There's a big difference between oily skin and well-moisturized skin. One looks supple and kissable. The other looks like a mini oil slick took up residence on your face, especially around your nose, forehead and chin (also known as the T-zone). To tame the ooze and give yourself a healthier exterior, there are some things you should know about skin in general and oily skin in particular.
Oily skin isn't the result of yesterday's greasy burger. It can occur and persist for a number of reasons. Oil glands in your body produce a compound called sebum. When you produce too much sebum, it can clog your pores (the small openings in your skin) and create problems like acne. The term "blemish" sounds too dainty to describe those upheavals that can cause redness, swelling and significant localized discomfort. If you leave acne alone, it may linger for weeks or months. If you go the do-it-yourself route and attack individual pimples by squeezing them, they can become infected and leave deep, permanent scars.
If you're a big oil producer, just keeping your skin clean may not be enough to avoid blemishes. That's the bad news. The good news is that you can attack the problem from a number of different angles. Before you start blaming your genes for that date-night zit the size of a beach ball, let's learn a little more about some important factors that can contribute to oily skin.
Finding the Source of Oily Skin
You have more oil glands in your T-zone -- the area that extends across your forehead, down your nose and includes your chin -- than in other places on your body. If your skin is oily, you'll notice a sheen, occasional blemishes and even full blown acne in these areas. It's easy to think of the oil produced by your skin as the enemy, but you'd be in much worse shape without it. It helps to keep your skin protected from the elements and is important for maintaining a healthy acid balance, a pH range that keeps most types of damaging bacteria under control. When you produce too much of a good thing, though, there may be a combination of factors involved:
- Heredity - If your parents or siblings have had problems with oily skin, you probably will, too. The amount of sebum secreted by your oil glands is a factor of heredity. The mechanism at work is a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that your body produces naturally. Too much DHT, and your skin will have difficulty handling the excess.
- Puberty - Increased levels of DHT and other hormones occur in both boys and girls during puberty and may continue into early adulthood. Your bouts with oily skin will become less frequent as you get older, and even though this may seem like cold comfort now, at least you're not suffering alone. Skin problems in teenagers are very common, and there are some effective treatments we'll get to in a minute.
- Diet - It can be reassuring to think if you lay off french fries for a couple of weeks, your discipline will lead to a glowing, smooth complexion. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. There isn't much support for the notion that a diet high in greasy foods leads to oily skin. Controlling your fat and sugar intake and eating lots of vegetables is good for whole body health, though, which will have a favorable impact on the health of your skin over time, but maybe not in the area of reducing oiliness and blemishes.
- Cleanliness - Keeping your skin clean is important, but it may be more challenging than you realize. If you have oily skin that's dirty, too, you're asking for more trouble than your poor face can handle. On the other hand, if you use harsh cleansers that disturb the protective acid mantle on your skin, you're doing yourself more harm than good. You could increase levels of bacteria that might lead to infection, or cause redness, flaking skin, dry patches or roughness -- all without solving the problem. You could also cause enough of a disturbance to encourage your skin to start producing even more oil in response. The trick is to find products that help clean your skin without exacerbating existing problems or causing new ones.
Although the items listed above are biggies when it comes to causing oily skin, there may be other contributing factors, too. You skin is the largest organ in your body -- well, on your body. It's affected by almost everything you do. Sun exposure, stress, smoking, drinking and not getting enough sleep may all contribute to oily skin problems. Before you decide you can't have nice skin and a normal life, too, consider moderation and a common sense approach to skin care. Wear sunscreen, clean your skin regularly with a mild cleanser and explore some products and approaches that will remove excess oil gently.
Choosing Skin Care Products for Men With Oily Skin
If it's hard to see yourself as the kind of guy who invests precious minutes twice a day on skin care, consider it insurance. Healthy skin looks younger longer. When you factor in shaving and all those sun worshipping activities you fill your weekends with, doesn't your skin deserve a little pampering? Don't wait until you're 40 to decide you should have done something about getting your skin into better shape. You probably already know acne isn't remotely sexy. Acne scars won't do much for you, either, and they can be permanent.
There are products on the market today that approach the problem of oily skin in different ways. Some require a prescription while others are over-the-counter easy:
- Avoid harsh soap - If you think that a bar of soap is your best daily grooming friend, guess again. Most soaps strip your skin of natural fatty oils, and although this may sound good, over time, it causes skin damage and more problems than it solves. If you have to use soap on your face, opt for a mild, glycerin-based variety.
- Try oil absorbing preparations -Mud and clay masks can be very effective in reducing oil deep inside pores without causing the drying damage of regular soap use. You can also buy topical preparations designed to soak up excess oil, like spot treatments containing salicylic acid or benzyol peroxide. Spot treatments work best if you have just one or two problem areas, like around your nose or on your forehead. For more generalized treatment, look for products that contain alcohol, but use them in moderation. Skin astringents can help, too.
- Increase cell turnover - Topical retinoids (Trans-retinoic acid), are derived from vitamin A and stimulate the growth of skin cells. High oil production causes skin problems when oil, dead cells and dirt block up pores. Faster cell turnover keeps dead skin from contributing to blockages, keeping pores clear and reducing the number of clogs. The most well-known product sold in this category is Retin-A, but similar preparations are prescribed under the names Avita, Renova, Differin and Tazorac. One non-prescription option is Afirm. Skin care experts recommend using topical retinoids only in moderation. Major side effects to this treatment are increased sun sensitivity, dryness, irritation and flaky skin.
- Exfoliate your skin - Because a major complication of oily skin is clogged pores, anything that helps keep them open limits the opportunity for blemishes like whiteheads, blackheads and acne to develop. You can use an oatmeal scrub to maintain cleaner pores, but if you have major oily skin problems, using an exfoliating cream or chemical peel may be the answer. Creams that use glycolic acid or alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), loosen dead skin cells and make it easier to wash them away with regular cleaning. Because glycolic acid can be hard on your skin, though, it's usually sold as part of a skin care regimen that includes a heavy-duty moisturizer to protect and condition your skin after treatment.
- Use a moisturizer - People make the mistake of thinking that oily skin is naturally moist, but it isn't. Your skin needs more than just oil to stay supple and healthy looking. Although the oil on your skin helps trap moisture inside, if your skin is naturally dry, you could be producing too much oil and still be aging prematurely. Using moisturizer will help you balance any overly drying treatments you may be using, too.
Oily skin isn't fatal, but it can be embarrassing and set you up for repeated bouts of acne -- or worse. Most over-the-counter preparations are less concentrated than their prescription counterparts, and you may be on the right track with one of the methods above but just need something stronger. But, if you've tried one without success, consider visiting a day spa for a professional skin evaluation or consult a dermatologist.
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