Oily Skin Overview

oily skin, skin, skin oils
Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Oily skin is often hereditary, but it can be controlled. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
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Many people love shiny cars, shiny hair and shiny jewelry, but a shiny face rarely receives the same appreciation. If your face is constantly shiny, you probably have oily skin. The oil your skin produces helps keep your skin moisturized, but if your body produces too much oil, it can cause acne. However, there is a silver lining -- oil keeps skin smooth and moist, making it less likely to wrinkle [sources: Balch, Poirot].

Oily skin is largely hereditary -- if you have oily skin, it's probably because your parents have oily skin. But excess oil can also be the result of heightened hormone levels, which is why teenagers often have acne. This is also the reason that women tend to have oilier skin during some parts of their menstrual cycle, while they're pregnant and when they're experiencing menopause [source: Reader's Digest, Poirot].


Oil, or sebum, is produced by sebaceous glands and secreted through pores, and if your glands secrete excess oil, there's not much you do to stop it. You can, however, control it. There are cleansers, astringents and other treatments that can help keep your face sheen-free. However, you need to make sure you use them correctly -- the last thing you want to do is dry out your skin. If you do, it'll kick your sebaceous glands into overdrive. Keeping your skin healthy and your oil levels balanced can be difficult, but it is possible.

For more information about oily skin treatments, read Oily Skin Treatments: Fast Facts.

Keep reading to learn what causes oily skin.


Oily Skin Causes

People with oily skin often wonder what they're doing to cause the problem. They may blame it on the greasy pizza they ate last night, but the truth is they should probably blame their genes. Diet can aggravate acne, but it doesn't cause oily skin [source: WebMD]. Oily skin is hereditary -- you can change your diet or change your lifestyle, but if your mom or dad has oily skin, chances are you will, too. However, if your oily skin comes and goes, it may have less to do with genes and more to do with hormonal shifts in your body.

Androgens are the hormones largely responsible for oil production, and sometimes they can get kicked up a notch -- particularly during puberty [source: Bouchez]. You go through a growth spurt, your voice changes, you start getting hair in weird places and, to top it all off, your body produces excess oil that clogs your pores. Similarly, androgen levels tend to increase in women just before a menstrual period, during pregnancy and during menopause [source: Poirot].


In a few cases, oily skin can be the result of your lifestyle. Taking oral contraceptives, for example, can alter hormone levels and increase oil production, and oily skin is one of several side effects associated with taking steroids [source: Reader's Digest]. Stress can also cause oily skin -- when you're tense, your body releases a hormone called cortisol, which can increase skin's oil production [source: WebMD].

Keep reading to learn what role pores play in oily skin.


Oily Skin and Pores

Your pores do two basic things: They allow you to sweat and they secrete oil. Neither one may sound appealing, but they're both important. Sweating allows you to maintain a healthy body temperature, and oil protects your skin [source: Bouchez].

Oil, or sebum, is produced by sebaceous glands and secreted through pores. When this process goes smoothly, sebum not only lubricates your skin, but it also removes dead skin cells and other irritants from your pores. However, when your body produces excess sebum, it clogs your pores, and this can lead to blackheads and blemishes [source: Gordon].


If you have large pores, you probably also have oily skin -- studies show that bigger pores often secrete larger amounts of sebum onto the skin [source: Roh]. You can't change the size of your pores, but you can make them less noticeable, and there are ways you can control your oily skin [source: Vinakmens].

Keep reading to learn how to get rid of your oily sheen.


Oily Skin Care

You can't prevent your sebaceous glands from producing oil, but that doesn't mean you have to walk around with a shiny face either. Oily skin can be controlled -- you just have to learn how to do it. By making a few small changes to your daily skin care routine and avoiding some common mistakes, you can take control of your oily skin.

If you have oily skin, it may seem like a good idea to wash your face more often, but this could just make matters worse. When your skin is irritated, your body's natural reaction is to produce more oil, so if you start washing too much, your skin will dry out and your sebaceous glands will go into overdrive [source: Bouchez]. The same thing can occur if you use harsh cleansers that strip oil from your skin, so use a mild oil-free cleanser and gently wash your face no more than twice a day[source: Lehrer]. After cleansing, use an astringent or toner that contains alcohol to help remove excess oil [source: Bouchez].


If over-the-counter cleansers and toners aren't giving you the desired results, talk to you dermatologist. Prescription treatments for oily skin come in the form of topical solutions and oral drugs, and Retin A, Differin and Accutane are some of the most commonly prescribed medications [source: Bouchez].

Check out the links on the next page for more information on oily skin.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Advanced Dermatology, P.C. "Large Pores: Surprisingly common facial problem." September 22, 2009. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://www.advanceddermatologypc.com/news/?p=320
  • Balch, Phyllis A. "Prescription for nutritional healing." Google Books. 2006. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=2s_q2y_J3rwC&pg=PA603&dq=oily+skin&client=safari#v=onepage&q=oily%20skin&f=false
  • Benabio, Jeffrey MD, FAAD. "20 Interesting Facts About Skin." The Dermatology Blog. February 6, 2008. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://thedermblog.com/2008/02/06/20-interesting-facts-about-skin/
  • Bouchez, Colette. "Oily Skin: Solutions That Work - No Matter What Your Age." WebMD. October 19, 2007. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/oily-skin-solutions-that-work
  • Gordon M.D., Marsha & Alice E. Fugate. "The complete idiot's guide to beautiful skin." Google Books. 1998. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=nE0bz0HYOogC&pg=PA29&dq=oil+skin+pores+sebum#v=onepage&q=sebum&f=false
  • Lehrer M.D., Michael. "Oily skin." Medline Plus. October 28, 2008. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002043.htm
  • Reader's Digest. "1,801 Home Remedies: Trustworthy Treatments for Everyday Health Problems." Google Books. 2004. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=2vUVoa8as5sC&pg=PA297&dq=oily+skin&client=safari#v=onepage&q=oily%20skin&f=false
  • Poirot, Lissa. "A Wrinkle in Time: Preventing Damage to Aging Skin." (Accessed 10/22/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/how-life-affects-aging-skin
  • Roh, M., M. Han, D. Kim & K. Chung. "Sebum Output as a Factor Contributing to the Size of Facial Pores." January 23, 2007. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/550465
  • University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. "Winter Dry Skin." 2005. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://www.uihealthcare.com/topics/skinhealth/winterskin.html
  • Vinakmens, Kristen. "Myths and truths about your pores." Best Health Magazine. August 2009. (Accessed 10/06/2009)http://besthealthmag.ca/look-great/skin/myths-and-truths-about-your-pores
  • WebMD. "The Mind-Skin Connection." (Accessed 10/22/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/effects-of-stress-on-your-skin
  • WebMD. "Understanding Acne: The Basics." (Accessed 10/22/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-acne-basics