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Oily Skin: Causes, Effects & Treatments

Are you noticing that your skin is emitting a little extra shine? The fact is that everyone has oil in their skin. Under each of your pores is a sebaceous gland that produces natural oils called sebum, which keep your skin hydrated and healthy.  

Having an adequate amount of oil on the skin is good as it helps to protect the skin, prevents premature aging, and gives us that healthy glow we all love. But when too much sebum is produced, it can lead to a host of skin problems. Breakouts are also more likely because the sebum mixes with the dead skin cells and get stuck in your pores. This can lead to a host of skin problems – clogged pores, pimples, acne, scars and many other conditions.

How Do I Know if I have Oily Skin?   

As mentioned, oily skin is caused by an overproduction of sebum, but how do you know you have oily skin? Here are some tell-tale signs that your skin type might be oily:   

  • Shiny most of the time   

  • Prone to breakouts   

  • Visible and enlarged looking pores   

  • Your makeup tends to wear off easily   

While oily skin is typically thought of as occurring during adolescence, it can be seen at any age.


Types of Causes for Oily Skin  

Among the most common causes of oily skin are genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. While you can’t necessarily get rid of oily skin, you can take steps to make your skin less greasy. The key is to identify the underlying causes.   

1. Genetics 

2. Gender

3. Hormonal Activity

Oily skin can be passed on through genes. If one of your parents has oily skin, you’re likely to have hyperactive sebaceous glands as well. 

Generally, men have more active sebaceous glands and are more likely to produce sebum than women. Male skin tends to have more pores and tends to be larger in size [1]. 

Rising androgen levels (male sex hormones) can cause an increase in sebum production. This usually occurs during puberty or during the menstrual cycle for women [2]. 

4. Diet

5. Incorrect skincare products

6. Incorrect Skincare Habits

Studies have shown that dietary factors do impact sebum production in the body. A diet high in inflammatory foods such as dairy, refined sugar, and refined carbohydrates can cause oily skin [3] 

Oily skin can also be aggravated by using the wrong skincare products for your skin type. For example, some people might mistake combination skin for oily skin, and they might use creams that are too heavy, resulting in oily skin.   

Overly frequent washing, over blotting and excessive exfoliation can irritate the skin. This irritation can result in an overproduction of oil. 

What is the purpose of sebum? 

So, what exactly is sebum and why does it seem to do more harm than good? The fact is that sebum plays an important role in supporting our skin health. Sebum is produced by the sebaceous glands in your body and is an oily secretion made up of lipids or fat molecules, waxes, and squalene, that is produced by the sebaceous glands in your body [4]. These lipids lock in moisture and protects the skin from UV radiation and other causes of harm.   

Sebum also transports fat-soluble antioxidants, such as vitamin E, to the skin’s surface which helps prevent oxidative skin damage [5]. Meanwhile, sapienic acid and other fatty acids found in sebum help combat Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which can cause staph infections and contribute to atopic dermatitis [6].   

How can You Treat Oily Skin Effectively? 

A regimen that combines a regular skincare routine, treatment, proper diet, and a healthy lifestyle is the ideal way to prevent and control oily skin conditions.  

#1 Wash your face regularly 

Washing your face regularly can reduce the amount of oil on your skin. It will clear away excess oil and also keep your skin clean and feeling fresh. Avoid over-washing your face as irritation might trigger excess sebum production. 

#2 Moisturise your skin 

Contrary to popular belief, moisturisers can actually help your skin – if you do it right. For people with oily skin, an oil-free moisturizer could help keep the skin hydrated without it feeling greasy. Use a hyaluronic acid moisturizer instead of an oil-based moisturizer. A 2014 study suggests that aloe vera could also be a highly effective moisturizer for treating oily and acne-prone skin [7]. 


#3 Choose non-comedogenic products that does not clog the pores 

If you suffer from oily skin, non-comedogenic products are just what you need. Ordinary skincare such as moisturizers can be too heavy and cause blockages that contribute to whiteheads, blackheads and acne. Noncomedogenic skincare products are specifically formulated to prevent skin pore blockages and other unwelcome signs of acne.   

#4 Reduce certain food that could cause acne 

We all know by now that the environment and genetics are contributing factors, but the food you consume has a profound impact on your skin. While it may not be practical to eliminate such foods, reducing or avoiding them can be the way forward for people interested in maintaining healthy skin.   

Refined Carbohydrates 

Dairy products 

Inflammatory Fats

(Saturated Fats & Trans Fat)

Refined Sugar 

White bread, white rice, junk food and white pasta 

Butter, Cheese, Cakes, Milk 

Red meats such as lamb, sausages, beef, and processed foods 

Fizzy drinks, jams, pastries, sweets 

#5 Medical Aesthetic Treatments

1. Lasers and Light therapies 

The use of light and laser in the treatment of acne is increasing as these modalities are safe, effective and associated with none or minimal complications when used appropriately [8].   

Light therapies such as IPL treatment have shown to activate porphyrins that reduce P.acnes growth. In addition, endogenous chromophores in the skin absorb broad spectrum light delivered by the IPL to achieve damage in blood vessels supplying the sebaceous glands. This results in reduced sebaceous gland size and function [9] 

They help treat oily skin conditions by decreasing the size of sebaceous glands and curtailing their function through the photothermal effect. The light source is used to generate thermal energy to target the hyperactive glands.  

Laser therapies have also shown to improve comedonal acne and studies have shown promising results on both acne and oily skin [10]. One study even tested the use of laser therapy on a woman who was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) with acne-prone and oily skin and saw encouraging results.  

2. Radio Frequency (RF) Miconeedling 

Radio frequency (RF) microneedling is an effective treatment used to target atrophic acne scars, improve skin texture, reduce pore size and decrease sebum production. This treatment involves delivering radio frequency energy using an electronically controlled, smooth motion motor and is designed to minimize surface damage and patient discomfort. One study concluded that all the participants saw an overall improvement in sebum production as well as the appearance of scars [11].   

3. Chemical Peels  

Studies has shown that medical grade salicylic acid is oil-soluble which can penetrate sebum and help clear pores. This superficial chemical peel penetrates through the lipid barrier of the skin and reduces oil secretion [12]. 

#6 Topical Creams & Lotions

1. Over the counter topical creams 

Glycolic acid or salicylic acid with mild concentration are commonly used for treating oily skin conditions. Derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid has the smallest and simplest chemical structure among AHAs. Its highly hydrophilic molecular structure makes glycolic acid very effective in treating a variety of superficial and mild to moderate skin conditions.   

Although poorly soluble in water, salicylic acid is highly lipophilic. Due to its small molecular size, salicylic acid is able to rapidly penetrate the lipid barriers of the epidermis. As a result, it demonstrates superb efficacy in treating cutaneous disorders caused by overproduction of sebum.  

2. Vitamin C and Niacinamide  

In cell culture studies, it was noticed that vitamin C increases the production of barrier lipids [13]. This in turn strengthens the skin barrier layer and helps reduce sebum levels as well. In a study of human facial biopsies, it was observed that the use of niacinamide reduced sebaceous lipogenesis significantly [14]. It was further found that apart from fatty acids, niacinamide significantly decreases triglycerides, which are a major component of sebaceous gland lipids. 

3. Topical retinoids  

Studies has shown that medical grade salicylic acid is oil-soluble which can penetrate sebum and help clear pores. This superficial peel penetrates through the lipid barrier of the skin and reduces oil secretion [15]. 

#7 Oral medication

As mentioned, overproduction of sebum can also cause frequent and perpetual acne breakouts. Constant and severe acne breakouts will sometimes require oral medications to help regulate sebum production in the skin. These oral medications mostly comprise of antibiotics such as tetracyclines and macrolides that can destroy acne-causing bacteria such as Propionibacterium acnes (P.acnes).   

Side effects associated with antibiotics include gastric discomfort, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, even when they are used for short periods of time. 

Isotretinoin:  It is an oral retinoid that has been proven to be the most effective option for reducing sebum production. Oral isotretinoin is a drug capable of cure or prolonged remission of moderate to severe acne, when prescribed as a single therapy, improving skin appearance and quality of life [16]. Oral isotretinoin has been seen to reduce sebum production by as much as 90%. Results are also long lasting as sebum secretion rates remained low even one year after the isotretinoin therapy had concluded.

However, oral usage of isotretinoin comes with the risk of adverse side effects like dry skin, headaches, mild itching. Since even small doses of oral isotretinoin can affect foetuses in the womb, it is not advisable for pregnant women. Consultation with doctor is required for this prescription.   

Oral contraceptives: Oral contraceptives pills are often prescribed to address the problem of acne-prone and oily skin in women. A 2012 review looked at 31 trials involving the use of birth control as an acne treatment and concluded that all combination birth control pills treated noninflammatory and inflammatory acne [17].   


Key Takeaways

Oily skin is a very common concern for people all over the world. Fortunately, most cases of oily skin can be controlled by following some simple steps related to hygiene, diet, and lifestyle. For more severe cases, it is advisable to consult an aesthetic doctor. If you suffer from oily skin, speak to us today to find out which treatment might be best for you.