From radiance boosters and exfoliators to plumpers and anti-agers, there’s a serum for virtually every skincare goal and concern. But beyond what you’d like to achieve, your skin type should be considered when browsing products—and as you probably know, oily skin doesn’t play well with all formulas.
“Oiler skin types should avoid serums packed with oil and other comedogenic (blackhead- and whitehead-forming) ingredients,” says board-certified dermatologist Lian A. Mack, MD. Instead, she recommends products containing hyaluronic acid for plumping and smoothing, antioxidants like vitamin C for radiance-boosting, alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids for light exfoliation, and retinoids for, well… pretty much everything.
With this expert insight in mind, here are the best serums for oily skin.
Best Overall: Naturium Niacinamide Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%
Board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, is a fan of niacinamide (vitamin B3) for oily complexions, and this serum from Naturium serves it with a generous 12 percent concentration. Not only does the antioxidant help balance oil production, but it can also calm inflammation, prevent breakouts, and provide an all-around more radiant complexion.
It also contains zinc PCA (short for pyrrolidone carboxylic acid) to optimize the benefits of niacinamide while reducing potential irritation.2 Lastly, you’ll get hyaluronic acid, arguably the most popular ingredient found in serums, and for good reason. “Hyaluronic acid is a large molecule that sits on top of the skin,” says Dr. Mack. “It pulls water to the cells, creating a plumping, smoothing effect.”
Best Budget: The Inky List Niacinamide Oil Control Serum
You can always count on The Inkey List for exceptional formulas at wallet-friendly price points, and this serum is no exception. It calls on niacinamide and squalane to balance your skin’s natural oil production, then plumps it up with hyaluronic acid.
Best Drugstore: L’Oreal Paris Age Perfect Cell Renewal Golden Serum
We also like L’Oreal’s Golden Serum. The non-greasy, oil-free formula provides weightless hydration with glycerin and hyaluronic acid, plus a mild dose of salicylic acid, which Dr. Mack says “promotes cellular turnover, resulting in a light chemical peel.”
Best Splurge: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment
Dr. Engelman recommends the fan-favorite Good Genes for those in the market for an exfoliating formula. “Lactic acid, derived from dairy, is gentle on the skin and is even safe enough to use during pregnancy,” she tells Byrdie. “It improves discoloration and age spots, and it corrects pH imbalances.”
Best Plumping: Monat Hydration Booster
“Products like Monat’s Hydration Booster serum make the skin look softer, smoother, and more youthful in appearance without increasing oil production or clogging pores,” says Dr. Mack. “The coconut water combined with hyaluronic acid is like a tall glass of water for the skin.”
Best Vitamin C: Sephora Collection Ultra Glow Serum: Glow + Strengthen Vitamin C Serum
Dr. Mack is a fan of vitamin C for oily skin. We like Sephora’s Ultra Glow Serum, which combines the popular antioxidant with vitamin E and peptides to deliver a noticeably more radiant, healthy-looking complexion.
Best Retinol: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum
Dr. Mack says retinol can work well with oily skin. When it comes to serums containing the vitamin A derivative, Fusion PM shines above the competition. It uses a time-release (aka encapsulated) version of retinol to minimize irritation and other potential side effects while maximizing the skin-smoothing, retexturizing, and complexion-enhancing results.
Best Gentle: Paula’s Choice Resist Ultra-Light Antioxidant Serum
Best for Mature Skin: No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum
Boasting a proprietary complex of retinol, peptides, rice protein, and hyaluronic acid, No7 Protect & Perfect covers all the bases for mature skin. In the brand’s clinical trial, 96 percent of testers noticed fewer wrinkles and fine lines with regular use.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Serum
If your oily skin is also pimple-prone, this little pink tube is your best bet. It leans on tranexamic acid and azelaic acid—which are much gentler than they sound—to provide mild exfoliation, smooth uneven texture, and improve the look of acne. The combo also helps prevent breakouts from occurring in the first place.
Best Oil-Balancing: Glossier Super Pure
We also like Glossier Super Pure. Niacinamide and zinc PCA are the heroes of this water-gel formula, helping balance oil production and decongest pores while enhancing your overall complexion.
Best K-Beauty: It’s Skin Power 10 Formula VB Effector Cera Guard
This affordable Korean serum from It’s Skin was a hit with our home tester, and it’s easy to see why. The super-lightweight formula contains niacinamide and vitamin C to balance oil production, boost radiance, correct discoloration, and offer a grease-free glow.
Best Hybrid: Fenty Skin Fat Water Pore-Refining Toner Serum
After trying it out first-hand, three Byrdie editors agreed on the hydrating, plumping, skin-enhancing effects of Fenty Fat Water. This toner-serum hybrid is especially great for oil-slick complexions as it minimizes the appearance of pores and balances oil production without inadvertently drying you out.
Our number one pick for the oily-skin camp is Naturium Niacinamide Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%, which helps balance oil production, calms inflammation, prevents breakouts, and delivers a more radiant complexion. But if you can swing the price and are interested in exploring the benefits of retinoids, you can’t go wrong with Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum.
What to Look For in a Serum for Oily Skin
Oil-Free, Non-Comedogenic, and Lightweight Formulas
If your skin is oily and/or prone to breakouts, Engelman suggests using serums that are oil-free and non-comedogenic. “This indicates that the product will not clog pores or worsen acne,” she says. In general, she recommends products with gel formulas, as these tend to be both oil-free and non-comedogenic in addition to those that are lightweight in texture. “These are less likely to sit on the skin and trigger more oil production or clog pores.”
Since acne is caused by inflammation, Engelman recommends products that contain anti-inflammatory ingredients since they’ll help calm down and soothe breakouts. Her picks? Green tea and CBD, whose anti-inflammatory benefits will help prevent future acne, and niacinamide, which has been proven to help absorb excess oil while also calming the skin.
According to Engelman, those with oily skin that is prone to breakouts can especially benefit from products containing alpha-hydroxy acid. “A serum containing AHAs like lactic acid, glycolic acid, and malic acid can help exfoliate to clear skin and minimize future breakouts,” she says. “However, to avoid over-drying the skin, be sure to balance it with hydrating ingredients.” More on those, below.
Engelman points out that when your skin is oily, it’s crucial to avoid anything designed to dry up oil that doesn’t also balance it with hydration. Look for serums that include moisture-boosting ingredients that are lightweight, oil-free, and non-comedogenic. “Dry skin triggers the body to produce even more oil,” she says. “I see a lot of people stripping their skin with harsh products because they think that during it out will reduce the oiliness, but it only makes things worse. Making sure oily skin is hydrated can help control excess oil production.” Her favorite lightweight hydrator? Hyaluronic acid.
Can you use serum on oily skin?
Some serums are purely for moisturizing, but there are plenty that do a lot more than that or have other functions entirely. Serums can work well on oily skin, provided you choose one with the suggestions offered, such as no oils added and hydrating ingredients included.
Is face serum necessary for oily skin?
Because of the wonderful things that serums can do, such as protect your skin from aging, there are plenty of reasons to use serums despite having oily skin. And some experts say that even certain moisturizing serums can work for oily skin because they may provide enough moisture that you don’t need to use a face lotion.
Is vitamin C serum good for oily skin?
Yes, vitamin C is good for all skin types. Skincare expert Alicia Yoon points out that not all vitamin C serums are created equal; in fact, they can differ hugely. Picking a vitamin C serum made for oily skin will ensure your choice is made for you.
How do I choose a serum for oily skin?
The suggestions here offer a selection of serums full of ingredients that oily skin can benefit from. In selecting the right serum for you, keep your goals in mind. Are you looking to minimize oil production and shine? Get rid of pimples? Or give your skin a glowing boost of radiance? Fear not, there’s an excellent option for you.