mastered a meditative, multi-step regimen I look forward to following twice a day, I’ve also learned to accept the occasional whitehead or cluster of blackheads with grace. In the end, clearer skin takes time, a lot of patience, and quality ingredients that work hard while still being gentle on skin. 

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