Our skin needs oil to moisturize and preserve it. People with oily skin tend to have fewer wrinkles. The downside to oily skin is that it leads to breakouts and a greasy complexion. Oily skin occurs when the skin’s sebaceous glands produce an abundance of sebum, or oil.
Finding the right balance requires an understanding of the causes of and treatments for oily skin. Excess oil can be caused by a variety of factors like hormones, genetics, stress, and even the weather. Fortunately, there are simple ways to manage it that anyone can start implementing right away.
What Causes Oily Skin?
There are a variety of reasons why your skin could be oily, and they tend to fall into two categories: health reasons and environmental factors. Health reasons that can cause oily skin include processes going on in your body like fluctuating hormones. Environmental factors like humidity can also contribute to oily skin.
Possible risk factors for oily skin include:
- Male sex
- Premenopausal women during ovulation
- Humid climate or summer season
- African American descent
- Chronic conditions affecting hormone levels
Skin oil is produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin. These glands are located all over the skin; the ones that are most likely to produce too much oil are located in the scalp, face, and upper body. Sebum has many benefits, including lubrication for the skin, antibacterial properties, sun protection, inflammation regulation, and wound healing. An oversupply of sebum, however, can lead to a shiny, greasy complexion, acne, and skin irritation.
Oily skin can be caused by any combination of these factors:
- Genetics may play a role in sebum production. Usually, the larger your pores, the more oil your skin will produce. The size of pores can vary by family and ethnicity.
- Androgens are hormones, such as testosterone, that are present in both males and females. Testosterone is produced in the sebaceous glands, and studies have linked higher levels of hormones to an increase in oil production. Female hormones like estrogen are associated with lower oil production in the skin.
- Growth hormones are linked to sebum production and are believed to be related to the development of acne. These hormones reach their highest lifetime levels during adolescence, which is usually marked by oilier skin.
- Stress releases a flood of stress hormones into the bloodstream. One stress-related hormone, corticotropin-releasing hormone, is known to be able to bind to the skin’s sebaceous glands, increasing the production of oil. This may be one reason why stress seems to exacerbate acne.
- High-glycemic diets rich in sugar and simple carbohydrates may be linked to increased sebum production. Simple carbs may increase levels of growth hormones in the body, leading to increased oil. More research is needed, but recent studies have found a link between low-glycemic diets and a reduction in oil.
- Humidity can lead to increased sweating and oil production. Those who live in humid climates may be at higher risk of developing oily skin. You may be more prone to oily skin during humid summer months compared with dry winter months. High humidity may also lead to eczema.
At-home treatments for oily skin can help decrease the amount of oil on the skin and prevent complications like acne and redness. Many of these treatments, though, will not address the underlying cause of the overproduction of sebum. If your oily skin is caused by hormones, for example, it can be managed at home but not cured. Talk with your doctor if you’re interested in prescription treatments.
Wash Your Face Twice Daily
One of the most effective ways to manage oily skin is by washing your face twice daily. Use a gentle cleanser with water every morning and night; wash again after a vigorous workout. There is no need to wash more frequently since that could be irritating to the skin and produce more oil. When washing your skin, use gentle circular motions instead of scrubbing.
It may feel counterintuitive, but using a daily moisturizer is an important way to manage oily skin. When your skin is overly dry, it stimulates your body to produce more oil to moisturize it. Look for a gentle, oil-free moisturizer with sunscreen and apply it every morning.
Use Blotting Paper
Use blotting papers throughout the day to absorb excess oil between washes. These products are great for on-the-go care. Gently dab your face and try not to rub the paper over your skin because this could spread the oil around. In addition, avoid touching your face as much as possible. This tip is hard to stick to because most of us frequently touch our faces without realizing it. Our hands can transfer dirt, oil, and bacteria to our faces, leading to an oil buildup.
Try a Clay Mask
Clay masks may be helpful in soaking up excess oil from your face. Depending on which type of clay you choose, the mask can draw oil out of the pores and is washed away when you rinse off the clay. A study found a significant decrease in acne lesions in people who used a clay jojoba oil mask two to three times per week for six weeks.
Add Green Tea to Your Routine
You probably know green tea for its antioxidants and health benefits, but did you know it could help oily skin? Rather than brewing a cup, try applying a green tea emulsion to your skin. Studies have found that applying a 3% green tea emulsion to the skin can significantly reduce sebum production. You won’t see results overnight, though; participants noted a difference after 60 days.
Use a Hydrocortisone Cream
Excess oil on the skin can sometimes lead to redness and flaky patches. An over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help address skin irritation and reduce redness and scaling.
When to See a Doctor
When at-home treatments are not helping, it’s best to see your doctor. A mild amount of excess oil can be managed with good skin hygiene. If you have been regularly washing your face twice daily and applying a moisturizer without any improvement in excess oil production, it may be time to see a dermatologist. Uncontrolled breakouts and blackheads are another sign to seek help from your doctor. Your dermatologist has several prescriptions and treatments to offer, so don’t hesitate to reach out.
A Word From Verywell
Oily skin can be caused by a variety of factors like genetics, hormones, stress, diet, and humidity. While sebum is beneficial for our skin, too much of it can lead to skin problems like acne and irritation. It’s helpful to remember that there are several possible treatments for oily skin, and they may take time to work. If one treatment does not help with your oily skin, others may be a better fit. Your dermatologist can help you determine the right course for you.