If that just about describes you, you’re not alone! In France, 1 in 2 women have to deal with oily skin. It's the same for men, who have naturally higher sebum secretion levels.

Why do you get oily skin, how is it different from combination skin, what makes it worse, who is affected by it? Here are a few facts to help you understand.

Too much sebum pore

The way oily skin looks is caused quite simply by too much sebum, something that dermatologists call hyperseborrhoea.

Some people make more sebum than others - sometimes too much. The sebum drains out of the pores in the skin and covers the areas that have a lot of sebaceous glands with a protective, oily film - protective, but not very attractive!

The T-zone is most affected: forehead, nose, cheeks. But sometimes it affects the whole face and the scalp too. This excessive sebum production is physiological - it is determined by how each individual's hormones function.

Nevertheless, some aspects remain constant, and we know that sebum production is greater:

Gender
In men than women
Age
In younger people From puberty to around 45 years of age
Hour
In the middle of the day Peaking between 12 o’clock and 2 pm
Sun
During hot weather As a 1°C increase in cutaneous temperature leads to a 10% increase in sebum secretion

Factors that make it worse

Some factors can stimulate sebum production and accentuate the symptoms, even if they do not directly cause oily skin:

Food

a diet that contains too much sugar and dairy produce (apart from cheese, which is allowed), even if this has yet to be formally demonstrated by science.

Stress

stress, which triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone involved in sebum production 

heat and alcohol, both of which increase body temperature, which in turn promotes sebum secretion

Specific features of oily skin

Oily skin refers to a specific type of skin for dermatologists, and it is not the same as acne-prone skin. You can have oily skin without having spots.

But you don’t get spots if you don’t have oily skin. Thicker and better able to resist attack — although it can become sensitive if subjected to over-aggressive skincare products — it is less subject to early ageing and wrinkles.

Oily skin is well protected by a highly fatty hydrolipidic film. But when it comes to how it looks, it can lead people to develop a complex, which can in turn become a real obsession.

  • Skin is too shiny, never feels really clean and can look a little dirty. This oily, shiny appearance varies as the day goes on and according to circumstances.

 

  • Complexion is dull, because oily skin doesn’t reflect the light very well and often has greyish areas, hence the infamous muddy complexion so typical of combination to oily skin.

 

  • Dilated pores, particularly in the T-zone, because the purpose of pores is to release sebum, so there are more of them in the areas that have the most sebaceous glands.

 

  • Irregular skin texture, because the blackheads create a somewhat granular microrelief.

 

  • Increased risk of blackheads and blemishes.
     
Oily skin and clear skin

Sebaceous gland

Pores are sebum’s way out. Every single one of the hundreds of thousands of pores on the face is connected to a sebaceous gland. The more sebum is secreted, the more they get blocked by closed comedones (blackheads) and the wider they become.

Their size also varies naturally with time: they are estimated to double in size between the ages of 25 and 50*. Heat, alcohol, tobacco, sun and pollution also help to increase their diameter. Sometimes, they begin to look hollow, which only serves to make the skin texture's irregular appearance worse.

For many men and women with oily skin, the challenge is to somehow tighten up their pores. You can get specific skincare products that refine and smooth the skin.


*Journal of Dermatological Science – February 2016, Facial skin pores: a multiethnic study
 

Body areas

With oily skin, the whole face is affected by excess sebum production, as well as the scalp, the upper back and the décolleté. Another typical feature is that the hypersebborhoea does not vary with time. If you have combination skin, the shiny patches are primarily on the face's T-zone, where there are the most sebaceous glands.

The skin is drier on the cheeks and around the edges of the face. Combination skin is significantly unbalanced, both in terms of the location of oily/dry areas, and in terms of the effects of time: this type of skin is constantly changing, making it very difficult to understand and manage. It can have a combination of shiny patches, blemishes, desquamation and sensitivity, depending on the location.

It isn’t easy to know for certain why people have combination skin, because it's a purely cosmetic problem that hasn’t been researched very much. How people perceive combination skin is highly subjective: some people say their skin is oily and others say it’s dry, whereas objectively speaking they have a similar type of skin, when its sebumetry is measured objectively, as shown in a study by the CIREC*.

Whatever the case, 2 complementary factors exist:

 

  • The fall in hyperseborrhoea that occurs with age can turn oily skin into combination skin
  • Excessive use of aggressive, stripping skincare products to eliminate sebum from oily skin and, in some cases, anti-acne treatments, can end up making the skin sensitive and creating dry areas

 

* Centre d’Investigation et de Recherche Cutanée (Skin Investigation and Research Centre)

Who is affected by combination to oily skin?

About 50% of women* say they suffer from problems with oily skin. Men are also very much affected, as they naturally secrete more sebum than women. The first symptoms of oily skin appear upon reaching puberty, when male and female hormones are activated. Testosterone, in particular, triggers sebum production, while oestrogens control it. This hormonal component explains why the symptoms of oily skin change during a woman's menstrual cycle. 

*Ipsos Study, 2014
 

Puberty coincides with hyperseborrhoea, which usually causes the episodes of acne so typical of adolescence.

Many teenagers therefore find themselves having to deal with the issue of oily skin. Even when the blemishes have disappeared and things have calmed down as hormones begin to stabilise, some people go on suffering from oily skin in adulthood.

Oily skin is something that makes like difficult from a social point of view and has a significant influence on self-image.

As you grow older, sebum production starts to fall - gently, for men, once they reach their forties, but brutally for women on reaching the menopause. This is when a combination skin can develop, with some oily areas and others that are dry.

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