You’ll often hear people suggest that the skin has a method regulating it’s own oil production.
Phrases such as “harsh cleansers strip the skin of it’s natural oils and cause the skin to produce more oil to compensate” or that even flaky, dry looking skins somehow “compensate by producing even more oil” when you use certain types of cleansers. They might explain the workings of oil cleansing by saying that the “oil tells the skin it’s no longer drying out” which in turn decreases oil production.
Oil Rebound (sometimes called the very sciencey sounding “reactive seborrhoea”) is a very common concept, unfortunately it is also flat not possible! There’s no evidence of any such feedback loop system in the skin, there simply are no receptors in the skin to detect how much oil (sebum) is on the surface at any given time.
So What’s Really Going On?
I’m guessing you’re sat there going “then why did I get less oily after switching cleanser?” aren’t you? Well, the effect is certainly there, harsh cleansers can indeed appear to increase your oil production but not because of any feedback loop in which the skin is somehow sensing it’s oil has been taken away.
Over-cleansing is usually the culprit behind that seemingly excess oil. We’ve all been there at some point – wash face, oh look I’m nice and clean! Half an hour later you’re all oily again and start thinking maybe you should have washed more or harder or…
Washing is, by its self, one of the most traumatising things we can do our skin. When we do it with a harsh product (harsh usually refers to a very alkaline product) we also disrupt the pH balance of our skin’s acid mantle as well as traumatising it. The skin can very much sense trauma and pH changes. When the skin senses either of these it responds by releasing stored oil onto the surface to try to protect it’s self and restore pH balance. Traumatised skin does not process the oil in the same way as undamaged skin and so the oil will sit on the surface as a film rather than sinking in and acting as a natural moisturiser. We always have a store of oil ready to be released, so ultimately no more oil than usual has been produced, it’s now just sitting on the surface and shining at you.
Can I Get Rid Of My Oily Skin?
How much oil your skin produces is unfortunately largely down to genetics and hormonal influences. Oil production can be affected by hormones including androgens and stress hormones which is why adolescents tend to have oilier skin and women tend to experience more oil and even breakouts around their periods.
Many people will tout oil cleansing as a method for “drying up” oily skin and explain it using this idea of an oil feedback loop. Oil cleansing won’t magically stop you from having oily skin, sorry! The skin will not “adjust” to the oil you are putting on it. By the same token, oil cleansing will not make you any oilier than you already are either. It is a very gentle way of cleansing, it doesn’t involve detergents and isn’t usually alkaline so cleansing once or even twice per day with an oil instead may help prevent damage from over-cleansing and oil sitting on the skin.
You can also use oil blotting paper, mattifying primers and powders. Benefit have a whole range aimed at exactly this issue. Retinol (vitamin A) is thought to have an effect on oil production and pure retinol is the main ingredient in prescription acne medications such as Retin-A so gently introducing a retinol containing moisturiser may possibly be helpful. If you have bad acne as a result of your oily skin please don’t suffer in silence, do see your GP as there are a few medications that can help including Retin-A and the contraceptive pill.
Do you have oily skin? What products would you recommend for mattifying that shine during the day?