Skip to main content

The best cleansers for oily skin


When you have oily skin, it can be tempting to just reach for the harshest cleanser possible, if only for a little bit of matte-looking, clean-feeling respite. But the comedown, as we all know, is never worth it. It might seem counterintuitive, but stripping away natural oils completely can actually lead to more oil production, because our skin is either surprisingly petty or a little bit dim, and thinks it had better overcompensate. Foaming cleansers might not be everyone’s first choice, but they can be just the right side of drying to help clear up oily skin without leaving it feeling taut and irritated or, as we’ve just covered, going completely insane. But, the best cleansers for oily skin aren't always foaming cleansers...

Even more counterintuitive-sounding are cleansing oils for oily skin, but if we’re going on the principle that “like dissolves like”, nothing gets oil off like… well, oil. If you’ve ever witnessed a separated dressing or tried to rinse out a deli pot, you’ll know that anything water-based might not be the most suitable substance for the job. However, if you just don’t like the feel of oil on oil, our list has plenty of alternatives. The exception to water’s lacklustre reputation as an oil-fighter is micellar water, which feels just like the stuff that comes out of the tap – light, liquid and hydrating – but has makeup-removing and oil-outwitting properties and, best of all, doesn’t need rinsing off.

As a general guideline when dealing with oily skin, you’ll want to look for skin products that are non-comedogenic, meaning they don’t clog pores, and if you’re acne-prone too, consider scouting that ingredients list for salicylic acid, which is known for its spot-zapping properties.


1. Eve Lom Cleanser

A superstar of the shine-reducing world, this cult cleanser takes our top spot

Best for: Radiance | Volume: 100ml | Type: Cream | Application: Screw cap

Included cloth helps decongest skin
Oil-clearing without drying
The scent isn’t for everyone 

Vogue said it was ‘probably the best cleanser in the world’, and who are we to argue? This now-legendary cleanser achieved cult status for its pioneering combination of gentle manual exfoliation and massage – courtesy of the included muslin cloth – and effective formula which decongests and clears without drying. While on first glance it might seem a little pricey, reviewers found they didn’t need a separate makeup remover or toner and that a tub lasts a long time. 


2. Dermalogica Dermal Clay Cleanser

With oil-absorbing clay and tingly menthol, this is one refreshing cleanser

Best for: Revitalising | Volume: 250ml | Type: Clay | Application: Pump

Clay absorbs oil naturally
Refreshing menthol
Cooling sensation can be a bit full-on 

Reviewers loved the tingle of the menthol that lingered on their skin after using this clay cleanser, leaving them feeling refreshed and revitalised. But that squeaky clean feeling doesn’t come at the expense of moisture or skin comfort. While ultra-absorbent kaolin and green clays absorb excess oil, astringent lemon refines skin texture and cooling cucumber nixes inflammation. Users found that with frequent use, oil and occasional breakouts were kept under control, and some even commented on its usefulness in combating redness. 


3. Shiseido Pureness Refreshing Cleansing Water

If you don’t like the feel of oils and creams, give cleansing water a try

Best for: Removing impurities and makeup | Volume: 150ml | Type: Cleansing water | Application: Pump

Wipes off, no rinsing
Great makeup remover
Runs out quite quickly 

If you overdo it on getting rid of excess oil, skin can be left dry and thirsty. This Shiseido cleansing water doesn’t fall into that trap, instead using kind-on-skin botanicals and a hydrating formula to control oil and prevent blemishes. Rosemary extract provides it natural antibacterial properties, and Sringa element, with its relaxing scent, is intended to inhibit cortisol production and, as a result, sebum. The latter might sound a little bonkers, but it’s hard to argue with the results of reviewers who reported clean, soft and refreshed skin. 


4. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Micellar Water

Pore-cleaning effectiveness with the lightest of touches

Best for: Sensitive skin | Volume: 200ml | Type: Micellar water | Application: Flat top lid

Suitable for sensitive skin
Pores appeared smaller and unclogged
Scent is quite strong 

Oily and sensitive can be a tricky-to-handle combination, but reviewers say that La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar micellar water manages it admirably. Some commented that it was the only cleanser that hadn’t left their skin either too dry or too greasy, striking a balance between gentle and deeply effective, and clearing pores without harshness. That it’s a micellar water also means it’s supremely easy to use, requiring just a quick sweep with a cotton pad and no rinsing, perfect for the time-starved. 


5. Kiehl's Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash

Works wonders against oil, blemishes and redness

Best for: All-rounder | Volume: 230ml | Type: Foaming | Application: Pump

Cleanses, cleans up blemishes and soothes irritation
A little goes a long way
Not suitable for dry patches 

This foaming cleanser might be on the pricier side, but thanks to its formula it lasts a long time, as it comes with a no-wastage pump and you only need a little to work up a good lather. Like the Eve Lom cleanser, it has its legions of devoted fans, who found it cleared up their redness and blemishes and kept oiliness at bay, leaving skin feeling beautifully clean and soft. It’s also does double duty as an excellent makeup remover, although it’s best avoided as an all-over solution by anyone with particularly dry patches. 


6. Burt’s Bees Soap Bark & Chamomile Deep Cleansing Cream

Take your skincare inspiration from the natural world with this yummy-smelling cream

Best for: Natural cleansing | Volume: 170g | Type: Cream | Application: Flat top lid

Skin-kind botanicals
Reviewers reported soft skin after using
Not everyone likes the tingle 

An abundance of naturally-sourced ingredients makes this Burt’s Bees cleanser a good bet for those looking to avoid lavishing their skin with too many chemical nasties. Using tree-derived soap bark as its cleansing agent and aloe vera, chamomile and echinacea to moisturise, it strikes a good balance between effective cleaning and superior soothing, and reviewers raved that it left their skin soft and blemish-free, while praising the refreshing tingle of the included menthol. 


7. Origins Zero Oil Deep Pore Cleanser

Just a little bit banishes oil without a trace

Best for: Clearing pores | Volume: 150ml | Type: Cream | Application: Flat top lid

Lasts a long time; great value
Salicylic acid for acne-prone skin
A bit drying for those without super-oily skin 

Reviewers found that a little of this cream cleanser goes a very long way, so if you’re a bit nervous of blowing your budget, you might be pleasantly surprised at its favourable cost per use. Of course, what it really comes down to is the performance, and oily-skinned users were pleased with that too, saying it left skin shine-free and feeling just the right amount of dry without discomfort, with visibly de-clogged and smaller-looking pores. The inclusion of spot-busting salicylic acid recommends this cleanser for acne-prone skin, too, but as with any products for skin conditions, tread lightly and test a little first. 


8. Garnier Skin Micellar Cleansing Water

A budget-friendly solution for oily and sensitive skin

Best for: Budgets | Volume: 400ml | Type: Cleansing water | Application: Flat top lid

Versatile and easy to use
Very inexpensive
Perhaps some scrubbing required for stubborn mascara 

This Garnier micellar cleanser looks and feels just like water but melts away makeup as if by magic, doesn’t need vigorous rubbing to work, and doesn’t need to be rinsed off. As such, it’s pretty much the perfect low-maintenance addition to any skincare routine: easy to do before bed, and won’t punish you for being a bit slapdash. It comes in a handful of different varieties, but this sensitive skin version is arguably the most versatile for its fragrance-free formula that won’t irritate, even on eyes. Also, at just under £5, it’s our most budget-friendly by far.

Read more:

If you liked this, you might like our other skincare guides...

The best BB creams

The best face wash

The best face masks