Oily skin

Discover the seven underlying causes of oily skin.

What causes oily skin?

Everyone has oil in their skin. It’s a natural oil called sebum that’s produced by the sebaceous glands which sit under every pore. It serves an important purpose, helping to keep skin hydrated and healthy. 


Unfortunately some people’s sebaceous glands produce too much oil and this leads to problems. 

Skin takes on a greasy appearance with shiny patches. It can make you feel self conscious and unhygienic, even if you’ve cleaned your face recently.


The oil mixes with dead skin cells, sweat and environmental debris and causes clogging of your pores, making breakouts more likely.


There are many reasons why you might have oily skin – and there may be more than one reason. It might be a hereditary thing, you might live or work in a humid environment or there may be lifestyle considerations. While you can’t necessarily get rid of oily skin altogether, you can address some of the mitigating factors to help achieve cleaner, clearer skin.

What are the seven underlying causes of oily skin?

Genetics: Do either of your parents have oily skin? If they have overactive sebaceous glands, there’s a high chance you will too.

Age: Oily skin is more prevalent in younger skin than older skin. As we age we produce less sebum, protein and collagen which explains why older skin tends to be dryer with fine lines and wrinkles. The good news is that your oily skin might keep you looking more youthful for longer. Also bear in mind that your skin composition will change so the way it looks today might not be the same in ten years’ time..

Where you live and the time of year: Genetics and age are major contributors to oily skin, your location and the time of year can also make a difference. For example, oily skin is more prevalent in hot, humid climates and the summer makes skin oilier than in colder seasons. You may need to adjust your daily skincare routine at different times of the year or when humidity is high. 

Enlarged pores: The larger your pores, the more oil your sebaceous glands tend to produce. They may increase as you age, if your weight fluctuates or as a result of previous breakouts. There’s nothing you can do to make them decrease in size, so you may want to use blotting paper during the day to keep your skin dryer. 

Using the wrong skin care products: Using the wrong foundation for oily skin, or indeed misusing any skincare product, can bring on oily skin. Oily skin is not the same as combination skin so what’s right for one won’t necessarily be right for the other. You might want to vary your skin care plan for the spring/summer and fall/winter months using lightweight moisturizers and gel-based cleansers in the warmer temperatures. 

Overdoing your skincare routine: It’s not just your choice of product that’s important. It’s the frequency and severity with which you use is. It may seem contrary to instinct but you shouldn’t overwash or over exfoliate as these can make your skin more oily. You could end up stripping away too much oil, causing you sebaceous glands to respond by over producing. You only need to wash your skin twice a day to keep excess oil at bay. Another way to trigger your sebaceous glands to produce more oil is to fail to wear sunscreen every day as UV rays dehydrate your skin. Moisturizers and foundations with sunscreen tend to be less oily, but you may need to reapply these throughout the day.

Skipping your moisturizer:  It’s a myth that moisturizer causes oily skin. The truth is that if you’re using acne treatments such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, your skin is likely to dry out. Instead of skipping moisturizer, the key is to find the right kind. Lightweight, water-based moisturizers work well for oily skin and should be applied after cleansing and toning.

Once you’ve come up with your oily skin action plan, you’ll need to give it some time to work. Sometimes it can take a month or two until you see any major improvements. If you’re still dealing with excess oil after this time, you may want to see your dermatologist.