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The natural oils in our skin help to keep the skin healthy. But sometimes, oily skin can feel out of control and create too much shine. Oily skin could increase the number of breakouts you experience, although not everyone with oily skin experiences acne. Keep reading to learn more about oily skin and how to manage it.
What is oily skin?
Oily skin is caused when the sebaceous glands produce too much sebum (Sakuma, 2012). These oil glands are nearly everywhere on the body, but they’re the most concentrated on the face and scalp.
Sebum is a waxy, oily substance that hydrates and protects the skin. It also helps keep your hair shiny and healthy looking.
Excess sebum can leave skin looking oily in appearance and may lead to clogged pores and blemishes.
Signs and symptoms of oily skin
Oily skin leads to excess oil building up on the skin and may appear as a shine on the face. This skin type can be challenging to manage because people with excess oil often struggle with acne-prone skin.
Signs of an oily skin type include (Endly, 2017):
- Shiny, greasy, or sweaty appearance
- Clogged pores or blackheads
- Occasional or frequent pimples
- Large or obvious pores
Causes and risk factors of oily skin
Multiple factors increase your chances of oily skin. Here are some of the common causes and factors contributing to oily skin:
- Genetics: Oily skin often runs in families.
- Age: Younger people are more likely to have oily skin.
- Climate: You may notice your skin is more oily in hot and humid weather.
- Enlarged pores: Often, people with oily skin report having large pores.
- Hormones: Sebum production can be affected by hormone levels, which may be why it’s more common in younger people and during the teenage years.
- Incorrect skincare products: The wrong skincare products for your skin can cause clogged pores or be too harsh, removing too much moisture. This can lead to excess oil production to make up for the losses.
- Over-cleansing and over-exfoliating: Just like using harsh products can lead to excess oil production, cleansing and exfoliating too often could lead to the overproduction of sebum.
Adult acne: symptoms, causes, and treatments
Diagnosis of oily skin
Most people can self-diagnose their skin type, although sometimes, people can mistake their skin type and use the incorrect products for their needs.
So, if you have any skincare questions or concerns, make an appointment with a dermatologist for an assessment and help with creating your skincare routine.
7 tips for managing oily skin
There is no cure for oily skin, but there are ways you can reduce and manage oily skin and acne. Here are some tips to help you manage oily skin:
1. Cleanse your face daily
Washing your face twice daily with warm water and a gentle cleanser will help remove excess dirt, oil, and other debris from your skin. Too much oil on your skin could end up clogging your pores, so it’s important to wash your face regularly.
Be sure to wash your face at night to remove makeup, sunscreen, oil, and pollution from your skin before sleep. It may be helpful to cleanse your skin after sweating from exercise to remove sweat and excess oil.
Gently exfoliating your skin will help keep pores clear and prevent acne. Pimples and clogged pores are common problems for people with oily skin. So removing dead skin cells and other particles that can clog pores helps to manage symptoms.
Consider chemical exfoliators or physical scrubs, depending on your specific needs. Chemical exfoliators are available in toners, cleansers, serums, and masks. Just make sure not to overdo it—only use gentle exfoliants one or two times per week.
3. Use blotting paper
Blotting papers are thin, small papers designed to absorb excess oil. These won’t prevent your skin from getting oily. Instead, they allow you to absorb some of the excess oil on your skin to reduce its shiny or greasy appearance.
These can be especially helpful on long days when you don’t have time to wash your face if needed throughout the day.
How to get clear skin: 13 tips, products, and tools
4. Use face masks
Clay masks are a popular skincare product for oily skin. These masks may help to:
- Cleanse skin
- Absorb oils
- Clean pores
- Brighten the skin’s appearance
Other types of masks recommended for oily skin include charcoal masks and masks with salicylic acid or glycolic acid.
5. Wear sunscreen
Sun exposure and damage can increase pore size, which could contribute to oil production (Flament, 2015). Wearing broad-spectrum sunblock is important to protect your skin from damage that increases the risk for skin cancer and could worsen oily skin.
Aim for a sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Some sunscreens leave behind an oily, greasy feeling. So, look for an oil-free sunscreen that is lighter in texture if you have oily skin.
6. Use retinoids
Retinoids have been more commonly used to increase collagen production and reduce the appearance of fine lines. Topical retinoids are made from vitamin A and are more readily being used to help combat oily skin.
Research suggests retinoids help to reduce sebum production to stimulate the glands to function normally (Endly, 2017).
Retinol is available over the counter at varying strengths, while more potent retinoids are available by prescription. Some people experience reactions like red patches and dry skin. Introducing retinol slowly by starting once per week and gradually increasing to every other day may help reduce irritation. Often, irritation improves after your skin adjusts to the treatment.
7. Try prescription treatments as needed
If over-the-counter treatments don’t work for you, you may need to turn to prescription-strength acne treatments to reduce oil production and acne symptoms. Here are some medications that may be prescribed to help:
- Tretinoin (see Important Safety Information): a prescription-strength retinoid
- Oral hormonal birth control: may help correct hormonal changes that cause excess oil production
- Benzoyl peroxide: oxidizes bacteria and helps clean pores (available OTC as well)
Hormonal acne: causes, types, treatment
Prevention of oily skin
Not all oily skin is preventable. Still, there are steps to help manage oily skin and prevent some symptoms, including:
- Wash your face daily with mild soaps.
- Remove makeup and sunscreen every night.
- Wash your face after workouts and sweating.
- Use a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer.
- Avoid products that could irritate your skin, such as fragrances.
- Choose non-comedogenic products, which are designed to lower the risk of clogging pores.
- Avoid touching your face, especially with unwashed hands.
- Avoid picking at skin or popping pimples.
When to see a dermatologist
If your skin affects your quality of life and adds stress, don’t hesitate to meet with a dermatologist. They will help you develop a plan to manage your oily skin and any acne breakouts with a skincare routine or other treatments.
- Endly, D. C. & Miller, R. A. (2017). Oily skin: a review of treatment options. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 10(8), 49–55. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605215/
- Flament, F., Francois, G., Qiu, H., Ye, C., Hanaya, T., & Batisse, D, et al. (2015). Facial skin pores: a multiethnic study. Clinical, Cosmetic And Investigational Dermatology, 8, 85–93. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S74401. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4337418/
- Sakuma, T. H. & Maibach, H. I.. (2012). Oily skin: an overview. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 25(5), 227–235. doi: 10.1159/000338978. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22722766/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.