Understanding Oily Skin

Understanding Oily Skin

Our skin produces a very specific type of oil- or Sebum as it is technically referred to as. This oil catches a lot of heat for issues like acne and is generally something people try to actively rid themselves of.  What if I told you that your oily skin is not actually to blame for your breakouts and that the “oil free” moisturizers and foaming cleansers that are specifically marketed to your oily skin may be causing your skin to be extra oily and are actually contributing to any breakouts you are experiencing?  

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To understand this overall confusing situation, we need to understand a few basics about our skin; such as overall skin health which starts with the health of our skin barrier.  Our bodies are made up of 60% water but our skin is actually a very effective barrier and we only lose 300 - 400 mL of that water per day; that’s just over a cup of water lost through our skin per day.  In addition to retaining this water to store up hydration so that all of our organs (including our skin) can function properly, our skin barrier also acts to keep external aggressors out.  Now it’s obvious at this point that our skin itself is a very large and very effective barrier, but part of what makes it a successful barrier is a thin barrier on the skin itself made up of lipids or fats, that essentially lock in hydration.  

Think about a jar of water that you have added oil to.  

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That oil settles on top of the water, protecting it and preventing the water from evaporating, almost as if you had put a lid on the jar.  Remove that oil and the water quickly evaporates into the atmosphere. This is precisely what happens with your skin. 

Now think about what happens when you use a foaming cleanser with a harsh surfactant (the ingredient that makes it bubble or foam) to effectively remove all of the oil from your skin, the same way you would remove oil or grease from a dirty pot or pan.  Those soapy bubbles work well and as intended to get rid of all of your oil, but that includes this protective barrier and any moisture that it was keeping locked in. Our cells need moisture in order to function, without moisture the skin will experience obvious dryness which leads to things like accelerated aging, conditions like eczema, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.  If acne is present, because wounds heal best in a moist environment, that acne will be slow to heal and sure to leave behind scarring or dark mark and an uneven skin tone.   In fact, in recent studies our oil levels and even our hydration levels have been shown to directly affect the diversity of our skin’s microbiome! Something we are slowly discovering is paramount to healthy skin.

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Many people who claim to have oily skin often report that this oil worsens over the course of the day.  Particularly women who wear makeup are conscious of it appearing to “melt” off of their skin as the day progresses regardless of using products that are specifically formulated and marketed to dry up this oil.  The truth of the matter is that the more “drying up” of your natural oil you do and the more you wind up compromising your skin’s natural barrier and the more moisture that will inevitably be lost through the skin.  Often times this loss of water is then confused with oil, which perpetuates a cycle of dryness and abuse as far as basic skin health is concerned. In fact, most people with “oily” skin complain of being “oily, yet dry” which makes sense considering how much moisture is lost in a misguided conquest to combat and manage “oily” skin. 

So what can be done?  

  • By now you have hopefully realized that ingredients which dry up or absorb existing oil are not ideal.  On the other hand, certain ingredients can help regulate oil production if even with a healthy barrier you still find yourself still glistening by the end of the day. Ingredients like L-Carnitine, Mandelic Acid and Oleanolic Acid are all great ingredients to be on the lookout for if excessive oil is a problem for you.  My absolute favorite products for truly oily skin are the Bare Skin Mandelic+ Serum and Roccoco Botanical’s Decongesting Porefection. Both help to regulate oil while still maintaining overall skin barrier health, addressing signs of aging and hydration levels.

  • Supporting the skin barrier is crucial to healthy skin. Often times, just by using ingredients and products which support our barrier and eliminating things that do it harm, we end up fixing any issues with excessive oil we may have. “Barrier Support and Barrier Repair” are marketing terms when it comes to products. Our skin barrier is made up of a balance of Ceramides, Cholesterol and Fatty Acids so using a product like Roccoco’s Ceramide Booster Serum can drastically help to improve skin barrier function.

  • Consider an oil cleanser. It might sound counter intuitive but like attracts like so when excessive oil is a problem, an oil cleanser can do wonders. Excessive oil can also dilute the linoleic acid levels on our skin so using a product rich in linoleic acid can help to restore skin barrier health while also regulating your oil and removing existing oil. Roccoco’s Pore Cleansing Oil paired with their Purifying Treatment Essence make to perfect pair to address oily skin.

  • Eat a diet rich in omegas and anti-inflammatory foods while also limiting your intake of inflammatory foods. This will not only help with excessive oil production, but with your overall skin health.  Nordic Naturals is one of the top brands to aid in overall health which undoubtedly includes your skin.