Having oily skin is not just a problem for teenagers. People of all ages can struggle with the blemishes and shine that go hand-in-hand with excess oil. For many, oily skin begins in the teen years, when puberty brings changes in the hormonal balance of the body. But while some people say goodbye to their oily skin in adulthood, others are still waiting -- many years past their high school graduation -- for their teenage skin to go away.
Experts link the cause of oily skin to the increased production of hormones, especially during puberty. But fluctuations in hormone levels can change even after puberty. Menstrual cycles, stress and emotional state can influence hormonal changes that contribute to oily skin. In addition to hormones, there is a hereditary component to having oily skin. Some people simply have skin that produces more oil than others [source: Bouchez].
However, the skin's production of oil is not all bad. In fact, it's normal. The oil produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin -- especially on the scalp, face, neck, chest and back -- is an essential component of your skin's health. Oil from the scalp makes hair look glossy and healthy. Oil on the face keeps facial skin, which is generally exposed to the elements more often than other body parts, from losing moisture and becoming dry and dull [sources: DERMADoctor]. But when the skin produces too much oil, problems can arise. Excess oil traps pore-clogging dirt and bacteria, and it causes the face to feel greasy and look shiny.
If you have oily skin, a regular routine of gentle cleansing, moisturizing and sun protection are a must. Choose quality products that will gently remove excess oil, dirt and dead skin cells without stripping or drying out your skin, and your skin will thank you. Read on to make an informed decision about the right skin care regimen for you, and learn about cleansers that are specially formulated for oily skin.
Daily Cleansing for Oily Skin
The key to any effective cleansing routine is balance. You want to strike the right balance between removing the pore-clogging dirt and oil that cause breakouts and preventing further problems or damage. This is especially true of oily skin. Remember that some oil is essential for healthy skin. If your cleanser removes too much oil, the layer of protection that the oil provides will be lost. In order to avoid this situation, refrain from using harsh cleansers and cleansing too vigorously or too often [source: Bouchez]. At most, you should cleanse skin twice a day.
So, what kinds of cleansers work well on oily skin? For the most part, choosing a cleanser that is specifically designed to be gentle on your skin is best. Avoid cleansers that contain oils, waxes or soaps. You many think that soap is the most common go-to ingredient in a cleanser, but don't be fooled. Soap will only momentarily make your face feel oil-free. But because soap strips skin of all oil, using it may lead to even greater oil production as your skin works to replace its lost protective layer [source: P&G Beauty Science].
Cleansers containing salicylic acid (beta hydroxy acid) or glycolic acid (alpha hydroxy acid) may also be helpful for gently cleaning and exfoliating oily skin. These two acids are often found in cleansers intended for acne-prone skin because they remove dead skin cells and oil that clog pores. But if your skin is easily irritated, look for products that have very low concentrations of these acids [source: DERMADoctor].
Using the right daily cleanser is a good start, but it isn't enough to keep your skin healthy. You may not think that oily skin needs a moisturizer, but read on to find out about the next step in the skin care regimen.
Daily Moisturizing for Oily Skin
You may be thinking that moisturizing skin that is already oily will just make it worse. The truth is that everyone should moisturize, even people with oily skin. Adding moisture to the skin is not the same thing as adding oil. In fact, the layer of oil on your skin works to retain the moisture necessary for healthy skin. Neglecting the important step of moisturizing in your skin care regimen will only make difficult skin worse by introducing new problems, such as dry or flaky patches.
Even the gentlest cleanser can have a drying effect on skin, and this effect may be more noticeable as you age, since older skin loses moisture more readily. To help reduce the drying effects of these cleansers, use a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer after cleansing your skin.
Like cleansers, many moisturizers contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid or lactic acid. As we age and expose ourselves to the sun more often, new skin cells replace older ones at a decreased rate. This causes a thin but noticeable layer of dead skin cells to build up, which can also lead to more oil. AHAs can help improve the tone of your skin by removing dead skin cells and excess oil. They work by loosening a glue-like substance that holds dead cells against the surface of your skin. Once removed, the newer skin cells underneath tend to have a healthier, more glowing tone [source: DermNet NZ]. As long as these moisturizers do not irritate the skin, they are safe to use on oily skin.
Now that you're cleansing your skin twice a day and using an oil-free moisturizer, is there anything else you should do to keep your oily skin healthy and looking great? Read on to learn more about protecting oily skin.
Daily Protection for Oily Skin
Regardless of skin type, all skin needs protection from the sun's damaging ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. Your face is exposed to the sun every day, even if you stay indoors -- the sun's UVA rays can still pass through glass windows. Using sun protection will not only help reduce your chances of getting skin cancer, but also help you avoid some visible signs of aging such as wrinkles and age spots [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Of course, people with oily skin don't always think spreading a sticky sunscreen all over their skin is the best idea. In fact, some sunscreens aren't suitable for just anyone's face -- let alone a person with oily skin and pores that are prone to clog up and turn into blemishes. Sun protection is imperative, and since there are so many options to choose from when it comes to sunscreen, it pays to shop around for the product that works for both your lifestyle and skin type.
It's important to choose a sunscreen that is specially formulated for the face. These sunscreens tend to be gentler, lighter and less likely to clog pores. Choose one with little or no fragrance, especially if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin. For everyday use, choose a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15 to 30. For outdoor use at the beach, pool or garden, you may want an SPF that is stronger than 30. When outdoors, note that you will need to reapply sunscreen every two hours, and after swimming or exercising [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
After cleansing, moisturizing, and using sunscreen, what more can you do to make sure your oily skin stays healthy? What if all these good habits don't quite make the cut? There are a few more things you can try to minimize oil. Read on to learn more.
Daily Treatment for Oily Skin
If a regular routine of gentle cleansing, moisturizing and sun protection don't seem to be enough to combat your oily skin, there are several other options for daily use. One kind of treatment is the use of astringents or toners. These products usually include alcohol, witch hazel or acetone, which remove oil from skin. They can also kill bacteria on the skin, which may help prevent blemishes. However, not all dermatologists recommend using these products on oily skin, as they can cause dryness, redness and irritation [source: DERMADoctor].
Another temporary fix to absorb oil is to use blotting papers. These can be found in most drug stores near the acne and skin care products. If oily skin is a problem during the day, you might find that blotting excess oil from your face reduces shine. Mattifying gels and products marketed as anti-shine skin "primers" may also help soak up excess oil between cleansings and keep makeup from "sliding" off the face.
In really difficult cases of oily skin, it may be necessary to consult a dermatologist. He or she may prescribe topical or oral drugs to treat oily skin. There are also topical treatments containing synthetic retinoids, biochemical compounds that are derivatives of Vitamin A. Some types of retinoids include tretinoin, adapalene or tazoratene. The oral prescription drug isotretinoin is also occasionally used off-label to treat oily skin [source: Bouchez]. As with any prescription or over-the-counter drug used to treat any type of skin, it is best to talk with your doctor or dermatologist before beginning treatment. An expert can advise you on the best way to take care of your skin if you need something in addition to your daily skin care routine.
Now that you know the basics of using a gentle cleanser, a light moisturizer and a sunscreen for oily skin, check out the links on the next page to find more information about creating a daily skin care regimen that works best for you.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Facts About Sunscreens." (Aug. 3, 2009) http://www.aad.org/media/background/factsheets/fact_sunscreen.htm
- Baumann, Leslie. "The Truth About Water and Your Skin." Yahoo! Health. Nov. 24, 2008. (Aug. 3, 2009) http://health.yahoo.com/experts/skintype/12896/the-truth-about-water-and-your-skin/
- Bouchez, Colette. "Oily Skin: Solutions That Work -- No Matter What Your Age." (Aug. 3, 2009) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/oily-skin-solutions-that-work
- DermaDoctor. "Oily Skin: The Good, The Bad & The Oily." (Aug. 3, 2009) http://www.dermadoctor.com/article_Oily-Skin_99.html
- DermNet NZ. "Alpha hydroxyacid facial treatments." June 15, 2009. (Aug. 3, 2009) http://dermnetnz.org/treatments/fruit-acids.html
- Medline Plus. "Oily Skin." Oct. 10, 2008. (Aug. 3, 2009)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002043.htm
- P&G Beauty Science. "Treating Oily Skin." (Aug. 3, 2009) http://www.pgbeautyscience.com/index.php?id=664
- Rhodes, Monica. "Topical retinoid medications for acne." MSN Health & Fitness. March 1, 2007. (Aug. 3, 2009) http://health.msn.com/health-topics/skin-and-hair/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100067184
- SkinCancer.org. "Understanding UVA and UVB." (Aug. 3, 2009) http://www.skincancer.org/understanding-uva-and-uvb.html