What is Oily Skin?
In the deeper layers of our skin are sebaceous glands that produce an oily substance call sebum. This is a naturally occurring skin lubricant that is very good when working properly. Sometimes these glands become overactive and produce more oil than the skin needs to remain healthy. This happens most often on the face, neck, and back. When this takes place, the sebum becomes thick and more heavy in viscosity.
Having slightly oily skin is not all that bad because the oil helps to lessen wrinkles and other natural signs of aging, especially on the face. The extra oil can help keep the much-needed moisture locked in the outermost layer of the skin (the epidermis) to keep skin cells plump and healthy.
However, when the sebaceous glands produce a lot more sebum than necessary, the pores can get clogged, which can lead to a buildup of dead skin cells on the epidermis, causing blackheads and pimples.
Causes of Excessively Oily Skin
There are numerous reasons the sebaceous glands become overactive, causing excessive oily skin, such as:
- Hormonal changes: Women going through menopause have fluctuating hormone levels that can cause the sebaceous glands to increase its production of sebum.
- Stress: When we are stressed, our androgen levels increase, which in turn increases sebum production.
- Heredity: If other members of your family have large, overactive sebaceous glands, the chances are good that you will too.
- Sun tanning: Oddly enough, even though getting too much sun initially causes the skin to dry out, our body’s response to this injury is to produce more sebum to start the healing process.
- Skincare products: Too much scrubbing, exfoliating, over-cleansing, excessive or improper use of cleansing products can all lead to stimulating the sebaceous glands to overproduce sebum.
- Improper use of skin-cleansing tools: When used improperly or too much, skin-cleansing tools like hand mitts, rough washcloths, buff puffs, rotating scrubbers, and cleansing strips can irritate or actually damage the skin which causes an over-stimulation of the sebaceous glands.
- Pregnancy and hormonal birth control pills: the hormone androgenic progestin can put the oil glands in overdrive.
- Change in weather: During the warmer, muggier months, there can be an increase in oil production; conversely, some people’s glands overcompensate during the drier winter months, which can also cause oily skin.
- Medication: Many kinds of medications can cause the skin to become dehydrated, which in turn stimulates more sebum to be produced and may end up overcompensating.
Signs and Symptoms of Oily Skin
There are various signs and symptoms of oily skin. Oftentimes oily skin will look shiny due to the increased amounts of sebum on the surface of the skin. Large pores, pimples, blackheads, and other blemishes are very common, as well as a rather rough, sickly appearance. Oily skin seems to happen in men more often than in women, and is most common in teenagers and younger adults.
Diagnosing Oily Skin
If you have any of the common signs and symptoms that we just mentioned, chances are your skin would be considered oily. Keep in mind, however, that a person can also have a combination of oily, normal, and dry skin, especially on the face. It is very common to have cheeks and eyes that tend to be normal or dry, but the forehead, nose, and chin may be oily; this is called the T-zone.
However, beyond these, if you have more severe symptoms, such as infected pores, tender, overly sensitive, or bleeding skin, you should seek professional help from a certified dermatologist immediately. There may be underlying issues they can diagnose and treat.
Treatment for Oily Skin
Cleansers: It is best to use a mild and gentle cleanser instead of harsher soaps which can actually stimulate your skin to produce oil. Using a buff puff or washcloth can also cause the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Also, using hot water to wash with has the same effect, so use warm water.
Now, if your basic cleanser is not getting rid of the oiliness, you might want to try some products geared more for acne, such as glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, beta-hydroxy acid, or salicylic acid. Being that some of these products can be a bit harsh and irritate your skin, purchase the smallest amount available to try it out and see if your skin responds favorably to it or not.
Toners: The legitimacy of toners is being questioned by dermatologists; some are not convinced that they are beneficial due to their tendency to irritate the skin, and this can lead to even more production of sebum. However, if people prefer using toners in their facial cleansing regime, it is recommended that they apply the toner only on the areas that are oily.
Medicated Pads: Another useful cleansing aid are pads medicated with glycolic, salicylic, or other oil-cutting acids. Many people enjoy using them to remove excess oil and freshen their skin periodically throughout the day.
Masks and Clays: These cleansing regimes help to draw oils out and deep-cleans pores, however, dermatologists are concerned that using masks and clays too often can actually cause over drying of the skin. They recommend using them occasionally, like for important events such as special parties, weddings, or if you will be in the public eye for a special presentation.
Moisturizers: Even oily skin can use some moisturizing to look good and be healthy, so do not be afraid to use an oil-free moisturizer, thinking that your skin will end up looking shiny, especially on your face. Putting more moisturizer on the places that tend to be a bit drier and less on the places that tend to be oilier is the best way to use moisturizers; just slathering the moisturizer all over your face may end up causing shiny skin in the t-zone of your face.
Oil-free Sunscreen: If you plan on being out in the sun very much, and you have oily skin, it is best to stay away from the sunscreen lotions and creams because they could block pores and make your skin look shinier than you would like. There are now oil-free sunscreens products, including facial powders that can help protect from sun damage.
Change your Facial Cleansing Regime
Being that the extent of oiliness for most people can fluctuate quite often depending on moods, hormones, and sometimes the weather, you will need to adapt your cleansing regime accordingly. During the summer, some people have much oilier skin when they are sweating, so they may need to use an acid-based cleanser, like beta-hydroxy acid or glycolic acid, every day; however, they may need to change that once the hot weather is over and use it only periodically during the drier, colder winter months.
If you are finding that the over-the-counter cleansers are not doing a good enough jobs managing your oily skin, then you may want to talk to your dermatologist to see what they might recommend. Chemical peels, lasers, creams with adapalene, tazarotene, or tretinoin may be recommended to lessen the oiliness and enhance the overall appearance of your skin. If your dermatologist does recommend one of these, be certain to follow their instructions carefully because these therapies can irritate the skin if misused.
Preventing Oily Skin
There are numerous ways to help lessen the chance of getting oily skin, such as:
- Stop smoking: Smoking tends to enlarge the pores and can damage the health of your skin.
- Apple cider vinegar: Rubbing apple cider vinegar on the oily areas of your skin allows for a neutralizing effect.
- Massaging: To stimulate and renew your skin, message and brush it on a regular basis.
- Sleep: Getting ample sleep is extremely beneficial to your skin because that is when your skin does most of its repair activity on the cellular level.
- Exercise: The enhanced blood flow to the entire body that takes place when exercising is very beneficial to your skin because it brings the necessary nutrients to your skin, as well as cleansing it from within.
Do’s and Don’ts for Oily Skin
- Do wash your face with warm soapy water twice a day; once when you wake up and once when you go to bed.
- Don’t use harsh cleansers that strip your skin of all oil and leave it taut and dry, such as alcohol-based cleansers.
- Do use oil-based cleansers because they can dissolve the excess sebum.
- Do use oil-free moisturizers to help maintain healthy skin.
- Do use a mild antiseptic cream at night periodically.
- Do use skin care products specifically made for oily skin.
- Leafy green vegetables
- Foods rich in B2 and B5 vitamins, such as whole grains, wheat germ, nuts, beans, nutritional yeast, and organ meats.
- Cold-pressed oil or olive oil
- Vitamin and mineral supplements
- Animal Fat
- Spicy foods
- Fried foods
- Cooking with oil
- Carbonated drinks
- Junk food
- Habif TP. Acne, rosacea, and related disorders. In: Habif TP, ed.Clinical Dermatology
- Marks, James G; Miller, Jeffery (2006). Lookingbill and Marks’ Principles of Dermatology. (4th ed.). Elsevier Inc. ISBN
- Jump up to: a b Proksch, E; Brandner, JM; Jensen, JM (2008). “The skin: an indispensable barrier.”. Experimental Dermatology
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is the Medical Term for Oily Skin?
The medical term used for oily skin is seborrhea. “Sebo” means sebum and “rhea” means flow; putting them together indicates the condition of flowing sebum.
Where Does the Oil Comes From?
The oil (sebum) that nourishes and protects our skin comes from sebaceous glands located deep in the skin.
Does Diet Play a Role Regarding Oily Skin?
As in most things regarding our bodies, our diet can have a positive or negative impact on our skin. To help reduce overactive sebaceous glands, we can consume the following kinds of foods:
Foods to avoid include
Can Moisturizers Help Oily Skin?
It may seem strange, but yes, sometimes oily skin needs moisturizers. However, you will need to use an oil-free moisturizer that helps keep the skin’s natural levels of oil balanced, as well as reducing the shine, which is called mattifying.
Excessively oily skin can be very annoying due to the shiny appearance of our skin and the blemishes it can produce. However, as we learned in this article, there are numerous things we can do to prevent or hinder the sebaceous glands from producing too much sebum.
So take heart, start a wise skin care regime, stay away from things that aggravate your skin, eat a well-rounded diet, and get plenty of exercise and sleep. If doing these things does not take care of your oily skin, consult a certified dermatologist and they will recommend the best treatment for you. Above all, never be overly embarrassed or depressed about your oily skin, it is a very natural, normal condition that many people have.