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Best treatments for oily skin

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In this article

Topical Treatments for Oily Skin
Systemic Treatments for Oily Skin
Other Treatments for Oily Skin
Skincare for Oily Skin


If you have oily skin, then know that you’re not alone. Here at Sönd, we know what it’s like to have problem skin first hand. We know that it can be at best annoying but also distressing and upsetting.

Having oily skin doesn’t have to mean constantly battling with shiny skin and breakouts. There are treatments that you can try that could be the answer to your oily skin.

Here’s a detailed analysis of some of the top treatments for oily skin, what they are, how they work and what potential side effects they could cause.

Topical treatments for oily skin

Topical treatments are usually creams, lotions and ointments that you apply directly to the skin.


Retinoid creams are derived from vitamin A and are often used to help control acne prone skin. They also help to manage oily skin by helping to reduce the size of the pores of the skin, especially helpful if the pores are particularly large.

In tightening the pores, the pores then produce less sebum, the oily, wax like substance that naturally keeps the skin moisturised. In oily skin, sebum production is usually in excessive levels, making the skin appear shiny or greasy.

They also help to rid the skin of dead skin cells and other dirt that clog up the pores by acting as a type of exfoliant. This means that the pores become less clogged, and therefore produce less sebum.

It’s thought that topical retinoids could also reduce sebum production directly, by binding to, and making less effective, receptors in the pores that signal for increased sebum production.

A downside of using topical retinoids is that they can cause dry, flaky skin. A retinoid cream is worth trying to help manage your oily skin, but do so sparingly to begin with. Apply a thin layer to the skin before bed, and wash away in the morning.

Topical retinoids can also cause a mild burning or stinging sensation, and make the skin more sensitive to the UV rays of the sun. It’s therefore recommended that you use a facial sunscreen designed for oily skin during the day.

Olumacostat glasaretil

Olumacostat glasaretil is a rather complicated name, given to a new type of topical skin preparation that can inhibit the production of sebum.

As this treatment is so new, it’s not yet known how effective olumacostat glasaretil may be, or if indeed it will be given a name that rolls off the tongue more easily. But early indications suggest that the ointment is well tolerated and shows promising results.

Tests on this topical treatment for oily skin continue.


Cosmeceuticals are products designed for use directly onto the skin that aren’t medicated, but more cosmetic. We discuss more in our article on caring for oily skin.

One cosmeceutical that has shown to be effective at managing oily skin is niacinamide. As yet, the exact way niacinamide works isn’t entirely understood, but it’s thought that this topical vitamin helps to boost the production of collagen which in turn helps to absorb excess sebum

Two other cosmeceuticals are green tea and the amino acid, L-carnitine. When used topically, green tea helps to reduce sebum productionand L-carnitine helps to supress the mechanism by which sebum is produced.

Systemic treatments for oily skin

If you’ve tried topical products for your oily skin and they haven’t had much effect, your skin specialist or GP may recommend that you try a systemic treatment – that is, a drug that you take orally that can help manage your skin from the inside.


Isotretinoin (also known as Accutane) is an oral form of a retinoid drug, derived from vitamin A. It’s very successful at reducing levels of sebumwithin the skin. It does this by tightening the pores which in turn reduces the amount of sebum they can produce.

As much as this sounds like a wonder drug if you have problem, oily skin, isotretinoin does have side effects.

For this reason, and the fact that it can take up to six months of treatment to begin to have an effect, doctors do not prescribe this drug as a first line of treatment. It will only ever be prescribed if your problem skin hasn’t responded to any other treatment.

The side effects of isotretinoin include dry skin, particularly around the mouth and eyes. More severely, taking this drug can lead to depression and anxiety and increase the levels of sugar in the blood.

It can also lead to severe birth defects, and is not prescribed for pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant.

Anti-androgen drugs – spironolactone (Aldactone)

In our article on the causes of oily skin, we discuss how an increase in androgens can lead to oilier skin. Androgens are male hormones, such as testosterone, that are present in lower concentrations in females.

Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or going through puberty can cause an increase in androgen levels in women, leading to oily skin.

Anti-androgen drugs such as spironolactone (also known as Aldactone) tablets help to block the androgen hormone receptors which helps to suppress the action of these hormones.

At a low dose, spironolactone tablets, available on prescription from your GP or dermatologist, can be effective at reducing the oiliness of your skin. On the downside, spironolactone does have side effects.

Spironolactone can cause stomach upsets, breast soreness and a disruption to your menstrual cycle. It’s not suitable for pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant.

It can also act as a diuretic, which means it may make you pass urine more frequently and in larger volumes. This may cause you to become dehydrated so if you are prescribed this drug for your oily skin, make sure you stay well hydrated.

Oral contraceptives

As oily skin is so often as a consequence of fluctuating or out of balance hormones, sometimes your GP may recommend the oral contraceptive pill to help manage your oily skin.

It helps to reduce the level of androgen hormones produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands which helps to limit the production of testosterone. This in turn helps to reduce the production of sebum, thereby managing oil levels in the skin.

Taking the oral contraceptive pill does have side effects that your doctor will discuss with you. Side effects include weight gain, changes in mood, headaches and potentially high blood pressure.

Other treatments for oily skin

Aside from topical treatments and oral medications, there are some other treatments that can help control sebum production and oily skin.

Botulinum toxin

Botulinum toxin is otherwise known as Botox, the injectable substance that helps to freeze wrinkles and fine lines.

But it’s also known to help reduce sebum production and oiliness. Researchers think that this is due to the toxin’s ability to block the release of a chemical that signals the release of sebum.

Botox is available in many certified clinics but also high street beauty salons. If you’d like to explore the ideal of having Botox to control your oily skin, make sure you visit a registered clinic where the Botox is administered by properly qualified and experienced staff.

Photodynamic therapy

Photodynamic therapy is used to help manage acne prone skin, but it can also help to control excess oil in the skin too.

The therapy involves shining light of a certain wavelength and dose directly onto the skin.

This helps to destroy the cells that produce sebumin the pores of the skin. Studies are as yet inconclusive as to the real benefits of photodynamic therapy on oily skin.

But some have shown promising results after multiple sessions. Again, this therapy should only ever be administered by a qualified therapist in a reputable clinic.

Risks of this light therapy include burning and stinging of the skin, and the skin being more sensitive to sunlight.


Laser treatment is another skin treatment that is offered by both clinics and beauty salons. There is some evidence to suggest that laser treatment can reduce oiliness in the skin.

Again, if you’re considering laser treatment to help your oily skin, choose your practitioner wisely. Side effects include burning and scarring of the skin, which could be much worse if carried out by someone who isn’t well trained or experienced.

Skincare for oily skin

We’ve developed an effective skincare range, specially tailored for problem skin types from oily skin to acne prone skin and eczema to dry skin. We created it after suffering problem skin ourselves and we’d love for you to discover the power of our creation. What’s more, there’s no known side effects!

Our alkalising skincare range includes cleansers, moisturisers and toners that help to support healthy skin and nourish all problem skin types. We have many customers who can’t believe the transformation of their skin since using Sönd skincare, and you could be the same! Try us for six weeks and see how you can transform the health of your skin, too.





Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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