What Can Be Done for Very Oily Skin?

Shine (Luna Sea album)

Just because the sun is shining doesn’t mean your skin has to be.

Submitted via private message on the FutureDerm Facebook page:

I have a sebaceous hyperplasia and very oily skin. Is there anything I can do for this? I’m on Retin-A due to acne and it hasn’t helped my oily skin. Btw I’m 39.

-Sylvia

Dear Sylvia,

Oily skin is the result of overproduction of sebum by the sebaceous glands.  It can be a nightmare to live with, particularly in the summer months, when the heat leads to increased skin inflammation and sebum production.  Luckily we have 5 tips that have scientific and/or medical backing to help:

1.)  Consider prescription oral antiandrogens, estrogens, and retinoids.

English: Plasma levels of estradiol, FSH and L...

Okay, this graph looks complex. But the key here is simple: LH spikes after ovulation, causing acne. (Which is why you break out near your period, ladies). As for men, it’s all testosterone. Reference: High-resolution reference ranges for estradiol, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone in men and women using the AxSYM assay system Anand S. Dighea, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author, Joseph M. Moya, Frances J. Hayesb and Patrick M. Slussa. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2004.10.011 PMID: 15642281 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So long as you are not pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or nursing, hormonal therapy can be a godsend for oily skin.

Hormones affect sebum production not only in the teenage years, but throughout adulthood as well.  In males and females with polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS), testosterone is the chief culprit, whereas in other females it tends to be a hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH).  Following ovulation, LH spikes, sending sebum levels through the roof (Cosmetic Dermatology, 2007).  This is why you tend to break out before your period.

By taking oral drugs, such as antiandrogens, estrogens, and retinoids, many men and women note that their sebum production (and hence acne) are better-controlled.  However, most of these drugs tend to make skin photosensitive as well, so it is vital that you also apply a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen.

2.  Remove dairy and sugar As Much as You Can from your diet.

How milk and sugar affect oily skin and acne. Note that consuming dairy products that are certified hormone-free helps to eliminate the concern about dairy. As for sugar, it’s hard to replace white breads and simple sugars, but slowly replacing them with better, low-glycemic index alternatives can make a world of difference.

Overall, the scientific evidence says to eat a diet with:

  1. Limited or no milk and dairy products (except certified hormone-free);
  2. A low glycemic index.

The reason for no dairy?  DHT (androgens) in the milk, which increase oil production (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2008).

As for sugar, spikes in blood sugar levels can trigger widespread inflammation and sebum production.  Most of us in America eat diets chocked full of foods that are very high on the glycemic index – white breads, pastas, French fries, and so forth.  In one particularly poignant study, people placed on a low glycemic index (i.e., leafy greens, lean meats, brown rice) for 12 weeks experienced dramatic clearing of the skin – and lost three pounds on average (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007).

It seems the elevated hormones/blood sugar-insulin-androgen link to oily skin really is that profound.

3.  Try a moisturizer with linoleic acid.

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser is a relatively safe way to get the benefits of linoleic acid.

The logic here is simple, but largely unknown:

  • People with low levels of linoleic acid in their skin have more oil production (Diseases of the Sebaceous Glands, 1999).
  • If you have low levels of linoleic acid, your skin does not function as well.  In fact, it doesn’t protect from outside stressors as well (barrier function), nor does it clear out old skin cells as fast (follicular hyperkeratosis).  This, in turn, leads to more pore-clogging.  (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 1986)

It’s not a proven method yet, but you can try to replenish linoleic acids in your skin with a cleanser, like Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser ($17.99, Amazon.com) with apricot kernel oil (a natural source of linoleic acid).

You could theoretically also take a supplement, but I am a little wary to suggest this, as I’ve taken omega-3 and omega-6 supplements in the past, and they made my normal skin a bit more oily.

4.  Try a primer designed for oily skin.

Our favorite pick for oily skin? Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer. Keeps your makeup on – and prevents your skin oils from turning makeup orange.

As I’ve written previously [see What are the Best Primers for Oily/Acne-Prone Skin?], primers can be excellent for oily skin because they provide a barrier between the skin and makeup, preventing sebum from wearing off or oxidizing makeup and turning you either bare-faced or orange.  (Neither one of which is probably desired)!

At FutureDerm, our favorite is Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer ($52.00, Amazon.com), which is a virtual godsend for oily skin.  It contains an array of lightweight silicones and alumina, one of the most absorbent materials on earth (GlobalSpec).  Alumina is so absorbent that it is used as a drying agent to dry out gases in a commercial setting.  So if it can do that to 10000 gallon jugs of water, imagine what it can do for your skin!

5.  Use mineral makeup. 

For many people with normal/dry skin, I don’t really like mineral makeup, because it can leave a grayish cast.  But for those with oily skin, it can be a godsend, as the alumina will help to absorb oils longer than other makeup types.

6.  Switch up your anti-acne meds as soon as they stop working.

If the problem is both oily skin and acne, you need to remember even the best anti-acne regimens can eventually stop working.  Basically, you’re dealing with evolution in motion:  The bacterial species P. acnes lives, breathes, and reproduces on your skin.  When you apply anti-acne meds, it’s truly “survival of the fittest,” with only the mutated bacteria able to resist the meds and reproduce.

Eventually, you get to the point where your bacteria are all resistant to your current regimen.  Then you need to switch.  The key is not to wait – switch as soon as you start to notice an increase in breakouts.

Bottom Line

United (States) Parcel Service.

You can free yourself of oily skin – really. (Also, it wouldn’t be a July 4 post without a plane!) (Photo credit: matt.hintsa)

You don’t have to live with very oily skin!  Try each of the following:

  • 1.)  Anti-androgen, estrogen, or retinoid oral drugs.  (See your physician or dermatologist to make sure these are right for you).
  • 2.)  Eliminate non-hormone-free milk and dairy products, as well as sugar and simple carbs, from your diet as much as possible.
  • 3.)  Try a linoleic acid cleanser or moisturizer.  Possibly a supplement as well.
  • 4.)  Try a skin care primer made for oily skin.  Our favorite is Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer.
  • 5.)  Use mineral makeup.
  • 6.)  If acne is also a concern, switch your regimen as soon as it stops working.  Don’t give your acne a fighting chance!

Got a question for FutureDerm.com writers and experts?  Let us know in Comments, or via the FutureDerm Facebook page!

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