The 9 Best Serums For Oily Skin

by Lisa Fogarty and Adeline Duff
Originally Published: 

Ask anyone — a beauty editor, a dermatologist, an aesthetician — and they'll likely tell you that serum is the most important step in any skin care routine. That's because they're highly concentrated, targeted treatments made up of teeny tiny molecules, which basically means they can penetrate your skin (and do their job) much more effectively than, say, a moisturizer. But finding the best serum for your skin type requires a fair amount of research, and it's crucial that you use the right one. For this article's purposes — to narrow down the absolute best serums for oily skin — Bustle spoke with Dr. Kenneth Howe, a board-certified dermatologist practicing at Wexler Dermatology in New York City.

"Serums are great for oily skin because they are such lightweight preparations," points out Dr. Howe. "Many serums are water-based rather than oil-based, and so are a better match for skin that’s already oily." As for what to look for in terms of formula? Try a mattifying serum for daytime use, since they "fight oily shine both by absorbing excess oil as it’s put out over the course of a day, and by decreasing oil glands’ output." Specific ingredients to keep an eye out for — whether shopping for a day serum or a night serum — include clay extracts, which Dr. Howe refers to as "an age-old, time-tested remedy for overly oily skin [since] the natural minerals soak up excess oil." Similarly, "Botanicals like ginger root or meadowsweet extracts work to decrease activity of oil glands."

If you're unsure of which type of serum to use during the daytime, and which type to use at night, Dr. Howe puts it simply. "The mattifying serums are meant for daytime use. They absorb excess oil as it’s produced over the course of a day. Night? If you’re using one of the oily skin serums that doubles as an acne spot treatment — these are the ones that often contain salicylic acid — then you would put that one on at night."

And speaking of acids — which, across the board, tend to be extremely beneficial for oily skin that's breakout-prone — Dr. Howe does have one warning. "A lot of serums intended for oily skin contain salicylic acid or lactic acid. These are both exfoliating agents — and they’re fine, assuming your skin needs exfoliation — but some people are both oily AND sensitive, and those individuals will be irritated by these [kind of] harsh exfoliating acids." So, if you have oily, sensitive skin, use these types of serums with caution. Always do a patch test on your arm first, and start by using them once or twice a week so your skin can adjust to them. If you experience any severe redness or irritation, an acidic serum probably isn't the best choice for you.

With all that in mind, scroll on to shop nine of the best serums for oily skin you can buy right now.

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The Best Mattifying Serum For Oily Skin

This MyChelle Clear Skin Serum does just about everything you could want in a product for oily skin: it cleans and tightens pores, refines uneven texture, mattifies skin, and soaks up excess oil. That means clearer, smoother, less shiny looking skin — and it makes for a great makeup base as well.

Mychelle also emphasizes using clean, naturally derived ingredients, leaving out common chemical irritants, like artificial fragrance and colorants, in their formulas. Key botanicals in this serum include astringents and acne-fighters like witch hazel, tea tree, and willow bark extract, plus retinol, niacinamide, and even yogurt extract. Impressive stuff!


The Best Mattifying Primer/Serum In One

A unique serum and primer in one, this skin care/makeup hybrid from Neutrogena will not only keep oily skin looking shine-free all day long, but it also creates a smooth, even base for flawless makeup application. Whether you wear it alone or underneath foundation, you're bound to fall in love with its oil-curbing effects. But perhaps the best thing about this priming serum is that it costs less than $20 — making it a budget-friendly choice to boot.


The Best Salicylic Acid Serum For Oily Skin

Caudalie's Vinopure Skin Perfecting Serum uses naturally derived salicylic acid to keep pores clear of excess oil, thus helping to prevent breakouts. Meanwhile, grape seed polyphenols — which are rich in antioxidants — can help prevent the sebum inside of your pores from oxidizing, making this serum a great choice for blackhead-prone skin as well. Other key ingredients include niacinamide, rosewater, and sodium hyaluronate to encourage a generally smoother, more radiant complexion. Use it all over your face, or as a spot treatment — but as Dr. Howe noted, salicylic acid serums are probably best reserved for nighttime use.


The Best Glycolic Acid Serum For Oily Skin

Glycolic acid is another highly beneficial exfoliating ingredient, but unlike salicylic acid, is doesn't dig as deep into the pores; instead, it works to exfoliate the outermost layer of skin — so this serum would be a better choice for someone looking to treat unevenly toned or textured skin, as opposed to acne and blackheads. This serum also includes a lipo-hydroxy acid to help refine and tighten pores, plus hyaluronic acid to balance out any drying effects. Basically, if you have oily skin and are after a clearer, or "brighter" complexion, this might be the serum for you.


The Best Vitamin C Serum For Oily Skin

Another great choice from French pharmacy brand, La Roche-Posay, that focuses on encouraging a brighter (read: more even) complexion, this serum uses one specific hero ingredient to get the job done: vitamin C. Vitamin C is known for its glow-boosting effects, while in this formula, the addition of hyaluronic acid offers a lightweight, oil-free way to restore hydration and enhance skin-softness. Last but not least, a dose of salicylic acid helps keep pores clean to prevent breakouts — making this one multi-tasking serum that oily skin types will absolutely love.


The Best Retinol Serum For Oily Skin

If you're all about the retinol, here's a serum for all you oily skin types out there: the Paula's Choice Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum. Retinol does about everything "good" for your skin (it encourages a smoother, firmer, more radiant complexion), but be sure to only use it at night. That's because it can make your skin more photosensitive — so don't forget to apply a thorough layer of sunscreen each morning when using this serum! Other key ingredients in this formula include soothing green tea and chamomile, plus antioxidants derived from vitamins and botanicals to keep skin protected and healthy.


The Best Korean Serum For Oily Skin

This one's for all the Korean beauty obsessives out there. Fuss-free and affordable, the TONYMOLY Vital Vita 12 Poresol Ampoule works to clear clogged pores and keep oily skin balanced using ingredients like tea tree oil, salicylic acid, and lactic acid (note that the acids are placed towards the end of the ingredients list, so this won't be as strong an exfoliator as some others). Other good-for-skin ingredients include niacinamide, vitamin H, panthenol, and sodium hyaluronate, which are all beneficial for a smooth, even-looking complexion. For just $20, it's hard to do better.


The Best Serum/Moisturizer In One

As a "fluid," this formula from Avène isn't exactly a serum — but it's not quite a moisturizer either. Think of it as a hybrid of both. It's lighter-weight than a moisturizer, but more lotion-y than the average serum, making it a great choice for oily skin types who want hydration, but find most face creams too rich and heavy. It has a non-greasy, gel texture that simultaneously moisturizes and mattifies skin; plus, it's super gentle (like everything else Avène makes), so even sensitive skin types can use it safely. Consider swapping out your go-to summer face cream with this mattifying fluid to prevent heat-induced shine (without drying out your skin) all day long.


The Best Splurge

This cult-favorite serum/treatment from Sunday Riley is about as iconic as it gets in terms of unanimously adored skin care products. Good Genes is a chemical exfoliator with a creamy, liquid-y texture that uses lactic acid, along with several other unique botanical ingredients (like prickly pear and lady's slipper orchid extracts), to clarify, purify, and brighten skin. Thanks to its pore-clearing abilities, it will definitely benefit oily, congested skin. And, because it helps even out skin tone, being an exfoliator, it's a great choice for breakout-prone skin types, as well.


Dr. Kenneth Howe, board-certified dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City.

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