Your skin is more self-sufficient than you might think - it even produces its own natural moisturizer, called sebum! Those who naturally produce a lot of sebum have oilier skin, while those who naturally produce less have drier skin. (Combination skin? That means you create more sebum in certain areas of your face, such as the forehead, nose, and chin, than in other areas.) Sebum, or the natural oils on your skin, get a bad rep, but it’s not entirely deserved. Here’s what you need to know.
what is sebum?
Sebum is a waxy substance on the surface of your skin made up of fatty acids, squalene, and other lipids. It’s released through your pores from oil glands at the base of your hair follicles. You have a LOT of these oil glands - in fact, there are up to a whopping 900 oil glands in a square centimeter of the face. Here are a few factors that can affect your sebum production.
- Your hormones, including the stress hormone, cortisol, largely control how much sebum your skin produces.
- Oil production spikes with puberty (hi, teenage breakouts!) and falls over time.
- Temperature can impact sebum production, with your skin producing more sebum in the summer.
what does sebum do for skin?
Sebum not only delivers moisture across skin, which helps keep your skin barrier supported, but it also traps it within skin, too. This helps keep skin smooth and soft. And, in keeping skin properly moisturized, sebum can even improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Research also suggests that sebum has antibacterial properties, which may help slow the proliferation of acne-causing bacteria. Another study found sebum may also defend skin against oxidative stress — the damage to collagen and elastin caused by external aggressors, like UV rays, blue light, and pollution — thanks to its antioxidant content, namely vitamin E and CoQ10.
isn’t sebum bad?
Nope! It’s a little more nuanced than that. Your sebum serves an important purpose in skin. The problem arises when there’s a blockage in the pore, often caused by a combo of excess sebum and dead skin cells. That acts as food for acne-causing bacteria and gives rise to inflammation — hence the telltale redness, swelling, and tenderness that comes with your average pimple. Sebum alone? Not bad. Excess sebum? Might become an issue, but not necessarily. Sebum plus dead skin cells and bacteria? That’s how zits happen.
so, will removing sebum help with breakouts?
Not necessarily! While removing one of the ingredients needed for acne seems like an obvious solution, your skin doesn’t work that way. For one, if you remove too much sebum, your skin takes that as a cue to produce more sebum.
Additionally, in removing sebum, you’re also taking away a key substance that traps water in skin. Without it, your skin is more prone to moisture loss! And when your skin loses too much moisture, it can become dehydrated and appear slack, dull, or just not as healthy.
how to handle oily skin
The key to managing oily skin is to balance it, not fight it with harsh, moisture-stripping formulas (which tend to only make matters worse). Consider this your routine for making the most of your skin’s natural oils.
cleanse with oil
Think back to chemistry class: The principle “like dissolves like” applies to many substances, including oil. For your skin, that means oil in your cleanser can help dissolve excess oil on your skin — and it does so while nourishing your skin too. Our bestselling oil to milk cleanser transforms into an easy-to-rinse milk upon contact with water, and it washes away grime, dirt, and excess sebum without stripping away moisture.
remove shine before it starts
If you don’t love the greasy look that can sometimes accompany oily skin, try a toner. While old-school versions removed oil with harsh alcohol, our raspberry vinegar toner does the trick with acetic acid-rich fermented raspberry vinegar. It clears pores and removes excess shine, but won’t leave skin dry or uncomfortable.
smooth your pores
Large pores tend to go hand-in-hand with excess oil. Minimize the appearance of pores with a moisturizer like our texture smoothing cream, which uses celery seed to support the structures that hold pores tight and smooth the look of uneven texture. It also contains squalane, a shelf-stable, plant-derived version of the squal-ene naturally found in your sebum. The lightweight feel is another big plus for those with naturally oily skin, since rich moisturizers can feel too heavy.
keep skin and pores clear
Clay has long been used to absorb oil on the skin and draw impurities out of pores, but clay masks have a reputation for working a little too well and thus drying out skin. That’s not the case with the sea kale clay mask, which removes excess oil while smoothing and nourishing skin.
address pimples gently and effectively
So you’re dealing with a breakout. Pimples (and the sebum that can contribute to causing them) are both natural and normal, so no sweat! Rather than drying them out with an aggressive spot treatment, go for a gentler alternative instead. Our turmeric tonic improves the appearance of breakouts and calms signs of inflammation, which can help bring down swelling and redness.
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