Picture this. You apply your make-up perfectly in the morning and leave home feeling confident about your complexion, but by mid-morning, you catch your reflection in a mirror and see the shine as your make-up begins to slide off your face.
Greasy skin can be frustrating, embarrassing, and upsetting, especially when it results in frequent breakouts and acne. So why is it happening to you?
Your skin is shiny because you’re suffering from an overproduction of sebum by the oil glands under your skin. And there are several reasons behind sebaceous glands going in overdrive.
It’s a family thing. Yes, really. ‘Your genes play a big role in the fight against oil,’ explains skincare expert Christine Mitchell Adams of Ursa Major Skincare (www.ursamajorvt.com).
‘If larger sebaceous glands and pores are common in your family, it’s likely that your struggle has to do with genetics.’
Michelle Phan, skincare expert and founder of beauty community ipsy (www.ipsy.com) adds: ‘Dealing with oily skin can be hard, but finding the right combination of lifestyle choices, as well as products that keep your skin in check will put you well on your way to a face that you’re happy to see looking back at you daily. Just like we each have unique features, the same goes for our skin.’
Picking the right skincare products can make a big difference if it’s written into your genes to have oily skin, but the trick is to not overdo it, which can work against you and have the very unwelcome effect of stimulating those sebaceous glands to secrete even more oil.
When it comes to cleansing, salicylic and glycolic acid both help to dissolve heavy oil build-up on the skin, whilst cleaning the epidermis. The Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser (Dh125, Glamazle.com) contains both to purify the skin while gently unclogging the pores to prevent breakouts.
Applying a clay-based mask a few times a week can make a massive difference. The clay works to lift excessive oils off the skin while clearing pores and mattifying. Clayspray Pore Refining White Clay Masque (Dh210, Bloomingdale’s) is ideal, working hard to remove impurities and toxins and clarifying pores for a smooth look.
Finally, if you aren’t using a primer before applying your make-up, it’s a tool to add to your dressing table pronto. Make Up For Ever All Mat Matifying Primer (Dh225, Paris Gallery) is perfect, designed to expertly absorb excess sebum. Apply it before lathering on foundation for a soft, unified complexion without a hint of shine.
While genetics play a big part, they aren’t always the full story – there are a number of other ways we could be unwittingly stimulating the sebaceous glands in our skin.
Take your diet, for example. Experts say you are what you eat, and if we regularly consume unhealthy food, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that our skin is affected.
‘Our skin is the body’s largest organ and it requires essential nutrients to maintain a healthy balance,’ explains Dr Arleen Lamba, skincare expert and founder of the Maryland-based skincare health club, Blush med. ‘If you consume grease and oil in foods, it can certainly lead to oily skin.’
Excessively oily skin doesn’t just cause shine, but it’s also a prime cause of breakouts and acne. This is because the sebum mixes with dead skin cells and other impurities to plug pores and cause bacteria to thrive.
Acne sufferers long suspected that junk food and pimples were connected, but science took a while to prove it. In February 2013, a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that diets high in carbohydrates and processed sugars were associated with breakouts.
Researchers looked at published work from the past 40 years and their analysis showed evidence that a diet with a high glycaemic load could be linked to acne and breakouts, and that following a low-glycaemic diet may help curb them. They found that sugars and carbs spike insulin levels, which could lead to inflammation in the body and greatly increase sebum production.
So what should we avoid to beat shine and banish acne? Put simply, it’s food that will raise our blood glucose levels after eating. That puts white bread, French fries, doughnuts, rice cakes, dates and honey on the banned list, while low-sugar foods such as non-starchy vegetables, wholewheat pasta, low-fat yogurt and fat-free milk should have limited affect on excessive sebum production.
There are a plethora of other possible causes that could be stimulating sebum production in your skin. Stress, for example, stimulates a hormone called cortisol, and too much of it in our system disturbs the sebaceous glands and prompts them to produce more oil.
‘We’re taking both the emotional and physical kind of stress’ says New York-based dermatologist Dr Joshua Zeichner, who is director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mt Sinai Hospital.
‘Stress incites your fight-or-flight response, and when you choose to get your fight on, it can lead to an increase in production of oil from the oil glands because of that surge of hormone.’
And if you’ve always wondered why you wake up with a spot before a big event you’ve been psyching yourself up for, the increase in cortisol levels is to blame. Once sebum is stimulated, you are far more likely to suffer from breakouts.
The key to preventing this is to exfoliate the skin to prevent the pores from getting blocked. Bioderma Sébium Exfoliating Purifying Gel (Dh69, NationWide Pharmacies) is ideal. The gentle gel, which contains glycolic acid, should be massaged over the skin and rinsed thoroughly once or twice a week.
If you are prone to stress-related breakouts, it’s also worth arming yourself with a blemish treatment for on-the-spot relief. Shiseido Blemish Targeting Gel (Dh129, Paris Gallery) is a medicated product that works to quickly heal and shrink blemishes. It can be worn overnight or under make-up for specific healing.
Have you ever woken up to a breakout just before your period? If yes, then you will know the havoc they can cause on oil production, leading to blocked pores and potentially painful breakouts.
So what is happening? Androgens are essentially male hormones that are present in low levels in women, but excess production – especially during puberty, pregnancy and the onset of menstrual cycles – can wreak trouble on the reproductive system and provoke high sebum secretion. Apart from leading to conditions such as PCOS, shiny skin, acne and breakouts are also side effects.
‘It’s not surprising,’ says Dr Zeichner. ‘Every month, your body goes through a regular cycle of hormone production. As these hormones wax and wane, they can stimulate your oil glands.’
‘To control it, get to know yourself. If you always break out before your period, put the topicals about 10 days beforehand to try and prevent the breakout from developing at all.
A serum containing salicylic acid is ideal for this, such as Phytomer Acnipur Blemish Solution Fluid (Dh160, Basharacare.com), which promises to prevent breakouts and provide a matte complexion for up to eight hours.
When we’re conscious about our skin, buying every product under the sun that promises to control excess oil is tempting, but making sure we pick the right ones and use them correctly makes the real difference.
For example, take cleansing. Less is more, which might be hard to fathom when you are battling shine, but overusing your face wash doesn’t keep oil at bay, but actually strips your skin of its natural oils, which then spikes sebum secretion.
Ditto for exfoliating. Crystal McElroy, executive director of Dermatude North America, explains: ‘People think that if they exfoliate with different scrubs they’ll eliminate oil and dirt, but when your skin is overscrubbed, production speeds up because the skin’s natural repair mechanism is at play.’
Another common mistake is to avoid moisturisers when you have oily skin. It’s not true that they exacerbate the condition because moisturisers add water to the skin and not oil.
‘It’s a common misconception,’ says skincare expert Dr Howard Murad.
‘In fact, it’s vital that even oily skin gets moisture because without it, the skin will overcompensate for the loss of hydration with more oil, leading to breakouts and an uneven texture.’
Instead of cutting out moisturisers, pick a product that is best suited to oily skin. Lancôme Hydra Zen Anti-Stress Moisturising Cream-Gel (Dh310, Wojooh.com) is perfect, as it’s light but effectively hydrating.