Oily Skin Q&A

Why do we get oily skin?

You would probably be surprised to hear that new born babies actually produce a lot of sebum but this quickly decreases until it reappears with a vengeance at puberty. The main hormone responsible for this is 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an androgen, which causes an increase in the number of sebaceous or oil glands in the skin and the amount of oil they produce.  These sebaceous glands are mainly concentrated on the face, upper chest and back, though they do exist all over the body (except the palms and soles). In people with oily skin, oil production generally stays high until after menopause in women and after 50 years of age in men.


However,  why some people develop oily skin that persists throughout their lives while others battle dry skin is something even science has yet to find an explanation for.


There are some risk factors for oily skin: being male (because men have more testosterone than women), premenopausal women during ovulation (probably due to a surge in progresterone levels during this time), during warm times of the year or in humid climates, and in afro-caribbean skin types (possibly due to enlarged pores as compared to the skin of people of other races).

Can I prevent my skin from being oily?

Unfortunately, if you are genetically destined to have oily skin, there is not much you can do to stop it from happening. We don’t understand why hot or humid climates make oily skin more oily, for example, but trying to stay cool in the summer months can help! There is no evidence that any specific diet or lifestyle factor has any impact on preventing or worsening oily skin.

What ingredients should I look for in skincare to tackle oily skin?

Though topical retinoids have always been purported to suppress sebum production in skin (because sebocytes – the cells that produce oil in the skin – are known to have retinoid receptors on them), there is no direct evidence that they actually reduce sebum production. Topical retinoids do dry out the skin, most likely via an effect on reducing the stickiness of skin cells to each other and encouraging them to shed, resulting in the flaky, peeling skin that is so common when people start to use these products. The drying out of the skin is not due to a direct effect on oil production itself.


But don’t despair – topical retinoids do definitely reduce facial pore size which is actually important because there is a direct relationship between large pores and lots of oil production. So it is definitely worth using a topical retinoid for at least three months to see if it can help reduce your oily skin.


There are a lot of over the counter ‘cosmeceutical’ products that claim to fight oily skin. There is some evidence for some of specific ingredients found in some of these products. For example, there is some evidence that applying 2% niacinamide daily for four weeks can significantly reduce oil excretion. Another ingredient that has some limited evidence for significantly reducing oil secretion is 3% green tea emulsion applied daily for 8 weeks. Another one that you may never have heard of is topical 2% L-carnitine; a study has shown that this too can significantly reduce oil secretion in oily skin possibly via reducing the fatty acid content of sebocytes.

What ingredients should I avoid in skincare if I have oily skin?

It’s best to avoid topical treatments that are very heavy or greasy feeling on the skin. Anything that has paraffins, petrolateum (like Vaseline) and mineral oils are best avoided for this reason. Oils in and of themselves are not bad for oily skin as they are hydrating and that’s important too in maintaining your skins health, but they will just make your skin feel more oily and look more shiny, so best avoided!

How can I prep my skin for the day, to stop it getting oily?

Start your day by cleansing with a 10% glycolic acid or 2% salicylic acid facewash to help unstick skin cells, therefore gently exfoliating your skin and clearing out oil from your pores.

Then moisturise with a product that does not contain paraffins, petrolatum or mineral oils because these products will just make your skin feel and look even more greasy and shiny. For optimal hydration without greasiness, opt for serums with hyaluronic acid or gels or creams with dimethicone or ceramides listed as the first few ingredients.


To control oily skin during the day, a mattifying agent is definitely your best bet. You need a product that contains ingredients that will absorb oil from the skin surface, such as silica, talc, aluminium starch octentylsuccinate, rice starch, corn starch and nylon-12. Luckily, there are lots of products available now that combine hydrating ingredients like dimethicone with mattifying agents, so you only need to apply one product to get lots of benefits.

Why should I cleanse oily skin before bed and what’s the best way to cleanse?

Cleansing before bed is important because it removes any dirt, debris and, of course, makeup, that has accumulated on your skin during the day. Aim to do this gently with a 10% glycolic acid or 2% salicylic acid facewash to remove makeup and debris and gently exfoliate away any stuck together, dried skin cells which can clog your pores. Don’t use harsh scrubs or exfoliants – reserve those for your body! Even if you don’t suffer from acne, scrubbing is never good for your skin, especially if you are using prescription anti-aging products, as these already exfoliate your skin and too much scrubbing can result in redness and irritation – never a good look when you wake up!

Until Next Time,

Dr. Natalia Spierings

SkincareNatalia Spierings