Got Oily Skin? Then You Need To Read This
Just like dry skin, oily skin comes with its problems. So, if a shiny t-zone, clogged pores and monthly breakouts are all too familiar bugbears, it’s time to take control.
If you’ve had oily skin for as long as you can remember you’ll understand the grievances of a greasy forehead, equally as slick bangs and makeup that just won’t stay put. And while having thicker, more resilient skin and fewer wrinkles (two of the plus sides of an oily complexion) might make you feel better for all of ten seconds, oily skin can seem like more of a curse than a blessing.
So, what causes oily skin and why might your skin be way slicker than your BFFs? Let’s investigate.
Important Fact: Your Skin Needs Oil
Your skin is your body’s largest organ and plays a very important role in regulating body temperature and protecting you from heat, light, injuries and infection. There are many factors that must come together for your skin to function properly, not least of which is its ability to produce a certain oil called sebum.
Sebum is a slightly sticky, oily substance that’s produced by sebaceous glands which are found in varying numbers all over your body – except on the palms of your hands and tops and soles of your feet. You know that infamous t-zone? Well, your forehead, nose, cheeks and chin have way more sebaceous glands than the rest of your face which is why it's notoriously shiny.
Sebum contains several types of complex oils and lipids such as triglycerides, fatty acids, wax ester, cholesterol and squalene which work together to lubricate and support the health of your skin. In fact, sebum is vital for sealing in moisture, creating a barrier from environmental stressors, helping your skin heal and transporting antioxidants to the skin’s surface. It also plays an important role in helping your skin maintain a slightly acidic pH level to prevent bacteria and viruses from penetrating the top layers.
Why Is Some Skin Oiler Than Others?
How much sebum your skin produces depends on many factors but it’s largely genetic. Does one or both of your parents have oily skin? Then chances are this is why your sebaceous glands are also larger and more active than you might like.
As you age, hormonal changes, medication and lifestyle factors such as stress, your diet and your skincare choices can also play a major role in your rate of sebum production (as does hot or humid weather), but for the most part you can definitely blame your parents if that makes you feel better.
The Downsides Of Oily Skin
As if the immediate annoyance of slick skin that requires a packet of daily blotting papers to control shine wasn’t enough to contend with, excess sebum can also create longer-term concerns. Namely, acne vulgaris – the medical term for common acne.
Oily skin and acne often go hand in hand because excess sebum prevents your dead skin cells from shedding from the surface of the skin, trapping bacteria and irritants with them. Your hair follicles then become blocked with this cocktail of sebum, dead skin cells and other nasties, which is when problems start to rear their ugly heads. If this plugged follicle remains closed, it will create a whitehead, whereas if it opens up at the surface of your skin it will become oxygenated, darken and turn into the dreaded blackhead. And if inflammation follows? Then we’re talking papules, pustules, nodules or cysts – known to most of you as zits.
How To Control Oily Skin – The Do’s & Don’ts
When it comes to sebum, the key is balance. This means that over-stimulating your skin with insane amounts of chemicals in your skincare or being a little too enthusiastic with your exfoliation routine is totally off the menu. Gentle skincare is the future.
Here’s a checklist of the most important do’s and don’ts for you to remember…
1. DO Resist The Urge To Over-Cleanse
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again (sorry, not sorry), cleansing your skin like your life depended on it is seriously bad news. This is true whether your skin is dry, combination, normal or oily, but it’s especially important for oily skin types. How so? Because skin that’s ‘squeaky clean’ is skin that’s had all of its natural sebum stripped away. This may sound like the best news ever, but sebum is important for your skin’s health, so if you take it away with chemical-laced cleansers and/or harsh exfoliation your skin will produce even more sebum to compensate. The result? Skin that’s just as oily as it was before you cleansed. Maybe even more so.
By all means cleanse your skin morning, night and after exercising, but stick with gentle formulations like our Vitamin C Daily Facial Cleanser. You could also try Skin Clearing Charcoal Face Wash which contains activated charcoal to help draw out oils, dirt and bacteria – all without drying out your skin.
2. DO Perfect Your Moisturizing Game
First things first, don’t think you can get away with not moisturizing because the same rules apply here as they do with over-cleansing: no moisture = more sebum.
When it comes to choosing a great moisturizer for oily skin, stick with gels, serums and light lotions above balms, creams and ointments. Also, keep away from heavy, occlusive ingredients like cocoa butter, beeswax and petrolatum as these create a barrier on your skin which you, of all people, should avoid.
If you suffer with clogged pores and/or acne, look for the terms non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic on your skincare labels. These mean that a product has been specifically formulated not to clog pores or cause acne respectively. It doesn’t mean they absolutely, 100 percent won’t, but they’re much less likely to. And that’s good enough for us.
3. DON’T Touch Your Face
You might think your hands are as clean as they’ve ever been, but they’ll still harbor dirt, oil and bacteria, no matter how often you wash and sanitize them. It’s just life. So, although it’s tempting, stop touching your face throughout the day as this will transfer all that extra oil and debris straight from your hands to your face. And if you’re guilty of wiping excess sebum off your cheeks and forehead with your fingers? Don’t do that. Invest in some blotting papers instead.
4. DO Apply A Retinol Treatment
We’re big fans of retinol as an anti-aging ingredient, but did you know retinol is also the nuts for tightening pores and balancing sebum? Regular use of a retinol treatment stimulates cell turnover, shrinks sebaceous glands and draws dead skin cells out of your pores, making them appear visibly smaller. Just remember to introduce retinol into your routine slowly and carefully to enable your skin to adjust without freaking out.
5. DON’T Overload Your Skin With Pore-Clogging Makeup
Heavy makeup might be tempting if you have blemishes you want to hide, but caking your skin in heavy, oil-based foundation will further clog pores and exacerbate flare-ups. And that’s a big nope from us.
If you can, leave your skin clean, bare and moisturized (at least on those days when you’re not leaving the house) or wear an oil-free tinted moisturizer with broad-spectrum sunscreen as a lighter alternative to full-on foundation. Mineral powder foundations are also a great shout for oily skin as they’re non-comedogenic and help mattify your skin without looking like you’ve tipped a vat of oil-controlling powder all over your face.
6. DO Get Some Salicylic Acid In Your Skincare Routine
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and quite possibly one of the most effective ingredients for treating oily and acne-prone skin. Like glycolic and lactic acids, salicylic acid exfoliates the skin. But unlike the others it’s lipophilic which means it penetrates oil to target blockages and thin sebum, allowing sebum to flow more freely to the skin’s surface. This helps deeply cleanse, balance and reduce inflammation while minimizing enlarged pores as part of the bargain.
As with retinol, salicylic acid can pack a potent punch, so always perform a patch test first, then go slowly when using it for the first time. Start applying it just once or twice a week, then as you continue to use it you can up the ante as your skin acclimates.
One of our top picks for oily skin is our Tea Tree Clear Skin Super Serum which combines the powers of salicylic acid with tea tree oil and retinol. And if that sounds like skin irritation just waiting to happen, fear not. It also contains calming niacinamide and hydrating hyaluronic acid. So... winner.
About Georgia Gould
Georgia is an award-winning beauty writer who has been in the business for over 20 years. British-born, she began her career as a magazine beauty editor in London before moving to San Francisco, CA in 2012 where she now continues her love as a freelance writer and editor. As well as her editorial work, Georgia has created content for many high-profile beauty brands, including Clarins, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Simple and TRESemmé. Her passions include retinol (obviously), golfing, skiing and walking her beloved Schnauzer, Dave.