Are you tired of your skin getting greasy midday? Oily skin is a common cosmetic problem that gives the appearance of shiny skin. While there is no way to prevent it, there are certain techniques that can help fight it.
What causes oily skin?
We begin by understanding the oil, or sebaceous, glands on our face. These glands release a complex mixture of lipids (fats) onto the skin surface called sebum. Oil glands are highly concentrated on the face, upper chest, back and behind the ear. An excessive volume of oil glands is the main cause of oily skin.
Our oil glands are stimulated by a hormone called androgen to produce sebum at puberty and beyond. The enzyme that catalyses androgen to its most active form is also found in higher concentrations in oil glands as compared to other skin parts.
At various life stages, your body experiences changes in androgen levels. This explains why you do not have oily skin all your life. Oil glands are present at birth but sebum production remains low until puberty when it increases exponentially. Sebum secretions are typically the highest among 15-35-year-olds and decline gradually afterwards. They stop after menopause for women, and for men in their sixties or seventies.
At any age, men are more likely to suffer from oily skin than women. This is because men have higher sebum production levels mostly due to testosterone secretions.
A diet rich in carbohydrates and a high glycemic index is associated with high insulin levels. Example of high glycemic load foods is sugary foods, white rice, white bread, and potatoes. Low glycemic load foods include fruits, legumes, soy products and porridge.
Insulin stimulates oil glands to produce more lipids. Switch to a low glycemic-load diet for an improvement in insulin level, which can, in turn, keep your oily skin in check.
Insulin levels typically peak during late puberty and gradually decline in the 30s, which explains why some of us develop oily skin at school.
Various genes control the activity of our oil glands. In most individuals, an overexpression of a gene called Smad7 leads to an increase in lipid synthesis. This means an individual with oily skin will not be able to eliminate the condition. However, with proper long-term cosmeceutical skincare, it is possible to have less oily skin.
Temperature: Sebum production varies directly with temperature; an increase in 1°C leads to a 10% increase in sebum excretion rate. Unsurprisingly, summer is the season when our oil glands produce the most sebum. Hot, humid climates also cause skin to be oilier.
Cleansing habits: Using a harsh cleanser or over-washing to remove excess sebum can strip skin completely dry, leading to reactive seborrhea. This is a condition where the excessive skin drying is read by the body as a signal to produce more oil.
Treating oily skin
Retinoids: This vitamin A derivative helps reduce the growth of sebum-producing cells, decreases the size of oil glands and suppresses sebum production.
Hyaluronic acid: This moisture-binding ingredient delivers hydration to your skin and restores moisture balance. Ensuring your skin has sufficient moisture helps prevents your skin from producing excessive sebum. Hyaluronic acid also plumps up your skin for an even complexion.
Cleanser: Use a gentle cleanser, ideally an anti-bacterial one like Miel Honey Cleanser. Dermatologist-formulated for all skin types, even oily or acne-prone skin, this cleanser is effective in removing grime, oil, bacteria and other environmental pollutants without stripping the skin’s essential lipids off. With honey as a natural humectant, it also traps moisture under the skin while you cleanse.
Moisturizer: Individuals with oily skin may think their skin does not lack hydration. However, just because your skin has a lot of oil does not mean it has sufficient hydration. UV rays, environmental pollutants or harsh products can disrupt the skin barrier, affecting its ability to retain water. As a result, moisturizing regularly is an essential step.
If you have oily skin, look for a lightweight moisturizer. Radiance Fluide™ Hydrating Emulsion is an oil-in-water emulsion formulated for Singapore’s humid climate. An oil-in-water formula means small droplets of oil are dispersed in a larger volume of water. This gives a lighter texture compared to water-in-oil formulas where small droplets of water are dispersed in a larger volume of oil.
An oral retinoid has the greatest results in suppressing sebum production, often a 60 to 90% reduction. A significant consideration before starting on oral isotretinoin is teratogenicity though (ability to affect fetal development and cause birth defects at the time of conception or during pregnancy).
Oral retinoids are only available on prescription due to their side effects. For cautious management, always consult a dermatologist first.