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Why Is My Skin So Oily?

Jun 27 2021
6 min read
Woman looking at her skin in the bathroom mirror.

Q: My skin always seems to be oily, even after I cleanse it in the morning and evening. What could be causing this?

A: This may surprise you, but oily skin is actually a good thing. That’s because producing oil is the body’s way of keeping skin hydrated. And people with naturally oily skin tend to have fewer wrinkles and healthier-looking complexions than those whose skin is dry. Excess oil production, however, can clog your pores, causing acne. It can also lead to shiny skin, particularly on your forehead, nose and chin —something most of us try to avoid. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common causes of consistently oily skin and what you can do about them:

Tanning. You know sun exposure sans sunscreen is a big health risk due to the danger of skin cancer, but you may not know that overexposure to UV rays can also boost your skin’s oil production. While sunlight may temporarily make your skin feel dry, it actually triggers an injury response in the skin. That sparks the sebaceous glands, which secrete oil to help hydrate and lubricate the skin, to increase oiliness as a way to soothe damaged skin.

Hormonal changes. Teenagers often have oily skin because hormone imbalances upset the oil balance in skin and boost production of the sebaceous glands. After your teens and 20s, pregnancy, and the transition into menopause, also cause hormone fluctuations that can make your skin oilier.

Physical or emotional stress. When your body or mind is pushed to the limit, your nervous system is triggered and in turn releases certain hormones —adrenaline and cortisol, in particular — that can cause an imbalance, resulting in oily skin or other skin problems.

**Genetics.**Just like your gorgeous eyes or thick hair, there’s a good chance your oily complexion is something you’ve inherited from a parent or grandparent.

Seasonal changes. When the weather shifts, so does your skin’s texture. While a cold winter’s day (and the central heating you crank up as a result) might cause dryness, warmer, wetter spring weather can lead to an increase in oil. When summer hits, hot weather may lead to dehydration in the skin, which also encourages oil production.

Some prescription medications. Certain pharmaceuticals such as birth control pills, and hormone replacement therapies, can increase your skin’s oil.

Follow these tips to both treat oily skin, and help prevent an overproduction of oil:

Use a gentle cleanser. While it might be tempting to use an invigorating scrub, you want to be careful not to strip your skin of too much oil, because it will compensate by producing even more. Choose a cleanser that offers a more sensitive cleaning, like a foaming face wash. Or consider a gel cleanser, which helps absorb excess oil.

Avoid over-washing your skin. Experts agree that even if you’re using a gentle cleanser, washing more than in the morning and at night may actually increase oil production rather than normalize it. When you do wash, use warm (not hot) water; extreme temperatures can irritate skin.

Look for specific ingredients. Cleansers, moisturizers and medicated cleansing pads with salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and beta-hydroxy acid can help remove excess oil from skin without prompting more oil production. If it’s hard to spot these ingredients on the bottle, a good rule of thumb is to choose products made for acne-prone skin, even if your excess oil isn’t making you break out. Be aware, though, that while the acids in these products can help curb oil, they can also irritate skin. Try a dime-sized amount on one area before you use a new product all over your face and neck.

Choose sunscreen wisely. You know that applying SPF is crucial, but oftentimes sunscreen worsens oily skin, since many creams tend to be thick and can block pores. Opt for a lighter sunscreen gel instead of a cream or lotion. You might also try a sunscreen facial powder (instead of a cream or lotion), which protects your skin and gives your complexion a matte finish.

Use a clay mask. While these masks help draw out oils and cleanse pores, they can be over-drying if used all over the face or too often. Apply a clay mask only on especially oily areas, such as your forehead, nose or chin. Limit treatments to two or three times a month, or before an important event where you want to look your best, such as a wedding or job interview.

Consider botanical oils. If you thought oils were just for dry skin, think again! While some oils are not recommended for oily complexions as they can aggravate sebum production — others are actually able to regulate sebum production and restore the skin’s balance. Oils, such as jojoba, chaulmoogra, and sesame oils, contain natural active ingredients that can help to fight skin problems. Talk with your dermatologist about whether these oils will help.

Address your stress. If you often experience feelings of anxiety or worry, consider relaxation practices to calm your mind and body; they may also help ease oily skin. Try walking meditations or breathing techniques, or speak with your doctor about other solutions.