Acne is the most common skin disorder in the United States according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Yet for those struggling to treat perpetual breakouts, the journey for clear skin may seem just slightly out of reach.
While acne can appear on all types of skin, it’s often grouped with oily skin because they often appear together. It’s important to remember, there are plenty of people with oily skin who rarely break out, as well as people with dry or more balanced skin that do.
The causes of acne are complex and while you may never get a precise answer on what is causing your acne, we’re here to help you manage your oily or acne-prone skin with tested and true natural methods. In this post, I’ll share helpful lifestyle and skincare tips great for oily or more acne-prone skin.
What is oily skin?
When we talk about oily skin, what we’re actually describing is skin with excess amounts of sebum. Keyword, “excess”. If you take one thing away from this post, it is this: Sebum isn’t bad or something we want to get rid of. Sebum is actually amazing!
Generally, people with an oily skin type have visibly enlarged pores on the oilier parts of their face, may have a hard time keeping makeup on since excess oil tends to make it “slide” off, and may have recurring blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples.
What causes oily skin?
Oily skin is caused by both genetic and environmental factors and can look different depending on the person. When the body is in balance and running as designed, sebum acts are a natural cleanser and keeps our skin’s natural defense mechanism, also known the acid mantle balanced. This acid mantle helps protects our skin from external stressors like dirt and bacteria. But, when something happens to us, like excess stress in our life, hormone fluctuations, environmental changes (switch from humid to dry climate), using too many harsh skincare products, or less-than-ideal diet choices, our skin may react to deal with the changes,
This “reaction” looks different from person to person. For those with oily skin, your skin may react by producing more sebum in an attempt to protect itself from the bad guys.
This may not sound like a lot of fun, but experts agree people with this skin type don’t age as quickly as those with other types. Oily skin prevents the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, meaning your skin type can actually be a good thing in the long run.
What causes acne?
The exact causes of acne are complex but generally involve a combination of hormonal imbalances, overactive sebaceous glands, and the presence of bacteria (specifically P.acnes), and sloughed skin cells that get trapped inside a follicle with a sebaceous gland. Researchers are currently looking at why some people seem to be especially susceptible to acne. Right now, science is leaning towards a combination of genetic causes that make some people especially prone to inflammation from P. acnes as well as the presence of other bacteria.
It’s important to note that any type of skin can have acne, not just oily skin. However, skin that has larger-appearing pores and over-active sebaceous glands can be more prone to acne, given its tendency to produce more sebum that can get clogged in the lower layers of the skin. It’s also possible to have oily skin that isn’t prone to acne, or skin that is dry in some portions of your face but oily in others, like your T zone (the skin across your forehead, down your nose and across your chin.)
The role of hormones
Hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, puberty, or menopause are one of the major causes of excess sebum production. In fact, the reason acne is common during the teenage years is that the oil glands are growing and producing more oil than the skin needs.
As access to hormone therapy becomes more common, some people on testosterone have reported an increase in acne — even those who never had acne before. The theory is these hormones fluctuations mimic what happens during puberty. But some people — especially those with a family history of acne— seem more susceptible to acne than others.
How to determine if you have oily skin
- Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and leave your face alone for an hour. This means no moisturizers, serums, and avoid touching your face.
- Wait an hour and then blot a tissue all over your face
- If you see oil on the tissue, you probably have oily skin.
Top lifestyle tips for managing acne- or oil-prone skin
In order to understand what is going on with your skin, you have to look at everything holistically. The skin is only one organ of a very complex system. As Adina Grigore, author of Skin Cleanse said,
“Skin is just like every other organ in the body; it’s only as healthy as the rest of you.”
Before we get to skin care, there are some alterations that you can make to your daily routine that will greatly help in managing your inflammation-prone skin.
Avoid heavy makeup
People with pores that get clogged easily should avoid heavy makeup that could exacerbate this problem. Instead, opt for oil-free cosmetics, especially foundation and concealer, and ensure you’re taking off your makeup and cleansing correctly before bed.
Cut back on excessive alcohol and sugar
There are many popular myths that circulate about what foods cause acne. Growing up, you may have heard that you should avoid dairy or chocolate if you wanted blemish-free skin. There has been limited research done to prove that either of these foods have a hand in causing acne – however, people who are prone to clogged pores should avoid excessive alcohol and sugar intake. Both can cause spikes in hormone levels, and ongoing alcohol consumption can lower your immune response, meaning you’re prone to infection and bacteria on your skin.
Grab some almonds and matcha tea
In contrast, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, almonds, and walnuts can help lower inflammation, a leading cause of skin issues. Green tea – both ingested and topically applied to the skin – can also decrease inflammatory responses.
Keep your bedding and makeup brushes clean and wipe down your phone
Items that regularly touch your face such as pillows, makeup brushes and your phone can contribute to acne due to a pore-clogging combo of bacteria, oils, sweat and residue from hair and skincare products.
Gary Goldenberg, M.D., medical director at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said:
“Changing sheets daily may be a little too much work, but making sure your skin is in clean environment can definitely make a difference,”
It’s best to get in the habit of and wipe down your phone every day with an antibacterial wipe and washing your sheets and makeup brushes once a week.
Manage your stress levels
Anything you can do to cut down on stress – including getting enough sleep, getting exercise, and even meditating or doing yoga – can also help balance your hormones and help your skin look and feel its best. According to Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, a dermatologist in Danville, CA,
“Stress increases glucocorticoid production, which can lead to abnormalities in skin structure and function.”
Top skincare tips for oily or acne-prone skin
In addition to making some lifestyle changes, there are many things you can incorporate into your skincare routine that will help clear up your skin. It’s suggested to add all of these (with the exception of sun exposure. That’s your call.) into your daily skincare routine to help balance your oily or acne-prone skin.
Gently cleanse twice a day
Many people with blemishes caused by acne or overly-active sebaceous glands tend to look for products that promise to make this skin feel less greasy and squeaky clean. However, this can be counterproductive. If an ingredient is overly drying, the skin may produce even more oil to compensate. One super natural way to cleanse your skin is to cleanse with honey.
Exfoliate weekly with AHAs and BHAs. Avoid harsh physical exfoliants.
Another common skincare mistake that people with oily skin make is using harsh exfoliants to try to scrub off excess dirt and oil. Instead use natural, gentle exfoliants like willow bark extract to slough off old skin cells without irritation.
Keep your skin moisturized
Think just because you have oily skin, you don’t need a moisturizer? Think again! People with oil-prone skin shouldn’t slather on heavy creams or serums, but a mild, natural moisturizer is crucial for maintaining healthy, well-balanced skin, regardless of skin type.
For people with oily- or acne-prone skin, I recommend using fresh avocado as a nourishing facial mask base that also includes ever-important fatty acids. Honey is also a great moisturizer as well as an antibacterial, which means it can help kill off harmful bacteria that cause blemishes. Check out our recipe for a great acne-fighting mask using these ingredients.
Another option is to make your own facial oil like the one here. These oils keep the skin hydrated and help stop the overproduction of sebum, take minutes to make and can last up to a year when stored properly.
Sun exposure may help, but is it worth it?
This one is very controversial. Many people report acne appears better in the spring and summer months. The reasons is when exposed to sunlight, porphyrin, a by product of P. acnes, produces a free radical that kills bacteria. But sun exposure can contribute to premature aging and skin cancer, so you must weigh the risks of decreasing acne in exchange for a higher risk of skin cancer.
We can’t stress enough the importance of experimentation – mixing different products to see how they react to your unique skin type, and even trying different products on different parts of your face. One of the beautiful parts of making your own skincare products is that you have the freedom to control exactly what you’re using on your face and monitor carefully to see what works best for you – so have fun with it! For more tips, read our articles on Natural Skincare Secrets for Sensitive or Inflamed Skin and Natural Skincare Secrets for Dry and Mature Skin.
“Level Up” DIY Skincare Tips for Oily and Acne-Prone Skin
- Keep everything clean. Bacteria is hard to avoid entirely, but do your best to keep things like phones, pillows, and makeup brushes as clean as can be.
- Eat almonds and green tea. A diet high in omega=3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation which can lead to acne.
- Manage your stress levels. Stress can cause a number of issues that can affect your skin. Consider yoga, meditation, and aromatherapy to help reduce tension.
- Wash with a gentle cleanser twice a day. The skin normally does a good job keeping itself clean. But with oily skin, you’ll need a little more help. Use only gentle cleansers to protect the skin’s acid mantle.
- Exfoliate with AHAs and BHAs. Plant-based extracts like willow bark are great to get rid of old skin cells that may clog hair follicles leading to breakouts.
- Don’t skimp on moisturizers. Use plant-based oils and facial masks to keep the skin moisturized and prevent the skin from overcompensating and producing more sebum.
About the author
I’m Drew, creator of Botaneri and an artisanal skincare formulator and certified aromatherapist who is here to help take the mystery out of DIY natural beauty. I started creating my own plant-based skin and body care products at home to deal with my own skin issues.
What I love most is helping people create luxurious and effective self-care products right in their own kitchens. It’s a lot easier than you think. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.