Sebum is the natural oil produced by the skin. It is a mixture of substances created in the sebaceous glands, found usually near a hair follicle. We have the highest concentration of sebaceous glands on our face, scalp, upper-chest and back.
Sebum has two main functions:
- To act as a moisture barrier, reducing water from evaporating from your skin, also known as transepidermal water loss - TEWL.
- To act as a physical barrier, preventing irritants from the environment from touching the skin, such as bacteria and fungi
Sebum, in normal levels, should be unnoticeable on the skin. However, your skin can overproduce sebum, with positive and negative consequences. One positive side is that oily skin tends to be more resistant to developing fine lines and wrinkles. The extra oils on the skin are even better at keeping water from evaporating away. Hydrated skin and a strong oil defence barrier keep skin processes functioning as they should be, and the skin stays plump and thick.
However there can also be some issues associated with producing too much sebum:
- Shiny skin
- Visible pores
- Breakouts and Acne
- Textured bumpy skin
In order to prevent these issues, it is best to try to identify why your skin is overproducing sebum. It is however not usually only one cause that is solely responsible for oily skin and related skin issues - there are often multiple factors. Here are the most common reasons why this could be happening:
- Hormones - mainly testosterone
- Dry skin because of low water content - see our article about dry skin here
- Dry skin from stripping too much oil from your skin, from habits such as hot or long bathing, or cleansing too harshly or too often
In addition, excess oils can often stop dead skin cells from separating from our skin as they normally would do. While it is normal to have a layer of dead skin cells on the surface of our skin, too many dead skin cells and combined with excessive oils on our skin can cause blockages in our pores. This can result in breakouts and acne. Acne and breakouts can also have other causes such as bacteria and fungi - oily skin is just one possible cause.
It is useful to try to eliminate all possible triggers for oily skin. A lack of water content inside the skin will trigger the oil glands to produce more oil, in an attempt to create a larger oil barrier to prevent water evaporating. In this case a humectant, such as glycerine, which is small enough to enter your skin and hold water there, will ensure that your skin stays hydrated.
If your skin has enough water content, but the sebum barrier has been removed and stripped away, your skin will quickly over-produce sebum in order to ensure that your skin goes back to being protected as soon as possible. This often is a result of cleansing too harshly, often due to using synthetic detergents such as SLS and SLES (sodium lauryl sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate). While cleansing, or after cleansing, it is best to replace the old oils which were stripped away with new oils, in order to prevent the yo-yo effect of your skin panicking when the oil has been stripped away. If a thin oil barrier is left behind, which mimics the content and the levels of your sebum, your skin will not panic and overproduce oil.
The superfat in natural soaps is a great way to leave just the right amount of oils on your skin while cleansing.
In order to prevent breakouts it is helpful to gently exfoliate the skin. This can either be done with a chemical exfoliant, such as acids such as AHAs BHAs or PHAs, or with a physical exfoliant, which will physically rub off dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants are generally seen as more gentle, if used in the correct concentration and acidity. Physical exfoliants can risk scraping the skin and creating small cuts, which can weaken the skin barrier. Physical exfoliants need to be as small and gentle as possible.
Our Cedar and Activated Charcoal Natural Soap is the perfect cleanser for oily skin.
The glycerine content, which is a natural by-product created in the soap-making reaction, is incredibly moisturising. It is a humectant, which attracts water from its surroundings and keeps hold of it. It is also small enough to be absorbed into the skin layers, binding water inside your skin. You can read more about glycerine in our article here. Unfortunately in industrial soaps, the majority of the glycerine has been extracted, to be sold in other products. Be sure to use natural soaps, where the glycerine has not been extracted. Hydrated skin will not be triggered to over-produce oil - a great step in combating oily skin.
Natural soap is made by combining oils or fats with lye. We use plant oils at the Clean Up Atelier so that our soaps remain vegan. A superfat is when a little more oil is added than what the lye can convert into soap and glycerine. So when the soap bar hardens, it contains the soap and glycerine from the soap-making reaction, but also still contains some unconverted oils, which are dispersed into the soap and are not visible. These unconverted oils are not greasy or oily on your skin - they are deposited onto your skin while cleaning, and support your skin’s natural oil barrier.
The Activated Charcoal:
Physically exfoliates the skin, to avoid the risk of blemishes caused by oil and dead skin cells blocking pores. The tiny charcoal particles are delicate enough to rub away dead skin cells without the risk of scraping the skin.
The Cedarwood Essential Oil:
Cedarwood essential oil, derived from the cedrus atlantica tree, is a great anti-inflammatory and also helps in aromatherapy. It will calm skin, help reduce the appearance of blemishes, and support healing.
If you have oily skin, try out our Cedar and Activated Charcoal Natural Soap - the best way to support your skin is in the first step of your skincare routine - cleansing.