So, oily skin. You may have it, I definitely have had it, you’ve probably had enough of it, so how to get rid of it?
Let’s first look at what causes it.
You may know that oily skin is caused by an excess of sebum. Sebum forms part of the normal secretions by our skin which keep our skin healthy (the others being sweat and some other lipids). But when there is too much of it, our skin appears oily and can be more susceptible to acne, as the bacteria that cause acne love sebum.
So what can we attribute this excess sebum to? Simply put, hormones and genes.
It is widely understood that people with oily and acneic skin are more sensitive to the androgen hormones that increase sebum production. This can be due to genes or lifestyle, and more likely than not, a bit of both. We all (men and women) have testosterone in our bodies, and free testosterone that is not used is converted to its more potent form, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This happens with the help of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase and is the source of most skin issues around oiliness and acne.
Being genetically more sensitive to these hormones is making you more susceptible to oily skin (which you cannot do a huge amount about) but you may also be contributing to more oiliness through your lifestyle and habits.
Not to worry though, because this article is all about what you can do about it despite those handicaps. It’s easiest to think of them as internal, external and lifestyle remedies, so let’s split them accordingly.
Treating your skin from the outside is possibly the quickest way to start, but probably also the one where you feel you have tried but not gotten anywhere so far.
So why don't we look at what actually works from a scientific standpoint?
Your best bet is to use substances that help to reduce 5-alpha reductase directly on the skin. This enzyme is active at the skin’s surface level, converting all those hormones into excess sebum and spots so using topical treatments on the skin’s surface level helps to reduce the hormone conversion right where it is happening. Some of the most researched topicals to be known to work are:
- alpha and gamma linolenic acids
- zinc (further amplified by vitamin B5)
- azelaic acid
- green tea extract
- saw palmetto
Using a serum or oil that incorporates some of these ingredients will be a great starting point to topically help to reduce oiliness. Try finding a lotion based on green tea or saw palmetto (this one is a bit harder to find), oils or creams with high amounts of alpha and gamma linolenic acids as well as linoleic acids (we formulated our face oil
with specifically these ingredients in mind and it has high levels of all three), azelaic acid topical treatments (often found in the acne aisle) and creams with zinc included to help your skin on a daily basis.
And what about internally? What are the most effective ways to help reduce the potency of the hormones responsible for your skin’s oiliness?
The main hormones impacting the sensitivity of your skin to androgens as well as the absolute levels of androgens are insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), both of which are stimulated by increases in blood sugar. The hormonal impact flows from blood sugar to insulin to IGF-1, and so the best place to start is at the first step, i.e. blood sugar.
Blood sugar responds to eating or snacking by increasing immediately after you put something in your mouth. Insulin then kicks in to lower it back down to normal, taking around 2 hours on average to do so. However, there can be large differences in the blood sugar and insulin responses to food depending on what you are eating. You may have heard of the glycemic index - this is an index that assigns values to foods based on their impact on your blood sugar. Low glycemic index foods result in the sugar in your food being absorbed into your blood slowly, thus raising blood sugar only moderately, while for high glycemic index foods this is the opposite and you may see blood sugar spikes that are very high.
So concentrating on lower glycemic foods will be beneficial to your skin as your blood sugar, and hence the hormones that cause oiliness will be better in check. There are lots of lists online about the glycemic loads of specific foods (try this one
for example) but the main principle is to eat a balanced diet of “slow” carbohydrates (vegetables and wholegrains), fats and proteins. In practice this often means decreasing sugar, simple carbohydrates (white carbohydrates), dairy and trans fats.
Making changes to your lifestyle and diet is not easy, but these days the internet is full of food bloggers who have similar goals to you who can get you off to an easier start. Think about for example looking into what Deliciously Ella
, Calgary Avansino
or Madeleine Shaw
post on their websites and you won’t be feeling sorry for leaving out the sugar or dairy!
Ramping up these changes on skincare and how you eat will have a major positive impact on the oiliness of your skin. But there is one last trick in the box that you shouldn’t forget and can be the cherry on top to get you the skin you wanted all that time.
Your insulin levels are not only impacted by food but also by your stress levels, fitness and sleep. These things are so central to well-being and healthy skin that we forget to even think about them sometimes, but there they are. And you will notice a huge difference when making sure that these aren’t just an afterthought.
You know how your skin always looks great when you get back from holidays? Well you’ve been stressing less, probably sleeping more and walking around to see the sights - so your body’s insulin levels are most definitely low. Which is reflected in your skin.
So what can you do in your every day?
Trying to get enough sleep is unfortunately not really something you can hack. Either you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep or you aren’t. It’s that simple. And simultaneously that hard. Putting away the phone or Netflix just doesn’t seem all that appealing when Ozark has just left you off on a cliffhanger. But if you know you need to get up by 7, going to sleep at 1:30am isn’t going to support your goals.
So try making going to bed something you look forward to. If you love an evening cup of tea, make drinking a herbal tea the last thing you do before bed. Or if you really enjoy your beauty ritual, make your daily cleanse a proper affair with candles and everything so that you can look forward to it and you won’t miss your devices. And once you’re feeling relaxed from all that, it’s much simple to just slip into bed and enjoy that sleep.
Exercise impacts our mental and physical health more than many other things put together, and the same goes for oily skin too. As we discussed above, raising your blood sugar levels results in increased insulin levels as your body tries to bring your blood sugar down again. And while our bodies are pretty efficient in doing this already, exercising regularly can make this mechanism up to 7 times more efficient, meaning that your blood sugar will come down to a normal range 7 times faster. Which in turn will allow those oil-causing hormones to settle down quicker and improve your skin.
Even doing 20 minutes a day of an activity that raises your heart rate slightly (e.g. swift walking or even slightly more vigorous cleaning around the house) is enough to get started. In fact, moderate cardio and strength training (and not high-intensity) have been shown to be the most beneficial for women trying to control their hormones. And you may notice that once you get going, you want to do more!
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Get Rid of Oily Skin Tip #6 Make relaxation a daily part of your routine to decrease stress. Stress management feels very vague in relation to skincare, and while we can’t say stress = bad skin like we can say 1+1=2, we do know that stress has a direct impact on our skin health through various mechanisms - i.e. through depleting the nutrients in our bodies, by interrupting our hormones, through causing us digestive stress, and by redirecting blood flow towards the acute problem (stress) and away from our bodies’ normal functions. So, no matter what you’re doing with your diet, exercise, supplements and skincare, if you’re highly stressed, then all that effort will not have as strong of an impact as it could otherwise. Stress leads our adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, long-term exposure to high levels of which has a negative impact not only on your skin. Similarly, high levels of stress over longer periods of time will cause increased levels of androgens, which are major culprit in oily skin. Whether it is through a daily walk outside, yoga, meditation or something else, choose your favourite way to relax and stick to it - your skin will respond with thanks ☺️ So, what are you doing to relax today? 📷@maxvdo
Your overall stress levels contribute to skin issues through depleting the nutrients in your body, by interrupting your hormones, through causing digestive stress, and by redirecting blood flow towards resolving stress and away from your bodies’ normal functions.
So, no matter what you’re doing with your diet, exercise and skincare, if you’re highly stressed, then all that effort will be muted. Similarly, high levels of stress over longer periods of time will cause increased levels of androgens, which, as mentioned above are one of the main things contributing to your skin issues.
So how can you decrease stress?
Some of the top stress-reducing techniques that have been scientifically proven to work are deep breathing and having a gratitude practice. So things like meditation, long walks in nature, spending time alone with a great book and just reminding yourself of all the great things that you already have in your life are great. Of course we all know that stress reduction is not a one-day job and that you can be rid of it just like that, but adopting one of these habits as a weekly habit will already go a long way to helping you de-stress your life and achieve that healthy skin!
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