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Oily Skin, Decoded

Get to the bottom of your oily skin, and learn how to treat it.

This skin type is shiny an hour after you wash your face or apply powder, especially on your forehead, nose and cheeks. (If it takes three or more “blots” with oil-absorbing paper to cut shine, then you have oily skin, says Omaha dermatologist and founder of lovelyskin.com Dr. Joel Schlessinger.)

It also tends to have large pores, often with blackheads and whiteheads and even pimples and deep cysts—although it can simply feel greasy with no signs of acne.

GALLERY: Skincare Products for Oily Skin

On the bright side, oily skin is also thicker and less likely to act sensitive or wrinkle. “Many of my patients feel any oil is too much,” says Dr. Schlessiger. “That’s a shame because it’s actually good for the skin.” New York City dermatologist Francesca Fusco, M.D. agrees: “People with oily skin just age better.”

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Oily Skin, Decoded

The science: The “male” hormone dihydrotesterone (DHT) triggers your sebaceous glands to produce sebum. This mixture of waxes of lipids like squalene and fatty acids protects and conditions your hair and skin. When there’s a spike in testosterone, your DHT levels rise as well and your skin produces too much oil.

Causes: Hormones control how much oil your skin produces, says Dr. Fusco, so anything that throws off their balance can affect sebum levels. During puberty, testosterone levels rise and are metabolized into DHT, which is why teenagers tend to have oily skin. Stress can also send your hormone balance into a tailspin, as can your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, birth control pills (especially when you go off of them), menopause, stress, medications like Lithium and cortisteroids—even smoking and diet.

Oily skin vs. acne-prone skin
While acne-prone skin is usually oily, oily skin does not have to be acne-prone: Pores only get clogged if dead skin cells get trapped with bacteria and sebum, explains Dr. Fusco. People with acne tend to have “sticky” skin cells, meaning they clump together and are more likely to clog pores. If your skin sheds dead cells efficiently, overactive sebaceous glands can simply mean your skin is shiny.

Tips for oily skin:

  • Look for products labeled “non-comedogenic”, “non-acnegenic” and “oil-free.”
  • Don’t punish your skin with harsh cleansers—they can irritate your skin but won’t reduce the amount of oil it produces.
  • Go for a lotion moisturizer, which is lighter than a cream. If you are very oily, try a gel formula or hydrating serum.
  • Use a toner that contains salicylic acid to exfoliate dead skin that can clog pores.
  • If you are extremely oily, try avoiding milk and refined carbs, which are thought to increase the amount of oil your skin produces, to see if it helps. Find out how food can interfere with your skin here.
  • Avoid greasy hair products like waxes and pomades.
  • Use oil-absorbing papers and oil-free powder to cut shine.

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