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Everything To Know About Oily Skin And T-Zone Acne

If your skin is prone to oiliness or shine, there’s a good chance that you struggle with breakouts in the area known as the T-zone, too.

This is common among younger and older people alike. In fact, almost 74% of Americans with normal-to-oily skin suffer from mild to moderate acne.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the causes of oily skin and T-zone acne. We’ve also outlined treatment options and best practices to help you treat and prevent severe breakouts.


  • Oily skin is characterized by a shiny or greasy appearance caused by excess sebum production.
  • The forehead, nose, and chin— known as the T-zone—are often the oiliest areas of the face. The T-zone is prone to breakouts because it has more sebaceous glands than anywhere else on the face.
  • T-zone acne is usually mild and can be treated using over-the-counter (OTC) solutions or high-quality skincare products. People with severe breakouts may benefit from oral medications or more powerful topical prescription medications.

What Is Oily Skin?

Oily skin often appears greasy or shiny and occurs when the skin’s sebaceous glands produce too much sebum (skin oil).

When excess oil and dead skin cells combine, your pores can clog, which is the primary cause of blemishes like pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads. The pores on the face may also appear larger if these blemishes or blockages cause them to stretch.

Oily skin can be caused by a number of factors like genetics, gender, and even harsh skincare products that strip the skin of essential oils and damage the skin barrier. This contributes to excess sebum production. We’ll take a closer look at this later.


Does Oily Skin Cause T-Zone Acne?

The forehead, nose, and chin area is known as the T-zone. It has more oil glands than anywhere else on the skin, which means that it produces the most oil!

Excess sebum usually builds up around the T-zone, making this area prone to breakouts.

Other causes of breakouts in your T-zone

A few other factors can contribute to acne breakouts in your t-zone. 

If you’re concerned about your skin’s condition or the recurrence of acne and pimples, a licensed dermatologist is a great place to start. Here are some other potential contributing factors:

Hair products

Blemishes on your forehead and along your temples may be caused by hair products containing irritating ingredients. Certain ingredients may cause inflammation and excess oil production that contribute to acne breakouts for some individuals.

If you think your hair products might be to blame, consider avoiding those with the following ingredients:

  • Panthenol
  • Silicone
  • Petrolatum


Breakouts on the nose can be caused by an inflammatory skin condition called rosacea. This condition causes blood vessels to become more visible on the skin and to appear as thick, red bumps. Rosacea can occur because of:

  • Extreme temperatures
  • Hot drinks
  • Direct sunlight
  • Genetics
  • Certain pathogens on the face

Hormonal breakouts

Acne around the chin and jawline may also be caused by hormonal fluctuations that occur during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy. These fluctuations can prompt excess sebum production, leaving the skin vulnerable to clogged pores and blemishes.

Hormonal breakouts tend to go away on their own when these imbalances stabilize.


How Do You Treat T-Zone Acne?

Stubborn breakouts in the T-zone are common for many people, and there are steps you can take to reduce their frequency and severity.

Most approaches are noninvasive and are available over-the-counter. Let’s take a look at your T-zone acne options.

Use the right skincare ingredients

The first place to begin fighting T-zone acne is by fine-tuning your skincare regime and using the right, targeted ingredients.

Salicylic acid

This is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) known for its ability to dissolve excess sebum. 

Salicylic acid gently exfoliates, removing oil and dead skin cells from the surface. This may help to clear clogged pores and prevent future breakouts. A daily cleanser is a great place to start.

Glycolic acid

This alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) is derived from sugarcane and can be used as an exfoliant.

Glycolic acid removes excess oil and impurities from the skin by breaking them down and clearing pores.

It has also been shown to stimulate collagen, a naturally-occurring protein essential for achieving smooth skin, to promote faster healing.

Azelaic acid

This is a naturally occurring acid found in grains like wheat and barley. Azelaic acid has exfoliating, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties which may help to fight acne. It can inhibit and kill bacteria that infect pores.

This may help clear pores, reduce existing acne, and decrease the risk of future breakouts.


These powerful vitamin A-derivatives promote smooth, clear skin by stimulating the production of new skin cells. This accelerated cell turnover helps to remove dead skin cells, oil, and dirt from pores.

This may help prevent buildup that contributes to breakouts.

Wash your face twice a day

Ensuring that your face is clean is one of the most effective ways to combat an oily T-zone.

Washing your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser removes excess sebum and helps to prevent build-up and clogged pores.

Use a cleanser with active, acne-fighting ingredients like those mentioned above.

Importantly, over-exfoliating or over-cleansing your face can be detrimental. Don’t over-strip the oils from your face, as your skin can go into “overdrive” as a result, creating an over-abundance of sebum.

Choose a gentle exfoliator

Although exfoliators are usually great for reducing blemishes, some may be too rough on the skin.

When exfoliants are too harsh, it can cause the skin to become dehydrated. This may prompt the skin to produce even more oil to keep itself moisturized and protected.

Exfoliating ingredients like azelaic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid may be gentle enough to prevent dehydrated skin while keeping breakouts at bay.


Remember to moisturize

It might seem counterintuitive to moisturize when you already have oily skin. However, this is a key step in keeping your skin hydrated.

Remember that dehydrated skin may have to produce more oil to maintain adequate moisture levels.

How to find a good moisturizer for oily skin

For best results, dermatologists recommend using a product with hydrating ingredients—like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, or squalane—that lock moisture into the skin.

Not only do these ingredients prevent dry skin, but they can also help strengthen the skin barrier, the skin’s first line of defense against external stressors like bacteria and dirt that can contribute to breakouts.

Look for a moisturizer that is:

  • Free from coconut oil, isopropyl palmitate, and lanolin—these are oily skincare ingredients that can clog pores and make the complexion greasier.
  • A gel or lotion that is typically thinner than creams and can be easily absorbed.
  • Non-comedogenic ingredients, which means it won't clog your pores.
  • Not combined with an SPF, since some sunscreens can increase oil production.

Speak to a dermatologist about acne medication

If you’ve tried OTC treatments and haven’t seen results after six weeks, it might be time to speak to a dermatologist about stronger acne medication.

Oral or prescription topical treatments can help regulate hormone levels, reduce excess oil production, and heal acne. Your dermatologist may recommend:

  • Antibiotics: Low doses of antibiotics can help clear inflammation and prevent bacterial infections that lead to blemishes. 
  • Birth control pills: sed to balance a woman’s hormonal fluctuations that increase sebum production and contribute to acne. 
  • Isotretinoin: This is a potent retinoid used to treat severe forms of cystic acne that haven’t responded to OTC products. Isotretinoin decreases sebum production and stimulates the skin’s cell turnover to promote healing. This medication often has side effects and must be prescribed by a licensed professional. 

Invest in Clear and Healthy Skin with Nava MD

It can be challenging to deal with oily skin and T-zone acne, especially if you feel like you’ve tried everything on the market.

At Nava MD, we’ve made dermatologists more accessible and more affordable by taking it all online, with virtual consultations and prescription medications sent to your door. 

It starts with an online consultation, after which one of our dermatologists can determine if a personalized formula is right for you. If approved, it’s sent to your door monthly. 

Clear skin is in reach. Get started with no in-office visit and ongoing access to your dermatologist. 

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency