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What Causes Oily Skin? 6 Causes and How to Treat Them

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Words by Antoinette Barnardo

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A dewy complexion is radiant and glowing. Oily skin may give off a similar appearance at first but instead makes your skin heavy and greasy. Plus, an overproduction of sebum (oil) can lead to breakouts, whiteheads, and other skin concerns. 

Here, we'll take a look at what causes oily skin and the best ways to treat it so you can be sure your glow is a healthy one.

What Is Oily Skin?

Before examining the causes of oily skin, we'll take a brief look at the common characteristics of this skin type. People with oily skin tend to have larger pores throughout their face. Enlarged pores produce excess oil. These pores can become clogged or blocked with sebum and dead skin cells, leading to whiteheads, blackheads, and other blemishes. 

Combination skin shares features with both oily and dry skin. While oily skin types have enlarged pores all over their face, combination skin types have a concentration of larger pores in their T-zone — the forehead and nose. If you notice that your skin is more oily in your T-zone than anywhere else, then you likely have combination skin.

What Causes Oily Skin?

There are several reasons why your skin may be oily. Besides genetics, your environments or daily habits may be the reason why your skin produces excess oil.

1. Your Genes

Enlarged pores and hyperactive sebaceous (oil-producing) glands may naturally be a part of who you are. Oily skin can be inherited from your parents. Of course, even if you're genetically predisposed to oily skin, it's often not the sole reason why you're experiencing it. 

2. Your Hormones

Women, in particular, may experience an increase in oiliness and breakouts when their hormones fluctuate. A 2014 study from the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology discovered that high levels of androgens (reproductive hormones) in the skin and sebaceous glands may accelerate sebum production in the week before menstruation happens. 

3. Your Environment

Humidity can help your skin retain moisture — that's why it's a good idea to have a humidifier available when it's cold and dry. However, too much humidity, combined with high temperatures, can exacerbate oily skin. Sweat, when mixed with sebum, can lead to an increase in breakouts and an overall feeling of greasiness. 

4. Your Skincare Routine

The skincare products you use (or don't use) regularly may be contributing to an oilier complexion and recurring breakouts. First, are you skipping moisturiser? Contrary to popular belief, oily skin needs to be moisturised regularly. Otherwise, your skin will overcompensate for a lack of water by producing excess oil. 

Also, are you using products with comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients? Since oily skin is also acne-prone, you'll want to avoid skincare products that contain high concentrations of coconut oil, red algae, and certain alcohols

5. Your Stressors

There's a reason why you may develop acne when you're stressed. Your body produces a hormone called cortisol in times of stress. While cortisol can help regulate blood sugar levels and metabolism, among other benefits, it also increases sebum production. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, cortisol can trigger a number of other concerns, including eczema and rosacea.

6. Your Diet

While research on the link between skin and diet is ongoing, there is a possibility that a high-glycemic diet may contribute to the production of excess sebum, per a 2009 study from the Dermato Endocrinology Journal. Of course, everyone has different dietary triggers. Keep track of your meals to help determine if certain foods may be triggering breakouts or excess oil. 

How to Treat Oily Skin

Two YORA products

With the right combination of well-formulated skincare products and healthy habits, you can successfully manage this skin type. Here are the best ways you can treat your oily skin. 

1. Cultivate an Effective Skincare Routine

Your skincare regimen will never remain static. The routine you follow in your 20s will differ from what you do for your skin in your 40s. On a more granular level, your skincare routine will also have to adapt to seasonal transitions and hormonal changes. For moments when your skin is increasingly oily, make sure to incorporate the following products:

Gentle Facial Cleanser

Incorporate a gentle face wash that you can use twice a day. A formula that includes salicylic acid, such as YORA's Clarify Face Cleanser, will go beyond the skin's surface level to deep clean pores and remove excess sebum, dead skin cells, and other impurities. 

Balancing Toner

A balancing toner is especially helpful for anyone with oily, acne-prone skin. Use one after cleansing to further reduce oil and shine, remove any lingering dirt and residue, and refine pores.

Chemical Exfoliant

Exfoliating at least once a week will remove the build-up of dead skin cells from the surface, reducing the risk of whiteheads and other blemishes. For oily, acne-prone skin, chemical exfoliation is recommended as scrubbing with a physical exfoliant may be too harsh. Look for an exfoliating serum with glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or lactic acid, as these will gently exfoliate your skin and leave it more radiant.

Wash-Off Mask

A wash-off face mask once or twice a week in the evening can also help protect your skin against sebum and breakouts. Look for a mask that contains activated charcoal, as this ingredient can easily bind to and shuttle out excess oil and other impurities. YORA's Clarify Face Mask contains activated charcoal plus kaolin clay to leave skin smoother and more matte. 

Lightweight Moisturiser

Moisturising is still a must for oily skin types. Instead of heavy creams and lotions, which better suit dry skin types, opt for lightweight gels instead, such as YORA's Revitalise Face Moisturiser. A gel will sufficiently hydrate oily skin without making it feel heavy or greasy. 


Similar to moisturiser, sunscreen is a must for all skin types, but finding the right formula is important. Once again, oily skin types should seek an SPF that is lightweight and non-comedogenic. A shine-reducing powder or foundation with SPF is also beneficial, but not a sufficient replacement for a proper sunscreen. (Rather, cosmetic-sunscreen hybrids are good for reapplication or boost in sun protection.)

2. Don't Touch Your Face

It may seem like basic advice, but chances are you touch your face throughout the day without realising it — for example, resting your chin in your hands at your desk. Your fingers can spread dirt, oil, and other bacteria, creating an environment for breakouts to flourish. If you're experiencing excess oil or acne in one concentrated area of your face, think about how often you may be placing your hands there.

3. If It Has to Touch Your Face, Keep It Clean

Whether it's your bedsheets, makeup brushes, or mobile phone, most of the objects you bring in close proximity to your face may be riddled with dirt and bacteria. It's important to keep these items as clean as possible to reduce the likelihood of breakouts and other issues. 

Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Alok Vij, MD recommends washing your bed sheets twice a month, or once a week during warmer months. Meanwhile, make sure to properly wash your makeup brushes with soap after each use. And as for your mobile phone? You can use a pair of earbuds to prevent the device from touching your face, although it'd be wise to wipe your phone down regardless — it's 10 times dirtier than a toilet.

4. Use Blotting Papers

Blotting papers are thin sheets of absorbent material — usually rice paper or cotton. If you're not keen on touching up your complexion with mattifying powder throughout the day, blotting papers are a fine alternative. Plus, they won’t disrupt makeup. Place a sheet on an oily section of your face and blot (don't rub) to remove excess sebum. 

5. Relax

Since cortisol, the stress hormone, can increase oil production, try to keep yourself level during hectic times. Practice meditation or yoga, or immerse yourself in a hobby you enjoy to keep the effects of stress from manifesting physically and mentally.

Oily Skin Is Manageable

Oily skin can be troublesome to deal with, but the good news is that it’s manageable. You can reduce your skin’s sebum production by using the right products, being mindful of your skin’s triggers, and practicing good habits. Adopting a wholistic approach to your skin will help you achieve the results you desire.

Words by Antoinette Barnardo

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