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Those with oily skin know that your nose and forehead are two places you don’t want to “shine bright like a diamond.” A little Rihanna-inspired dewiness is nice, but sometimes — especially in hot, humid months — a shiny face is hard to avoid and seemingly even harder to control.
Oily skin happens when your skin’s sebaceous glands produce too much sebum, a wax-like substance that protects and moisturizes your skin. Sebum is super important for healthy skin, but too much of it can lead to clogged pores and acne.
So, what are you to do if you want say goodbye to grease for good?
We’ve rounded up some serums that might help. Let’s be real: They’re not magical potions. Sometimes, things like your diet, lifestyle, or makeup use can contribute to oily skin (and those can’t be resolved overnight).
Still, serums, which are nongreasy and contain intensive formulas that penetrate deep into the skin, can do a lot to help remedy the issue.
For real, though, serums on oily skin?!
Fear not: Even though they often come in similar amber glass bottles, serums are not the same thing as face oils. (FYI: Some oils are great for oily skin.)
Instead, serums contain ingredients that help clean and tighten pores, smooth out uneven texture, and soak up excess oil. The right serum can create a smooth, mattifying effect.
They’re meant to be applied after cleansing but before moisturizing.
We used a few key measures to pick the all-star serums for oily skin:
Active ingredients. In serums, ingredients matter. We looked for key ingredients that can help treat oily skin:
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect your skin from free radicals (unstable compounds that damage your skin over time) and promotes collagen production. As an anti-inflammatory and healing agent, vitamin C can help treat underlying probs that lead to oiliness and acne.
- Hyaluronic acid: When your skin is dehydrated, it sometimes overcompensates by producing excess oil. Hyaluronic acid offers intense, ultra-lightweight hydration that can restore your skin’s balance without any greasiness. It also plays a key role in fighting signs of aging.
- Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is anti-inflammatory and helps even skin tone, exfoliate skin, and combat excess oil.
- Glycerin: Glycerin is a gentle plant-based ingredient that can improve skin elasticity and smoothness. It also helps tone and hydrate the skin.
- Niacinamide: Niacinamide aids in production of keratin, a protein that keeps skin healthy and firm.
- Lactic acid: Lactic acid works to treat hyperpigmentation and age spots and shrinks pores.
Customer feedback. Power to the people — they know what’s up. We sorted through reviews to find the highest-rated products on the market.
Dermatologist approval. We looked to skin care experts to guide us. Many of these products have been explicitly recommended by dermatologists.
All price points. We looked for the best of the best at every price level. Quality products can be found at a wide range of prices. (And pssst… more expensive doesn’t always equal better. Just ask your dermatologist.)
- $ = under $16
- $$ = $16–$36
- $$$ = over $36
1. The Inkey List Retinol
Why we chose it: This budget option seems to sell out in the seconds it takes to open your browser after a restock, but it’s worth sleuthing for. Users report smoother, brighter, more mattified skin.
Key ingredients: Retinol, which is derived from vitamin A, helps rejuvenate the dermis. It evens out skin tone and reduces the appearance of fine lines. The water-based formula also contains glycerin for added smoothness.
How to use it: Retinol is meant to be applied only at night after you cleanse your skin. Apply a pea-size amount and massage into your face and neck 2 or 3 times a week. Since retinol makes your skin super sensitive to UV rays, apply a heavy-duty sunscreen in the morning to counteract irritation.
Considerations: If you have sensitive skin and have never used retinol, you might want to start with a 0.25 percent retinol product and work your way up as your skin acclimates. (This one contains 1 percent.)
Buy the Inkey List Retinol from Sephora.
2. Neutrogena Shine Control Matte Booster
Why we chose it: Dermatologists often recommend good old-fashioned Neutrogena as a reliable skin care brand. This two-in-one serum and primer will tone down oil and get your face ready for the day. Whether you use it on its own or under foundation, reviewers say it reduces shine all day.
Key ingredients: You know how when you get your phone wet you’re supposed to put it in rice to dry it out? This product is kinda like that, but for your face. Its active ingredient is rice protein, which works like a sponge to soak up excess oil.
How to use it: Apply in the morning after cleansing and toning.
Considerations: As some reviewers point out, Neutrogena is not a cruelty-free brand — it tests on animals in some countries.
3. Some by Mi Miracle Serum
Why we chose it: Looking for a miracle? According to this product’s ardent fans, Bon Mi’s got your back. Users say the two-in-one toner-serum treats acne, soothes inflammation, and makes the skin smooth and matte.
Key ingredients: It contains alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which gently peels away the surface layer of skin to reveal the baby-soft one underneath. And beta hydroxy acid (BHA, also known as salicylic acid) travels deep into your pores to remove excess sebum and dead skin. Extracts of tea tree water, papaya, and witch hazel tone and mattify your skin.
How to use it: Dab onto your cheeks and forehead after cleansing.
Considerations: One bottle of this stuff is supposedly sold every 3 seconds, and the brand promises a “miracle” skin transformation in 30 days. Despite the hype, some reviewers say the consistency feels too oily for them.
Buy the Some By Mi Miracle Serum on Amazon.
4. MyChelle Dermaceuticals Clear Skin Serum
Why we chose it: This just might be the holy grail for those with oily skin — it tightens pores, smooths texture, mattifies, and soaks up extra grease. Reviewers say it also serves as a dope base for makeup. A pro for those with sensitive skin: MyChelle avoids common chemical irritants like synthetic fragrances and colorants.
Key ingredients: MyChelle strives to use clean and naturally derived ingredients. This product contains botanicals like witch hazel, willow bark, and tea tree to tone and fight acne, plus retinol and niacinamide to smooth and rejuvenate.
How to use it: Apply it morning or night.
Considerations: It does contain yogurt extract, so it’s not vegan.
5. Paula’s Choice Antioxidant Pore Purifier
Why we chose it: Those with enlarged pores and regular breakouts might want to give Paula’s Choice a try. Fifty reviewers have labeled the product as nongreasy, and 65 have called it lightweight.
Key ingredients: Azelaic acid and niacinamide work to brighten skin and refine pores while salicylic acid clears up the skin and improves texture.
How to use it: Apply it to your face and neck once or twice a day after cleansing and toning. Since salicylic acid can make your skin extra sensitive to the sun, always apply a heavy-duty sunscreen after use.
Considerations: Some reviewers say this product can be too sticky.
Buy Paula’s Choice Antioxidant Pore Purifier on Amazon.
6. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
Why we chose it: It seems like The Ordinary products are always going viral. Fans of this particular cult favorite say it clears up acne, reduces oil, and makes pores look smaller-than-life. This product is free of oil, alcohol, silicone, nuts, and gluten. It’s also cruelty-free and vegan.
Key ingredients: The niacinamide (aka vitamin B3) improves skin’s barrier and keeps sebum production under control. Meanwhile, a little bit of zinc reduces inflammation and scarring.
How to use it: Apply a few drops to your face morning and night before using your regular moisturizer.
Considerations: Some people report increased breakouts when they start using it. According to the manufacturer, this is all part of an initial adjustment period that can take up to a month.
Buy The Ordinary Niacinamide from Ulta.
7. TONYMOLY Vital Vita 12 Poresol Ampoule
Why we chose it: What would the beauty market be without K-beauty cult products, honestly? For those obsessed with all things Korean beauty, this might be it. Formulated for oily skin, this product works to clear clogged pores and fight excess sebum.
Key ingredients: It contains ingredients like lactic acid, salicylic acid, and tea tree oil to tone and balance skin. It’s free of synthetic fragrances and artificial colors.
How to use it: Apply a couple of drops to your face and neck as desired.
Considerations: Sensitive to smells? A few reviewers complain about the naturally derived scent.
8. Simplified Skin Vitamin C Serum
Why we chose it: With 20 percent vitamin C, this affordable plant-based serum works to brighten skin.
Key ingredients: Besides the obvious vitamin C, this cruelty-free formula also contains witch hazel, jojoba oil, and aloe vera. Plus, it has hyaluronic acid, which addresses hyperpigmentation and excess oil and diminishes the appearance of fine lines.
How to use it: Apply up to twice a day after cleansing and toning.
Considerations: Although it def works mattifying magic, a few reviewers say it does so to the extreme, leaving skin dry.
Buy Simplified Skin Vitamin C Serum from Simplified Skin.
9. Essa Vita C Whip Serum
Why we chose it: Specially formulated for oily skin, this vitamin C-packed formula also claims to fight signs of aging. (We know, we know, like you’re not supposed to get older or something?)
Key ingredients: It contains hyaluronic acid and antioxidants like aloe vera extract to keep skin looking bright and healthy.
How to use it: Apply to your face and neck morning or night after cleansing.
Considerations: Reviewers love its fast absorption but complain about its greasy texture. Also, some packaging probs: Some say the bottle seems to run out too quickly.
10. Caudalie Vinopure Skin Perfecting Serum
Why we chose it: According to writer Tracey Zane, this Allure Best of Beauty Award winner eliminates blackheads and makes your skin as luminous and clear as glass. According to Caudalie, it’s 98 percent natural.
Key ingredients: The gel formula contains natural salicylic acid, grapeseed polyphenols, and essential oils that clear up blackheads and remove excess grease.
How to use it: Apply to clean skin morning and night. You can also use it as a spot treatment for acne.
Considerations: It has a minty, citrusy scent that some love (and others love to hate).
Buy Caudalie Vinopure Skin Perfecting Serum on Amazon.
11. Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment
Why we chose it: If you run into some financial luck or something, you might want to try this iconic fave you’ve prob already heard about. It’s not just influencer spon-con — apparently, this chemical exfoliator really works.
Key ingredients: The creamy liquid formula contains lactic acid and botanical ingredients like prickly pear and licorice root extracts to purify and brighten skin. It also clears pores and helps reduce oil.
How to use it: Apply 1 to 3 pumps day or night. Folks with sensitive skin may want to use it like a mask and wash it off after 15 minutes.
Considerations: Despite the fandom, a few reviewers complain that the results aren’t worth the price, and others say it causes itchiness and sensitivity.
Buy Sunday Riley Good Genes on Amazon.
How to apply your serum to reap the benefits
Serums absorb best into freshly exfoliated skin. If you don’t remove the top layer of dirt, debris, and dead skin cells (yum) from your face before using the product, it’ll sit on top of that layer rather than soak into the dermis.
Physical exfoliants (like sea salt scrubs and electric facial brushes) and chemical exfoliants (like certain face washes) can remove this layer.
So, first, cleanse. Next, apply your serum as instructed by the label (usually, massaging it gently into your skin works best). Then, apply your moisturizer.
There are tons of serums out there that can help oily skin, and navigating them can be overwhelming.
- Start by considering your budget and your specific needs. (For example: Do you have sensitive skin?) Since everyone’s skin is unique, it’s tricky to rely on 5-star reviews alone.
- Sampling products can be a huge help in selecting the right one. Many stores and websites offer samples or trial sizes.
- Look for key ingredients that can help treat oily skin, like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, glycerin, niacinamide, and lactic acid.
- Remember, it’s not all about the products. If you want to get to the root of your excess oil, talk to a dermatologist. They can help pinpoint and treat the unique factors that may be affecting your skin.