Having oily skin can seem like a curse: between excess shine and the propensity for pimples, it can be hard to handle. The good news? There are ways to manage your oily skin, says SLMD founder Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) — and even some advantages to all that natural oil.
Article Quick Links
- 01.What causes oily skin?
- 02.What does oil do for your skin?
- 03.How does oily skin contribute to acne?
What causes oily skin?
It all starts with your sebaceous glands: tiny structures in your skin that secrete sebum (aka oil). How much sebum your skin produces depends on a variety of factors, including:
- Genetics: your DNA affects your overall oil levels
- Hormones: more androgens (like testosterone) equals more oil
- Age: levels fluctuate throughout life
- Environment: humidity, UV exposure elevate sebum
- Lifestyle: diet, BMI, stress and medications play a role
What does oil do for your skin?
We’ve covered everything you need to know about sebum in depth before. But here’s a recap of the benefits natural oil provides:
- Prevents moisture loss. Sebum reinforces the skin barrier, helping regulate transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
- Protects against microbes. Oil coats your skin’s top layer to protect it from harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses.
- Protects from free radicals. Antioxidants in sebum help neutralize environmental damage.
According to Dr. Lee, all of these benefits add up to more than extra shine: people with oily skin tend to look younger, longer when compared to their dry-skinned counterparts.
How does oily skin contribute to acne?
No matter how active or inactive, sebaceous glands are also home to hair follicles, which help wick the oil to the surface and escape our pores. When this process goes awry, sebum gets trapped in the hair follicle, leading to blackheads or whiteheads. If bacteria gets into the mix, it turns into an angry, red, pimple.
Dr. Pimple Popper’s tips for managing oily skin
Don’t over-wash your face
When you’re feeling extra oily, it can be tempting to lather on face wash more frequently than twice a day. You might assume this will taper your oil production, but it could do the exact opposite.
Over-washing can strip your skin of all that oil, which might trigger your sebaceous glands to respond by making more oil — leaving you with an even higher level of sebum overproduction.
DO wash your face twice a day with a gentle, exfoliating cleanser, like SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser.
Choose a mask that won’t overdry
It can be tempting to slather on a mask every night to dry up all that extra oil — but this has essentially the same effect as over-cleansing. It is wise to add a mask to your routine, but make sure not to overdo it. Dr. Lee suggests masking 2–3 times weekly with a treatment that contains all-natural sulfur, clay or charcoal. Just don’t leave it on too long, which could dry out and irritate your skin.
Add acne treatments to your routine
If you are experiencing breakouts around your t-zone (from your forehead down to your nose and chin), it could be because this area of the face has the highest concentration of sebaceous glands. To treat these breakouts, Dr. Lee recommends incorporating ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or sulfur (a sensitive skin option) to help curb oil production and reduce acne-causing bacteria.
At night, it’s smart to use a retinol product, which helps curb both dead cell buildup and sebum production inside the pores.
Carry blotting papers with you
If you get stuck with oil overload mid-day, blotting papers can come in clutch. They’re usually available in tiny packs that fit right in your purse, and are designed specifically to absorb excess oil without messing up your makeup. Plus, seeing how much oil they’ve soaked up is super satisfying.
Use a translucent powder or a powdered SPF
Especially in combination with blotting papers, a portable powder (ideally with sunscreen) is an ideal way to absorb excess oil throughout the day. Look for non-comedogenic products without synthetic fragrance (which can clog pores) to help to mattify your shiny complexion and protect your skin from sun damage.
Choose the right moisturizer
There is some belief out there that if you have oily skin, you don’t need to — or shouldn’t — moisturize. This is not true: all skin types need moisturizer. If you have oily skin, you just need to be more careful with what kind of moisturizer you are using. Opt for something that is lightweight and formulated with oily/acne-prone skin in mind. SLMD Dual Defender is a broad spectrum sunscreen and moisturizer in one, so you can save a step.
Dr. Lee's Last Word
I get a lot of questions about how to treat oily skin and large pores. The key really is to just have a great routine that includes salicylic acid and retinol. Don’t skip moisturizer, but make sure it’s non-comedogenic. The advantage is that oilier skin doesn’t age as quickly — as long as you’re diligent with your sunscreen!