People share a large number of misconceptions when it comes to the nature of acne. These misconceptions often stunt progression towards a cure. One of the more notable and highly inaccurate notions claims that oily skin causes acne. Although a relationship does indeed exist between sebaceous gland activity and acne development, it is not quite this linear. Increased sebum production does not necessarily lead to acne. There are a number of confounding variables that need to be taken into consideration. In this post, we will explore the complex relationship that exists between the sebaceous glands and the development of acne, effectively debunking the myth that oily skin directly contributes or otherwise causes this skin condition.
As noted above, a number of factors come into play when discussing the development of acne. Generally speaking, acne manifests when sebum (an oily substance excreted by the sebaceous glands of the hair follicle for lubrication) combines with dead skin cells to clog a pore. In a healthy individual, sebum should rise to the surface of the skin without disruption from dead skin cells. Acne bacteria, known as propionibacterium acnes (or p. acnes for short), begins to multiply in the clogged pore thanks to the accumulated amount of sebum. This bacteria is always present in the skin, however, it only becomes problematic when there it is given an excessive amount of sebum to sustain itself. The p. acnes is what gives more severe types of lesions an inflamed appearance. It is not involved in the development of comedonal acne or blackheads, where inflammation is minimal. In the case of pustules, a white head is present at the tip of the lesion to indicate that the body has waged battle against the bacteria.
Now, considering the above background information, it should be evident that excessive oil production in itself cannot cause acne. The excessive amounts of sebum may just rise to the surface of the skin without any problems. Oily skin can pose a problem when other risk factors for acne (the confounding variables) are present. One of these factors is a disrupted desquamation and keratinization cycle. Desquamation refers to your skin’s ability to dispose of dead skin cells on a regular basis. A new layer of skin makes its way to the surface every 30 or so days. This process is known as keratinization. When the cycle is somehow disturbed and dead skin cells are allowed to linger on the surface of the skin, acne can form.
The quality of sebum produced also has a large bearing over whether or not an individual will develop acne. Sebum that has a sticky consistency is more likely to bind to dead skin cells and consequently clog pores. Hence, more oily skin can result in acne if and when the quality of the sebum is compromised. This effect can be exacerbated by an irregular kertinization and desquamation cycle. A number of theories have been developed to explain why sebum can take on unfavorable characteristics. One has attributed this effect to a diet high in simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are derived mostly from processed foods such as breads. The body coverts these carbohydrates to sugars. It is believed that a diet rich in simple carbohydrates may influence the quality of sebum that the body produces, possibly causing is it to attract dead skin cells. However, no definitive conclusions have been drawn.
Those that suffer form oily skin and complain of breakouts may be unknowingly contributing to (or simply creating) the problem. Many who suffer from oily skin have a poor habit of touching their face at random intervals during the day, or blotting it when necessary. This can easily trigger acne, especially considering that most fail (or are unable to) wash their hands before touching their face. The contaminants on their fingers come into contact with their skin, subsequently contributing to the acne problem.
Yet another behavior that those with an oily complexion often engage in is washing their face multiple times throughout the day, often with harsh cleansers that contain alcohol and other astringents. If your face is to any degree oily, it is telling you that it is deprived of moisture. If you are stripping it of the moisture it does have, it will return the disfavor by leaving you at risk for acne. So stop using those harsh cleansers and washing your face several times a day! You should not have to clean you face more than 3 times a day, which already seems somewhat excessive. Use a gentle cleanser that won’t strip the oils off your face, such as the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. If you are bothered by the oil slick during the day, use some of the oil blotting sheets we mentioned earlier. There are also some products available that feature a silicone base, which should keep the oil at bay. However, this is not recommended for those with acne prone skin. Silicone may allow for the pores to become more easily clogged. There are a number of additional tips we have to share for those of you suffering from oily skin, however, these will have to wait for another post.
The belief that oily skin causes acne is illogical and inconsistent with the facts surrounding acne development. The acne formation process clearly illustrates that excessive sebum is not problematic unless present alongside one or more acne risk factors. If you currently have oily skin and are concerned about developing acne, you have little to worry about. Don’t over wash your skin or use other harsh products in an effort to dry it out. This will ultimately trigger the development of acne. Ensure that your skin is sufficiently moisturized and protected from the sun, and you should be in good shape. Those of you that suffer from a combination of oily and acne-prone skin should follow similar advice. Harsh skin care products will exacerbate your acne. Use gentle products and keep your skin protected. Let the sebum accomplish its intended goal. Your will eventually return the favor.