What Causes Oily Skin?

Written by Michelle Rostamian — September 13, 2020

What Causes Oily Skin?

Oily skin can feel like a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s said to resist wrinkles more than its dry skin counterpart, but on the flip side, it can wreak havoc on your day-to-day life (think: an oil-slicked T-zone by noon). What’s more, an oily face can serve as the cornerstone for other skin issues to surface like blackheads, clogged pores, and acne. If your slew of mattifying products and stacks of blotting paper just aren’t cutting it, you’re not alone. The fact is, we all have oil underneath our skin, and behind each of our pores are sebaceous glands that produce natural oils (aka sebum). In those with oily skin, these sebaceous glands produce too much natural oil, resulting in skin that can feel like a perpetual grease trap. While oily skin won’t magically disappear, you can keep it manageable by knowing the root of why your sebaceous glands are overproducing.


If you’re looking for an answer to your perpetual question of “Why is my face so oily?” keep reading to find out what may be the culprit.


What Hormones Cause Oily Skin?

Androgens are male hormones responsible for sebum production. As levels of androgens increase, more oil is produced and released through the pores. Those sebaceous glands we discussed earlier? They have receptors that are influenced by hormones—this can result in greasy skin in those with hormonal changes. Such imbalances that cause excess sebum production can occur during natural stages of life such as puberty, pregnancy, and in some cases, menopause.


Common Causes of Shiny Skin

From your skincare routine to weather conditions, there are several reasons as to what causes shiny skin. Read on to learn seven of them.



The concept of what we put into our bodies affecting our skin isn’t anything new—just think of how much plumper your skin looks after swapping soda with H2O. The same rings true for those with skin that skews oily—a switch-up of your diet could make your greasy skin easier to control. Try cutting back on your dairy consumption by replacing products like milk, cheese, and butter with vegan alternatives. The hormones in these products (especially in milk) can trigger sebum production to go into over-drive. Also, rethink your sugary mid-day snack, as too much sugar can trigger inflammation and thus, oiliness.



If you tend to feel oilier during the warmer weather months, it’s not an illusion—you’re more likely to experience greasier skin when temps skyrocket. This is because an increase in temperature causes your body to sweat to combat the heat and humidity. This, in turn, triggers a natural response from your sebaceous glands, causing them to produce more oil. Excess sebum, especially when mixed with makeup, can clog your pores, so always be sure to double cleanse your skin at the end of the day to avoid acne flare-ups.


Your Age

Your skin composition can go through phases as you age. Whereas you likely had to mop up grease spots on your face as a teen, you may have the opposite concern once you hit your 40s. The reason? Skin produces less sebum over time, which explains why it may feel dryer and like your skincare products aren’t “working” the older you get. What’s more, fine lines and wrinkles become more noticeable as collagen production slows down and skin produces less oil. Bottom line: While your shiny skin may feel like a nuisance today, you may feel differently about it when you begin experiencing bouts of dehydration and more apparent wrinkles.



The sloughed-off dead skin cells as a result of exfoliation can be rewarding, but for those with excess sebum on their skin, too much can backfire. Over-exfoliation can strip your skin of too much oil, thus hyping up your sebaceous glands to offset the loss. Plus, excess scrubbing can be irritating skin that's acne-prone (which often goes hand in hand with skin that's oily). FYI: You’ll know you’re over-exfoliating if your skin appears cracked or waxy. Limit exfoliation to once or twice a week, and if you’re using a chemical exfoliator, opt for one that’s formulated with salicylic acid to fend off future breakouts.


Skipping Moisturizer

Think you can get away with skipping moisturizer because your skin is already shiny? Consider that myth debunked. Turns out that skipping moisturizer altogether could lead to even oilier skin than you started with. Not convinced? Hear us out. The goal of moisturizer is to douse your skin with water for it to be hydrated. Skin that’s oily doesn’t necessarily equate to skin that’s hydrated, so if you skip moisturizer, you run the risk of drying out your skin. The result? Revved up sebaceous glands ready to make up for the “dehydration,” which can lead to overcompensation of oil.


Using Oil-Based or Alcohol-Based Products

If you’re prone to oil, the products you put on your skin should be listed as non-comedogenic (or oil-free). Also, keep your radar on high alert for common pore-clogging ingredients found in makeup like coconut oil, petroleum jelly, and other ingredients that have a high oleic content. When it comes to skincare products, look for humectants—lightweight substances that help skin retain moisture—versus occlusives, which are often heavier and can be irritating for oily skin types.


Alcohol-based products, which often include toners, may feel satisfying at first as they banish the surface layer of oil. But just as skipping moisturizer can cause an excess in sebum production, using alcohol-based products can strip your skin of its natural oil and trick your skin into (again) overcompensating for lost moisture.



Genetics is a determining factor of skin type, meaning you’re more likely to have greasier if it runs in your family. Whether this causes an oily forehead, an ultra-shiny chin, or greasy cheeks, some people simply have larger, more active sebaceous glands. And while there’s no altering this inherited trait, you can find ways to tame it by developing a proper skincare routine.


Skin Care Routines for Oily Skin

Having a tailor-made skincare regimen will get you one step closer to tackling your excess oil head-on. For one, use an oil-free cleanser twice a day to remove dirt, sebum, and debris that may be perched up on your skin after the day’s end. A non-astringent toner to balance out the natural pH of your skin should be next—look for one with soothing ingredients like aloe vera, natural rose, or green tea. Next, use a lightweight, water-based gel moisturizer to gently hydrate the skin (the key is to avoid heavy-duty creams as they can clog pores). If you'll be outside, lather on an SPF lotion of at least 30, rain or shine. Finally, if you’re looking for an anti-aging treatment that caters to your oily skin, try SiO Beauty’s Energy Serum ($50), a lightweight serum infused with green tea, hyaluronic acid, and collagen peptides to hydrate the skin without leaving behind a trail of greasiness.



While it’s unlikely your oily skin will disappear for good, you can keep it manageable by knowing what’s causing your sebaceous glands to go in overdrive. Some reasons may be part of a phase of life that you’ll have to cope with (blotting papers in hand), but others like diet and the beauty products you use are things you can alter. And during moments you feel like you’re losing the battle against your oily face, know that oil is what’ll help keep your skin soft, supple, and line-free for longer.


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