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Does oily skin really overproduce sebum when dehydrated?

NOTE: Click here to read the follow up post on sebum regulation.

Al4galm asks…I have read many blogs, articles, etc that claim that oily skin produces more oil when is dehydrated. Is it true?
None of them reference studies.

The Beauty Brains respond: 

None of them referenced studies???  I’m tempted to report the bastards to the United Federation of Beauty Bloggers! Seriously though, if you do find a beauty blog that documents its sources of information you should bookmark it and sleep with it under your pillow! But back to your question…

The science of sebum

The answer lies in how sebum production is regulated – in other words what turns the sebum glands on and off. It’s not the presence or absence of moisture that triggers the production of oil, it’s the presence of sebum on the surface of skin. According to a study published in the Archiv für dermatologische Forschung, researchers stripped oil off skin and then measured how long it took the skin to re-oil itself. Their data indicates that the presence of oil on the skin’s surface sends a signal to the sebaceous glands to turn off. This signal is caused by either the pressure of the oil in the follicle or by the creation of a chemical signal that travels back down through the skin.

So it looks like it’s the amount of oil on the skin and not the degree of dehydration that determines how much oil the glands produce.

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{ 12 comments… add one }

  • Kiera July 11, 2014, 4:41 pm

    That study is old (1974) and there have been several studies since then that suggest conclusions about sebum production were made too hastily. Do a search for “Bryan” on the acne.org forums. He was known there as the “sebum master” for his extensive scientific literature review on sebaceous glands. He also was well-known in the hair loss community for his knowledge of sebum and its production. This guy would literally research PubMed and physical medical journals in the library for hours on this stuff. His take is that the most comprehensive view of the literature confirms that the skin does NOT have an external mechanism for regulating sebum according to the level of sebum on the skin, that sebum production is regulated internally.

  • Kiera July 11, 2014, 4:42 pm

    I should add that he died a few months ago but his posts are still floating around.

  • lejla July 12, 2014, 3:28 am

    as stated above, that study is old and has been falsified… skin does not have oil receptors.

  • Stephanie July 14, 2014, 1:32 pm

    This caught my attention because the last time I was sick, and I tend to dehydrate too easily, my face was not my normal over oily looking face. And I have that issue where I produce too much oil in spots so that I my skin flakes.

  • Lyn July 17, 2014, 12:12 pm

    I’m curious – are the authors going to respond to the comments here? Is the content of this post accurate, or not?

  • ahj July 17, 2014, 4:08 pm

    I also am very interested why Beauty Brains quote such a controversial study without further comments.

  • Randy Schueller July 17, 2014, 6:07 pm

    Ahi, please see my response to Lyn’s comment. I’m looking into it.

  • Agata July 20, 2014, 4:02 pm

    Thank you very much! I will stay tuned :)

  • Randy Schueller July 17, 2014, 6:06 pm

    Hi Lyn. Yes, I’m in the process of doing some further research into the mechanism of sebum production. Just today I found an article in a technical journal that I believe addresses this very question but I can’t access a copy online and had to order it by snail mail. They say it may take 2 – 4 weeks for me to receive it, so stay tuned!

  • Lyn July 18, 2014, 4:08 pm

    Fantastic, thanks!

  • Elena July 22, 2014, 12:45 pm

    Al4galm here, *aka* Elena. I am very curious too. My skin is extremely oily, I must bloat every 2 hours. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl last year. During pregnancy and breastfeeding gave me the best skin I have ever had. But of course it all changed after little one was weaned.

    I used 10% glycolic acid for a few weeks and oiliness got out of control. Was able to figure out what was causing the issue because I forgot to pack it for a short trip and things got much better in 3 days oil wise (the rest of my routine didnt change). When I got home I decided to experiment and yup, glycolic acid at night resulted in uber oily skin next day. Another three days without it resulted in better behaved skin. Then the googling started, I was trying to figure out what was actually happening.

  • Jeff July 29, 2014, 4:23 am

    Everyone who has dehydrated + oily skin (like me) could tell you that the oil is necessary and should not be removed. The skin produces the oil to compensate for a damaged skin barrier that has trouble holding moisture.

    For me even using water to wash my face is too much. I would never ever use any kind of cleansing product (which I did for a year and that got me to the state my skin is in now). When I remove the oil it is 100% guaranteed that my skin will a) be left unprotected and I may experience some tightness (used to be much much worse than it is now and gets better every week) b) it is going to reproduce the oil.
    I stopped washing my face entirely which works for me because I’m 0% acne prone simply don’t get any pimples no matter how oily or dirty my face is.

    you all should check out reddit skin care addiction (google) on the right side in the sidebar you can find more info

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