Our skin, which is the largest organ in our body, is constantly exposed to a whole host of elements—from the sun’s rays, to the air around us, to the products we slather onto it—all of which can affect its health and appearance.
Since our skin is out there for the world to see, we understandably spend a lot of time and effort helping it to look and feel its best. One of our most common skin complaints: too much oil. In fact, research has shown that anywhere between 66 to 75 percent of American adults have excess oil and shine. While much of this oiliness can be attributed to a change in hormones (especially in young adults), some people are also genetically predisposed to produce more skin oils, explains New York City-based dermatologist Richard Torbeck, M.D. That’s why the idea of dry, oily, or mixed skin types exists.
The good news: Those with an oily skin type can make lifestyle changes to minimize the shine. Here, dermatologists share some of the most common reasons your complexion is super-dewy—and what you can do about it.
1. Your Products Are Too Harsh
With so many skin-care products on the market, figuring out which to use can be overwhelming. Too often, people with oily skin choose products that are too harsh and actually remove too much oil, which can actually backfire, according to Jeremy Fenton, M.D., a dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. “Harsh soaps, retinol, and acid- or alcohol-based toners can remove lots of oil from the skin, which can trigger the body to produce even more oil, ultimately leading to even more oily skin,” he says.
In order to prevent this, consider scaling back the intensity of your products. A good place to start: your cleanser. Often, gentler cleansers are gel- or foam-based, notes Marisa Garshick, M.D., F.A.A.D., New York City-based dermatologist and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. “These cleansers help eliminate excess oil and reduce the shine that can affect those with oily skin without over-stripping the skin of the oil it actually needs,” she explains.
2. You wash your face too often
Depending on the ingredients in your cleanser, washing your face can reduce oil and shine. However, there is such a thing as over-washing your skin—and doing so may dry the skin out enough to stimulate it to produce even more oils. Garshick recommends washing your face no more than once or twice a day—ideally once in the morning and once at night—to keep oil and shine at bay without causing your skin to overcompensate. Remember: gentle, gentle, gentle!
3. You use heavy oils or thick moisturizing creams
While it’s a good idea to hydrate even oily skin, you also don’t want to go overboard on thick, heavy creams or oils, which can contribute to increased oil and clogged pores, notes Garshick. “Those with oily skin should opt for moisturizers that are non-comedogenic, a medical term that indicates that a formula won’t block pores, or one that is oil-free to minimize oiliness,” she says.
4. Your diet is rich in high-glycemic foods
Who doesn’t love bread, rice, cakes, potatoes, cookies, and other bready or sweet treats? Well, possibly your skin. In fact, studies have shown that high-glycemic diets, which involve lots of foods that spike blood sugar (think processed foods, particularly refined carbohydrates) lead to higher levels of acne, one side effect of oily skin. “Blood sugar spikes trigger a cascade of hormonal changes, including increased insulin-like growth factor 1, which causes your oil glands to produce more sebum [a.k.a. oil],” Fenton explains. This type of diet is also believed to exacerbate inflammation, which impacts your skin as much as it does the rest of your body.
Eating a nutrient-rich diet composed of whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables while minimizing processed carbohydrates such as white bread and sugary foods is a good way to keep your skin’s oil production balanced.
5. You’re seriously stressed
More Americans report feeling more stressed than ever before, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Of course, stress is linked to a wide variety of poor health outcomes, such as mental illness, autoimmune conditions, and even cancer, per research published in Future Science OA. In addition to these serious concerns, feeling super-stressed contributes to oily skin because it triggers the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can increase how much oil the glands in your skin produce, according to Fenton. “You can minimize your stress and cortisol by getting plenty of quality sleep, exercising regularly, and practicing stress reduction techniques such as meditation or mindfulness,” he says. (Here are seven lessons the pandemic has taught us all about self-care if you want to read more about how you can support your daily well-being.)