Got Oily Skin?

Learn what causes oily skin and how to avoid it

By Melanie A. Warycha, MD, FAAD

Oily skin is a dreaded yet common skin complaint. The number and activity of sebaceous glands in the skin, which are the oil producing glands, is largely genetic. An excess secretion of sebum, or oil, can lead to shiny skin, enlarged pore size, clogged pores, and acne.

Factors that may increase or decrease the presence of oily skin:

  • Excess androgen hormones (sex hormones), in particular dihydrotestosterone (DHT), stimulate sebum production.
  • Hormonal fluctuations, particularly during menstruation, pregnancy, and with disorders of the ovaries, testicles, and adrenal glands, can also trigger sebum production.
  • Stress can increase cortisol levels, which in turn can also increase sebum production.
  • Certain medications can influence androgen hormones causing an impact to oil production.
  • Isotretinoin, an oral retinoid for acne, may make skin less oily.
  • Birth control pills may decrease oil production.
  • Heat and humidity can increase oil production.

While you may want to rid your skin of all oil and make it squeaky clean, it is important to preserve some of your skin’s natural oils and skin barrier. One should not excessively cleanse the skin or over use oil controlling products as this can strip the skin of essential oils and lead to dry skin, flaking, and redness. In addition, try to avoid scrubbing the skin as this can lead to irritation. Despite having oily skin, it’s important to apply a daily moisturizer and sunblock. In fact, UV light can stimulate activity of sebaceous glands and lead to increased oil.

Recommended skincare products to help control oil:

  • Oil blotting papers are designed to absorb excess oil. They are typically made of extra absorbent materials and can be a game changer for mid-day make-up touch ups.
  • Astringents are designed to remove excess oil from the skin and should be part of one’s daily routine to help combat oil.
  • Products with clay help absorb oil and keep skin looking matte.
  • Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid which functions as a superficial exfoliator of the skin. It is oil soluble, allowing it to penetrate deep into your pores, removing dead cells and oil.
  • Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (fruit acid) which is also classified as a superficial exfoliator, loosening dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and leaving a smoother texture. It helps eliminate the build-up of oil, leaving pores clearer.
  • Oil-free moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid are lightweight and a good option for patients with oily skin.
  • Niacinamide (vitamin B3) is anti-inflammatory, helps to absorb sebum, and strengthens the skin barrier.
  • Topical retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives, have been shown to influence the function of sebocytes (oil secreting cells) and reduce pore size.