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We all have sebaceous glands — which are the glands that produce sebum (or what we know as oil) on our skin surface. Our skin needs this oil to keep itself hydrated, but folks with overactive sebaceous glands are the ones who are most prone to oily skin.
According to both of our experts, while oily skin can be genetic, things like diet, stress, hormones, and the wrong products can also impact your sebum levels. “We know that foods high in sugar as well as cow’s milk, particularly skim milk, stimulate oil gland activity,” Dr. Zeichner says. Teenagers are also prone to oiliness, thanks to fluctuating hormones during puberty. Over-exfoliating or using the wrong product for your skin can also cause oily skin.
Dr. Ziechner clarifies that those with oily skin are typically shiny all over the face, whereas, combination skin types commonly have oily T-zones and dry cheeks. The center of your face — the forehead, nose, and chin — is referred to as the T-zone, which is where you’ll find the most oil glands.
“As a test, wash your face and then wait three hours,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Then, look back in the mirror and if you look shiny, you likely have oily skin.” If you suspect your skin is oily, it’s a good idea to chat with your dermatologist before making any major changes to your skin care routine. They’ll be able to give you pointers about how to manage your oily skin, and which types of products to look for.
It is true that the overproduction of oil can lead to acne, but the two terms are not synonymous. “Having oily skin does not necessarily mean that you are acne-prone,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Acne is determined by your genetics, and it’s caused by a variety of factors, including acne-causing bacteria, as well as skin cells that stick together and block the pores.” So, it’s certainly possible to have oily skin and not experience breakouts at the same time.
According to Dr. Wesley, it’s important to not over-dry your skin. Instead, find moisturizers with beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid and alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid. These types of acids can take care of all the extra oil and assist in unblocking pores. “Topical vitamin A derivatives, such as retinol and retinoids, help to decrease oil gland production with continued use,” she says. Just know that visible changes take time to appear and won’t emerge overnight.
For ingredients to avoid if you have oily skin, it’s simple.
There are three moisturizing ingredient categories: humectant, occlusive, and emollient. For oily skin, Dr. Zeichner says moisturizers enriched with humectants are best since emollients and occlusives tend to be heavier. A humectant, like hyaluronic acid and glycerine, brings water to the top layer of the skin for hydration.
You should steer clear of oils that are comedogenic, as they clog pores and can potentially lead to even more acne. One oil that doesn’t tend to clog pores is jojoba. “Some oils that have a good balance of linoleic acid over oleic acids help to match or balance our skin’s natural fatty acid composition and can be helpful for oily skin on a case by case basis,” Dr. Wesley adds.
Dr. Zeichner suggests gel-based moisturizers and ones that exclude oils from their formulas. “Gels are water-based products that use ingredients called thickeners to give them a creamier texture,” he says. “Traditional moisturizers are emulsions, which are a combination of oil and water — these include creams and lotions.”
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