What Causes Excess Sebum and Oily Skin?

Learn How to Control Your Oily Skin and Reduce That Shine!

If your face is oily, chances are good that you’ve tried nearly everything in a bottle to kill the shine.

Did you know, though, that your oily skin may be easily fixable?

That’s right. There are a number of things that you can do to actually decrease the amount of oil that your skin produces, and some of them may surprise you!

By the end of this article, you’re going to know what causes your oily skin and what you can do to reduce oil production. We’ll also discuss some products that may help you control your oily skin.

What Causes Excess Oil?

Before we jump into methods that help decrease the amount of oil on your face, let’s talk about the root of the problem. Have you ever wondered why it is that the girl sitting next to you has a beautiful, matte complexion all day long but your mug could give the Exxon-Valdez slick a run for its money by noon?


An oily complexion can actually be caused by a number of things but the main reason is dehydration. That’s right – your skin doesn’t have enough moisture so it’s making its own. Sounds backwards, I know, but it’s true.

The oil on your skin keeps you waterproof and moisturized. If you strip it off, your sebaceous glands work double time to produce more. Here are some things that you may be doing unwittingly to cause your skin to be overly oily:

  • Over-Exfoliating – You need to exfoliate in order to slough off dead skin cells and encourage the growth of new, healthy cells but if you do it more than once a week, or use a particularly harsh product, you could be doing more harm than good. Use a natural product that won’t tear your skin or clog your pores. Aveeno Naturals Positively ageless Daily Exfoliating Cleanser with Natural Shiitake Complex is a good choice.
  • Using Harsh Products – The desire to clean all of that oil off of your face so that you’re squeaky clean may seem logical but it’s not. Since we now know that your glands produce more when your skin’s dry, using harsh cleansers just makes your glands kick into overdrive.

    Any kind of sulfate (sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate) is going to strip all of the oils from your skin. That’s what it’s made for – industrial cleaning. Avoid products that have sulfates because your face will be an oil slick if you use them.

  • Skipping the Moisturizer – You may think that you don’t need a moisturizer if your skin is oily but that’s simply not the case. Just use one that doesn’t have an oi-based moisturizer in it. Stick with ingredients such as plain water and hyaluronic acid – both add moisture to your face and the hyaluronic acid helps trap moisture into your skin. Allentoin works, too, and naturalists insist that jojoba oil works wonders when it comes to reducing sebum production.

    Many skin care professionals recommend applying your moisturizer within 5 minutes of showering or washing your face so that you can lock that extra moisture into your skin. Since overexposure to the sun can also cause excess oil, I like to use a moisturizer with sunscreen. I have 2 that I really like – Olay Complete All Day UV Moisturizer and LaRoche Posay’s Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizing Cream with Mexoryl. It has an SPF 15 and also protects you from the UVA rays that cause real damage.

  • Using Too Much Powder – It may be practically irresistible to cover up your shine with a good puff of powder but again, you’re sucking the moisture right out of your skin. You’re also creating a cakey mess that’s going to settle into your fine lines and wrinkles and make you look older. Eww.

    Instead, use face blotters. They’ll gently absorb the oil without causing dehydration. Get the ones without powder and you’ll be doing your face a real favor. Clean & Clear’s Oil Absorbing Sheets are great.

Hormonal Imbalance

Another reason that your skin may be oily is because of hormonal imbalances. Too much testosterone can make your sebaceous glands overproductive. Doesn’t it just figure – one more lovely side effect of menopause. Aside from medication, there really isn’t much that you can do for the hormonal issue besides being proactive about your diet, moisturizing well and frequently, and taking good care of your skin in general.

Poor Diet

Eating properly effects every single bodily function and sebum production is no exception. You’ve probably heard that eating oily foods causes oily skin but in fact the opposite is true, at least in some cases. Good oils such as omega-3 oils actually have anti-inflammatory properties which is a good thing for your skin.

These can be found in oily fish such as salmon and swordfish as well as in vegetarian sources such as flaxseeds and walnuts. To learn more, check out our article on the Health Benefits of Omega 3’s. There’s a ton of good info there.

Sulfur is another mineral that reduces oil production and can be found in fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, cabbage, onions, and broccoli. In addition to being good for your skin, sulfur is also highly anti-carcinogenic so that’s a big bonus!

Your best bet is to eat foods high in sulfur and omega 3’s, avoid foods high in sugar and carbs because they increase sebum production, and eat frequently so that your sugar levels remain constant, another factor that can play a role in oil production. Just one more reason to eat healthy!

Omega 3 is actually effective in supplemental form too if you’re not a big fish or nut eater. Click here to find some really great Omega 3 Fish Oil Supplements. Go for ones that are enterically coated because you won’t get that fishy repeat.

Final Word

Oily skin is difficult to deal with and can be unsightly and even socially embarrassing in the worst cases. If you follow some of these suggestions, you may just find that your sebaceous glands slow down a bit so that you’re not constantly facing an oil crisis on your face!

If you’d like to find some truly effective recipes specifically for oily skin, check out our article Homemade Facial Mask Recipes for Oily Skin.

If you’ve tried any of these methods or have found a good treatment for oily skin, please tell us about it in the comments section below.

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