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If you have oily skin, chances are you're hesitant to layer on more skincare products, but trust me when I say that a good face serum is a must-have in your routine. The best face serums for oily skin are not only lightweight hydrators, but also the ultimate workhorses. Depending on the active ingredients that it contains, a face serum for oily skin can do anything from regulate sebum production to fade dark spots and even smooth fine lines–and all at the same time.
But because not all serums for oily skin are created equal and scanning a bunch of product labels and ingredient lists can be both tricky and time-consuming, I tested and reviewed a bunch of serums for oily skin and even reached out to two board-certified dermatologists (shout out to Tiffany Clay, MD, and Laurel Naversen Geraghty, MD) for their recs. Here's a sneak peek at some of our favorites:
Keep reading for the full list of the 13 best serums for oily skin—plus the most important things to keep in mind when choosing a serum for your oily skin.
It's pricey, yes, but our derm experts love this serum for oily skin for its blend of tried-and-tried ingredients, including 15 percent l-ascorbic acid, 0.5 percent ferulic acid, 0.5 percent silymarin, and 0.5 salicylic acid. The ascorbic acid and ferulic acid work together to protect skin from the harmful effects of free radical damage, while plant-derived silymarin helps prevent oil oxidation that leads to blackheads and salicylic acid helps to unclog pores. “I used this vitamin C serum when I was pregnant because I couldn’t use retinoids, and it is a powerhouse, yet super safe and gentle,” says Dr. Clay.
Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, silymarin, ferulic acid, salicylic acid
Size: 1 fl. oz.
Glowing customer review: “I’ve used this fantastic daily vitamin C serum for a few years now, and it has effectively controlled the oil on my skin, especially in my T-zone. It has helped me avoid breakouts and has also evened out my skin tone.”
SuperSolutions 20% Niacinamide Serum
The 20 percent niacinamide in this serum balances excess oil production to give overly-shiny skin a soft, matte finish, while 0.5 percent zinc PCA goes the extra mile to help control breakouts. “Zinc PCA has been shown to regulate sebum production and it has antibacterial properties that can be beneficial for acne-prone skin,” says Dr. Clay.
Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, zinc PCA, squalane
Size: 1 fl. oz.
Glowing customer review: "I only have good things to say about this serum—it has niacinamide and it really helped with oil control. Even my acne breakups cleared up quickly.”
Resurfacing Retinol Serum
This is the perfect anti-aging serum if you've got oily skin and want to prevent adult acne and minimize the look of dark spots and/or fine lines. “The retinol in this serum is hugely helpful for oily skin types since it improves skin cell turnover to help keep pores clear while helping to boost collagen production to smooth wrinkles,” says Dr. Geraghty. And it's also got niacinamide to regulate oil production and licorice root to brighten up any spots.
Key Ingredients: Retinol, niacinamide, licorice root extract, ceramides
Size: 1 fl. oz.
Glowing customer review: "I've struggled to use anti-aging products on my oily skin in the past, but this stuff is so good. It's lightweight and non-greasy and I noticed a decrease in my dark spots and an improvement in the texture of my skin."
Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
This face serum for oily is skin is by far the least expensive on our list, but just because it's low on price doesn't mean the formula is low on quality. It's got a potent combo of niacinamide and zinc PCA to balance out oily and combination skin. Also in the formula? Natural polysaccharides–derived from tamarindus indica seed gum and red seaweed–to hydrate skin without feeling heavy, greasy, or clogging pores.
Key ingredients: Niacinamide, zinc PCA
Size: 1 fl oz.
Glowing customer review: “This feels good on my skin and I’ve noticed less oil since using it–especially on my T-zone. It’s a great product on a budget.”
Lactic Acid AHA Exfoliating Serum
The hero ingredients in this lightweight face serum are lactic acid and gluconolactone (a type of PHA that also has hydrating properties). Both are gentle exfoliators that help to even out skin tone and minimize the look of discoloration, like acne marks and sun spots. Bonus: White and green tea extracts in the formula offer additional antioxidant brightening power.
Key ingredients: Lactic acid, gluconolactone
Size: 1 fl oz.
Glowing customer review: “This lactic acid serum gave me noticeably brighter, smoother skin overnight. The more I use it, the brighter and more even my skin looks. I will never be without this!”
Glass Skin Refining Serum
This K-Beauty fave regulates sebum production with niacinamide, but it also contains hyaluronic acid and peach extract to hydrate and peptides to boost collagen. The result? A super bouncy complexion that looks glowy but not overly greasy. A win-win.
Key Ingredients: Peach extract, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, peptides
Size: 1.35 oz.
Glowing customer review: “I’ve only been using this product for about a week, and my complexion is more even and redness is reduced. My skin looks plumper, and more glowing! It’s also soothing and gentle on my sensitive skin.”
Super Pure Clarifying Face Serum
This gentle face serum relies on 5 percent niacinamide to keep excess oil in check, as well as calm redness, hydrate skin, and brighten your complexion. It’s also infused with zinc PCA to help prevent acne and allantoin to soothe irritation. Plus, how cute is the Glossier packaging?
Key ingredients: Niacinamide, zinc PCA, allantoin
Size: 1 fl oz.
Glowing customer review: “Recently I’ve been struggling with bad breakouts, and I’ve seen noticeable improvement after using Super Pure morning and night. This really helped clear my skin without making it irritated or peely.”
Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Acid Serum
Don’t be fooled by this face serum's pretty pink packaging. The hard-working formula contains potent exfoliating and zit-zapping ingredients, including salicylic, mandelic, and azelaic acids. It's a great choice for anyone with oily skin that's prone to clogged pores and breakouts or bumpy skin texture.
Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, mandelic acid, azelaic acid
Size: 1 fl oz.
Glowing customer review: "I was skeptical about this product at first, but after 2 weeks of using it, my pores have shrunk and my skin is not as oily. It’s now a must-have in my daily routine.”
Defense Antioxidant Pore Purifier
This antioxidant serum contains a curated list of clinically-proven ingredients to help clear out clogged pores, minimize oil production, and brighten your skin tone. Antioxidants like green tea protect skin from free radical damage to keep pores tight long term: “Environmental stressors make pores look enlarged over time because they degrade collagen and make the skin more lax,” explains Dr. Clay.
Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, white and green tea extracts, niacinamide, licorice root extract
Size: 1 fl oz.
Glowing customer review: "For those whose skin does not take vitamin C well, this serum is for you! It keeps my pores clear, and has a brightening effect on my skin, but is still super gentle.”
Just Breathe Clarifying Facial Serum
In addition to niacinamide and zinc PCA, this mighty lil multitasker contains an excellent all-natural alternative to salicylic acid called willow bark extract. The ingredient helps gently exfoliate skin, dissolve gunk and buildup in pores, and curb excess oil production too.
Key ingredients: Willow bark extract, zinc, niacinamide
Size: 1 fl oz.
Glowing customer review: “I had terrible breakouts and blackheads on my nose, and after using this day and night for 3 days, my skin is cleared up! I absolutely love it.”
Ultra Pure High-Potency 5.0% Niacinamide Serum
This simple yet effective serum contains just 10 ingredients—the hero being niacinamide. At a 5 percent concentration, it's excellent at minimizing excess oil, calming down redness, and giving your skin a nice glow. And because the formula is free from potential irritants, like fragrances and dyes, it's unlikely to make sensitive skin types reactive.
Key ingredients: Niacinamide, glycerin
Size: 1 fl oz.
Glowing customer review: "My sensitive skin has large pores and a troublesome shiny t-zone, yet dry skin in other areas. After using this morning and night for a few weeks, my skin has noticeably smaller pores and less T-zone shine.”
Fat Water Niacinamide Pore-Refining Toner Serum
This has a thicker texture than a traditional face toner or watery essence. Essentially, it’s a dual-purpose hybrid “toner serum” that reduces oil and has great hydrators to help plump up the skin and give it a nice, juicy finish. (Thus, “fat water,” get it?) Unlike other toners for oily skin, you apply this one with your fingertips, not a cotton pad.
Key ingredients: Niacinamide, Barbados cherry extract, witch hazel
Size: 5 fl oz
Glowing customer review: “After using this, I can see a difference in the size of my pores. It’s also improved my skin tone and I love how moisturizing it feels, and that you can put it on with your hands. Also, it works great under makeup.”
Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
This cult-favorite serum has a slightly richer-than-average texture, making it a suitable one-and-done product for oily skin. I like using it at night as the only thing on clean skin—it's got just the right amount of moisturization without feeling greasy or heavy. As for the ingredients, the blend of exfoliating lactic acid and brightening licorice extract work together to improve skin tone and texture with continued use.
Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, licorice extract, lemongrass extract, arnica
Size: 1 fl. oz.
Glowing customer review: “Not only does this improve my skin’s clarity and texture, it instantly plumps my fine lines shortly after applying it. It may be a little expensive, but totally worth it.”
What type of face serum is best for oily skin?
“People with oily skin don’t want to use a heavy, occlusive topical product because it makes them feel even oilier,” says Dr. Clay, “so a lightweight, water-based, oil-free serum is optimal.” Many of our top picks above are as light as water and absorb into almost instantly.
Furthermore, the best face serum for oily skin will have ingredients that minimize shine, tighten pores, keep acne breakouts at bay, and have antioxidant properties that defend the skin from free radical damage that triggers inflammation, says Dr. Clay.
Is vitamin C okay for oily skin?
Yes, vitamin C is absolutely okay for oily skin. Topical vitamin C, especially l-ascorbic acid (the most potent and stable form of the ingredient) has multiple benefits for all skin types—and it won’t make oily skin oilier. “This powerful antioxidant protects skin from environmental stressors, like UV damage, and has also been shown to promote collagen production, which will help firm skin and tighten pores over time,” says Dr. Clay.
When should I apply face serum for oily skin?
When you apply your face serum for oily skin depends on the ingredients that it contains. A face serum with ingredients like niacinamide and zinc PCA can be applied onto clean skin AM and PM to boost hydration and keep excess oil at bay. If a serum contains active ingredients such as retinol, AHAs, or BHAs (which can make skin sun sensitive), then use it at night to be on the safest side.
How to choose the best serum for oily skin:
Choose a lightweight, oil-free formula.
Look for words like, ‘non-comedogenic,’ or ‘oil free’ on the packaging, and remember that the formula should have humectants (like glycerin and hyaluronic acid) to hydrate the skin instead of occlusive oils and butter that can potentially clog pores.
Keep your skin's sensitivity level in mind.
Just because you have oily skin, doesn’t mean that it can’t be sensitive too. “You can still overdo it with harsh products, which can trigger inflammation and breakouts,” says Clay. Limit your routine to just one or two key actives and scale back on ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, and retinol if you're experiencing any irritation.
Consider your other skin concerns.
Remember, a face serum can be a daily targeted treatment, so pick one for your skin issues—not just your skin type. If it’s acne, then look for salicylic acid. If you want to fight fine lines and zits, then a serum with retinol is the answer.
Meet the experts:
Tiffany Clay, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Clay's interests include treating skin of color, skin cancer prevention and awareness, and cosmetic injectables.
Laurel Naversen Geraghty, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Medford, Oregon. Her clinical interests include skin cancer prevention and early detection, general dermatology, pediatric dermatology, lasers, and aesthetic dermatology.
Why trust Cosmopolitan?
Gina Way is an editor, copywriter, and professional skincare junkie. Her work has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Oprah Daily, Allure, Marie Claire, and more. Follow Gina on Instagram.
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