Oily Skin: Not Quite As Evil As We All Thought

Oil: It’s the root of all acne evil. Well, sort of.

Faking shine on cheekbones for strobing purposes is cool; an all-over oil-spill sheen is not. And though oil, or sebum, is no longer considered public enemy number-one when it comes to your skin (Case in point: “Oil is naturally high in antioxidant vitamin E, so skin tends to show signs of aging later,” says Miami-based dermatologist Leslie Baumann, MD), it does play a contributing role in breakouts.
The key word there is contributing. In addition to overproduction of face grease, there are other factors, such as hormones and genetics, that contribute to acne. We asked a few skin experts to explain why we shouldn’t totally demonize oil, and how to kick the slick.
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The grown-up guide to dealing with acne. Read more from The Acne Diaries here.
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Oil Is Not The Enemy
Contrary to popular belief, the experts we spoke with told us that a little grease is actually a good thing. “It’s essentially a natural moisturizer,” says Miami-based dermatologist Leslie Baumann. Meaning that on its own, oil “can actually be very beneficial despite its typically negative connotation,” confirms dermatologist Eric Schweiger, MD, founder of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York. He points out that beyond keeping skin properly hydrated, oil helps maintain the barrier function, which can be depleted in drier skin types, thus causing a whole other set of problems that arise when “glands begin producing too much oil,” explains Dr. Schweiger.

Caolion Pore Sebum Control Moisture Stick, $16, available at Sephora.
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So You Have An Oil Surplus
There’s a reason that men’s skin care is almost always oil-free or at least lightweight. “Testosterone has been linked to excess oil production,” says Dr. Baumann. So while dudes have a tendency to be shinier, the hormone is also present in women's bodies, and it's partly to blame for putting our oil production into overdrive.

But it’s not the only culprit, says Dr. Baumann, who points to stress as another oil-gland stimulant. Who knew giving zero fucks could be beneficial for the skin? On the less fun side, Dr. Schweiger calls out delicious, sugar-laden foods like white bread, cookies, and cake as something you might want to cut back on if you’re looking to de-grease. Womp womp.

Ole Henriksen Grease Relief Facial Water, $22, available at Sephora.
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You Still Need To Hydrate
You probably think that because you already have natural lube on your face, it’s totally fine to skip the moisturizing step in your regimen. It’s not. “Not properly hydrating the skin or drying it out will cause rebound oil production,” explains Dr. Schweiger. “It will create even more sebum to compensate for the moisture loss.” Instead of going sans lotion, choose lightweight textures that have the word non-comedogenic (translation: it won’t clog pores) splashed across the jar or tube.

Tatcha Balanced Pore Perfecting Water Gel, $68, available at Barneys New York.
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When Oil Begets Acne
Like we said before, oil shouldn't shoulder all of the blame for your zits. There’s also P. Acnes — a spot-forming bacteria that is present on everyone’s skin. Science has found that there is a direct link between oil production levels and the proliferation of the bacteria, says Dr. Schweiger. “In order for a pimple to form, the oil needs to combine with dead skin cells, as well as the P. Acnes bacteria, and then get trapped inside a pore,” says Dr. Schweiger. “When the pores get clogged, bacteria begin to feed on the dead skin cells and other debris,” explains Dr. Baumann. Et voilá — a face volcano will occur.

Clinique City Block Purifying Charcoal Clay Mask Scrub, $28, available at Sephora.
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Staging An Intervention
Regular face-washing with purifying cleansers and stocking up on oil-free formulas is a no-brainer solution. Adequately purging pores requires a more comprehensive approach, which is why exfoliation is vital.

And pay attention to active ingredients, says Edyta Jarosz, aesthetician at Fifth Avenue Dermatology Surgery & Laser Center. She likes products with salicylic acid for the ingredients' ability “to reduce oil production, while also gently exfoliating and cleaning pores.” Other ingredients that address oil are sulfur and benzoyl peroxide. But Dr. Schweiger cautions against going full-tilt and throwing all these active ingredients on your face in one go. "Overuse will irritate and dry out skin,” he explains.

Garnier SkinActive Clean+ Shine Control Cleansing Gel, $5.99, available at Target.
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Following Doctor’s Orders
If home remedies aren’t doing the job, it might be time to seek professional help. Prescription retinol-based treatments have proven extremely effective in eradicating blemishes. But if you have dreams of more matte skin, Dr. Schweiger suggests making an appointment for photodynamic therapy (PDT).

“In PDT, we use blue light to activate a medication called 5-aminolevulinic acid,” says Dr. Schweiger. “It shrinks the sebaceous glands of the skin, thereby decreasing the amount of oil in each pore; plus, it targets the P. acnes bacteria that lives on the skin surface and causes acne breakouts.” Another option for minimizing oil is a chemical peel, which Jarosz administers in-office, but a less-potent version can also be done in the comfort of your own home.

Kiehl’s Dermatolgoist Solutions Nightly Refining Micro Peel, $54, available at Kiehl's.
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