Acne is often the result of many conditions co-existing, all leading to blocked pores and inflammation. Widely ranging in the severity of the disease, acne occurs on many different skin types, each with their own reasons for being acne-prone at that time. Because of this, there are many different tactics for controlling acne outbreaks, usually directed at the specific type of skin. There are dozens of products on the market for dry skin, and even combination skin. However, the majority of acne control methods focus on those with oily skin.
When a product says that it targets oily skin, it is referring to skin with an abundance or excess of sebum. Sebum is a natural production of the sebaceous glands, tiny glands located on almost every part of the human skin. Composed of a mixture of fats and debris from dead cells, the function of sebum is an important one; sebum lubricates the skin and protects the skin and hair from environmental damage. To do this, sebum travels from the sebaceous gland up a hair follicle, and out to the surface of the skin via a pore. The production of too much sebum can cause a pore to become blocked, trapping natural skin bacteria and sebum within. Initially, this may appear as a whitehead or a blackhead, two forms of non-inflammatory acne. If the bacteria starts to reproduce, however, the pore quickly becomes irritated and an immune response is triggered, culminating in the redness, swelling, and pain of a pimple.
Sebum production is closely related to hormone levels within the body. Hormones, of course, are chemical messengers created in one part of the body and sent to another to initiate specific processes. The hormones responsible for sebum are all androgen hormones, often referred to as “male hormones.” Androgens are produced in greater amounts during puberty; this is why sebum production can go into overdrive at that time, making the skin look oily and triggering the first appearance of acne. Or, a person can have an over-sensitivity to androgens, which causes them to produce more sebum than their hormone levels should trigger.
Whatever the cause of excess sebum, there are a few things that should be avoided if oily skin and acne are issues. First and foremost, avoid over-washing your face! The body has many different things in balance, including sebum levels. Even if excess sebum is produced, washing the face more than two or three times a day leaves the skin without the usual protection or moisture provided by sebum. Feeling like it is low on sebum, the sebaceous glands will actually produce even more sebum to counteract the dryness, and you’re back to where you started.
There are other, more intuitive things to avoid if you suffer from acne due to oily skin. For instance, don’t use oil-based makeup or skin products. Why add oil to an already oily situation? Potentially oil-containing products include moisturizer, sunscreen, foundation, and eye-makeup remover, amongst others. These products are all available in non-oil-based, non-comedogenic formulas that won’t contribute to or exacerbate acne. Another thing to watch out for is hair; certain styles bring hair close to the face, allowing for transfer of natural hair oil onto the skin. Also, hair products can easily be transferred to the skin via a pillow cover or a bed sheet, even if hair is tied back during the day.
Aside from those basic preventative measures, many things can be done to treat oily skin. There are specific wipes sold to soak up excess sebum on the face. Several acne skin cleansers were created with oil-minimization in mind. Finally, for those looking for extra oil-control, prescribed oral contraceptives can be used to block androgen or counteract its effects, limiting oil production. Having oily skin can mean that you’re more prone to acne than others; however, through following a good skin care regimen and taking note of these tips, you should be able to minimize excess sebum production to some degree.