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A certain amount of oil (also known as “sebum”) is needed to keep our skin healthy and soft. When pores are clean, oil flows freely from the inside of the follicle to lubricate your skin’s surface, giving you oily skin but a clear complexion. But when the sebaceous glands make too much oil (usually during puberty or other periods of hormonal changes), you run the risk of breakouts.
Normally, the body will shed excess dead skin cells once they reach the skin’s surface. But too much oil can cause dead skin cells to stick together and become trapped inside the pore. This build-up clogs the pore and, when combined with the P. acnes bacteria, becomes inflamed, resulting in acne.
Oily skin can also give the appearance of larger pores and a shiny complexion and, for many people, it can negatively impact their self-esteem.
Because our skin is exposed to so many elements, there are many external factors that can exacerbate oily skin. Certain cosmetics or skincare products can clog pores, as can working in an environment where you’re exposed to grease and heat (e.g., a commercial kitchen). Tight clothing that doesn’t allow skin to breathe or sweat from excessive exercise can also contribute to acne. Even the environment can be a factor if you live in a hot or humid climate or are exposed to irritants or pollution.
Ironically, excessive washing and scrubbing can actually increase oil production as your glands try to overcompensate for the dryness. Taking medicines that impact your hormones, like birth control pills or androgens, and increased stress levels may also contribute to oily skin.
For women, oil production can vary with the monthly cycle and will decrease with age and lower estrogen levels in perimenopause and menopause. For men, the hormones that trigger more oil production (known as “androgens”) are at much higher levels during puberty and teen years and tend to normalize in adulthood. Men will also experience decreased sebum production as they age.
Unfortunately, there’s no treatment that can “turn off” oil production and get rid of oily skin, but you can help your skin look more balanced with the help of oil-absorbing products or blotter sheets.
Other habits you can practice: shower after working out to wash away excess sweat, refrain from over-washing your face on a daily basis, use non-comedogenic (non-clogging) products on your face and try to reduce stress levels.