A guide to caring for oily skin

Oily skin is generally distinguished by a shiny appearance, enlarged pores, and a tendency to blemishes, breakouts and blackheads. These characteristics are the result of excessive sebum production. Sebum is an oily, waxy substance produced by glands beneath our pores. It plays an important role in protecting, waterproofing and lubricating the skin. However, a build-up of sebum can lead to congested or troubled skin.

This article explores some of the common reasons behind oiliness; families of ingredients particularly beneficial to this skin type; and formulations suggested for those seeking balance.

Common causes of oily skin

There are a range of factors influencing our skin, both internal and external. Understanding the potential causes of oily skin can assist in establishing an appropriate regimen.


Genes and their influence play a significant role in skin type—individuals are likely to inherit their parents’ tendency toward oilier skin, for example.


Hormonal changes such as those precipitated by puberty, pregnancy, menopause, or during the menstrual cycle often result in unusually oily skin. This is due to androgens, hormones responsible for the production of sebum, whose variability can prompt an increase in oil production. Similarly, our bodies often produce excess sebum during periods of worry, tension or illness due to the release of hormones like cortisol, meaning troublesome skin is frequently linked to stress.

Climate and environment

Hot, humid climates exacerbate sebum production, as do the summer months. When combined with increased perspiration, congestion, aggravation and/or blemishes often result. Artificial heating and cooling can also dehydrate skin, which, in turn, prompts an increase in oiliness as the skin produces excess sebum in response.

Ingredients of note

Many factors influence the suitability of a particular product or regimen, including an individual’s textural preferences, desired feel on the skin and finish, as well as environmental considerations such as climate or seasonal changes. Inclinations aside, when selecting products to address oily skin, there are several families of ingredients frequently employed in our formulations that offer particular benefits for this skin type.

Astringent ingredients

Although the word ‘astringent’ can evoke unpleasant connotations, it simply refers to a substance that constricts or tightens body tissue. In the context of skin care, this can help to reduce the appearance of the larger, more open pores to which oily skin may be prone. Astringent ingredients found in Aesop formulations include Witch Hazel, Parsley Seed Oil, Green Tea Extract and Eucalyptus Oil.


Ethyl alcohol (also called Ethanol) is commonly used in skin care formulations, particularly those designed for oily skin. It dissolves excess sebum on the skin’s surface, allowing it to be removed through proper cleansing—or, in the case of toning products, wiped off with a cotton pad—leaving the skin clear, matte and balanced. Aesop products use a high-quality, cosmetic-grade alcohol derived from fermented sugar, listed as ‘Alcohol Denat.’ (Denatured Alcohol) on our product labels.

Purifying ingredients

We employ numerous botanical extracts that are renowned for their cleansing and purifying properties to support the efficacy of formulations designed to address congestion and overactive sebum production. Among the ingredients we often return to for their purifying qualities are botanical extracts of Bitter Orange, Tea Tree Leaf, Patchouli, Juniper Berry and Rosemary Leaf.

Humectant ingredients

Humectants are hygroscopic molecules that attract, bind and trap water in a similar manner to a sponge. They exist naturally in the skin, forming part of its Natural Moisturising Factor, or NMF; and are also used in topical formulations to redress and prevent dehydration. Many Aesop products feature humectant ingredients—some commonly employed are Panthenol, Glycerin and Sodium Carrageenan.

Lightweight botanical oils

The textures and viscosities of botanical oils vary widely. The weight and absorption rate of fixed oils are ranked according to their ‘oily factor ranking’, which is calculated from the fatty acids that each contains. These are ranked from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lightest and most swiftly absorbed (for instance, Hazelnut Oil) and 10 being the heaviest and slowest-absorbed (such as Coconut Oil). When selecting botanical oils for products created for oily skin, we gravitate towards oils that are on the lower—or lighter—end of this scale, meaning they are unlikely to result in a burdensome skin-feel or shiny residue, both of which may be confronting to this skin type.

Suggested formulations for oily skin

Oily skin requires assiduous cleansing and light but effective hydration in order to maintain equilibrium. For this skin type, we recommend formulations sufficiently astringent to address excess sebum without stripping the skin’s oils completely. While this is often the temptation, it only encourages moisture-sapped skin to produce more oil.


In caring for oily skin, it is important to maintain a regimen of regular, twice-daily cleansing to remove excess oil. We recommend selecting a facial cleanser that effectively lifts excess sebum without exacerbating oil production by stripping or drying—essentially ‘over-cleansing’—and leaves skin refreshed, clarified and balanced. Gel cleansers are aqueous-based and tend to contain slightly higher surfactant levels, making them optimally suited to normal, oily and combination skin types.

Formulated to lift and remove surface grime, impurities and excess oil, Amazing Face Cleanser is a concentrated citrus-infused gel, created specifically for oilier skin—and skin subject to environments that intensify sebum production, such as hot, humid climates. It contains steam-distilled Ylang Ylang Oil, known to assist in balancing skin, and Mandarin Rind Oil, which has well-documented purifying properties.

For those in urban environments, Parsley Seed Facial Cleanser is an excellent alternative: a gel that yields a rich, creamy lather upon activation with water, effecting a thorough cleanse well-suited to oilier skin types. The light exfoliating properties of Lactic Acid work to soften and smooth skin.

Exfoliation, deep cleansing and sundry care

In addition to daily cleansing, oily skin may benefit from exfoliation and deep cleansing up to twice weekly in order to clear pores of the build-up and bacteria that can lead to congestion and a dull appearance.

Exfoliation removes dead skin cells to help prevent pores from becoming congested, and reveals fresh, polished skin beneath. Tea Tree Leaf Facial Exfoliant contains a medley of botanicals, including finely milled Walnut Shell and ground Tea Tree leaves, to effect mechanical exfoliation. It is designed to be blended with a preferred Aesop cleansing gel to allow for a concentration (and intensity of exfoliation) of your choosing.

Our clay-based cleansing masques lift sebum and grime while imparting conditioning botanical extracts, ensuring skin is not stripped in the process. The blend of premium clays in Primrose Facial Cleansing Masque gently draw out impurities and excess oil, complemented by oils of Geranium Leaf and Sage Leaf—both revered for their purifying qualities. Leaving skin refreshed, clarified and softened, it is particularly suited for use in hot or humid climates and during the warmer months.

Enhanced with a number of botanical elements renowned for their cleansing properties—including Lemon Rind, Rosemary Leaf and Tea Tree Leaf oils—Chamomile Concentrate Anti-Blemish Masque is ideal for those prone to troubled skin. It also contains Chamomile Bud oil, whose soothing characteristics are well documented.

For skin given to oiliness, Control is a staple perfectly portioned for desk drawers, carry-on bags and pockets. A transparent gel designed for direct application, it contains an impressive list of ingredients known for their astringent and soothing properties, including Salicylic Acid, which decongests skin; and Lactic Acid, which also effects a mild chemical exfoliation.


For oilier skin types, we recommend the use of a facial toner containing alcohol to remove excess sebum and balance the skin.

Bitter Orange Astringent Toner is an invigorating, citrus-infused toner ideal for humid and urban environments. When applied with a cotton pad, it lifts sweat and grime to effect a smooth, matte finish, leaving skin balanced, refreshed and prepared for hydration. It contains astringent Witch Hazel in addition to a series of ingredients known for their purifying qualities; among them Green Tea Extract and essential oils of Rosemary Leaf, Lavender Stem and Eucalyptus Leaf.


A common misconception about oily skin is that it is already well hydrated. On the contrary, this skin type can readily become depleted of moisture, particularly when exposed to the drying effects of artificial heating or cooling, or to climatic extremes. With this in mind, it is important to ensure oily skin remains hydrated and its barrier intact, though it may sound counterintuitive.

Many people with oily skin prefer to steer clear of emollient-rich formulations, fearing these will exacerbate sebum production or result in a shiny appearance. We offer a range of lightweight, swiftly absorbed facial serums and moisturisers to deliver hydration without a weighty feel on the skin.

Lightweight Facial Hydrating Serum has a soothing Aloe Vera base and contains humectant Panthenol. An appealing alternative to serums containing mineral oils, it is absorbed rapidly to effect a matte finish. For those who prefer a weightless texture, but still desire concentrated doses of vitamins, Lucent Facial Concentrate is a refreshing aqueous formulation suitable for use as a daily standalone hydrating product on oily and combination skin. It contains Sodium Carrageenan, which imparts sustained hydration; and potent quantities of vitamins C and B3.

Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Eye Serum offers fortifying hydration for the delicate skin surrounding the eyes, in a texture ideally suited to those with oilier skin.

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