What causes it and what can you do about it?
What it is
Oily skin (seborrhea) is caused by excess skin oil (sebum). During puberty, increased androgen levels, which are male hormones present in both males and females, signal the oil glands of the skin to mature. At this time the body begins producing much more skin oil. For some people, oil glands go into overdrive and the skin takes on an oily look. This oily appearance normally subsides to some degree after puberty, but can persist into adulthood, and is often seasonal, coinciding with humid weather. The good news is that most experts agree that oily skin helps skin age more slowly with fewer wrinkles. The bad news is that oily skin can look, well, oily. Also, as a whole, people with oilier skin tend to suffer more with acne.
What to do about it
Blotting papers / Oil absorbing sheets / Paper towels / Tissues:
Oily skin is an unavoidable part of adolescence for many people and often cannot be eliminated entirely. Blotting the skin with over-the-counter oil-absorbing sheets/papers/cloths/tissues, or even run-of-the-mill brown paper towels are inexpensive and helpful options that can keep shine down on particularly oily days. Many people will only need to blot the skin during adolescence until nature kicks in and reduces oil production on its own. However, even adults sometimes suffer with oily skin and these products are always there to assist when needed. Just be sure not to wipe the skin with them. This can cause irritation, which can aggravate acne. Instead, blot the skin extremely gently to avoid irritation.
Note: If using facial tissues, use regular variety and not "lotion " or "menthol" containing tissues which sometimes have ingredients which may clog pores.
Accutane (isotretinoin), an oral acne medication available to both males and females, shrinks oil glands (35-58%) and drastically reduces the amount of oil produced (around 80%).1-2 Hormonal treatments, available only to women, include Birth Control Pills (Oral Contraceptives), Spironolactone, and Cyproterone Acetate. Hormonal treatments work by tempering the amount of androgens (male hormones) a woman’s body produces, which in turn regulates oil production. Both Accutane (istotretinoin) and hormonal treatments are serious medications which require close contact with a trusted physician.
- Astringents, harsh soaps, and alcohols. These dry and irritate the skin. You may have read that the use of such products causes the skin to compensate by producing more oil. There exists no scientific evidence to support this, but anecdotally many people find this to be the case. Regardless, these products irritate the skin, and irritation of the skin can result in acne.
- Over-cleansing. It may be tempting to wash your face often to reduce the shine that comes with oily skin. However, over-washing your skin is one of the worst things you can do if you are acne-prone. Over-washing produces excessive dryness and irritation, both of which are known to increase symptoms of acne. Wash your face properly and only twice per day.
- Heavy cosmetics. Scientists have performed no specific research into how heavy foundations or other greasy makeup specifically affect oil production, but anecdotally, these products seem to make people experience symptoms of oily skin. Regardless of whether these heavy cosmetics produce increased oil production, they should be avoided because there are likely to be pore-clogging ingredients in such products.
- Anabolic steroids. It should go without saying, but also avoid the use of anabolic steroids, which can cause unnaturally high levels of androgens and can cause the oil glands to pump out huge amounts of oil, sometimes creating severe and hard to treat acne.3-4
What about moisturizer?
The use of heavy or greasy moisturizers should be avoided for anyone with acne-prone skin. However, many people find that regular application of a light, non-comedogenic (will not clog pores) moisturizer can actually help stabilize the oiliness of their skin. Jojoba oil containing moisturizers in particular tend to be recognized for their oil regulating prowess.
- Nelson AM, et al. "13-cis-retinoic acid induces apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in human SEB-1 sebocytes." Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2006; 126(10): 2178-89.
- Plewig G, et al. "Low dose isotretinoin combined with tretinoin is effective to correct abnormalities in acne." Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. 2004; 2(1): 31-45.
- Fragkaki AG, et al. “Structural characteristics of anabolic androgenic steroids contributing to binding to the androgen receptor and to their anabolic and androgenic activities: Applied modifications in the steroidal structure.” Steroids. 2009; 74(2): 172-97.
- Heydenreich G. “Testosterone and anabolic steroids and acne fulminans.” Archives of Dermatology. 1989; 125(4): 571-2.