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bryan

The myth of skin washing and sebum production

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About a month and a half ago, I posted some material on a couple of different threads about an Urban Myth that seems to be running rampant on this site! biggrin.gif That's the old idea that human skin tries to "maintain" a certain level of oil and sebum on the skin, and washing your skin only stimulates it to produce more! However, most people here apparently didn't see those posts, so I'm starting a brand-new topic in an effort to put the final nail in the coffin of that silly theory. I'll have more to say about this a little later, but for now, here is a past post from my friend Kevin Davis on a hairloss newsgroup that I used to read:

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From: thread ([email protected])

Subject: Re: Too much sebum

Newsgroups: alt.baldspot

Date: 2001-06-03 12:49:48 PST

Here is a study which discusses sebum production and the factors that affect it. I also posted a paragraph from this study which discusses the false notion of a feedback system.

Bottom-line: washing your skin does not affect sebum production one way or the other (although washing will certainly remove sebum from the skin surface).

Kevin Davis

"Sebum secretion and sebaceous lipids." - published in Dermatologic Clinics, Vol. 1, No. 3, July 1983.

Excerpt (Note: the asterisks in the excerpt represent italics in the actual paper):

"... These observations gave rise to a long-lived fallacy (1927-1957) that was posthumously christened the "feedback theory" by Kligman and Shelley (23). The idea was that sebaceous glands secrete only when necessary to replenish lipid that has been wiped or washed away. Nothing known about the physiology of sebaceous glands gives any theoretical support to this concept, and it has been thoroughly disproved experimentally (23). *Sebum is secreted continuously.* The reason that lipid levels eventually cease to increase apparently is that the skin can hold only a certain amount of lipid in its crevices, and the rest tends to flow away from sites of high sebum production (23)."

23) Kligman, A. M., and Shelley, W. B.: "An Investigation of the Biology of the Human Sebaceous Gland". Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 30:99-124, 1958.

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And here is something else on this same issue that I posted recently on a hairloss site...once again, it has to do with the persistent but FALSE notion that washing the skin and/or shampooing somehow stimulates the sebaceous glands to step-up their production of sebum as a compensatory mechanism:

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Some of you may remember a few months ago when I went around and around with Socks over whether or not washing the skin/scalp actually stimulates the sebaceous glands to INCREASE their production of sebum. I had explained to him that Kligman et al had demolished the so-called "feedback theory" long ago with careful testing and proved that sebum is produced continuously with no regard to what's sitting on the surface of the skin/scalp, but Socks wouldn't hear of it.

Below is a posting from another site on that same issue, and my response:

>Two friends of mine had a very active sebum production. They

>washed their hair on a daily basis, because of that active

>sebum production. But one of them got tired of washing his

>hair daily and stopped doing that. Of course he had filthy

>oily hair for some weeks, but after that his scalp began to

>normalize. Now he only washes his hair once a week. I mean,

>this is just the truth.

>

>I'm a member of a Dutch hairloss forum and some members also

>have quit washing their hair on a daily basis with the same

>success.

I hope you'll forgive me if I find all that difficult to believe!

If you have access to a medical library, take a look at the book "Hair Research", edited by Orfanos, Montagna, and Stuttgen (copyright Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg 1981). It has a fascinating chapter titled: "Studies on the Effect of Shampoos on Scalp Lipids and Bacteria" by A. M. Kligman, K. J. McGinley, and J. J. Leydon. One of the tests they did was to have a group of volunteers completely discontinue shampooing for a full month, and then carefully measured sebum build-up on their scalps. Their sebum levels INCREASED, just as you would expect, they didn't DECREASE! Furthermore, all the subjects complained of "dirty, oily" hair. In a separate test, the same subjects shampooed their hair intensively every day for 21 days, and sebum levels on the scalp went DOWN, also just as you would expect.

BTW, if you want to read the actual study by Kligman and Shelley where they did the careful and exhaustive testing that conclusively demolished the "feedback theory", here's the full citation: "An Investigation of the Biology of the Human Sebaceous Gland", J Invest Dermatol, 30: 99-124, 1958.

Bryan

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This is what I have been suspecting myself, since I do not quite see how the sebacious glands could "know" how much sebum is on the skin at any time. But that does not necessarily mean washing with anything is just fine. In my own experience, any kind of soap to the face irritates the skin and produces more acne. So I use soap free skin cleansers instead. This corresponds also to what I hear other people, who should know what they talk about, say.

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This is what I have been suspecting myself, since I do not quite see how the sebacious glands could "know" how much sebum is on the skin at any time.

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"This is what I have been suspecting myself, since I do not quite see how the sebacious glands could "know" how much sebum is on the skin at any time."

I'm not here to debate the whole idea (since I really don't care) but sebum knows just like water "knows" to diffuse; it's chemical polarity. One can reason that lack of oil can induce a type of polar diffusion by way of lipids through the skin. Thought of this?

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I'm not here to debate the whole idea (since I really don't care) but sebum knows just like water "knows" to diffuse; it's chemical polarity. One can reason that lack of oil can induce a type of polar diffusion by way of lipids through the skin. Thought of this?

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I think the point is that oil doesn't speed production when you wash as much as oil simply is produced less when your skin detects surface saturation. Delivery through sebaceous ducts could easily be dictated by diffusion -- it's not a "my body knows" property as much as a "chemical reaction" one.

Again -- think of how water can defy gravity to move to dry "land"-- it means it's a polar chemical, not that it has a brain.

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I think the point is that oil doesn't speed production when you wash as much as oil simply is produced less when your skin detects surface saturation.

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I think you're a little on edge about oil. The glands probably regulate their speed of production based on how much sebum is in the ducts at any given time -- this volume of sebum is probably controlled by diffusion.

Questions?

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Didn't you see what I posted above about how even high pressure on the surface of the skin and thick layers of oil had no effect on the sebum production rate?

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"don't let Ben ruffle your feathers too much. He always wants to be right... kind of childish if you ask me."

Sorry for wanting to find the truth. I'll be a mindless drone like you.

As I said above, I really don't know/care to know the inner workings of sebum but just that research from 45 years ago has a way of being bad with qualitative observations because of perspective. If you find modern research that backs that, I'd be a happy camper more.

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As I said above, I really don't know/care to know the inner workings of sebum but just that research from 45 years ago has a way of being bad with qualitative observations because of perspective.

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I find fault in the "research" that says that oil will just keep coming regardless of washing. You seem to forget that I don't have a problem with the "glands produce continuously--" I just think the amount of oil that actually leaves the seb. ducts depends on how much is on the surface-- a very different statement.

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I find fault in the "research" that says that oil will just keep coming regardless of washing. You seem to forget that I don't have a problem with the "glands produce continuously--" I just think the amount of oil that actually leaves the seb. ducts depends on how much is on the surface-- a very different statement.

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I draw a distinction between someone who doesn't touch their skin for years versus someone who washed it everyday or someone who doesn't but doesn't go to the lengths of not letting oil come off. What I'm saying is that despite your study involving an overcontrolled environment (landmark cases have shown differences between real world and controlled lab experiments), I don't believe that oil comes out of the pores at the same rate regardless of what's on the surface. I made no mention of the glands themselves shutting off but one has to imagine that as they are controlled by hormones, changes in that regard would ultimately impact their production as well as the skin's ability to let go of oil.

Again -- I don't really see why you care this much.

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So...according to your theory if I wash my skin dry it will stay dry and not try to lubricate itself. This is the dumbest post I have seen yet. No...wait I have seen dumber ones.

I hate people who find some random internet article and post it as if it were fact.

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No... his post says that sebum production will stay the same regardless of whether or not your skin is dry. In other words, washing has no effect on how much oil you produce.

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