Oily skin is permanent

Oily skin (shiny skin, oily skin)

Depending on the fat and moisture content of the skin surface, a distinction is made between different conditions of the skin. The "skin type" that is usually spoken of corresponds to the innate tendency to a certain condition, which can change in the course of life depending on various factors.

Short version:

  • Oily skin is caused by increased activity of the sebum, hormones, diseases and medication.
  • Oily skin is characterized by a shiny skin surface and enlarged pores.
  • The T-zone, shoulders and back are particularly affected.
  • Proper care is of great importance for oily skin.

Information on this page:

In addition to normal skin, dry and fat-free skin and combination skin, there is also oily skin or moist and oily skin. The surface of the skin has an oily texture, which is mostly due to excessive sebum production. In medicine, this is known as seborrhea.

The surface of the skin is coated with a mixture of water and fatty substances, the so-called hydrolipid emulsion. The water content comes mainly from the sweat glands, the fat content is a mixture of sebum and horny layer fat. Overall, the keratinization processes of the skin make up about 10% of the skin's surface fat, the main part of about 90% is a product of the sebum glands.

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What is the cause of oily skin or increased sebum production?

An overview of the causes of oily skin:

  • Hormonal factors
  • increased activity of the sebum glands
  • Diseases (e.g. Parkinson's disease)
  • Medication

In most cases, an oily skin condition or increased activity of the sebum glands is due to hormonal stimulation by androgens, i.e. male sex hormones. The expression depends on age and genetic predisposition.

There are also some clinical pictures that are accompanied by oily skin. For example, patients with Parkinson's disease (a neurological disease with a chronic deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine) typically have greasy, shiny skin.

This is known as the "ointment face" and is due to increased sebum production. How the sebum activity is related to the dopamine level has not yet been clarified.

Some drugs can also stimulate sebum production, e.g. anabolic steroids or corticosteroids, although the exact mechanism for the latter is unknown.

++ More on the topic: sebum glands & what function the fat on the skin surface has ++

What are the characteristics of oily skin?

Features of oily skin are:

  • oily, oily and shiny skin surface
  • enlarged pores
  • thicker than normal skin
  • often pale or sallow

With oily skin, the surface of the skin has an oily texture and is very shiny. It is usually thicker than normal skin and the skin pores are visibly enlarged, which leads to a coarser skin texture overall. Very oily skin often has less blood supply than normal skin and appears pale or sallow.

The oily skin type also has advantages

Compared to normal skin, oily skin often stays firm longer, and wrinkles only appear later with age. In addition, it is usually more resistant and less sensitive to environmental influences such as cold, moisture or sun.

Which parts of the body are affected?

The tendency to oily skin primarily affects the face and there, above all, the so-called T-zone (forehead, bridge of the nose, chin), and the hair also appears oily. Shoulders, back and chest area are often also affected, but to a lesser extent.

The development of oily skin and acne

Oily skin usually appears at the onset of puberty, as the androgen level rises sharply at this point and stimulates the sebum glands. This picture of excessive sebum production without any further symptoms is also called seborrhoea oleosa.

Oily or impure skin arises from the triad of sebum, the closure of the draining pathways of the follicle and the resulting build-up of sebum. This is an ideal substrate for bacterial colonization. The excessively formed sebum causes more free fatty acids to accumulate on the surface of the skin, which leads to both skin irritation and a change in the physiological pH value.

The natural protective function of the skin is impaired and bacteria can more easily lead to inflammatory reactions. This leads to individual red spots, itchy areas, flaking and yellowish crusts.

Oily skin also often tends to form blackheads (comedones). The increased amount of sebum, together with horny particles of the skin, leads to a blockage of the skin pores (follicle canals). As a result, newly formed sebum can no longer flow off, the follicular canal expands and is visible as blackheads.

In this way, blemished skin can develop into acne. If the clogged pore (blackhead) is colonized with bacteria, papules and pustules develop. The skin is irritated, manipulation also leads to scratch marks, crust formation and inflammation.

Oily skinoily, oily, shiny skin surface
Acne comedonicaBlackheads
Papulo-pustular acnePapules, pustules
Acne conglobatahardened knots

The severity of the acne can vary and is dependent on numerous influencing factors. In almost all cases, however, it is related to the condition of the oily skin.

++ More about: acne ++

What to do with oily skin

The selection of the right cleaning and care products should always be based on the current condition of the skin.

Products for oily or blemished skin are intended to reduce excess sebum production as much as possible and thus normalize the skin's fat and moisture content. At the same time, however, they must not have an excessively drying or degreasing effect, as this would stimulate the sebum glands to produce more sebum and have the opposite effect. In addition, the right care should prevent the colonization with bacteria and thus the development towards acne.

The ideal careBetter to avoid
Cleaning products with neutral or weak pHProducts with an alkaline pH value (soap)
Products with antimicrobial ingredientsOils
light creams with little lipid content
(Oil-in-water emulsion)
rich creams with a high lipid content
Empty blackheads after the steam bathSqueeze out blackheads
Sun protection 

Proper cleaning of oily skin

Oily skin is prone to blemishes and therefore needs particularly regular and thorough cleaning. Cleansing products are used to absorb and bind the water-insoluble fat particles on the surface of the skin so that they can be removed with water.

What products should be used to cleanse oily skin?

For oily skin, we recommend using a cleansing milk with fat-absorbing properties as well as washing creams or gels with a neutral or slightly acidic pH value. Products with antimicrobial ingredients have an additional beneficial effect.

Products with an alkaline pH value (such as conventional soap) should be avoided as they additionally attack the skin's acid mantle, which is usually impaired anyway, and can lead to further skin irritation.

Exfoliants for oily skin

In addition, so-called abrasives (peelings, abrasive creams, scrub preparations) can also be used to clean the surface of the skin. The outermost layers of the cornea and firmly adhering scales are removed, blackheads are opened and the self-evacuation of blocked sebum glands is promoted.

Do not express blackheads!

Blackheads should never be removed mechanically. After a hot facial steam bath, you can try carefully to empty the blackhead with a gentle pull. Pressure should be avoided at all costs, as it can tear the follicular canal and the contents of the blackhead can cause inflammation in the surrounding tissue.

Toning to clear the skin

Toning products are used to cleanse and clarify the skin and help maintain the skin's physiological acid mantle. For oily skin, aqueous-alcoholic solutions (facial toner, tonic) with an ethanol concentration of 15–30% should be used.

This high concentration removes excess fats and other irritating substances. Products with antimicrobial additives should also be selected for this.

The right care for oily skin

For the care of oily skin, light creams with a low lipid content should be used (oil-in-water emulsions); the added emulsifiers enable the excess fatty substances to be absorbed. Antimicrobial agents (such as benzoyl peroxide or triclosan) are also often added to these products.

Furthermore, the addition of substances that soften and detach dead skin particles (keratolytics, e.g. salicylic acid) can be helpful for oily skin.

Sun protection

Light creams or lotions, but never oils, should also be used for sun protection. Since oily skin is usually relatively insensitive to environmental influences, it does not require any additional protection.

+++ More on the topic: Sun protection for every skin type +++

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Dr. med. Kerstin Lehermayr
Medical review:
Dr. Michael Palatin, specialist in skin and venereal diseases
Editorial editing:
Dr. med Christian Maté, Tanja Unterberger (2016)

Status of medical information:

Raab W: Skin primer - Dermatological care compact. Govi-Verlag Pharmazeutischer Verlag GmbH, Eschborn, 4th edition 2010

Herrmann K, Trinkkeller U: Dermatology and medical cosmetics - guidelines for cosmetic practice. Springer Medizin Verlag Heidelberg, 2nd edition 2007

Fritsch P: Dermatology and Venereology for Studies. Springer Verlag 2009

Rossbach B: Aesthetic dermatology - gentle methods without a scalpel. Sonntag Verlag in MVS Medizinverlage, Stuttgart 2004

Treatment of acne - guidelines of the German Dermatological Society (currently being revised) http://www.awmf.org/uploads/tx_szleitlinien/013-017l_S2k_Behahrung_der_Akne_2011-abgelaufen.pdf (Online, last accessed: July 18, 2016)

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