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  3. > How to reduce sebum production: What you need to know about oily skin

How to reduce sebum production: What you need to know about oily skin

Say hello to less oily skin with the help of these skincare tips.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 06, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 06, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Does your skin’s appearance err on the shiny side? If so, your body may be producing a lot of its natural oil or sebum, a substance that helps protect the skin’s surface.  

The truth is, sebum is likely just one of several factors contributing to the glistening shine on your face. What causes that shine may actually be a blend of sebum, sweat, dead skin cells, and tiny particles of whatever happens to be floating around in the air. That said, there’s much more to having less oily skin than just washing your face. 

What exactly is sebum?

To get specific, sebum is a compound made up of 57% triglycerides, 25% wax monoesters, 13% squalene, 3% cholesterol esters, and 2% cholesterol¹—all different types of lipids found in the body. It’s produced mainly on the face and scalp but can show up anywhere on your body, except in areas without hair follicles such as the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. 

Sebum is essential for the protection of your skin. Think of it as one of your skin’s natural barriers against bacterial and fungal infections. It also helps protect the skin barrier by reducing water loss from the skin.² 

Sebum production is normal and healthy, but too little can lead to dry skin, and too much can get trapped in your pores, leading to breakouts. That said, people with all skin types (including dry ones!) can get acne. 

What hormones regulate sebum production? 

Sebum comes from your sebaceous glands, which are usually attached to hair follicles and cover most parts of your body. They’re found in the highest concentrations on your face and scalp³—that may be why your face might look oily, but other parts of your body might look dry. Of course, that’s also why many people wonder how to reduce sebum production on the nose. But we’ll get into that in a bit.

Androgens are a major contributor to your body’s overall sebum production. They are hormones produced by your adrenal glands and your ovaries or testes. Androgen levels can fluctuate during certain life events (e.g. puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause) and some contributors, like stress and diet, tell your body to release more androgens. These hormonal fluctuations can then lead to hormonal acne

Research also suggests that androgens aren't the only thing regulating sebum production. A recent study identified other biological pathways and hormones that can also affect the sebaceous glands, including insulin-like growth factor, corticotropin-releasing hormone, and vitamin D, among others.⁴ Whew! Sebum production certainly is complicated. 

What affects sebum production?

Genetics, medications, and outside factors can all play a part in increasing—or decreasing— sebum production. The good news is that you can do things to help mitigate an overproduction of sebum. First, here are a few factors that can increase sebum production: 

  • Genetics. Oily skin (and having larger sebaceous glands) can be passed down through your genes. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about that! 

  • Medications. Oral hormonal medications, including birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, can increase (or decrease!) oil production by changing the hormone balance in your body.  

  • Hormonal changes. Puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause or hormone therapy can cause your hormones to fluctuate, which can lead to changes in sebum production.  

  • Diet. Eating foods high in sugar can lead to inflammation and may increase sebum production.⁵

  • Environment. Hot, humid weather also tends to stimulate sebum. 

How to help reduce sebum production 

It would be great if we could take a magic pill to regulate sebum production. Unfortunately, that doesn’t exist at this time. But if you’re wondering how to reduce sebum orhow to reduce sebum production naturally, there are a few things you can do: 

  • Wash your face. Use a gentle cleanser in the morning and before bed. 

  • Take off your makeup. Before catching your nightly Z’s, make sure you remove your makeup—to make it easy, do it while washing your face! 

  • Use a DIY facial mask. Research shows that using a mask with herbal ingredients like parsley powder may help reduce oiliness.⁶

  • Try salicylic acid products. Using a gentle exfoliant once a week can help remove excess oil along with dead skin cells and debris.

  • Change your diet. Are you wondering if some foods potentially reduce sebum production? There are foods that can increase sebum in some people (e.g., high-glycemic index foods and dairy). So, if a sugary snack is your go-to, try mixing it up by eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Keep calm. Stress triggers hormones to release, especially cortisol, which can have negative effects on your skin.⁷

Are there any products that can help reduce sebum production? 

Young woman applying cream on her face

If you’re wondering how to reduce sebum production on the face, we can help. Topical niacinamide⁸ and zinc pyrithione⁹ may both help reduce sebum protection. Here are some over-the-counter products that contain one of these power-house ingredients. 

  • Noble Formula 2% Pyrithione Zinc Original Emu Bar Soap.

  • EltaMD AM (contains niacinamide) 

  • Elta MD UV 46 Untinted (contains niacinamide)

  • CeraVe AM (niacinamide) 

  • CeraVe Foaming Cleanser (niacinamide)

  • Paula's Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster

When to look for professional help

Sometimes you’ll need to get professional help from an expert dermatology provider who can address personal concerns and guide you through your skincare journey. Here are a few signs to watch out for.

If you experience any of these, reach out to a healthcare provider.

Curology’s skincare service

Wouldn’t it be great if we could wave a wand and show you exactly how to reduce sebum production on your scalp or face? Sadly, we can’t. But we can improve common skin concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea. Let Curology help take the guesswork out of skincare. Curology is designed to help make dermatology services accessible for everyone. As a Curology member, you receive a personalized treatment plan with skin care products designed by dermatologists for your skin concerns. Have confidence knowing you're using medically proven ingredients on your skin.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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If Curology is right for you, we’ll send you a free 30-day supply of your Custom Formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen for your unique skin concerns, plus any of our recommended products, for free—just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling. Go ahead, sign up for Curology now!

Here are a few FAQs we often receive from Curology members:


Does Vitamin D reduce sebum production?

Potentially, but more studies are needed. Studies show that vitamin D may play a vital role in sebocyte (a specialized sebum cell) function and physiology.¹⁰ In another study, vitamin D was shown to potentially help normalize sebaceous gland physiology in patients with acne vulgaris.¹¹

What foods reduce sebum production?

There isn’t much evidence to suggest that any one food can decrease sebum production. Here at Curology, we recommend sticking to a balanced diet with lots of fruit and veggies. Of course, you may want to discuss a personal nutrition plan with your medical provider before making any dietary changes.

What foods may cause excess sebum?

A 2019 study found that high-glycemic foods may increase sebum production in some people. Other foods, including meats, dairy products, and alcohol, may also increase sebum content.¹² A systematic review confirmed that dairy, including milk, yogurt, and cheese, can increase the likelihood of acne in some people.¹³

• • •

P.S. We did the research so you don’t have to:

  1. Wertz, P.D. Chapter 5 - Changes in Epidermal Lipis and Sebum Secretion with Aging. Skin Aging Handbook. (2009).

  2. Oakley, A., DermNet NZ. Sebum. (2014, June).

  3. Jalian, H.R., et al. Overview of Dermatological Diseases. Comprehensive Medicinal Chemistry II. (2007).

  4. Elsaie, M., Hormonal Treatment of Acne Vulgaris: An update. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. (2016, June 12).

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. Can the Right Diet Get Rid of Acne? (n.d.).

  6. Nilforoushzadeh, M.A., et al., Skin Care and Rejuvenation by Cosmeceutical Facial Mask. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. (2018, January 29).

  7. Graubard, R., et al. Stress and Skin: An Overview of Mind Body Therapies as a Treatment Strategy in Dermatology.Dermatology Practical and Conceptual. (2022, October 1).

  8. Draelos, Z. D., et al. The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production. Journal of cosmetic and laser therapy : official publication of the European Society for Laser Dermatology. (2006).

  9. Gupta, M., et al.  Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatology research and practice. (2014).

  10. Krämer, C., et al. Characterization of the Vitamin D Endocrine System in Human Sebocytes In Vitro. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. (2009, January).

  11. Elsaie, M., Hormonal Treatment of Acne Vulgaris: An update. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. (2016, June 12).

  12. Lim, S., et al. Dietary Patterns Associated with Sebum Content, Skin Hydration and pH, and Their Sex-dependent Differences in Healthy Korean Adults. Nutrients. (2019, March).

  13. Juhl, C.R., et al. Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults.Nutrients. (2018, August 9).

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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