14 Super-Light Serums That Really Do Balance Oily Complexions


Oily skin can be tough, but not when you’ve got a great serum in your arsenal. Believe it or not, serums aren’t just for turbocharging your line-fighting regimen. With the right ingredients and texture, this beauty product can do wonders in helping to rebalance oily and spot-prone skin. If you find that moisturizing creams tend to clog your pores or feel too heavy (cue more breakouts), a lighter, thinner serum could be the answer to keeping your skin properly hydrated while encouraging lower sebum production (the main cause of constantly shiny, oil-flooded skin).

It’s important to find the right formula to suit your skin type, however. The power of serums lies in the fact that they’re loaded with higher concentrations of damage-repairing ingredients and contain more potent combinations of skin-healing molecules that conventional creams and lotions just don’t have room for. But given that they’re so power-packed, you need to make sure you’ve got the right fit for your skin to really reap the benefits.

A light, water-based version is best for oily or acne-prone skin, as too many rich plant oils can leave you feeling greasy and lead to clogging. Oily skin is often in need of moisture deep down to help regulate the skin’s production of natural oils called sebum, so look for effective hydrators like hyaluronic acid and glycerin (a great alternative to oils), plus vitamins A, C, and E.

Now that you know what you’re looking for, we tapped board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman and rounded up the best serums for oily and spot-prone skin to help you get started. Start scrolling to find your perfect match.

Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment

Best for Sensitive Skin: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment

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The lactic acid in Sunday Riley’s serum makes for a brilliant exfoliator that helps regulate sebum control. It’s also brilliant at improving skin tone, which is why Engelman considers this one a favorite. “I like this product because it’s more conducive for frequent use,” she says. “Lactic acid, derived from dairy, is more gentle on the skin and is even safe enough to be used during pregnancy. It improves discoloration and age spots, and it corrects pH imbalances.”

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bareMinerals Blemish Remedy Serum

BareMinerals Blemish Remedy Serum

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We’re pretty obsessed with this serum. Why? Well, for spot-prone skin, it’s ideal, as it contains salicylic acid to help exfoliate any dead skin cells and give you a brightened complexion.

Salicylic acid (also known as beta-hydroxy acid) is both a soothing anti-irritant and an effective exfoliant, which can even help to clear bacteria from inside the skin’s pore lining, as well as on the surface. Blackheads, whiteheads, fully formed spots—they don’t stand a chance.

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum

elizabeth arden retinol capsules

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For acne-prone oily types, Engelman highly recommends these retinol serum capsules from Elizabeth Arden, which can help to fade the appearance of scarring. “These capsules are very effective at restoring skin cell turnover while keeping the skin firm and hydrated,” she says. And no need to worry about the not-so-fun side effects of retinol, either. “The ceramide acts like a buffer to prevent irritation from the retinol,” she adds.

Klur Stellar Restoration Corrective Complex

Klur Stellar Restoration Corrective Complex

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Formulated specifically to clarify and correct easily-congested skin, this multi-corrective night serum from Klur is packed with skin-loving vitamins, nutrients, and bioactive botanicals, including vitamins A, B, and C. The potent formula works hard to calm inflammation, correct imperfections, and smooth the skin’s surface while you catch up on your beauty sleep.

Paula’s Choice Resist Ultra-Light Antioxidant Serum

Kypris Clearing Serum

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An all-natural blend, this serum is great for hydrating reactive oily skin that’s on the sensitive side while helping to rebalance sebum production and heal blemishes or breakouts.

Ren ClearCalm 3 Replenishing Gel Cream

Ren ClearCalm 3 Replenishing Gel Cream

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Tackling the three key causes of breakouts—excess sebum, a buildup of dead skin cells, and the subsequent buildup of bacteria—this serum teams alpha-linoleic acid with Japanese licorice extract to soothe irritation and bring oiliness under control.

ROSE Ingleton MD Blemish Control Booster

ROSE Ingleton MD Blemish Control Booster

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This lightweight booster serum from ROSE Ingleton MD is great pick for oily, spot-prone skin types due to its powerful skin-clearing abilities. Formulated with fruit-derived AHAs, flower extracts, niacinamide, and turmeric, it helps to calm inflammation while gently exfoliating to control breakouts. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also clean and vegan.

It’S SKIN Power 10 Formula VB Effector

Lixirskin Night Switch AHA/BHA 10%

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The salicylic acid in Lixirskin’s night serum will flush out pores and ensure that any extra oil doesn’t turn into a patch of blackheads. It also contains azelaic acid to limit the amount of sebum that the skin creates.

Evolve Beauty Rainforest Rescue Blemish Serum

Evolve Beauty Rainforest Rescue Blemish Serum

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Some members of the Byrdie team swear by Evolve Beauty’s serum to clear up spots left behind by overzealous sebum glands, thanks to willow bark and açai.

Key Ingredients

Willow bark extract contains salicylic acid, a BHA that is a natural exfoliant and is used in many acne treatments.

Odacité Oily-Acne Prone Serum Concentrate

Odacité Oily-Acne Prone Serum Concentrate

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If you prefer organic formulations, this is a blend of skin-regulating grapeseed oil, which is high in linoleic acid—known to help rebalance sebum levels and reduce breakouts—plus replenishing vitamin E.

Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum

Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum

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Another great serum for improving the appearance of acne scars is this serum from Hyper Skin. It’s rich in vitamins C and E and uses a combination of fruit enzymes, bearberry, turmeric, and kojic acid to target hyperpigmentation and dark spots while natural botanicals work hard to prevent future breakouts. Plus, it’s lightweight enough to be used by all skin types, oily included.

Glo Skin Beauty C-Shield Anti-Pollution Drops

Glo Skin Beauty C-Shield Anti-Pollution Drops

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Another favorite of Engelman for oily skin is this skin-protecting booster serum from Glo Skin Beauty. “This serum packs a high antioxidant content of vitamin C and kakadu plum, which protect and clarify the skin, reduce inflammation, and minimize the signs of aging.”

Final Verdict

When it comes to skin-clearing serums suitable for oily types, our top pick would have to be the Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment. It gently exfoliates while helping to regulate sebum control, plus it’s great for improving the overall tone and texture of the skin. To make the most of our beauty sleep, we’re looking to the Klur Stellar Restoration Corrective Complex, an overnight serum packed with vitamins, nutrients, and botanicals that help calm inflammation and smooth the skin’s surface. It’s designed specifically for easily-congested skin, so you can trust it’ll help fight breakouts rather than cause them. And finally, we’re loving the Glo Skin Beauty C-Shield Anti-Pollution Drops for its antioxidant-rich formula that protects the skin against environmental stressors like pollution while clarifying the complexion and addressing inflammation. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it helps to minimize signs of aging, too.

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 typically 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.”

Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients

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.

Exfoliating Ingredients

According to Engelman, those with oily skin that are prone to breakouts can especially benefit from products containing AHAs. “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.

Hydrating Ingredients

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, of course, also 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.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Dendy Engelman is a New York City-based board-certified dermatologic surgeon and lecturer specializing in dermatology, skincare, skin cancer, Mohs surgery, and injectables. She’s been featured in hundreds of publications, from the New York Times to Byrdie, and regularly shares expert advice on television shows like ABC 7 and The Today Show.

Once you’ve decided on your chosen serum, be sure to use it every single day. While some will offer instant results, you’ll probably need a good few weeks to see those changes you’re after.

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