The 5 Best Affordable Serums for Oily Skin, According to a Dermatologist

Katie Decker-Jacoby
The 5 Best Affordable Serums for Oily Skin, According to a Dermatologist

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If you have oily skin like me, you’ve probably grown accustomed to sneaking away to the bathroom or glancing down at your phone to check if you’ve turned into a shiny disco ball—and you definitely carry around blotting papers at all times. You might also get a little hesitant when it comes to using serums. Will they make me look oilier? Will they clog my pores? These are concerns I’ve certainly thought about, but luckily, we got a dermatologist to give us the 411 on how serums impact oily skin, and he let us know the best ones for people with this skin type.

Board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Corey L. Hartman, gave us all the tea and also busted some myths for us.

RELATED: The 6 Most Life-Changing Vitamin C Serums With Hyaluronic Acid—All Under $30 on Amazon 

How do I know if I have oily skin?

Let’s start with how to figure out if you have oily skin and what causes it. Everyone produces sebum, an oily substance that’s made by your sebaceous glands. The people who produce a lot of sebum are the ones left with shiny and greasy skin, according to Dr. Hartman. And there are actually some very visible signs that show you have oily skin: “If you wear makeup, you may find that it feels like it ‘slides’ off your face or doesn’t stay put like you’d want it to,” he says. “People with oily skin also tend to have larger pores and are more prone to acne,” he adds. “Skin may also look uneven across the whole face.”

Should I be using a serum if I have oily skin?

Now that you know whether this article is for you, time to get into the nitty gritty details. While you might think serums are too thick or gooey for your oily skin, you can definitely use them. “If you choose the right serum, it will not make skin worse or even oilier,” says Dr. Hartman.

How does a serum work?

To sum it up, serums deliver active ingredients to your skin. They can be water-, gel- or oil-based, but because they can go deep into your skin, it makes them more effective than other products. And the deeper layers of your skin is where all of the magic and change happens. Serums are usually designed to target specific skin problems, and they often“help to brighten skin, smooth fine lines, even skin tone, improve skin texture and prevent DNA damage,” says Dr. Hartman.

Which ingredients should I look out for if I have oily skin?

Oily skin folks should go with a water- or gel-based serum, rather than an oil-based one. 

“Since many people with oily skin are also acne-prone, start with a serum that is suited for sensitive skin, versus picking a serum with a high concentration of active ingredients that may further exacerbate acne,” says Dr. Hartman.

He suggests starting with a serum that has salicylic acid in it, because it aids in decreasing inflammation and also helps to remove dead skin cells. Another viable candidate is a serum with niacinamide in it, since the ingredient does a great job at regulating oil production. 

“A retinol serum is also one to consider if you have oily skin, as it will help slough off dead skin to help reduce acne and decrease oil production,” he adds. And lastly, hyaluronic acid is a true jack of all trades ingredient and can be used for those with oily skin, too.

Which ingredients should I stay away from if I have oily skin?

Steer clear of serums that have high concentrations of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), since they can aggravate your skin.

How often should I apply a serum if I have oily skin?

The general skincare rule of thumb is to apply your products from thinnest to thickest, in terms of consistency. “The order for daytime application would be cleanser, toner/essence (if using one), serum, moisturizer, sunscreen,” Dr. Hartman explains. 

If your skin seems to be compatible with your serum, daily application it is. However, if you’re starting with a new serum, it’s always a good idea to do a patch test on the underside of your wrist. Our expert says that if you don’t see any adverse reactions to the product, use the serum every two to three days, and then work your way up gradually until your skin can take it every single day.

It’s now time for the fun stuff: product recommendations. We got Dr. Hartman to share six serums that he suggests for those with oily skin.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Serum Ulta

Photo: Neutrogena.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Serum

“Oily skin still needs moisture; actually adding moisture to the skin can help regulate sebum production,” says Dr. Hartman. “This serum is nice and light and absorbs easily, and oily skin tolerates hyaluronic acid quite well.”

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that acts like a water magnet. It helps skin retain moisture, and so does the glycerin in this formula.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Serum Sephora

Photo: The Ordinary.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

“It’s a fantastic price point and uses niacinamide to help reduce oil production and smooth the skin,” he says. To support the niacinamide, zinc balances sebum activity. 

Cocokind Vitamin C Serum Ulta

Photo: Cocokind.

Cocokind Vitamin C Serum

“This serum has a mix of vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to add moisture to the skin and reduce the appearance of pores,” Dr. Hartman explains. 

The formula also evens out skin tone, fades dark spots and protects against environmental aggressors.

The Inkey List Niacinamide Oil Control Serum Sephora

Photo: The Inkey List.

The Inkey List Niacinamide Oil Control Serum

Dr. Hartman recommends this niacinamide serum for the same reasons he backs The Ordinary’s serum above. It has a super affordable price tag and contains oily skin-friendly niacinamide.

Urban Skin Rx Clear Complexion Acne Serum + Spot Treatment Ulta

Photo: Urban SkinRx.

Urban Skin Rx Clear Complexion Acne Serum + Spot Treatment

“It uses salicylic acid and glycolic acid to reduce inflammation and exfoliate the skin to get rid of dead skin cells and oils,” he says. 

You can apply it as an all over acne treatment or dab it onto your blemishes as a spot treatment.

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