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What Is Sebum And How To Reduce Excess Sebum Production?

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Sebum can be a double-edged sword: while it’s excellent at keeping skin moist and wrinkles at bay, it becomes more of an issue when it’s secreted in excess. Too much sebum can clog pores, making pimples and blackheads arise, so learning how to reduce sebum production should be top of mind for those who struggle with its excess. For people who don’t, however, it’s essential to know how to maintain sebum levels in place, as when there’s too little of it leads to skin issues, including dryness, early fine lines, and sensitivities. It may sound challenging, but this post explains all you need to know about sebum and how to keep it balanced.

What is sebum?

Sebum is a waxy substance made up of triglycerides and fatty acids (57%), wax esters (26%), squalene (12%), and cholesterol (4.5%).[1] The sebaceous glands produce sebum to moisturize the skin and protect it against external aggressors, being an essential component of the protective barrier that prevents water evaporation and sensitivities. Simply put, sebum is critical in maintaining the skin smooth, soft, and wrinkle-free, that’s why once its production decreases, the skin begins to dry and wrinkle.

Other functions of sebum include photoprotection, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities, and delivery of fat-soluble antioxidants (like vitamin E) to the skin surface.[1][2]

All good up until this point. But what happens when the sebaceous glands secrete too much sebum, and why does it happen in the first place? The answer to the latter concerns high levels of androgen hormones, heat, and genetics.[3] When the sebaceous glands are overactive and secrete too much sebum, it leads to oily skin characterized by large pores, a greasy appearance, and eventually breakouts. Excess sebum mixed with dead cells and bacteria can plug the pores, causing breakouts and blackheads — which is more likely to happen if you don’t exfoliate.[3]

Is sebum the same as oil?

They are often mistaken for one another, but sebum and oil are not the same. Sebum is a component of the oil, while oil is a mixture of sebum, sweat, bacteria, and dead cells on the outermost skin layer. 

How to reduce sebum production

Excess sebum is something oily skin types usually struggle with, and since skin type is mainly inherited, you can do nothing but learn to keep sebum balanced through oil-controlling products.

Now, as far as skincare is concerned, it’s essential to have a diligent routine and remember that consistency is key. Most importantly, cleanse your face twice a day with a cleanser designed for oily skin — a drugstore salicylic acid cleanser will do. That’s how you wash away impurities, get rid of oil and residues, and prevent buildup that may clog pores. 

Right after cleanser comes toner. Although this step is optional, it can be an invaluable tool in your battle against excess oil and, implicitly, blemishes and blackheads. The thing is picking the right type of toner that targets excess oil without over-drying the skin, like a toner for blackheads, a common culprit that comes with excess sebum production. 

salicylic acid serum is king for banishing excess oil. As an oil-soluble compound, salicylic acid penetrates the outermost skin layer, helping pores unclog and breaking down oil on the skin’s surface.[4] That’s why salicylic acid is the MVP for balancing oily skin and eliminating excess sebum. Or, if your skin is easily reactive, we suggest you try a lipohydroxy acid product — a gentle salicylic acid derivative that unclogs pores, exfoliates, balances oil, and speeds up pimples healing.

Your moisturizer should focus on hydration. Dehydrated skin is often a cause of excess oil, despite how ironically it may sound. When the skin lacks water, the sebaceous glands go into overdrive, ending up producing more oil. So, in the quest to find the ideal moisturizer that won’t trigger excess sebum but add hydration and balance oil, you should look for humectants like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and panthenol.[5]

Exfoliation is also crucial to remove excess oil buildup. Once or twice a week, use an exfoliator for oily skin to clear oil, dead cells, and bacteria accumulated on the skin’s surface, unclog pores, and control breakouts. 

Related: How often to exfoliate if I have oily skin?

A weekly detoxifying mask is a brilliant idea as they often contain charcoal and clays that can soak up excess oil and keep pores clear. These masks act like a magnet by absorbing bacteria and toxins from the skin’s surface, helping you achieve a clear, glowy complexion and decreasing the chances of blackheads and pimples to occur.

To end

To sum it up, sebum is an essential component of the skin that plays a major role in moisturizing and protecting. The problem, however, is when the body starts to produce too much sebum since the excess can result in pore clogging and acne. To not let that happen, it’s best to follow a diligent skincare routine that aids in balancing sebum production. Start by cleansing your complexion twice daily and exfoliate regularly to prevent oil buildup on the skin’s surface. A salicylic acid treatment and charcoal face mask are also great to maintain pores clear and reduce sebum, so make sure they don’t miss from your beauty ritual.

Sources

Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

References
  1. Picardo M, Ottaviani M, Camera E, Mastrofrancesco A. Sebaceous gland lipids. Dermatoendocrinol. 2009 Mar;1(2):68-71. doi: 10.4161/derm.1.2.8472. PMID: 20224686; PMCID: PMC2835893.
  2. Thiele JJ, Weber SU, Packer L. Sebaceous gland secretion is a major physiologic route of vitamin E delivery to skin. J Invest Dermatol. 1999 Dec.
  3. Makrantonaki E, Ganceviciene R, Zouboulis C. An update on the role of the sebaceous gland in the pathogenesis of acne. Dermatoendocrinol. 2011 Jan.
  4. Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 Aug 26;8:455-61. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S84765. PMID: 26347269; PMCID: PMC4554394.
  5.  Radosław Balwier, Paweł Biernat, Natalia Schäfer, Dominik Marciniak, Assessment of the moisturizing potential of a two-phase topical care product containing vegetable oils, glycerin, panthenol, and sodium hyaluronate – a preliminary study, June 2022
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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Women's Concepts relies on the latest scientific research to provide accurate, complete, and fact-based information in skincare, on which we're willing to stake our reputation. Our team includes skincare experts who are highly regarded in their fields and committed to upholding the best standards of research. We spend quality time vetting every single product we recommend and double-checking all the facts shared on Women's Concepts. We always stand on the side of inclusivity, and our mission is to help everyone fix their skin issues as they arise and leverage the products they buy to achieve their goals. You can view our expert review board and everything about our editorial guidelines here.
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