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Does Sebum Help "moisturize" The Skin?

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#1 bryan

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Posted 18 October 2012 - 01:59 AM

Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 1987 Mar;88(3 Suppl):2s-6s.
"Skin lipids: an update"
Downing DT, Stewart ME, Wertz PW, Colton SW, Abraham W, Strauss JS.

(excerpt from this study follows below, including the references...)

Sebum and Dry Skin "...skin can be healthy and have charming cosmetic properties in the virtual absence of sebum." (14)

Kligman drew attention to prepubertal children, who produce almost no sebum, to support his thesis that skin does not depend upon sebum for maintaining its barrier to water loss: "...there can be no doubt of the insignificance of sebum as a waterproofing material." (14) Our recent studies at the other end of the human age spectrum have supported this conviction. In a survey of sebum secretion rates and the incidence of dry skin among subjects aged 65 to 97, no correlation was found between sebaceous gland activity and the presence or severity of dry skin (34). Kligman recognized that sebum could mask the scaliness of dry skin without producing any actual change in the condition: "Sebum, like any oil, has some emollient or smoothing effect when a sufficient quantity is rubbed into dry, scaling skin." (14) In spite of the clear inference to be drawn from the cutaneous characteristics of children and the experimental data obtained from the elderly, it remains difficult to dispel the myth that low sebum secretion rates cause dry skin. It is a rare individual who realizes that "dry" is not the obverse of "oily".

(14) Kligman AM: The uses of sebum. Br J Dermatol 75: 307-319, 1963

(34) Frantz RA, Kinney CK, Downing DT: A study of skin dryness in the elderly. Nursing Res 35: 98-100, 1986.

I simply copied the first post of this thread, because the thread itself is duplicated in another forum here on acne.org! I want the new members here to be able to read on this issue what was written a few years ago! Posted Image

#2 armadillo

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Posted 21 October 2012 - 08:38 AM

I always thought sebum was more of a barrier to protect the skin from environmental damage, that's why people with oily skin have less wrinkles and not because it keeps the skin moist. Some people are just cursed and produce a lot more than they need.Posted Image

I wonder if there is a correlation between sebum overproduction and living in polluted areas?

#3 bryan

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Posted 21 October 2012 - 11:47 PM

If sebum is just a barrier to protect the skin from environmental damage, then why does the amount that's excreted across the body vary so hugely?? The amount produced on the face is VAST, as we all know, while the amount on other parts of the body like the feet, legs, hands, and arms is almost vanishingly LOW, by comparison. How do you explain that?

#4 arqa22

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 01:22 AM

why do i have oily skin?? for what?? i fkn hate it! need to wash with soap every 3-4 hours to keep it dry and not break out.

#5 armadillo

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 08:29 AM

If sebum is just a barrier to protect the skin from environmental damage, then why does the amount that's excreted across the body vary so hugely?? The amount produced on the face is VAST, as we all know, while the amount on other parts of the body like the feet, legs, hands, and arms is almost vanishingly LOW, by comparison. How do you explain that?


Your face is almost always exposed to air, whereas the rest of your body is most often covered by clothes. [excluding the hands] Your face and back have the highest number of sebaceous glands, so that's where you'd have the most oil anyway. I think some of us are more sensitive to temperature changes, sunlight, air pollution, etc. and our skin reacts badly: either extreme dryness, sensitivity or oiliness. Besides we often touch our faces with our hands, and because we touch a lot of things outside covered in germs, those germs get on our faces. The reason our hands aren't oily is because the skin is much thicker and resiliant, used to being 'abused' so to speak. But we often get dry hands so our skin is still sensitive to all the artificial crap we expose them to. The hands and the face have skin that has to put up with the most.

I still think that oily skin is caused by a combination of things, like hormones, genetics, diet, etc. though I can't say my diet has ever affected how oily my skin was.

#6 bryan

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 04:11 PM

why do i have oily skin?? for what?? i fkn hate it! need to wash with soap every 3-4 hours to keep it dry and not break out.


Huh?? You mean OIL-dry, or WATER-dry???

Your face is almost always exposed to air, whereas the rest of your body is most often covered by clothes. [excluding the hands] Your face and back have the highest number of sebaceous glands, so that's where you'd have the most oil anyway. I think some of us are more sensitive to temperature changes, sunlight, air pollution, etc. and our skin reacts badly: either extreme dryness, sensitivity or oiliness.


What do you mean by "extreme dryness"? Do you mean OIL-dryness, or WATER-dryness??

Besides we often touch our faces with our hands, and because we touch a lot of things outside covered in germs, those germs get on our faces. The reason our hands aren't oily is because the skin is much thicker and resiliant, used to being 'abused' so to speak. But we often get dry hands so our skin is still sensitive to all the artificial crap we expose them to. The hands and the face have skin that has to put up with the most.


You do know, don't you, that the palms of the hand and the soles of the feet don't even HAVE sebaceous glands? They don't secrete sebum at all.

#7 TheTruthHurts

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 07:47 PM

I've been wondering this actually. I skimmed through the text but still don't quite understand so I'm just going to ask to answer the question directly. Does Sebum help moisturize the skin? Like when people say "you need to moisturize your skin" they are talking about Water right? Not oil? Cause I know oil and water are very different.

#8 bryan

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 02:09 AM

I've been wondering this actually. I skimmed through the text but still don't quite understand so I'm just going to ask to answer the question directly. Does Sebum help moisturize the skin?


Not to any significant extent. Another of the famous studies by Kligman which I've talked about is the one where he found that you have to apply about TEN TIMES the normal amount of sebum onto a person's face (and, I might add, the face already produces a great deal of sebum) before there's even a noticeable amount of extra water retention.

The fact that young, prepubertal children aren't exactly famous for having moisture-dry skin, and the fact that you have to apply ENORMOUS amounts of sebum before it has any extra effect on moisture, should answer that question! Posted Image

#9 CherrySoda08

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 02:12 AM

In my experience, it absolutely does. Ever notice how older (middle aged and up) people who have oily skin don't have nearly as many wrinkles as those with drier skin?

It has also, however, helped to contribute to my blackheads and occasional breakouts. Posted Image

#10 bryan

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 02:34 AM

In my experience, it absolutely does. Ever notice how older (middle aged and up) people who have oily skin don't have nearly as many wrinkles as those with drier skin?


I think you're conflating three entirely separate things: how much sebum a person makes, how much moisture is in his skin, and how many wrinkles he has! Posted Image

#11 Tom Frearson

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 02:41 AM

Have to agree with bryan here. I have a very oily skin that is dehydrated so I have to use a moisturiser immediately after washing to help reduce water loss.

#12 arqa22

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 02:48 AM

In my experience, it absolutely does. Ever notice how older (middle aged and up) people who have oily skin don't have nearly as many wrinkles as those with drier skin?

It has also, however, helped to contribute to my blackheads and occasional breakouts. Posted Image


wrinkles are the result of loss of collagen, nothing to do with oil.

#13 CherrySoda08

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 02:49 AM


In my experience, it absolutely does. Ever notice how older (middle aged and up) people who have oily skin don't have nearly as many wrinkles as those with drier skin?


I think you're conflating three entirely separate things: how much sebum a person makes, how much moisture is in his skin, and how many wrinkles he has! Posted Image


I'm simply talking about my own life's experience and also wanted to mention that I was told by a doctor (not my dermatologist) but a former general practitioner that I was lucky to have such oily skin, since it means very few wrinkles as I age. Just sayin'.

I also know people who are now middle aged, and have oily skin and look quite young due to their lack of wrinkles.This what I've encountered in my life. The three people I am thinking of are all in their 50's, and surely one of them has experienced collagen loss of some kind. I understand that people begin to appear aged due to collagen loss, however I would think most people in their 50's lose collagen at about the same rate with some variation due to lifestyle, genetics, etc Yet some look gaunt and more wrinkly, and some still have plump skin with barely any crow's feet. I'd actually love to know more about this, but unfortunately have too much on my plate to do research about it.

And I honestly don't understand how skin can be oily yet no​t moist. How is that possible?

Edited by CherrySoda08, 23 October 2012 - 02:55 AM.


#14 Tom Frearson

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 02:56 AM



In my experience, it absolutely does. Ever notice how older (middle aged and up) people who have oily skin don't have nearly as many wrinkles as those with drier skin?


I think you're conflating three entirely separate things: how much sebum a person makes, how much moisture is in his skin, and how many wrinkles he has! Posted Image


I'm simply talking about my own life's experience and also wanted to mention that I was told by a doctor (not my dermatologist) but a former general practitioner that I was lucky to have such oily skin, since it means very few wrinkles as I age. Just sayin'.

I also know people who are now middle aged, and have oily skin and look quite young due to their lack of wrinkles.This is my own experience.

And I honestly don't understand how skin can be oily yet no​t moist. How is that possible?


Simple really: oil doesn't hydrate the skin, water does. Oil may help to reduce water loss from the skin but very often, as in my case, water is lost from the skin before the oil barrier is restored after washing, hence the need to use a balancing cleanser and/or moisturiser.

#15 CherrySoda08

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 03:17 AM




In my experience, it absolutely does. Ever notice how older (middle aged and up) people who have oily skin don't have nearly as many wrinkles as those with drier skin?


I think you're conflating three entirely separate things: how much sebum a person makes, how much moisture is in his skin, and how many wrinkles he has! Posted Image


I'm simply talking about my own life's experience and also wanted to mention that I was told by a doctor (not my dermatologist) but a former general practitioner that I was lucky to have such oily skin, since it means very few wrinkles as I age. Just sayin'.

I also know people who are now middle aged, and have oily skin and look quite young due to their lack of wrinkles.This is my own experience.

And I honestly don't understand how skin can be oily yet no​t moist. How is that possible?


Simple really: oil doesn't hydrate the skin, water does. Oil may help to reduce water loss from the skin but very often, as in my case, water is lost from the skin before the oil barrier is restored after washing, hence the need to use a balancing cleanser and/or moisturiser.


Interesting, Just curious, but what about those who don't have much of a water intake to aid in the hydration of their already oily skin, yet don't really have to use a moisturizer? Shouldn't the absence of water make their skin dehydrated (i.e., dry)? I guess the oil level wouldn't really change that much, but wouldn't the amount of moisture at least be affected?

#16 Tom Frearson

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 03:40 AM

As far as I know, you can't directly hydrate your skin by drinking more fluids but that isn't to say your skin can't become dry if you're dehydrated. Paula Begoun has written about this on her website, PaulasChoice.com.

Also, the body can't store water so once your system is fully hydrated, the rest is simply excreted. Therefore it's much better to drink small amounts of water regularly throughout the day if you want to prevent dehydration.

Whether or not you 'need' to use a moisturiser depends on several factors including the cleanser you use, the effect of any medication and the rate at which your skin loses water, which is determined by your skin type and your environment. In a hot and humid environment for example, I don't use a moisturiser but in Winter in the UK, I definitely need one.

This is a big subject I guess! Ultimately, you have to listen to your skin and adapt for different situations and environments.

#17 bryan

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 03:57 AM

I'm simply talking about my own life's experience and also wanted to mention that I was told by a doctor (not my dermatologist) but a former general practitioner that I was lucky to have such oily skin, since it means very few wrinkles as I age. Just sayin'.


It doesn't really surprise me very much that a doctor (especially just a general practitioner) would say something like that. That strikes me as something a doctor would say, just to make a person feel better: "Don't worry about your oily skin, it means fewer wrinkles as you age!" Posted Image

I also know people who are now middle aged, and have oily skin and look quite young due to their lack of wrinkles.This what I've encountered in my life. The three people I am thinking of are all in their 50's, and surely one of them has experienced collagen loss of some kind. I understand that people begin to appear aged due to collagen loss, however I would think most people in their 50's lose collagen at about the same rate with some variation due to lifestyle, genetics, etc Yet some look gaunt and more wrinkly, and some still have plump skin with barely any crow's feet. I'd actually love to know more about this, but unfortunately have too much on my plate to do research about it.

And I honestly don't understand how skin can be oily yet no​t moist. How is that possible?


I'm not really saying that sebum on the surface of the skin has no effect at all on moisture retention, just not nearly as much as people think. For the umpteenth time now, I've talked about Kligman's experiment where he added sebum-like oil to people's skin, and he had to add TEN TIMES the normal amount, before there was a noticeable increase in moisture retention.

#18 CherrySoda08

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 04:07 AM


I'm simply talking about my own life's experience and also wanted to mention that I was told by a doctor (not my dermatologist) but a former general practitioner that I was lucky to have such oily skin, since it means very few wrinkles as I age. Just sayin'.


It doesn't really surprise me very much that a doctor (especially just a general practitioner) would say something like that. That strikes me as something a doctor would say, just to make a person feel better: "Don't worry about your oily skin, it means fewer wrinkles as you age!" Posted Image

I also know people who are now middle aged, and have oily skin and look quite young due to their lack of wrinkles.This what I've encountered in my life. The three people I am thinking of are all in their 50's, and surely one of them has experienced collagen loss of some kind. I understand that people begin to appear aged due to collagen loss, however I would think most people in their 50's lose collagen at about the same rate with some variation due to lifestyle, genetics, etc Yet some look gaunt and more wrinkly, and some still have plump skin with barely any crow's feet. I'd actually love to know more about this, but unfortunately have too much on my plate to do research about it.

And I honestly don't understand how skin can be oily yet no​t moist. How is that possible?


I'm not really saying that sebum on the surface of the skin has no effect at all on moisture retention, just not nearly as much as people think. For the umpteenth time now, I've talked about Kligman's experiment where he added sebum-like oil to people's skin, and he had to add TEN TIMES the normal amount, before there was a noticeable increase in moisture retention.


Oh, it totally sounds like something a doctor would say. Looking back, there's more than a few reasons as to why I wouldn't see that doc again, anyway. She prescribed Differin for my cystic acne when she really should have been referring me to a derm. I'm telling ya, decent doctors are few and far between.

Still, I love the idea of having few wrinkles the natural way! The longer I can stave off Botox, the better. I guess it's all about the beauty rest (please don't tell me I'm wrong about that one. I love sleep. Posted Image ).

Edited by CherrySoda08, 23 October 2012 - 04:09 AM.


#19 bryan

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 04:22 AM

Something I should add here, that I forgot to mention in my previous posts: when you apply an oily substance from a bottle that you bought at a drugstore (a "moisturizer", in other words), you're probably applying GRAM quantities of that substance, by applying it to your face, and rubbing it in nicely. But sebum is something that occurs in MILLIGRAM quantitites, or possibly even MICROGRAM quantities, depending on the exact body location. It shouldn't be surprising to anybody that sebum doesn't have any noticeable effect as a "moisturizer".

#20 armadillo

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 01:05 PM

Your face is almost always exposed to air, whereas the rest of your body is most often covered by clothes. [excluding the hands] Your face and back have the highest number of sebaceous glands, so that's where you'd have the most oil anyway. I think some of us are more sensitive to temperature changes, sunlight, air pollution, etc. and our skin reacts badly: either extreme dryness, sensitivity or oiliness.

What do you mean by "extreme dryness"? Do you mean OIL-dryness, or WATER-dryness??


Besides we often touch our faces with our hands, and because we touch a lot of things outside covered in germs, those germs get on our faces. The reason our hands aren't oily is because the skin is much thicker and resiliant, used to being 'abused' so to speak. But we often get dry hands so our skin is still sensitive to all the artificial crap we expose them to. The hands and the face have skin that has to put up with the most.

You do know, don't you, that the palms of the hand and the soles of the feet don't even HAVE sebaceous glands? They don't secrete sebum at all.


I mean any kind of dryness. When I'm talking about your hands being dry, I'm talking about the top of our hands of course, not the palm. Obviously the reason behind why some parts of the body get either very dry or very oily, is the number of sebaceous glands and how much oil they can produce and at what rate. You can't over produce sebum on your hands so they dry out instead, whereas the glands on our face can spew out plenty, so the skin gets oily, even if it to mask the underlying dryness.

Let's say that the sebum is a 'seal' between our skin and the air. That sebum either seals in the dryness or the moisture, it's not like sebum 'discriminates'. So, for example, my skin is not lacking any moisture, but my skin still produces a lot of oil to keep that moisture in, to protect my skin from losing it. If the my skin was dry, it could still be oily, because the sebum is still trying to protect it from the nasty outside world. So in a way, for a lot of people, moisturizing could be the solution to reduce the skin's oil production. I'm not saying it's going to stop it in its tracks but it could reduce it. I think everyone should moisturize for that reason.

But even then, if your skin is hydrated, like mine, it still keeps spewing out oil...that's why I think my skin might be 'sensitive' to the environment I live in. I live in a large city...I think it's self-explanatory. When I'm away for a few weeks, in a rural location, my oil production does regulate, though it is still kind of oily. I would explain this oiliness by maybe having a hormonal issue, which I think is very possible in my case.

This is just a theory I have, I'm not saying it is a fact.