Moisturiser Won't Make Your Skin More (Or Less) Oily

I have extremely oily skin, which I choose to see as a plus: Sure, I spent my 20s fighting stubborn nodulocystic acne, but maybe all that extra oil means I'll age more slowly than my dry-skinned peers. Unfortunately, any anti-ageing effects are probably negated by the grimacing I do when someone insists my skin is oily because I don't moisturise enough. Sorry - "reactive seborrhea" is full-on bull.

Photo: Zbynek Burival (Unsplash)

Moisturising doesn't change how much oil your skin produces, but to understand why, you need to know where skin oils come from. The oils you blot off your nose are produced by two different types of cells: Sebocytes and keratinocytes:

  • Sebocytes form the business end of sebaceous glands, and their only job is producing sebum - the thick, waxy substance that lubricates our hair and skin.
  • Keratinocytes have a ton of different functions, but the important one here is the care and feeding of the outermost, protective layer of dead skin cells known as the stratum corneum. The lipids produced by keratinocytes are the mortar to the dead skin cells' bricks; they hold the stratum corneum together.

Since they're tied up in an extracellular matrix, keratinocytic lipids don't really contribute to surface oil - making sebum the culprit for your shiny nose.

Sebaceous glands were deeply misunderstood for a very long time, but research in recent decades has shown them to be a crucial part of the endocrine system. This means that sebum production is controlled by your hormones - which tend to fall outside the jurisdiction of topical treatments. Some topicals can reduce pore size, but we don't have evidence that this reduces oil production - and in any case, we're talking about specific medications, not your basic moisturiser.

Your skin cells have no way of detecting and adjusting how much oil is on your skin, which means no regular moisturiser can change how much sebum your body actually produces. If your skin is super-oily but otherwise healthy, stick to a gentle but thorough cleansing regimen, moisturise as needed, wear sunscreen, and carry blotting papers to combat mid-day shine. Painful, inflammatory acne requires medical intervention, so if you're able to see a dermatologist, do it - a good dermatologist will save you time, money and emotional distress.


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