If you struggle with oily skin, you may wonder why your skin needs oil at all, wishing you could eliminate it completely to end your skin care woes forever. Sebum, the natural oil produced by the sebaceous glands in your skin, is absolutely vital to the health of your complexion. Your skin is constantly being stretched and pulled by the muscles beneath it and must remain supple to bend and conform. The sebum in your skin helps to keep the tissue lubricated and prevents the cellular damage that can lead to dry skin.
The Importance of Oil Control
When oil levels on your complexion become too high, you must take steps to control the amount of sebum that lingers on your complexion. In addition to creating an unsightly shine, having too much sebum on your skin can lead to other skin care problems. Deposits of oil typically stagnate in your pores, where they can mix with dead skin cells, dirt, sweat and makeup residue to form blackheads and cause the infections that lead to acne breakouts. Excess oil can also stretch out the tiny tubes that form the pores, making their openings visible on your complexion. This is known as enlarged pores.
Causes of Excess Sebum Production
To effectively control oil levels on your skin, it is important to understand what makes your skin develop excess sebum in the first place. The problem lies within the sebaceous glands that produce the natural oil. When the sebaceous glands work overtime, sebum levels rise on the surface of your skin. If the overproduction continues, the problem of oily skin gradually worsens and begins to cause shininess and other skin care problems.
Some people's sebaceous glands simply produce more than others due to their genetics. Others experience the problem due to the actions of dihydrotestosterone, a natural hormone in the body that stimulates the production of sebum in the sebaceous glands. When dihydrotestosterone hormone levels remain at high levels for extended periods of time, the sebaceous glands continuously produce excess sebum.
In females, dihydrotestosterone levels spike during the menstrual cycle, which is why many women develop acne breakouts and excess oil during specific times of the month. Dihydrotestosterone levels are also elevated during puberty and can increase due to some medical conditions and the use of certain prescription drugs.
Oil Control Methods
Controlling oil levels on your complexion can involve home remedies, clinical treatments and over-the-counter solutions. In some cases, you may need a combination of methods to fully eliminate excess sebum on your skin and keep it from returning.
Many people prefer to control oil using home remedies as a natural alternative to clinical and over-the-counter interventions. Home remedies for oily skin typically focus on absorbing excess oil from the skin to remove the shine and prevent skin problems from occurring, rather than limiting the amount of oil produced by the sebaceous glands.
One of the most effective home remedies for oil control is dusting your complexion with cornstarch, a common product made from corn grains that is found in most grocery stores in their baking aisles. Cornstarch is very absorbent and can make a noticeable difference in the oil levels on your skin when applied using a clean makeup brush. The starch does have a noticeable white color that remains on the surface of the skin after it is applied. Although this can be mostly blended in, some people prefer to apply cornstarch in the evenings before they go to bed.
The clinical treatments for oily skin typically involve reducing the amount of sebum produced by the skin rather than absorbing oil. Depending on the severity of your problem and your overall general health, your doctor may select from a number of different treatments to help you control oil.
Prescription medications that adjust the levels of dihydrotestosterone in your body reduce the amount of stimulation that your sebaceous glands receive and, in turn, how much oil they produce. For women, estrogen-dominant birth control pills are the most common hormonal treatments, while for men, doctors may prescribe hair loss drugs like finasteride. For those unable to take these drugs due to side effects, the diuretic spironolactone is another option, as it reduces levels of androgen hormones like dihydrotestosterone in the body.
Prescription retinoid medications, which are derived from vitamin A, help control oil levels by suppressing the actions of the sebaceous glands, while clearing out clogs in the pores by stimulating skin cell turnover. Doctors may prescribe topical tretinoin, tazarotene or adapalene to treat oily skin or the oral retinoid isotretinoin. The topical creams may cause skin redness and irritation, while isotretinoin poses a risk for more severe side effects like depression and severe gastrointestinal problems.
A newer approach to oil control is the laser treatment, which involves using concentrated beams of light to destroy a small number of sebaceous glands. The reduction in the number of glands results in less oil production and has permanent benefits for oil control. The treatments cause discomfort, redness and swelling that is similar to a severe sunburn. Since it is such a new treatment method, the long-term effects of using lasers on the skin are not known. The treatments are also not available in all parts of the country.
Many people prefer to use over-the-counter remedies for oil control as they typically have fewer side effects without sacrificing their effectiveness. Depending on their ingredients, over-the-counter oil control products may focus on removing excess oil from the complexion, limiting oil production in the sebaceous glands or both.
A number of products are vital for controlling oil.
Blotting products are thin sheets of linen, synthetic fibers, flax or other materials that are highly absorbent. When you press a blotting product to your skin, it absorbs some of the oil that is present on your complexion. Blotting papers and linens are ideal to use to remove shine while on the go, but do not offer a long-term solution for oily skin.
For battling oil levels, toners and clarifiers are absolutely vital.
When you're dealing with oily skin, cleansing is an indispensable part of treatment. Cleansers help remove excess oil and wash sebum deposits away before they can linger in your pores. Look for cleansers that are especially formulated for oily skin for the best results. In addition to foam, cream and gel cleansers, some brands produce disposable wipes, which can be used to freshen your skin while on the go.
Toners and Clarifiers
For battling oil levels, toners and clarifiers are absolutely vital. These products help adjust the acid-base balance on your skin, which regulates oil levels. While most toners and clarifiers have a mattifying effect that is useful for oily skin, choose products that are specifically designed for oil control for maximum effectiveness.
If you are battling oily skin, you may be tempted to skip moisturizing, but doing so could actually cause more harm than good. As you remove excess sebum from your skin, you may begin to develop dryness without replenishing moisture. When selecting moisturizers, opt for those formulated for oily skin which are free of pore clogging oils.
Many skin care product brands create specialized treatments for oil control. These items are used in addition to your daily skin care regimen of cleansing, toning and moisturizing. Some are designed for daily use, while others are formulated for weekly or semiweekly application.
While over-the-counter oil control products may contain a variety of ingredients, the presence of certain key ingredients lets you know that a product is effective for dealing with excess sebum levels in the skin.
- Retinol is the nonprescription strength form of retinoid drugs. It functions similarly to the topical prescription formulations by reducing the actions of the sebaceous glands.
- Salicylic Acid is a natural substance, a beta-hydroxy acid that removes oils present on the surface of the skin through gentle exfoliation. The acid is also extremely beneficial for treating acne.
- Glycolic Acid is obtained from fruits and also treats oily skin through exfoliation. Like salicylic acid, glycolic acid works on the surface of the complexion rather than having any effect on the sebaceous glands.
- Witch Hazel is an extract obtained from the Hamamelis virginiana shrub. The extract helps to reduce excess oil from the surface of the skin and is found in many toners and clarifiers.
- White Willow Bark is the natural extract from which salicylic acid was originally isolated. In its whole extract form, it offers similar benefits to salicylic acid and also soothes skin irritation.