How to Tell If You Have Oily Skin

Are you oily or combo?

Closeup of brunette woman with highlighter
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Some days you just can't stop the shine, and other days your skin looks dull and thirsty. What's the deal? Is your skin type oily or combination? Here's how to figure it out.

How to Know If You Have Oily Skin

It's not so hard to tell if you have oily skin. Look for these telltale signs:

  • Your skin becomes shiny within the hour after cleansing. You notice your T-zone (the entire forehead and down the nose to the chin) is most oily.
  • You get frequent breakouts, especially around your period.
  • You have relatively large pores and are prone to blackheads on your nose.

If your T-zone is oily, but your cheeks tend to be dry and flaky (particularly during winter), then you likely have combination skin. 

Causes of Oily Skin

Oily skin is caused by overactive sebaceous (oil) glands. Hormone levels can affect this, which is why some women break out around that time of the month. Heat and humidity also increase sebum production.

How to Take Basic Care of Oily Skin

The secret to treating oily skin is to not go overboard with products. If you exfoliate too much and swipe on drying toners daily, your skin dries out and reacts by producing more sebum.

Try a basic skincare routine:

  • At night, wash your face with a cleanser formulated for oily skin like Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel ($14). In the morning, rinse with warm water, or sweep on micellar water like Bioderma Sensibio H2O ($19) with a cotton pad to remove traces of excess oil and dirt.
  • Some people with very oily skin can skip moisturizer altogether. If you do want to use one, go with a noncomedogenic, mattifying moisturizer, which won't clog pores and will keep shine at bay. Try La Roche-Posay Effaclar Matte ($32).
  • Exfoliate once a week with a gentle scrub or a chemical exfoliant like Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($30).
  • A weekly clay mask like LOLI Beauty Matcha Coconut Paste ($30) can purify your pores, curb shine, and prevent blackheads.

Don't Shy Away From Oils

Despite the lessons you might have learned in the past about sticking to oil-free products, you don't need to fear oil when you have oily skin. Cleansers with natural oils like olive, jojoba, maracuja, or babassu work well even on oily skin because oils dissolve oils. Try a cleanser like Little Barn Apothecary Blue Yarrow + Geranium Cleansing Oil ($40) and see for yourself.

The Best Makeup for Oily Skin

Oily skin can sometimes mean makeup meltdown. Powder foundations, blushes, and eye shadows are generally best, but some liquid formulas have amazing staying power, even on oily skin. Here are some picks:

Tip: To avoid creasing and smearing, use a primer like Nars Smudgeproof Eyeshadow Base ($26) before putting on your eye makeup.

Carry blotting papers with you when you leave the house. These soak up excess oil without messing up your makeup, and they help you avoid powdering your face too often.

The Benefits of Oily Skin

You may hate the shine and the breakouts, but oily skin isn't all bad. Oils keep the skin plump, making you less prone to early signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles. But as you age, the skin usually becomes drier, especially in your late 30s. So, consider embracing oily skin while it's doing you some good. Think of it this way: People splurge on highlighter to get the same effect.