Why Is My Skin So Oily? Dermatologists Share 6 Common Causes

<p>ohlamour studio / Stocksy</p>

ohlamour studio / Stocksy

Medically reviewed by Julia A. Siegel, MD

Similar to thin hair or hooded eyes, skin type is often something we come by through genetic chance. But occasionally, you wake up to find yourself managing a newly oily face—or your already oily skin is considerably slicker.

If your skin has been looking exceptionally oily, you're probably wondering what's behind it (and how you can banish it). We spoke with plastic surgeon Jaimie DeRosa, MD, and dermatologists Vladyslava Doktor, DO, and Dendy Engleman, MD, to find out the causes of—and treatments for—oily skin. Read on for what they told us.

Meet the Experts

  • Jaimie DeRosa, MD, is a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon based in Boston.

  • Vladyslava Doktor, DO, is the owner of Skin Center Boston.

  • Dendy Engelman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in New York.


Oily skin might just be in the cards for you, and you can thank your parents. "If your parents have oilier skin, then there's a higher predisposition your skin will be on the oiler side," explains Engelman; DeRosa adds that it only takes one parent having oily skin for you to potentially inherit the trait.

Unfortunately, this cause of oily skin is the toughest to treat permanently. "There's not much that you can do directly to reverse your skin type if you inherited naturally oilier skin," DeRosa tells us. Doktor adds that "While you cannot change your genetics, you can adopt a skincare routine to manage the oiliness effectively." She also recommends "using blotting papers or oil-absorbing sheets to remove excess oil throughout the day."

Overactive Sebaceous Glands

You've probably heard about sebaceous glands and their role in oil production. "Sebaceous glands are responsible for producing sebum, the natural oil that moisturizes and protects the skin," explains DeRosa. "If these glands produce [excess] sebum, it can result in oily skin."

Just like being genetically prone to oily skin, this isn't something you can necessarily stop in a lifelong capacity. That said, you can use products to control sebum production. "Retinoid topical treatments are gold when it comes to controlling oiliness and preventing acne breakouts commonly surfacing in oily skin," says Doktor.

"To help combat oily skin, I recommend washing your face with an oil-free cleanser and using an alcohol-free toner containing witch hazel, as this ingredient acts as an astringent and helps to counter extra grease," says Engelman. DeRosa suggests that "overactive sebaceous glands may be calmed down with micro-Botox (or micro-Neurotoxin) which is delivered close to the surface of the skin, at the level of the sebaceous glands. This will help stop the release of the sebum from the sebaceous gland."


When our hormones are out of whack or impacted by a life change, our skin can change, too. "Hormonal fluctuations during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause can trigger increased sebum production," explains Doktor; she recommends consulting your doctor if you think this might be the problem.

DeRosa agrees: "If you notice that hormonal changes tend to trigger an increase in oil production in your skin, talk with your dermatologist or OB-GYN about the possibility of medication, such as birth control pills, to help better regulate the hormone fluctuations."

If your oily skin is caused by pregnancy, you may be best served waiting it out since oil production will likely decrease once your pregnancy is over. And while we may not think of stress as a hormonal issue, being stressed causes our body to produce the hormone cortisol, which DeRosa says is "a hormone that can increase oil production in the skin." She says that if you notice more oil when you feel stressed, practicing relaxing activities like meditation could help.

The Environment

Where we live can have a surprisingly profound impact on our skin. "If you live in a warmer, more humid climate, then this also increases the likelihood you will have oilier skin," explains Engelman. Doktor says this is because "Hot and humid climates can play a large role in stimulating sebum production." She recommends minimizing your exposure to these conditions and using oil-absorbing products. DeRosa echos this, noting that while we can't change the weather, we should do our best not to place ourselves directly in it when possible. "One can be mindful of staying indoors in cooler, less-humid air when it's steamy and hot outside," she suggests.

Your Skincare Routine

If your skin is oily, you may be turning to products that will dry it out. Unfortunately, that isn't always the solution. "Using harsh products that strip the skin of necessary oils can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil, so it's really important to be thoughtful about not over-drying the skin and also avoiding thicker skin products and makeup that do not allow the skin to 'breathe,'" says Doktor. DeRosa attributes this overproduction to the oil glands "thinking" that the skin is dry and, in turn, adding more oil to compensate. Additionally, she explains that "not properly cleansing the skin or using heavy, pore-clogging products can contribute to oily skin."

So what should you do instead? Doktor recommends using "gentle, non-comedogenic (non-pore-clogging) cleansers and moisturizers specifically formulated for oily skin" and limiting your cleansing to twice daily with a mild cleanser and no aggressive scrubbing. DeRosa agrees: "I would start with a gentle cleanser that helps to remove excess oils, dirt, and makeup without stripping the skin of necessary oils," she says. Like Doktor, she also suggests oil blotting papers.

Your Diet

It's a bummer, but the foods you eat can potentially play a part in the oiliness of your skin, according to our experts. "Consuming a diet high in greasy or fried foods, as well as refined carbohydrates and sugar, may worsen oily skin for some people," explains DeRosa.

"Maintaining a healthy diet, low in fried or greasy food," can improve your skin and overall health, says Doktor. "There is some debate amongst experts as to whether or not a specific diet directly impacts oily skin, but I still think it's worth following a healthier, anti-inflammatory diet whenever possible," she adds.

The Final Takeaway

Oily skin can have a variety of causes: Hormones, genetics, the environment, or (if your already oily skin is getting oilier) your diet. Whatever the cause, there are steps you can take to combat it—just make sure you don't go too far and inadvertently dry out your skin, thus leading your skin to produce more oil to compensate. It's also worth noting that oily skin isn't necessarily a bad thing: As DeRosa explains, "oily skin tends to age more slowly and is less prone to wrinkles compared to dry skin." Take care when you treat it, as you don't want to give up those benefits.

Related: You Can Actually Train Your Skin to Be Less Oily—Here&#39;s How