What Is Sebum And Why Does Your Skin Need It?
Natural shine can be a beautiful thing, whether it's in your hair, on your cheekbones, or on your lips. While we adore a little effortless glow, there’s a difference between dewy skin and skin that’s excessively oily. All skin has oil—also known as sebum—and it’s completely natural. The reason some skin looks oilier than others has to do with how much sebum is produced by the sebaceous glands. If your sebaceous glands are overactive, you’ll notice oilier skin. If your sebaceous glands are underactive, you’ll notice drier skin. It sounds simple, but there’s a bit more you should know. Ahead, we’re diving under the surface to break down what sebum is and why your skin needs it.
What Is Sebum?
Sebum is essentially oil. Here’s how it works: The sebaceous glands produce sebum, which is then released into the follicle (also known as the pore), which then flows onto the surface of the skin. The role of these oily secretions is to lubricate the skin and make it feel softer. If you didn’t have any sebum, your skin would be inflexible, dry, and brittle. What’s more, sebum makes up part of the acid mantle of the skin, which is there to help protect us against microorganisms, chemical irritants, and pollution particles. Without sebum, your skin would look a whole lot different than it does right now. So while you may have a love/hate relationship with sebum due to how shiny your skin can sometimes look, it’s not something you should wish disappeared.
Sebum is comprised of cholesterol, wax esters, squalene, fatty acids, triglycerides, and diglycerides. Similar to how collagen and elastin—two fibers which give skin its vibrancy and bounce—levels decrease with age, so does sebum production. When your skin’s natural lubrication levels go down, you’ll likely notice drier skin as a result. Dryness can afflict anyone, but it is a common skin complaint amongst mature skin types and that may have to do with decreased sebum production.
How Much Sebum Is ‘Normal’?
If you have excessively oily skin—think: soaking through blotting papers or needing to apply powder multiple times per day—then it’s reasonable to deduce that your sebaceous glands are producing more sebum than someone with a normal or dry skin type. But too little sebum can be problematic as well. Too little sebum can lead to dryness, flaking, or peeling.
It’s important to understand what is ‘normal’ for you may not be ‘normal’ for someone else. Your skin type, whether dry or oily, can be impacted by the role of genetics. If your parents have oily skin, chances are you will as well. What’s more, hormonal fluctuations as a result of puberty or pregnancy can cause a change in the activity of your sebaceous glands. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to change your skin type but there are ways you can help prevent your sebaceous glands from going into overdrive. For example, avoid stripping your skin of moisture either through cleansing with hot water, using harsh products, or exposing yourself to cold, low humidity climates. Doing so can often trick your skin into thinking it’s dry, which can cause your sebaceous glands to overcompensate by producing even more oil. The best thing you can do is to keep your skin’s pH levels balanced with the right skin care products, balancing toners, and using oil-free and mattifying products if your skin is very oily.
Why Your Skin Needs Sebum
You cannot completely rid your body of sebum—and you shouldn’t even want to. There is a plethora of reasons why sebum is essential for your skin. Sebum helps to keep your skin flexible and moisturized. It helps to maintain hydration levels, which can help reduce the appearance of signs of aging. Dry skin can exacerbate the look of wrinkles and fine lines, so keeping it naturally moisturizing with sebum is not a bad thing. You may hate sebum (or oil on the skin’s surface) now, but you'll appreciate it in the future as your skin matures.
How to Control Excess Sebum
Looking for ways to cut down on an excessively shiny complexion? It's as simple as sticking to a daily oil-free skin care regime, remaining consistent with cleansing and moisturizing, and finding which products work the best for your skin. A quick and easy way to keep excess surface oil in check is to remove it manually with blotting sheets. If your oily-looking complexion is accompanied by enlarged pores (sebum and dead skin cells can get trapped in pores and cause them to appear larger), you can look for skin care products that are detoxifying and mattify the look of skin while eliminating dirt and toxins from the skin’s surface to shrink the appearance of pores. Want more tips? We’re sharing the best skin care routine for oily skin, here!