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An Explainer: Why Your Skin is Oily
Anne Mari Ronquillo
Published on

The frustrating life lived by someone with oily skin is no laughing matter. Face grease serves a biological function that we can all appreciate, but sometimes there’s just too much for our own good. Excessive oil on the surface of our skin can lead to acne and can prevent makeup from staying in place.

The first means to effectively manage oil is to understand what it is and what is causing it. Sebum is the medical term for the oil that surfaces on our skin at the most inopportune moments. It is made up of fatty acids, wax esters, and squalene. They keep the skin and hair lubricated, protecting them from damage and bacterial penetration. But sebum also provides an environment for the acne-causing bacteria (P. acnes) to grow, so there’s an increased risk of getting pimples when it sits on our skin for too long.

There are several reasons for the overproduction of sebum: genetics, the environment, and diet all play a role in oil gland stimulation. But hormones play a major role in the oil slick that is your face. The sebaceous glands, which produce sebum, are triggered by the different hormones that flow in our bodies.

Sex Hormones
We have sebaceous glands beneath most of our skin, and we have more of them on our face concentrated in the perpetually shiny T-zone. Teenagers are often troubled by oily skin and acne because it is in puberty that the human body is likely to experience hormonal imbalances and irregularities.

Androgens, or sex hormones, are the ones that trigger sebum and hair production. High levels of androgens in the body can manifest in acne and hair growth. Oral contraceptives are often lauded for helping maintain this hormonal balance with estrogen and progesterone.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder that triggers overproduction of hormones in the body. People who are diagnosed with PCOS are typically troubled by acne from oily skin.

Stress Hormones
According to a study published in 2007, stress has adverse effects on the skin, nails, and hair. Cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone, also triggers the sebaceous glands as well as wreaking different kinds of physiological havoc. Dryness, the polar opposite of oiliness, can also be a symptom of the abundance of stress hormones in our system.

The Weather
Hotter temperatures make your skin secrete more oil, leaving your makeup to melt off of your face. Meanwhile, when your skin dries out from the intense air conditioning, your skin tries to compensate by producing more oil. It feels like a lose-lose situation, but there’s always blotting paper.

Your oily skin might just be an inheritance that you never asked for. If your family photos show your grandparents sporting a glow, then it might be that you’re just sharing the same large pores and sebaceous glands.

The link between diet and oil production is scientifically hazy and varies from person to person. However, foods with high glycemic index are known culprits for skin trouble. Increased sugar levels increase insulin, which also triggers your sebaceous glands. If you are predisposed to diabetes, or have other medical conditions that keep your body from breaking down sugar, that’s where it gets complicated for your skin.

Do you struggle with oily skin, too? Tell us your story and how you manage it. Tag us on Facebook or Instagram @iamclaireph!