You’ve got oily skin, so you avoid any oil-based skincare. You even avoid anything nourishing and hydrating through fear of your face becoming an oil slick by noon. But you might be interested to know that avoiding oily skin care may in fact be the cause for the oiliness—at least some of it, anyway.
In this article we’re going to discuss who is more prone to having oily skin, the science behind why our skin can sometimes feel oilier, products we should be avoiding, products we should be using, and how to maintain healthy, oily skin.
How Does Oil in Our Skin Get Produced
Let’s do a quick science lesson on skin anatomy. Our skin is the largest organ in our body. There are three layers that make up our skin:
- The hypodermis (or subcutaneous layer) is the deepest layer, and is composed of fat and connective tissue.
- The dermis, the middle layer, contains collagen and elastin, hair follicles, and sweat glands.
- The epidermis, the outer layer, is made up of 4-5 sublayers of tightly-packed cells that are responsible for protection and the cell renewal cycle.
Our skin has seven functions, all of which are crucial to maintaining a healthy equilibrium within our body. These seven functions are:
Let’s talk about the Secretion function. Our dermis contains our sebaceous glands, and this is where oil and sebum is produced. The oil is then secreted through the follicles and out onto the surface of the skin.
The reason why our sebaceous glands produce oil is to form a protective barrier on our skin’s surface to protect against bacteria and fungus. It also provides the skin with lubrication, so the cells stay hydrated.
So, although the default for many of us is to cleanse the oil off our skin, it’s actually an important function that our skin relies on as part of it’s protection mechanism. Without it, our skin would be cracked, dry, and prone to infection.
Who Is More Prone to Oily Skin?
Having oily skin is like having thick, curly hair. When you’re young, you don't like it because it’s hard to manage. Products are expensive to tame the mane. You get hair everywhere, and it takes three times longer to get ready. But as you get older, you thank your lucky stars because all of your friends’ hair is thinning out, while your locks are still as luscious as ever.
Oily skin is the same. When you’re young, makeup is expensive. By the end of the night you’re no longer wearing the makeup you spent 45 minutes applying, as it has slid straight off your oil-slicked skin. Your friends’ skin is shine-free in every photo—even when they haven’t even touched-up their makeup. They purposely make their skin look dewy—*ahem* oily—using different products, while you’re over here thinking “why would anybody do that? Here, take some of my oil!”
But as a 36-year-old who still gets mistaken for a 26-year-old, I can finally say that having oily skin has started to pay off. In another 20 years, I’ll be even more grateful that my skin has maintained it’s “dewy” (oily) glow.
Something I always wondered before I studied esthetics was “Why do I have oily skin, and two of my siblings don’t?”
The answer lies in your genetics. If one or both of your parents were prone to oily skin, you have a 50% chance or higher of also having oily skin. Genetics are not the only factor, though.
Hormones, particularly during our adolescent years, can also be a cause of skin becoming excessively oily. Some people find that after puberty, their skin settles down. But most people who suffer from oily skin at any point in their life are usually more on the oiler side of the spectrum. It’s not likely that you’d go from being really oily to being really dry—not without external interferences, such as medication.
Speaking of medications, this can be a pretty big reason as to why your skin has suddenly become oilier. Some contraceptive pills or hormone replacement drugs, in particular, are the usual culprits. See the correlation: hormones or hormonal medications can create an imbalance in the skin.
Other factors that can affect our skin are things like seasonal changes, working in air conditioning, using incorrect skincare or cosmetic products, and also our diet.
What to do When You Have Oily Skin
When a person has oily skin, what it usually means is that they get an oily shine along their T-zone (forehead and nose). But sometimes, in extreme cases, they even get oily skin across the rest of their face. This is when it can become a real nuisance.
While you cannot change your skin type, there are things you can do to avoid skin from becoming excessively oily. Here are some tips:
Stopping Medication/Finding Alternative Medication
This isn’t always an option, so take this with a grain of salt. But if you are on medication that causes oilier skin, and there are alternative brands or formulations of your medication, perhaps consider switching. As I said, this isn’t always possible... but it could be.
Adjust Your Diet
It’s said that eating dairy, high-glycemic-index (G.I.) foods, and refined carbs, like white bread and pasta, can trigger the hormonal response in our skin, which, as mentioned earlier can directly influence how oily our skin is. Also, processed sugars, fried foods, animal fats, and any greasy foods can make our body’s insulin levels spike, which increases the oil and sebum that is produced.
Eating a diet that is rich in fresh, plant-based nutrients, as well as cutting back on processed and fried foods is one way to help manage oily skin.
Avoid Air Conditioning
If you work or spend a lot of time in air conditioning, this could be wreaking havoc on your skin. Not only does air conditioning dehydrate our skin by drawing out moisture, but the dehydration can cause our sebaceous glands to react—or over-react—and start producing more oil.
Much the same as how our skin reacts when we over-cleanse, it’s trying to protect our skin from drying out and becoming vulnerable to bacteria and infection. So what can you do?
Go outside every couple of hours to get some fresh air and weather on your skin. Or, if possible, turn the air conditioner off. Your bank account will also thank you.
Drink Plenty of Water
This goes hand-in-hand with the last two tips. Drinking plenty of water to complement your healthy eating, and your air conditioner-free workplace will keep your cells hydrated and healthy, so your body and skin functions don’t need to work as hard.
Using the Correct Skincare
You know that “squeaky clean” feeling after you’ve washed your face, where it feels kind of tight? That means you’ve either over-cleansed, or you’re using a product that is way too harsh. It has stripped everything away, destroying the protective barrier of your skin, leaving nothing in its path of destruction.
I find that conventional brands are usually formulated with a lot of synthetic ingredients. Especially skincare that is formulated for oily skin. Their goal is to remove all the oil quickly, so they often contain harsh ingredients like sulfates and alcohol. If your cleanser is causing that tight, squeaky-clean feel, I suggest you stop using it—maybe you can use it to wash your car, or something.
Instead, opt for an oil cleanser. Yes, you heard me right. A good quality oil-based cleanser won’t strip the skin of it’s protective barrier. It also regulates the sebaceous glands within the dermis layer by nourishing and hydrating the follicles, while melting makeup and debris off the surface of the skin.
If you're nourishing and protecting the skin, it won't have any reason to overreact. See how that works?
My pick is M.S.Skincare’s Silk Premier Cleansing Oil. It’s formulated with only seven ingredients—all of them naturally-derived. The star ingredients are Frankincense oil, which balances sebum; and Black Cumin, which clears congestion.
If you are wearing makeup and have decided to use an oil-based cleanser, you probably need to cleanse twice. The first oil cleanse removes your makeup, but the second cleanse is the one that actually cleans your skin.
Try M.S.Skincare’s Mantra Skin Perfecting Cleanser. This gentle foaming cleanser is formulated with ayurvedic herbs neem, turmeric, and holy basil, all known for their clarifying and brightening properties.
After cleansing twice, use a toner to balance your skin’s pH, restore your acid mantle (barrier), and prepare your skin for further products. I love Bambu Earth’s Rosemary Toner. It has just four ingredients that are gentle, but zesty on the skin.
Follow with a serum, like Earth Harbor’s Nebula Adaptogen Clarity Ampoule. Formulated with sea lavender and ginseng for regulating sebum and minimizing congestion, with antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. This serum also contains rose for brightening, which is perfect for oily and blemished skin.
Finish your regime with a hydrating, but lightweight moisturizer. Earthwise Beauty’s Ambrosia de Cerrado Lightweight Moisturizer is a beautiful combination of active herbs and botanicals that brighten and nourish skin without any greasy residue. With three unique ingredients wildcrafted from South America, this moisturizer gives skin an intense boost of antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients that are essential to healthy skin.
Oily skin can be a nuisance to deal with. But the truth is, it’s actually more beneficial to have oily skin in the long-term. Our skin needs oil, there’s no question about it. It keeps our cells hydrated, our skin barrier strong, and will keep your skin from aging quicker than those with dry skin. Instead of cursing our oily T-zones, let’s embrace them with love and appreciation for why they truly exist.
Emma Masotti is an Australian now living in Austin, TX, and has been a trained esthetician for over 15 years. She is a sustainable skincare writer, educating and building awareness around proper skin health that doesn’t cost the earth.
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