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When you have oily skin or oily areas, you’ll do just about anything to keep it under control. There’s a right way and a wrong way to control oil, and the wrong way—like using denatured alcohol to degrease skin—will only make matters worse. We’ve gathered some of the best ingredients for oily skin that really can help get oiliness under control so you’ll see a lasting matte complexion.
How Oil-Absorbing Ingredients Work
How do oil-absorbing ingredients work? Whether the absorbent ingredient is a type of clay, a powder, starch, or charcoal, all of them work in a similar way to attract the oil on skin’s surface and from just inside the pore lining.
Absorbent ingredients used in skincare products are also able to adsorb, which means they can hold on to the oil they absorb so it doesn’t make skin look shiny and so it can be rinsed away. Absorbent ingredients can do this because their surface area is large enough or porous enough to keep oil from escaping. In essence, if you have oily skin, oil-absorbing ingredients can be your skin’s saving grace!
The Best Oil-Absorbing Ingredients for Oily Skin
Clays are perhaps the best-known and most commonly used oil-absorbing ingredients, especially in masks for oily skin. Different types of clays show up in skincare products, often with misleading claims that they can heal skin, purge toxins, or hydrate skin.
What’s true is that clays are excellent at absorbing oils, but their absorbent nature means they are not hydrating. Clay masks sometimes contain hydrating ingredients, but they’re there to help offset the drying effects of the clays, which means you get their oil-absorbing benefits without a dry, tight feeling after you rinse.
- Kaolin is a white clay also known as China clay. Its smaller particle size relative to other clays gives it mild to moderate absorbent properties.
- Bentonite has strong absorbent properties due to its low moisture content, which can be helpful for very oily skin. The main component of bentonite is montmorillonite.
- Montmorillonite is a type of clay mineral named for where it was originally mined, in this case Montmorillonite, France. Sometimes referred to as French green clay, it can also naturally contain another clay known as fuller’s earth.
Charcoal deserves special mention for its unique properties. Charcoal’s surface area relative to its size gives it a tremendous capacity to absorb excess oil and other pore-clogging substances, although its action against toxins (as in poisons) doesn’t work when it’s applied topically rather than ingested during emergencies.
Part of what makes charcoal—which consists primarily of the element carbon—so intriguing for oily skin is its sponge-like action. Its natural texture resembles a highly concentrated sponge, with numerous “holes,” each with a strong ability to attract and trap substances it comes into contact with, including oil and water.
Charcoal is sometimes claimed to be able to cleanse skin, but it doesn’t have cleansing properties in the sense of traditional cleansers. However, because charcoal can absorb oil and the surface debris that’s mixed with it, you can see how some people might think of it as being cleansing or otherwise purifying.
Other absorbent ingredients you’ll see in oil-absorbing products include talc (which is actually an absorbent mineral that includes the element magnesium), aluminum starch octentylsuccinate, rice starch, cornstarch, silica, and nylon-12. Often used in formulas that also contain one or more clays and charcoal, these ingredients also help enhance application, texture, and how a product dries on skin.
References for this information:
Environmental Geochemistry and Health, February 2017, ePublication
Encyclopedia of Toxicology, September 2014, pages 779–781
Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, March 2012, pages 164–168
International Geology Review, July 2010, pages 745–770
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!