They say that people with oily skin are lucky, because all that extra moisture acts as protection from wrinkles when you get older. Which is all well and good if you’re 50. But at 29, I’m still very much fighting the grease factory that seemed to turn on the minute I hit puberty.
Superastringent toners, drying clay masks, acne washes that suds up like dish detergent—you name it, I’ve tried it. Unfortunately, none of it helped.
But apparently, that’s not so surprising. “You’re not going to be able to change your skin type, but you can learn to work with it,” says Clara Williams, aesthetician and founder of the holistic skincare line Cultivar. Using overly harsh products will only irritate my skin and cause it to rebel by producing more oil, she told me.
Sticking with gentler, more natural products is more likely to help keep the oil under control—and leave my skin healthier overall. So, I picked up these 5 options, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. Here’s how it went.
Apple cider vinegar
It’s good for everything from dandruff to curbing cravings, so I wasn’t all that surprised when Williams said that good old ACV could help my oily skin. Because it’s astringent, apple cider vinegar can help wick away excess oil when used as a toner. Plus, it boasts antimicrobial properties that could help fight blemish-causing bacteria. But it’s strong, and applying it straight could irritate your skin. Williams recommended using a 3:1 ratio of water to ACV.
I followed that advice, and applied my ACV solution with a cotton swab after splashing my face with warm water (I never cleanse in the morning). Throughout the morning, my skin felt cleaner than usual, and sort of pleasantly tight. But I wasn’t a fan of the vinegar smell. And by the afternoon, I was back to my usual, greasy self.
Williams said this is what she uses on her oily skin, so I figured it had to be pretty good. Like apple cider vinegar, aloe gel is naturally astringent and has antiseptic properties that some findings suggest could help fight acne. “I have aloe plants growing year-round. Every morning after washing my face, I clip a little bit of aloe, and put a layer on my skin,” she says.
Because I have a black thumb, I opted to buy pure aloe vera gel instead of an actual plant (one to try: Radha Organic Aloe Vera Gel.) I rubbed a nickel-sized blob on my face after rinsing in the morning, and it felt cool and refreshing. Like the ACV, it made my skin feel clean and tight—in a good way. By the end of the day, my skin wasn’t matte (that would be a miracle). But my T-zone was noticeably less shiny and felt less dirty than usual. So, a win!
Stripping away excess oil is helpful, but you can take it too far, Williams told me. Because when you dry out your skin, it gets irritated—and tries to compensate by producing even more oil.
To keep my skin happy, Williams recommended lavender hydrosol. Hydrosols are basically herbal distillates or essential herbal waters. They’re like essential oils, but milder, so you can apply them directly to your skin. Lavender, in particular, contains anti-inflammatory properties, which Williams said could promote calmer, more balanced skin.
So I traded my aloe vera gel for a few spritzes of EvanHealy’s Lavender Facial Tonic HydroSoul, letting it dry fully before applying my usual BB cream and blush. This stuff made a big difference, and my skin was noticeably less oily by the end of the day. The only issue, for me, was the smell. If you love lavender, you’ll love this stuff, since the scent is super concentrated. But I don’t, so it was a little hard to stomach.
Rosewater is sort of magic, because it has the ability to hydrate dry skin andtone oily skin. “It’s great for spritzing on your face throughout the day,” Williams said. I had long relied on those oil-absorbing sheets to mop up excess oil in the afternoon, but they always sort of grossed me out. Refreshing my face with rosewater spray midday just seemed classier, like something a French woman would do.
I opted to try Mario Badescu’s Facial Spray because it was made with rosewater and aloe. Admittedly, it felt strange to spray my face in the middle of the day, especially because I had some makeup on. I kind of expected the spray to just sit on top of my skin. But after a minute, it had fully absorbed, and really did leave my skin feeling refreshed. It was hydrated and almost sort of glowy, but not greasy.
Even oily skin needs a moisturizer, Williams told me. And even though every natural beauty advocate and their mom swears by coconut oil, hopping on that train wouldn’t do me much good. “Coconut oil is too heavy for your face,” Williams said (in fact, here are 8 times you should never use coconut oil). Instead, she suggested jojoba oil. It’s similar in consistency to skin’s natural oils, called sebum, “so it will absorb deeper into your skin instead of sitting on top,” she told me.
I applied a thin layer of NOW Foods Jojoba Oil on my face after cleansing at night. Admittedly, the feeling of oil sitting on my face skeeved me out a bit. But after a minute or two, it really did sink in, and I forgot about it. After using it for about a week, it hasn’t made my skin any less oily. But my skin does feel slightly softer.
All of these things helped my oily skin to some degree. But I have a feeling that using a combination would be even better. I’ll stick with the aloe vera as a toner, since I preferred the smell to the apple cider vinegar and the lavender hydrosol. Then, I’ll spritz rosewater throughout the day whenever I need a light degreasing. And after washing my face at night, I’ll moisturize with the jojoba oil.