≡ Menu

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • 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!

      • Juliane Habig May 12, 2018, 6:27 am

        Hi Randy,
        I just wondered about the results of your further research into the mechanism of sebum production. Would you kindly provide us with the results or the article?
        Thank you

  • 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

    • suki-san May 21, 2017, 11:27 pm

      Jeff, so i’m dying of curiosity, do you just wipe your face down if it gets too dirty? Or do you use a gentle, humectant-type, acid mantle restoring toner? Or are you using the Oil-Cleansing Method?
      One of the reasons i ask is b/c i make a super gentle toner for moody skin that i’d be happy to send you a small bottle of, in exchange for your feedback, (& your testimonial if it worked well for you. .)
      You could hit me back up here..warm regards, suki
      p.s.: Perry, it just occurred to me i might be abusing your guys’ hospitality, if so, would you please let me know? Thank you, suki

  • Tash May 6, 2017, 3:30 am

    I’m only speaking from my own experience here but I have naturally oily skin. I dehydrated and damaged the skin barrier while painting and decorating for 2 years. I moved into an office role that was highly air conditioned. Over time my skin began producing excess oil and acne while increasing my sensitivity which lead to redness. I left that role to work in a warehouse with no air conditioning at all and over a few weeks the oil regulated, redness and sensitivity started to disappear and acne cleared.

  • Sal February 4, 2018, 10:35 pm

    Since our skin is an organ that is closest to our external environment, it only makes sense that it can respond and regulate itself to changes in the external environment and so should be affected by amounts of sebum that is already on the skin. What’s more, in a more recent study (link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4926335/ ) it is qouted “Interestingly, attempts to match the sebum excretion changes with free testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, Δ4-androstenedione, cortisol, or melatonin blood levels have been unsuccessful, which may imply that autonomous clocks in sebaceous glands are responding to other entrainment stimuli.”
    I personally believe sebum production is affected by our skin’s oil levels. I had dry flaky skin and the main thing that cured it was applying no oil/ moisturizers at night and only 1 drop of face oil in the mornings, and of course gentle cleansing without soaps or surfactants. Now I have fuss-free balanced skin and it never looked healthier!

  • Isa November 12, 2018, 12:58 pm

    I don’t believe it… Because every oil I’ve put on my skin, even supposed “non-comedogenic” oils such as thin mineral oil, has just made me break out, and my own oil is secreted and builds up under it regardless… I can see my face getting oilier and oilier whether I’ve “moisturized” it or have put oil (mineral, vegetable) on it or not. I want to ki(ll)ss everyone who recommends trying other oils. Also, I’d like to know why my glands secrete so much freaking oil if the reason to secrete oil is because your skin has no oil over it… Why so desperate…

  • Sherron Leo November 27, 2018, 11:45 pm

    My aunt has been diligent on her skin care regimen. Last 3 days, she bought some skin health supplement and she waited to do a test if the supplement is good; so according to her own theory, she stops using moisturizer (sleeping in an air-conditioning room)…. and she started to develop whiteheads. So not sure if was due to the effect of the health supplements or her skin get dehydrated and trigger excessive production of sebum.

    • admin December 4, 2018, 10:46 am

      It could have been any of those reasons. It is impossible to tell for sure. I personally wouldn’t use supplements unless they were prescribed by a doctor. The industry is just not safe enough in my opinion.