Sebum is a word that many oily skin types have become accustomed to hearing on a regular basis. Some consider it a nuisance and the reason for pesky breakouts whereas others, such as people with dry skin types dream of having enough sebum on the face to make it more manageable and comfortable.
Do you, however, have a clear understanding of what sebum is? What does it do for the skin? And why have an overproduction of sebum can spell trouble? Let’s find out more…
What is sebum and what is it made of?
Sebum is a mixture of fatty acids, sugars, waxes and other chemicals found on the skin naturally and is critical to the skin’s health. It is the sebaceous glands that are in control of how much sebum is released onto the skin. Then sebum can take on its role at keeping the skin moisturised and lock water into the skin keeping it waterproof and maintaining a healthy skin flora. By flora, we mean the skin’s microbiome which plays an important role in your skin’s welfare. You can find out more about the skin’s flora in our blog post what is skin microbiome and why does it matter?
What causes increased sebum production?
If you are finding your skin has become too oily it may be the result of a number of things that can cause an imbalance to the skin:
- Excess sebum can be a result of pregnancy
- Excess sebum can occur throughout puberty
- Excess sebum can be a result of hormonal change
- Excess sebum can be a sign of misusing skincare products such as scrubs
- Excess sebum can come from an irritated skin
- Excess sebum is caused by dehydration
- Excess sebum is a result of genetics
There are a few reasons to explain why you may be finding an overproduction on sebum on the skin, perhaps you find that throughout your menstrual cycle the level of oiliness to the skin varies due to the change in hormones, this can also happen from exposure to heat and exercise.
If you have a skin type that is prone to spots and breakouts you may be aware of how sebum can play a role in how extensive your breakouts will be. Though it may feel tempting to opt for robust scrub and work it mercilessly into the skin in the aim of reaching that “squeaky clean” feel you may find that those harsh chemicals and skin-stripping ingredients have in fact rid the skin of every drop of sebum. In the wake of doing this, you will find your skin’s defence layer becomes damaged and an imbalance in the skin kick starts an accelerated production in sebum. This then leads to the face feeling and looking oilier than before with spots and blemishes becoming a greater concern.
One point you must always remember is that you need sebum to keep your skin functioning to the best of its ability. Yes, it can feel frustrating (especially if you have a blemish-prone skin type) to consider having sebum as a great benefit for the skin. There are ways of helping to keep on top of sebum production and reducing any excess oil, we will share those with you now.
How do you get rid of excess sebum?
Here are some simple ways of reducing the amount of excess sebum on the skin:
- Ensure you are using the correct cleanser
When looking for a cleanser that will help you keep on top of your sebum levels there are a couple of skin-benefiting ingredients to look out for. Firstly, there is salicylic acid which is the only BHA available and can work its way down, deep into the lower layers of the skin and clear out any clogged pores that can lead to blackheads and spots. By regularly using a wash containing salicylic you will keep the skin clear but not stripped of any important sebum. You can read our blog post about the skincare benefits of salicylic acid to find more about this potent BHA.
Other key ingredients to look out for are glycolic and lactic acid as these AHAs are great chemically exfoliating the skin without causing any drying effects. By finding the best skincare products and ingredients for your skin you will find the comfort levels and overall appearance of the complexion will remain healthy and balanced. If you find that any product you try causes irritation to the skin you must stop using it immediately.
- Adjust your skincare routine to work with your skin type
Sebum production varies depending on the time of year and change in hormones. You may find it a good idea to adjust your routine when you find your skin and body to become oilier than usual. When this occurs opt for an oil-free cleanser, chemical toner and lightweight gel moisturiser with active ingredients to help keep the skin nourished. Adding clay masks into your routine for a biweekly treatment will also help restore balance and clarity to the skin.
- Avoid using harsh scrubs and tools
As we have previously mentioned we understand how hard it can be not to reach for an abrasive scrub full of nut and fruit stone granules to work vigorously into the skin. Your skin may indeed feel beautiful for five minutes, but what you won’t realise is that your skin will be panicking and trying to counteract the skin trauma by overproducing excess sebum, thereby taking you back to square one.
- Consult your doctor
By contacting your GP for advice you will have some more options to explore, there are various oral prescriptions to help reduce excess sebum, such as retinoids that can be taken orally or topically. These medications are very potent and should not be tried without advice from your doctor or dermatologist.
So, now you know a little more about sebum and why it isn’t this big bad villain we have all been lead to believe for so long. Without sebum, our skin would not function and its a key role at maintaining a healthy skin flora should, in fact, earn our respect. At least by not using harsh chemicals to cleanse the skin or overreact when that time of the month just so happens to affect our mood and our skin. Remember to keep a good skincare routine with the correct products for your skin type and you won’t have anything to worry about!