How do I control oily and shiny skin?

The Question…

“How do I control the oil production on my skin, or at least prevent it from being so shiny? It gets shiny as soon as an hour after I wash, I hate it!”

My Answer…

This question is actually two fold, one deals with the production of oil, also known as sebum, by the skin, and the other deals with the appearance of sebum on the skin causing shine. The latter is easier to do, so I will answer that one first!

Reducing Shine

Reducing shine caused by sebum on the skin is done by two methods, by removing the sebum or by absorbing the sebum in to something that doesn’t reflect light as much as the sebum. The first is accomplished by cleansing and by oil absorbing blotting papers.

Cleansing the Face

When dealing with oily skin one may think that using a harsher, more powerful cleanser will be more effective, but the amount of sebum your skin produces during the day doesn’t vary much due to topical treatments.

The amount of sebum your skin produces is linked to your genetics and hormones. Generally, higher androgen levels means oilier skin, though there are other factors at play which aren’t fully understood yet.

A gentle cleanser can remove sebum without irritating or overly drying the skin. Overly drying the skin can make your skin become constricted, forming a layer of dry, dead skin. This layer of dry skin is less permeable to sebum and because of this can appear oilier, as the sebum sits on top.

Your best bet is to use a cleanser in the morning and evenings, but not to rely on it as a treatment for oily skin.

There are cleansers that will deposit absorbent powders on the skin, but the amount deposited may not be enough for oilier skins.

Blotting Papers

Oil absorbing blotting papers are very handy, you can purchase them at drug stores (usually in the acne aisle) or even make them yourself.

Rice paper, tracing paper, brown paper towels, and even Starbucks napkins work very well. Some people even use paper toilet covers! Just cut a paper type of your choice in to small rectangles, 2 inches by 4 inches is a good size.

Use them on your skin with a pressing and rolling action, like you’re taking a thumbprint – don’t wipe. You can tuck the ends between your fingers to make it easier to hold. Discard and use a new piece of paper as it becomes saturated with oil. Use them throughout the day as needed.

Some commercial oil blotting papers have mineral oil on their ingredients lists, but according to manufacturers the mineral oil is used in the construction of the paper and is present in minute amounts in the end product.

The second method of oil absorption is to absorb the oil into something that isn’t as reflective that’s already on the skin. These products come in the forms of powders, creams and liquids.

Oil Absorbing Powders

Most women are familiar with face powders, they’re made out of grinded up thigns like silica, talc, and sometimes corn starch and rice flour.

When applied to the skin, they sit on top of the skin and absorb any oil that is produced. Face powders may not be effective for very oily skins though.

Face powders can be purchased inexpensively and discreetly online at stores such as EyesLipsFace.com and Drugstore.com.

Face powders come in a loose and pressed format. Pressed powders means that the absorbent powders have been blended together with form of binder (like waxes or oils) to make transportation and application more convenient and less messy. For purposes of reducing shininess on the skin though, loose powders are generally more effective.

Face powders are best applied with a powder puff. Sprinkle a small amount of the powder in to the lid, or on to a plate. Pick up the powder with the fluffy side of the powder puff and apply to the skin in a pressing and rolling motion (like you’re taking a thumbprint.). Focus on areas of your face that become the most oily, commonly the nose, forehead and chin. After you’ve applied it, check for any visible residue, you can remove it with either a soft, fluffy brush, or just pat and lightly dust your face with clean hands.

If you’re confused about the application technique, Wayne Goss has a great demonstration video.

Milk of Magnesia

An alternative to face powders is something called milk of magnesia. Milk of magnesia is commonly sold in drugstores as an antacid or laxative. Don’t worry though, it’s safe to use on your skin, it’s just a solution of magnesium hydroxide and water. Magnesium hydroxide is very good at absorbing oil and preventing shininess.

Look for an unflavoured milk of magnesia product, such as this one.

Using it is simple. Give the milk of magnesia bottle a shake, as the product will settle. The small amount that is clinging to the inside of the lid is more than enough to use for your face. Use a cotton pad or ball to absorb a small amount of the milk of magnesia, and dab it on to your skin. You’ll see white splotches on your skin if you’ve used too much, if that happens simply rinse it off and try again. Apply it to your oiliest areas, like the nose, forehead and chin.

If your skin isn’t too oily, you can also use milk of magnesia as a mask. Apply it the same way as mentioned before, but just rinse it off after 10 minutes.

Reducing Sebum Production

Finally, we can also fix shiny skin by treating the problem at its source, by reducing the skin’s production of sebum.

Isotretinoin

The medication Accutane (Isotretinoin) is very effective at reducing sebum production, and in some cases the oil reduction lasts years – if not a life time.

Unfortunately Accutane (Isotretinoin) has many serious potential side effects and is only prescribed to those with severe and persistent acne. Accutane (Isotretinoin) is only available through prescription, and requires careful monitoring of liver functions through monthly blood tests. Roche, the manufacturer of Accutane (Isotretinoin) has actually discontinued the product in the US, but generic versions of it are still available.

Pantothenic Acid

One study, and many anecdotal reports have indicated that large doses of pantothenic acid are effective at reducing sebum production and acne. This method has been personally very effective at around 2 grams of pantothenic acid a day.

The researcher hypothesized that the active form of pantothenic acid, coenzyme-A, was making processing of fatty acids in the skin more efficient. This would lead to reduced deposition of fatty acids in the sebum and pores, reducing sebum production and acne.

The study had patients on as much as 10 grams of pantothenic acid a day without side effects. They found that not only was acne and sebum production reduced, pore size was returned to normal as well.

I personally began noticing changes in my sebum production and pore size after 48 hours. However, some users have reported hair loss and sometimes worsened acne.

At such large doses, pantothenic acid can be expensive to purchase however sites like PureBulk.com have it available at reasonable bulk prices, there’s also a 7% discount coupon if you like their Facebook page. You can try searching for it on work out supplement sites as they generally carry it in the bulk powder form as well.

You can read some anectodal (and very unscientific) experiences with pantothenic acid dosing on Acne.org, some of the reviews are very in-depth and informative.

Hormonal Control

Women may find that certain birth control pills are effective at reducing sebum and acne. Birth control reduces sebum production by reducing androgen levels.

There are a few approved for this use ( Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep, and Yaz), but it’s a bit of trial and error.

Some studies have shown that any birth control pill can reduce acne by 30-60%.

Obviously men can’t use birth control pills designed for women, but some men have had anecdotal success in reducing sebum production with extracts of Saw Palmetto, which acts on sebum production by reducing activity of 5-alpha-reductase, which turns testosterone into its more active form dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which may be linked to sebum production.

One study found that a cream made with extracts of saw palmetto, sesame seed and argan oil reduced sebum production by 33%.

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3 thoughts on “How do I control oily and shiny skin?

  1. Inequilibrium says:

    There was a study that suggested that spearmint tea had an anti-androgenic effect, which reduced hirsutism in women. I’m not precisely sure how it does this, but I’d be interested to know if it could also effect sebum production.

  2. stephenguide says:

    That sounds interesting! There’s lots of natural ingredients that seem to have an anti-androgenic effect, saw palmetto as I mentioned and I’m sure there are many more out there. It’d probably be best to use one that is retains its activity while applied topically though.

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