For a vast majority of my life, I had incredibly oily skin. I mean, so slick I could probably cook eggs on my forehead if I laid out in the sun. My way of “fixing” it? Basically sucking all of the oil and moisture out of my skin by washing my face with Noxzema or Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash and not moisturizing my face afterwards. For a time, I’d even use a bit of witch hazel or some other oil-free acne toner to help aid in my “remove all the oil from my skin” campaign.
In my 20s, my skin was so bad my dermatologist ended up putting me on Retin-A and advised me to make sure to use a moisturizer since Retin-A is really drying. I think I ended up using Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisturizer with an SPF in it because I was still terrified of oil. My skin improved, but as soon as I stopped using Retin-A, I was back to square one. After all, this is what all of the magazines and marketing told me. If you want oil-free skin, you gotta use all oil-free products and zap every ounce of moisture from it. I was clueless!
Fast forward to me moving to South Korea and falling in love with all of the beauty road shops that dotted the main thoroughfare in my neighborhood. There was Innisfree, TheFaceShop, Skinfood, Etude House, Missha, Aritaum, Olive Young—a beauty lover’s dream. I had brought an entire suitcase of skin care products, most notably an acne-fighting set from Murad, because I thought none of the skin care products in Korea would work for me. And boy, was I wrong. Korean beauty products changed my entire outlook on my oily skin. Why? Well it all boils down to one word: balance.
In Korean beauty, instead of trying to eliminate all traces of oil in your skin, you take that oil and you balance it.
In Korean beauty, instead of focusing on eliminating all traces of oil in your skin, the word to live by is balance. Using harsh, oil-free cleansers and oil-free moisturizers strips your skin of its natural oils, which causes your skin to produce even more oil to compensate. The Korean way? You take that oil and you balance it. How? Well, allow me to explain!
Use Oils—Yes, Oils!
When I found out one of the best, most effective ways to combat oily skin was to use MORE oil on my skin, my brain exploded. So how do you know what type of oil is best? You gotta look at the linoleic acid versus oleic acid content. Oils high in oleic acid (which our body naturally makes) tend to be best for dry skin types—think olive oil, argan oil, marula oil, as they are naturally quite thick and rich.
Skin with high levels of oleic acid tends to be more oily and acne-prone. So, you can combat that by using oils high in linoleic acid. Linoleic acid, or omega-6 fatty acid, isn’t made by our bodies, but it’s a super healthy fat that helps protect your moisture barrier so you lose less water and keep in the hydration. That’s super important when you want to balance out your skin without adding in any extra oiliness. Rosehip oil is one of my favorite oils that’s high in linoleic acid!
Oily skin needs hydration—period. Dehydrated skin = your skin going into overtime to produce more oil, so you gotta infuse your skin was as much hydration as possible. My favorite ways? Use lots of sheet masks (I use them AM and PM) and lots of toners and serums with hydrating ingredients like green tea, hyaluronic acid, and sea water. Drinking lots of water helps too!
Your Skin’s pH Matters
One of the other ways that we can tame oily skin the Korean beauty way is by making sure our skin’s pH is balanced. Ideally, your skin should be at a pH of about 5.5—this is the sweet spot where your skin’s acid mantle (the thin top layer of the epidermis) is nice and strong, which means it’s keeping all of your hydration in so your skin doesn’t have to overproduce oil.
One of the biggest skin pH disruptors is a high-pH cleanser. These cleansers strip the skin and damage your acid mantle, creating that unique combination of oily yet dry skin. My favorite? The cult classic COSRX Low pH Good Morning Cleansing Gel.
Make BHAs Your Best Friend
BHAs are oily skin’s best friend, and a Korean beauty staple. BHAs—or beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid—are an ideal ingredient for oily skin because it’s oil soluble, so it can cut through the oil in your skin to de-gunk and clean your pores. Regular exfoliation encourages healthy skin cell growth and also helps your skin to produce collagen—two things you definitely want to have a healthy glow without the extra oil.