Oily Skin Tips

Oily skin types are faced with unique challenges, ranging from excess shine to problems with makeup staying in place. But the truth is that oily skin actually has a number of benefits, including a longer-lasting youthful appearance. Understanding the nuances of this unique skin type and using the correct skincare regimen is key for living with oily skin.

What Is Oily Skin?

Oily skin is characterized by abundant sebum (oil) secretion from the sebaceous glands. These glands are found predominantly in the T-zone, chest, and back. Hormones affect the production of sebum, as do stress and diet.

Most people are incorrect when determining whether their skin is oily or dry. I have developed a series of scientifically validated questions to help assess sebum production levels.  Studies show that the answers to the questionnaire correspond to Sebumeter measurements. (The Sebameter is a tool that measures the amount of sebum levels on the skin’s surface.) The questionnaire responses were found to accurately predict sebum secretion and have been incorporated into the Skin Type Solutions Questionnaire used to diagnose the Baumann Skin Type®. You can visit to find a physician who offers this proprietary skin-typing system.

What Is Sebum?

As a dermatologist, I’ve long been intrigued by the components of sebum, which seem to be determined by genetics. Researchers have found that sebum contains triglycerides, diglycerides, fatty acids, wax esters, squalane and cholesterol. Many studies have tried to determine which of these are related to acne, but that is still unclear.

The exact function of sebum is not fully understood. However, it is now known to play important roles in the skin’s barrier function and hydration levels. Sebum also protects the skin against oxidative stress because it contains vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant known to combat skin aging as well as the cellular damage that leads to skin cancer. Sebum is actually Latin for “fat,” which makes sense, and every square inch of your skin–with the exception of the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and lips–produces it. The lips are more prone to skin cancer and many believe it is due to the fact that there are no sebaceous glands on the lips and the lips do not get protective Vitamin E from sebum like other parts of the face do.

Many factors can influence sebum production. Genetics, hormones, stress, diet, time of day and climate all contribute. Many people complain that their skin is oilier in humid weather, but there is no evidence that seasonal changes have an effect on sebaceous gland activity. The skin may appear oilier in more humid weather due to changes in the sebum that make it more fluid-like and therefore more bothersome, but the actual amount of sebum produced does not change.

When comparing patients by ethnicity, I have found no difference in the percentage of oily versus non-oily skin types. My team and I have analyzed more than 500,000 Skin Type Solutions Questionnaires administered to men and women of all ethnicities around the world. We have found that it is a myth that darker skin types produce more sebum. Skin color does not affect sebum production.

Oily skin may be bothersome, but sebum is actually good for the skin, as it protects skin from losing moisture and contains high levels of antioxidants. Using the correct skincare products for oily skin types is crucial for minimizing the downsides.

Tips for Oily Skin Types

Those with oily skin are often dissatisfied with their skincare regimens because sunscreens can be too oily, products do little to prevent clogged pores and skin is frequently shiny by midday. This occurs when people with oily skin cleanse improperly and apply products with oily ingredients. These are the products most often used incorrectly with this skin type:


Creamy or milky cleansers deposit additional oils on the skin. Instead, use foaming cleansers to strip off excess lipids and remove dirt and oils from pores. This skin type can tolerate the surfactant ingredients that cause the cleansers to foam. These same surfactants are no-nos for dry skin types, though. We recommend La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser.


Heavy moisturizing creams can lead to clogged pores in oily skin types, especially when used under sunscreens that contain dimethicone. Oily skin may not need this extra hydration because it makes its own moisturizer. Skipping this step and using a treatment serum geared toward lightening or other anti-aging concerns is often enough.

Medications to Decrease Sebum Production

The most important thing to know about oily skin care is that there are NO topical ingredients that have been convincingly proven to significantly slow sebum secretion. Topical products can only absorb oil or surround it to make it less obvious.

On the other hand, oral medications can decrease sebum production. Oral spironolactone and other hormonal medications such as oral contraceptives can affect sebum secretion. The most potent of the oral medications to decrease sebum production is isotretinoin, a prescription form of vitamin A (retinoid), which must be used under a doctor’s supervision. Topical retinoids such as tretinoin and retinol do not penetrate into the sebaceous glands, so they do not affect sebum production.

Acne Control

Oily skin types are more likely to suffer from acne because P. acnes, the bacteria that causes acne, uses sebum as a food source. For those with OS (Oily, Sensitive skin), treatment should focus on reducing clogged pores with retinoids; eliminating or decreasing skin bacteria with antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide, or other antimicrobials; and using anti-inflammatory ingredients.

Salicylic acid is the ideal ingredient for oily, acne-prone skin, and it serves multiple purposes. It effectively removes excess oil; gently exfoliates to keep fresh, healthy skin on the surface; and keeps pores clear of dead skin cells and oil that cause clogs.


Sun protection is important regardless of skin type, and it doesn’t have to be greasy. The latest formulations include ultra-light fluids that are absorbed by the skin instantly, and they leave a matte finish that’s ideal for oily skin. I also like physical sunscreens that contain zinc oxide. Zinc may help to manage sebum production and reduce inflammation, and it does not have to be formulated in oil. Chemical sunscreen ingredients require an oil component.


Oily types may prefer the oil-absorbing properties of a powder foundation, but it’s important to know that these products do not offer sun protection. There are many liquid foundations that offer shine control and long-lasting wear.

The Bottom Line

Now that you understand more about the enigma of oily skin, please share your success stories on our Facebook page. And if you have any favorite foundations for oily skin, I’d love to know for an upcoming article on makeup for oily skin types.


Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her team at Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology believe in proof, not promises. World-recognized for both cosmetic and general dermatology, our treatment strategies rely exclusively on evidence-based, scientifically verified products and procedures that promote skin health and a natural appearance. We combine effective medical procedures with individualized instruction on proper skincare, nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle in order to maximize the health of the skin and body as a whole while minimizing the effects of aging. For more, visit Dr. Baumann’s blog for daily updates Monday through Friday, or inquire about an appointment through

February 6, 2017 Acne, Skincare