What Is Sebum and Why Does Your Skin Need It?
When you first hear the word “sebum” your first reaction is likely a scrunched up face with the initial thoughts of “gross.” While we can admit it doesn’t sound the most appealing, sebum is actually just a natural oil that your skin produces and needs to stay moisturized. Here, we tapped board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep, Dr. Alicia Zalka, to give us the lowdown on sebum, why your skin needs it and how to control it when your skin produces too much.
What Is Sebum?
“Sebum is a waxy substance made up of fats that is produced by sebaceous glands of the skin,” says Dr. Zalka. It helps to lubricate the skin to make it feel softer and moisturized. Dr. Zalka explains that the number and size of sebaceous glands vary, but they are most commonly found on the forehead, chin and scalp. “These are also the parts of the body most prone to oily texture and acne, as a result of a more robust population of sebaceous glands.”
Why Your Skin Needs Sebum
“The desired function of sebum is maintenance of the skin barrier function,” says Dr. Zalka. “It allows the skin to retain moisture while preventing invasion from outside irritants.” It also acts as a protective coating that helps prevent dryness and reduce the appearance of aging, all while keeping your skin moisturized.
How Much Sebum Is Normal?
According to Dr. Zalka, the amount of sebum output varies with sex and age and is linked to hormonal variations. “Teen males tend to have the most sebum while postmenopausal women have the least,” she says. With that said, you can tell if your skin produces too much sebum if you have an oily skin type, acne, rosacea or folliculitis.
How to Control Excess Sebum
You can control the amount of sebum produced with different topical skin-care products. Dr. Zalka recommends searching for ingredients like retinol, alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy-acids (BHAs), which are known to temporarily reduce sebum at the surface of the skin. If you need recommendations, we love the SkinCeuticals Glycolic Acid Renewal Cleanser, which is formulated with glycolic acid (an AHA) to gently exfoliate the skin, promote cellular turnover and unveil a clearer-looking complexion. Then make sure to moisturize your skin using an oil-free formula, like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mattifying Moisturizer. It’s formulated with micro-exfoliating lipo-hydroxy acid to hydrate the skin while targeting excess oil.