Despite what we might have been told in decades gone past, oily skin isn’t caused by eating chips, as much as acne isn’t caused by eating chocolate.
The causes of oily skin go far deeper than what our diets look like. If you battle with oily skin, you may well be stressed and anxious about it, and asking your mirror on a daily basis, why is my skin so oily?!
Oily skin is a consequence of producing too much sebum. Sebum is an oily, waxy substance that’s secreted by the sebaceous glands in the skin. We need sebum to prevent our skin from drying out. Sebum also provides the skin with a protective layer. But too much sebum, and our skin appears oily and we experience a shiny, sometimes greasy face.
The reasons behind what causes oily skin and excess sebum are varied. Understanding the cause of your excess sebum and oily skin can help you to significantly manage your skin and stop the shine.
If you’re constantly left wondering, what’s causing my oily skin”, here’s your definitive guide to the causes and treatments for oily skin.
Hormones and Oily Skin
Most of the time, we associate oily skin with acne prone teenagers. This isn’t just hearsay, as there is a hormonal link to having greasy skin. Teenage bodies are going through a lot of change, mostly linked to surges in hormones, hence why acne is common in this age group.
But oily skin doesn’t always mean having acne or even low level breakouts and spots. Oily skin is a condition by itself, and quite often, it can be caused by hormonal imbalances.
So, what hormone causes oily skin?
Does Testosterone Cause Oily Skin?
Testosterone is an androgen, or male hormone, that’s present in the bodies of women (to a lesser extent) as well as men.
If androgens, including testosterone, levels increase, particularly in women, it can cause an increase in the levels of sebum production. This then leads to oilier skin, and potentially also acne.
Health conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause testosterone levels to rise in women. Testosterone also rises in both genders during puberty.
Oily Skin in Pregnancy
When you’re pregnant, your levels of oestrogen, progesterone and oxytocin are fluctuating. Hormones known as androgens are also surging, which can lead to oily skin. This is because androgens increase the production of sebum, the natural oily, wax-like substance produced by the skin.
With a higher level of androgens, comes excess sebum, and therefore, oilier skin. Once you’ve given birth, your oily skin should settle down within a few weeks or months.
Oily Skin and the Menopause
As a general rule, the skin tends to become drier as the menopause approaches as the sebaceous glands that produce sebum become less active with age. But this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to have oily skin at this time of life.
In the same way as going through pregnancy, going through the menopause can also lead to oilier skin as the body goes through fairly intense hormonal changes.
Does Increased Oestrogen Cause a Greasy Face and Acne?
An increase in the hormone oestrogen isn’t likely to cause a change in the skin to make it become oilier. However, a fall in oestrogen levels can.
In women, oestrogen levels fall during the menopause, which can cause oilier skin.
Before a woman reaches the menopause, her levels of testosterone are masked by higher levels of oestrogen and another female hormone called beta oestradiol. After the menopause, when oestrogen levels are lower, testosterone is more able to have its effect on the skin.
As we mentioned above, testosterone causes an increase in sebum production, and therefore, oilier skin.
The Thyroid and Oily Skin
Part of having a thyroid disease such hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) is associated with imbalances in the thyroid hormones.
However, this hormonal imbalance is unlikely to cause oily skin. Quite the opposite in fact. Thyroid disease is more likely to cause dry skin complaints, with rashes, facial flushing and cracking.
If you have oily skin, it’s therefore unlikely to be caused by thyroid disease. (But if you have other symptoms that you think may be caused by a thyroid problem, such as falling hair and fingernails lifting from their nail beds, it’s important to speak to your GP.)
Does Cortisol Cause Oily Skin?
Cortisol is a hormone that is released when we feel stressed. As if feeling stressed isn’t bad enough, when levels of cortisol rise, so does the amount of sebum that’s released by the skin. This causes the skin to feel oiler.
This excess sebum can lead to spots and outbreaks, hence the reason why we might notice spotty skin within a few days of being very stressed. Having anxiety can also lead to the release of cortisol and the same problems with oily skin.
Does DHEA Cause Greasy Skin?
Another hormone that’s related to oily skin is DHEA (or dehydroepiandrosterone). DHEA helps the body produce the male hormone testosterone which we know an excess of can cause oily skin.
DHEA is available as a supplement that’s been tentatively linked to helping post-menopausal vaginal dryness, depression, aging and osteoporosis.
The evidence for these benefits is sketchy, but it is known that DHEA supplementation can lead to oily skin, acne and an overgrowth of hair (hirsutism) as well as an increased risk of certain hormone related cancers.
Is Oily Skin Genetic?
Sadly, having oily skin can and does run in families. If a close relative such as a parent or sibling has oily skin, then the chances are, you will too.
The good news is, oily skin is now better understood than perhaps in your parent’s era, and we now know how to stop oily skin, which can help you a lot!
Foods That Can Cause Oily Skin
OK, so a diet of chips isn’t going to be great for any aspect of health. But as we mentioned previously, it isn’t just high fat, greasy foods that lead to oily skin.
Eating foods with a high fat content can lead to blocked pores and spots around the mouth. This is because the oil can build up around the mouth after eating and cause physical pore blockages from the outside. But there are certain foods that cause the skin to become oily from the inside, namely dairy products…
Dairy and Oily Skin
If you’re wondering, “why is my skin so oily”, then it might be diet-related. Dairy products such as cow’s milk, cheese and yoghurts can cause the sebaceous glands to go into overdrive and begin producing excess oil.
This is thought to be down to the level of bovine (cow) hormones naturally present in milk and dairy products. These hormones can trick the body into thinking they’re human hormones and cause an increase in sebum production.
If you think that dairy products could be causing your skin to feel oilier, try to avoid them or at least reduce your intake. With the increase in veganism, there’s now plenty of dairy alternatives to choose from in supermarkets too.
Can Fish Oil Make My Skin Greasy?
Oily fish and fish oil supplements are rich in polyunsaturated omega 3 fatty acids. These are good fats that help support a healthy brain and heart as well as healthy skin.
It may feel counterintuitive eating oily fish or taking fish oil supplements to help balance your oily skin. But evidence suggests that omega 3 oils can counteract the effects of the stress hormone cortisol that leads to an increase in sebum production.
An increase in omega 3 in your diet can also help to boost the amount of hydration within the skin cells, helping to balance out oily skin.
Can Dehydration Cause Oily Skin?
Dehydration causes dry skin, that much is fairly obvious. But dehydration can also lead to oily skin. This is because staying hydrated means that the sebaceous glands are less likely to become blocked and inflamed.
The healthier the sebaceous glands, the better for the skin all round so the advice, as always, is to stay hydrated.
Does Alcohol Cause a Greasy Face?
Drinking alcohol to excess on a regular basis will lead to dehydration if you’re not also drinking lots of water to counterbalance the effects of drinking alcohol.
Dehydration leads to dry skin, but as we mentioned above, it can also lead to an increase in oil production. Alcohol can also cause your sebaceous glands to produce excess sebum, leading to oily skin. It’s thought this is due to the disruptive effect of alcohol on hormones.
Other Factors That May Cause Greasy Skin
If your oily skin isn’t related to your hormones, genetics or diet, could it be linked to other aspects of your life or lifestyle?
Does Sweating Cause Oily Skin?
If you’re sweating a lot, either because it’s hot or you’re going to the gym, and you don’t have time to wash your face, then you could be adding to your oily skin problems.
Leaving a layer of sweat on your face can cause pore blockages that in turn leads to spots, acne breakouts and a build-up of oil. If you’re unable to wash your face, carry a facial spritz with you to help remove sweat and dirt throughout the day.
Does Humidity Cause Greasy Skin?
As with sweating, being in a humid environment can cause the sebaceous glands to produce excess sebum. This can build-up and lead to oily skin.
Can the Weather Cause Oily Skin?
When it comes to what causes oily skin, the weather certainly can have an impact - in both warm and cool environments.
When the weather is hot and humid, our body will naturally try to cool us down by sweating. This can lead to greasy skin by blocking the pores if we don’t cleanse the sweat away (or we can’t as we’re out and about).
In cooler weather, our skin can become dry and irritated. Over time, this could lead to an excess of sebum as the skin overcompensates for the dryness.
Can Air Pollution Cause a Greasy Face?
Pollution outside is caused by traffic, industry and environmental toxins such as pesticides. But it isn't just outside, our homes can also be filled with pollution from log burners, real wood fires and even burning candles, especially scented ones.
Exposing our skin to outdoor and indoor pollution can cause a build-up on the skin, causing the pores to become blocked. This will then leady to excess sebum production and greasy skin.
For this reason, it's important to thoroughly cleanse the skin twice a day to remove dirt, grime, makeup and pollution.
Can Over-Washing Cause Oily Skin?
Washing your face more often than twice a day can strip the skin of its natural oils. Which should be a good thing because my face is oily, we hear you say!
But the opposite is true. Stripping the skin of sebum, by over-washing or using harsh, astringent products can cause the skin to become dry. This will lead to an overproduction of sebum as the skin compensates to counteract the dryness.
Always use a gentle cream cleanser to thoroughly cleanse, without stripping the skin and always use a moisturiser. If you have oily or very oily skin, use an oil free moisturiser designed for oily skin.
Can Certain Medications Cause a Greasy Face?
Some medications can cause oily skin, particularly so, those that affect or replace hormone levels, such as the oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) used during the menopause.
Steroid medications and some antidepressants can also lead to greasy skin. It may be worth speaking to your doctor about changing your medication if your skin is affected, and it’s always a good idea to use skincare products designed to support the needs of oily skin.
Can Cosmetics Cause Oily Skin?
Like oil-based skincare products, cosmetics such as some liquid foundations and cream concealers could be causing oily skin and a shiny face.
Always cleanse makeup away before bed and choose non-pore blocking, or non-comedogenic skincare products and makeup.
Do Hot Showers Cause Oily Skin?
Overly long or hot showers can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dry skin. But over time, the sebaceous glands could try to compensate for their oil being stripped away, by producing more and more. This will then lead to oily skin.
Try to keep shower time to a minimum and use lukewarm water to be kinder to your skin.
Can Shaving Cause Oily Skin?
Having naturally oily skin can cause annoying consequences to shaving. Greatest skin can lead to razor burn and skin bumps. Make sure you always use a clean, sharp razor and plenty of lather to minimise the trauma to your skin.
How to Stop Oily Skin
If you have oily skin, then there are lots of ways you can help to manage your skin and keep oil production under control. Our article on treatments for oily skin goes into detail about topical treatments, medications and therapies that you can use to help.
Having oily skin doesn’t have to mean just putting up with it. It might take some trial and error but you can find the treatment that best supports your skin. We wish you all the best in getting the skin you deserve!
Sourceshttps://www.healthline.com/health/oily-skin-causes https://www.foreo.com/mysa/top-7-causes-oily-skin/ https://www.bioclarity.com/blogs/clear-skin/why-is-my-skin-oily
E-A-T Resourceshttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22722766/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11059369/
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.