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What is oily skin

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In this article

What are the characteristics of oily skin?
Are there any benefits of oily skin on the face?
Tips for oily skin
Does oily skin cause pimples?
Different oily skin types
Managing oily skin

If you regularly suffer a shiny nose or greasy skin on your forehead, you might assume you have an oily skin problem. But some oil on the skin is normal, especially when you wake up or at the end of the day, particularly if it’s hot. Our skin overview explains more. 

The skin contains sebaceous glands, which produce a natural skin oil called sebum. Sebum is released by the pores of the skin to keep the skin moisturised and protected. Washing our face daily in the morning and the evening helps to remove that oil. If we don’t clear it away, it can collect in the pores and is a major acne cause leading to spots and acne breakouts.

It’s a never ending cycle, but without this natural, wax like substance, our skin would be very dry and undernourished.

However, for people with oily skin, it can be very problematic, causing shine, spots and greasy skin.

So here’s how to know if you have oily prone skin, and what you can do to help manage it with tips on skincare for oily skin

What are the characteristics of oily skin?

We’ve all heard of different skin types – dry, normal, combination and oily– but how do we know which one we are?

Here we’re discussing the signs of oily skin, which tends to have certain characteristics. Here’s how to tell if you have oily skin:

  • Greasy, shiny skin all over the face or on parts of the face (forehead, nose and chin)
  • Visibly enlarged pores
  • More prone to spots, blackheads and whiteheads

Remember, our skin can change with our age plus our hormones also have a great effect on our skin. Going through puberty, being on your period, being pregnant and going through the menopause all cause changes to hormone levels, which can have an effect on our skin.

This tends to be because these events cause a rise in male hormones called androgens. Androgens such as testosterone cause an increase in sebum levels, and in turn, oilier skin.

So the type of skin you have now, may well be different to the skin you have or have had at another point in your life.

Are there any benefits of oily skin on the face?

If having oily skin is the bane of your life, then it might be difficult to think of any benefits to having this skin type. But there are some benefits to be had.

Oily skin tends to display fewer visible wrinkles so having a more youthful appearance is a real benefit to having oily skin! It ages more slowly as it tends to be thicker, which means that there are extra layers of plump skin, that make the wrinkles that do form, less noticeable.

Having oily skin is also thought to make it more hydrated too, since the oil in the pores helps to prevent moisture from escaping. What’s more, the extra sebum can also mean that you’re less likely to experience sunburn and the associated aging effects of that. Although this in no way means you should go without sun block.

In many ways, having a natural sheen to your face is a good thing, but we completely understand that you may prefer to look more matte.

Tips for oily skin

Looking after your oily skin means using products designed for oily skin (called non comedogenic, or non pore blocking). In our article on caring for oily skin we go into more depth on how you can best look after your skin and what ingredients you might find useful.

But in a nutshell, we advise the following oily skincare routine:

  • Don’t wash or cleanse your skin more than twice a day
  • Use a gentle facial wash that’s free from harsh, artificial ingredients and fragrances
  • After cleansing, use a gentle astringent toner such as witch hazel or rose water
  • Exfoliate using a gentle salicylic acid product no more than once a week
  • Avoid harsh exfoliants such as loofahs and don’t aggressively dry your skin with your towel
  • Always moisturise! Avoiding a moisturiser if you have oily skin can make your skin greasier, as your skin overcompensates for having dry skin by producing extra sebum

Does oily skin cause pimples?

Having oily skin can cause spots and acne breakouts, especially if you have acne prone skin as well as oily skin.

Spots are caused by blockages in the pores. These blockages are caused by dirt, bacteria, excess dead skin cells and oil. If they build up, the pore becomes blocked, and we experience those all too familiar bumps that may be angry and red, yellow with pus or look like black- or whiteheads.

So whilst having oily skin doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll also suffer with acne, the two skin conditions can go hand in hand.

Different oily skin types

Not all oily skin is created equal. Sometimes, oily skin can occur in conjunction with dry or dehydrated skin or flaky skin.

Dry and oily skin – Combination skin

Sometimes, oily skin can also feel dry and even flaky. Dry flaky, oily skin on the face is a sign of combination skin and is usually caused by a genetic link, running through your family.

You’ll usually notice that your T zone, the area of your forehead, nose and chin, is oilier than the rest of your face, and your cheeks may become dry and flaky. You may also notice that the pores within your T zone are visibly enlarged.

To treat dry, oily skin, use a combination of products – ones designed for oily skin on your T zone, and products designed for dry skin on your cheeks. This is especially important when you’re moisturising, since your moisturiser stays on your skin.

Oily dehydrated skin

Dehydrated skin is skin that lacks moisture and is usually caused by not drinking enough fluids on a regular basis.

Just like dry, oily skin, you can suffer with oily, dehydrated skin. Try to drink eight glasses of water (herbal teas also count) a day and follow the skincare advice for dry oily skin above for as long as you need to.

Very oily skin

The signs of very oily skin are having greasy, shiny skin within a short time of cleansing. Looking after very oily skin takes the same regime of skincare for oily skin as outlined above.

Don’t be tempted to cleanse your skin more than twice a day, as this can dehydrate the skin, and cause the skin to produce even more sebum that will make the skin even oilier.

Oily skin with large pores and blackheads

Having oily or very oily skin can mean that your pores become enlarged (and so produce excess sebum) and blocked, forming blackheads.

If this is the case for you, make sure you’re exfoliating once a week. Use a gentle exfoliant such as salicylic acid rather than harsh mechanical exfoliants such as loofahs and brushes.

Don’t be tempted to exfoliate more often as it can dry the skin leading to excess oil production by the skin to compensate. But don’t neglect it either, as it can help to clear out blocked pores meaning fewer blackheads.

Use a gentle astringent toner such as witch hazel after every cleanse too. This will help to tighten enlarged pores, making them smaller and less able to produce excess sebum.

Dry oily acne prone skin

Sadly, it’s entirely possible to have dry, and oily acne prone skin at the same time. As we mentioned above, the two skin conditions together mean that you more than likely have combination skin.

At the same time, even more frustratingly, having oily patches of skin often means you’re also more likely to experience acne break outs.

Use acne preparations sparingly, and only ever on the areas of skin affected by acne – never on the dry patches. A side effect of acne creams and ointments is dry, flaky skin, which you don’t need on your already dry bits.

Follow our skincare advice for combination skin above and pay particular attention to moisturising. Don’t be tempted to forgo the moisturiser on your oily, acne prone patches of skin. If this skin become dry, the skin will produce even more oil to overcompensate.

Oily to normal skin

Oily to normal skin, or combination skin, usually means that you have an oily forehead, nose and chin – the so-called T zone, with normal or dry skin on the cheeks. This is caused by enlarged pores in the T zone area that produce more sebum than on the cheeks.

It might be useful to use a combination of products if you have this skin type. Cleanse using a gentle cleanser twice a day. Then use a moisturiser for oily skin on your T zone and a different moisturiser for normal skin on your cheeks.

Shiny skin on the face that isn’t oily

Having shiny skin doesn’t have to mean that you have overly oily skin. Sweating on a hot day or after exercise causes shiny skin that isn’t necessarily oily.

You may also be experiencing a ‘hormonal glow’ caused by surges in hormones making you feel hotter, such as during your period or the menopause. Or, you could be over exfoliating, and causing the newer skin cells exposed by exfoliating to reflect the light more. Over exfoliating can also cause a loss of hydration, causing the skin to look shinier.

Avoid exfoliating more than once a week, and use mattifying makeup to help control your shine.

Itchy, oily skin rash

Oily skin accompanied by a red rash can be a sign that you have a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition characterised by a red, irritated skin rash that may also be dry and flaky, alongside also having oily skin.

If you think you may have this condition, it’s best to speak to your GP or skin specialist as they can recommend treatment to help clear up your skin and help to prevent the condition from returning.

Oily skin in men

Oily skin in women is usually attributed to changes in hormones, and oily skin in men tends to be down to the same reasons – testosterone levels leading to an overproduction of sebum.

There are many products on the market designed for men’s skincare, so choose one that is designed for oily skin. Watch out for products overly scented with artificial fragrances as these can aggravate the skin, whatever your skin type.

Oily skin with an odour

Sebum doesn’t have a smell, but there are times when oily skin with an excess of sebum can begin to smell. This is usually down to a build-up of sebum that then begins to get broken down by skin bacteria.

If you’re noticing that your skin is very oily with an odour, try cleansing twice a day if you’re not already. If that doesn’t help, you may have blocked pores that have become infected, and you may need an antibiotic cream, available from your GP on prescription.

Caring for oily skin

Here at Sönd we have first hand experience if what it is to have problem skin. That’s why we developed our range of alkalising skincare, to treat our own skin and to help others.

We also have a range of helpful articles on the causes of oily skin and what you can do to help manage and care for it best. We hope you find them useful – isn’t it good to know you’re not alone!


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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