Dermatologists Say These Are the 7 Best Ingredients for Fighting Oily Skin and Blemishes

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As New York dermatologist Patricia Wexler, MD, explains, oily skin is not all bad news. “Oil helps moisturize the skin, making it less dry in the winter, and also protecting it from symptoms of aging.” But, those of us with oily skin probably think it’s more of a curse than a blessing. To keep excess shine at bay, we tapped top dermatologists for their number-one ingredient pick when it comes to de-slicking skin and keeping blemishes far, far away.

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The bacteria-zapper
Baton Rouge, LA dermatologist Ann Zedlitz, MD says benzoyl peroxide is one of her go-to ingredients when it comes to treating persistently oily skin. The potent ingredient is known for its ability to tackle P. acnes, the bacteria responsible for acne breakouts. While there are plenty of products on the market boasting the blemish-busting ingredient, Dr. Zedlitz offers up one of her personal favorites: PCA Skin BPO Cleanser ($39), which boasts 5-percent benzoyl peroxide.

The natural solution
“Sulfur smells awful, but the skin loves it,” says Houston dermatologist Jennifer M. Segal, MD, adding that the natural ingredient works wonder for acne and rosacea. “There are even some great topical ‘concealers’ that contain sulfur, which lets you spot treat blemishes and cover them up at the same time.” Our go-to weekly treatment: Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask ($55) which works wonders on both stubborn one-off bumps or on larger clusters of blemishes.

The acne-avenger
Greenwich, CT dermatologist Lynne Haven, MD says oily skin can benefit greatly from salicylic acid which can reduce sebum, gently exfoliate and improve acne. “The acid can be used in several forms such as a cleanser, topical, spot treatment or in-office salicylic peel.” New York dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD agrees, noting that the ingredient is “lipophilic,” meaning it’s attracted to the oil in the sebaceous follicles.

The gentle exfoliant
Dr. Segal says lactic acid is great for all skin types, not just if you have blemishes or oily skin. “It hydrates, treats blemishes and delivers a light ‘peel’ effect to correct any skin imperfections with minimal irritation, if any.” For a gentle yet powerful dose of the exfoliator, The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA ($7) refines skin and decongests without sensitivity.

The oil-eliminator
Dr. Wexler says kaolin is naturally occurring in white clay, and helps absorb oil and leave behind matte skin. “A clay mask is a great solution for excessive sebum,” she says. Dr. Waldorf agrees, and suggests using a clay mask once or twice a week to absorb any excess oil. If you’re not into the idea of a mask or simply don’t have the time, First Aid Beauty Acne Clearing Pads ($30) packs white clay into each swipe-and-go pad for a quick and easy treatment.

The skin-perfector
According to McLean, VA, dermatologist Lily Talakoub, MD, retinol (aka the gold standard of skin care) is especially beneficial for those with oily skin. “It helps to shrink oil glands and resurface dead skin cells.” Translation: you’ll have skin that glows minus any shine. Looking for the best retinol your derm would approve of? We rounded them all up for you here.

The blemish-buster
One of the better-known ingredients in the acne space, glycolic acid is the smallest molecule of the AHA family, which means it is able to penetrate the skin’s surface and get to work much easier. “Glycolic acid is beneficial in lotions, peels, and creams to reduce excess oil production and prevent the clogging of pores that lead to breakouts,” says Dr. Wexler. Aside from clearing up blocked-up pores, Dr. Wexler notes that the acid is also especially beneficial when it comes to smoothing out rough texture, too. “Glycolic acid peels are great exfoliators as well,” she adds.

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