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Why is my skin so oily all of a sudden?

Uncover the root causes, effective remedies, and preventive measures for oily skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
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.

In this article

The actual cause of oily skin 
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An unexpected surge in skin oiliness can feel overwhelming and puzzling. Your skin was stable and then all of a sudden, you're battling a gleaming forehead and perhaps even a breakout or two. So, what could be behind this abrupt shift? 

We’ve got answers. Let’s take a look at the primary reasons behind sudden oily skin, so you have the knowledge needed to address this frustrating experience at its root cause in order to regain a balanced, radiant complexion.

The actual cause of oily skin 

Oily skin, which is clinically termed seborrhea, is more than just a simple inconvenience. At the heart of this condition are your sebaceous glands, which, when enlarged, tend to overproduce a waxy substance called sebum. It's sebum that lends your skin its characteristic glossy appearance.¹

But that doesn’t mean sebum is always the bad guy. Produced, stored, and released by the sebaceous glands, sebum plays a vital role in maintaining your skin’s moisture² and protecting against external aggressors.³ 

It’s when you have too much of it that problems can arise.

Several factors influence the activity of these glands and, in turn, skin oiliness. Your diet, for example, can either balance or increase sebum production.⁴ Age, too, plays its part. As we grow older, sebum production generally declines, so adolescents often grapple with oilier skin than adults.⁵ Gender differences also come into play, with males typically experiencing oilier skin due to testosterone-induced sebum production.⁶ Lastly, anyone who’s spent a summer in a tropical locale knows firsthand how hot, humid climates can amplify skin’s oiliness.⁷

By grasping these underlying factors, you can become better equipped to tailor your skincare routine to target excessive oiliness.

Why did my skin suddenly become oily? 

If your skin suddenly becomes oily, it may be due to various factors—some of which we’ve touched on, such as a change in your diet, age, climate, or skincare practices.

Let’s take a closer look at each potential cause.

Your diet

What you eat may reflect on your face. Recent studies suggest a direct correlation between our diet and the sebum content in our skin. High sebum production is often linked with oilier skin and can even make your acne worse. Specifically, diets with a high glycemic load and a significant intake of milk products can trigger an increase in skin’s sebum content.⁸

But it’s not just about sugars and milk. According to another study, certain dietary habits can also influence skin oiliness. The research indicates that those who consume fewer beans but indulge more in meats, dairy products, and alcohol tend to have a higher sebum content, leading to oilier skin.⁹

The connection between our plates and our pores is becoming more apparent. By understanding these dietary influences, you can make informed choices that may help balance sebum production.

Your age or hormones

Our skin’s texture and appearance change with time, and it’s not just about wrinkles or sunspots. One of the significant alterations over time is skin's oiliness or dryness. This is intrinsically tied to age and the hormonal shifts throughout our lives. Recent research provides insights into these changes. For instance, a study involving 848 volunteers revealed that oily skin is more prevalent among younger individuals.¹⁰

So, what’s behind this shift? 

The answer lies in our sebaceous glands. These glands produce sebum, a complex fluid comprising various substances. According to another study, sebum production is high right at birth, drops soon after, and then sees a dramatic surge during puberty, thanks to androgens. This heightened production persists, remaining elevated until post-menopause in women and reaching around the sixth to seventh decade in men.¹¹

The climate

Our environment, particularly the changing seasons and climatic variations, can have a marked impact on our skin. It isn’t just about feeling hot, cold, dry, or humid; these external conditions directly influence the oiliness of our skin.

Sebum production isn’t constant throughout the year. Instead, there's a noticeable increase in sebum production during the spring and summer. Living in or traveling to more humid climates can also lead to heightened sebum production, making your skin oilier.¹²

Dry skin

The idea of dry skin leading to more oiliness might seem counterintuitive. The truth is that, particularly for individuals with acne-prone skin, the reality is complex. 

Skin prone to acne is notably susceptible to irritation. Actions we might assume help with oiliness—like vigorous washing or intense scrubbing—can make your skin worse. Such aggressive routines can intensify the inflammatory phase of acne. Similarly, products or treatments that have an overly drying effect can not only promote inflammation but also increase sebum secretion.¹³

Treatment options for oily skin 

Managing oily skin can be a journey of trial and error, but fortunately, several scientifically backed treatments are available to help. 

Topical treatments: These are products applied directly to the skin. Effective options include topical retinoids and cosmeceuticals, which often contain potentially beneficial ingredients such as niacinamidegreen tea, and L-carnitine.¹⁴

Systemic treatments: These are medications taken orally to address skin conditions from within. Isotretinoin, spironolactone, and certain oral contraceptives fall into this category and are often prescribed for those with severe oily skin or acne.¹⁵

Advanced procedures: If you’re looking for more intensive interventions, you may want to consider botulinum toxin injections, photodynamic therapy, and lasers.¹⁶

However, as with any skin concern, it’s essential to seek professional advice. Consulting a dermatology provider will get you a personalized assessment and guidance on the most suitable treatment for your unique skin needs.

Skincare tips for oily skin 

If you’re grappling with oily skin, try dermatologist-recommended tips to balance out your skin.

First, wash your face every morning, evening, and post-exercise, utilizing a gentle, foaming face wash.¹⁷ As previously mentioned, while the urge to scrub away the oil might be strong, doing so may make matters worse. Look for skincare products labeled reading “oil-free” and “noncomedogenic,” as these are formulated to prevent clogged pores and potential acne breakouts.¹⁸

Daily moisturizing remains essential even for oily skin. Opt for a light, non-greasy moisturizer. If it contains SPF 30 or above, it’s a bonus for sun protection.¹⁹ Speaking of the sun, when choosing sunscreens, consider those containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as they offer a robust shield against sun-induced damage.

Makeup aficionados should choose oil-free, water-based products.²⁰ These formulations ensure you’re not adding extra oil to your already oily skin. And, regardless of how exhausted you might be at the end of the day, always prioritize removing all makeup before hitting the sheets to help ward off the risk of clogged pores.²¹ For midday touch-ups, blotting papers can be invaluable, sopping up excess oil without redistributing it. While it might seem harmless, touching your face can introduce dirt, oil, and bacteria from your hands, so resist the temptation.²²

Given the uniqueness of everyone’s skin, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. It's imperative to find a routine that caters specifically to your skin type. If challenges persist or concerns arise, it’s a good idea to contact a dermatology provider. They offer invaluable insights, helping tailor a skincare routine that promotes healthy, balanced skin.

Care for your skin with Curology

Battling oily skin can often feel like a never-ending journey. But remember, it’s not just about managing the oil—it’s about nurturing your skin with the right products tailored for you. 

Enter Curology. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Designed with your unique skin challenges in mind, Curology provides specialized care to not only address oiliness but also promote overall skin health. Give your skin the personalized care it deserves with our Custom Formula

Start healing your skin with Curology* now!

FAQs

Why is my skin so oily all of a sudden?

To address sudden oily skin, cleanse your face using a gentle foaming product twice daily. Choose oil-free and non-comedogenic skincare items. Utilize a light moisturizer containing SPF. During the day, use blotting papers to remove excess oil. Refrain from touching your face and ensure makeup is removed before bed.

What deficiency causes oily skin?

To the best of our knowledge, no direct deficiency is associated with oily skin. However, dietary imbalances or environmental shifts might influence your skin conditions.

What hormone causes oily skin?

Oily skin is influenced by androgens, mainly testosterone and 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT). These hormones stimulate sebaceous glands, which may lead to more sebum production.²³

Why does my skin get oilier in hot and humid weather?

In hot and humid climates, your sebaceous glands can produce more sebum, leading to increased skin oiliness.²⁴ If you notice your skin getting oilier in such conditions, consider adjusting your skincare routine and using products designed to control excess sebum.

Can over-cleansing make my skin oilier?

It’s possible. Over-cleansing might make your skin produce more oil, especially if you have acne-prone skin. Aggressive cleaning routines, like scrubbing too hard, can irritate your skin and stimulate your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum as a protective response.²⁵ Stick to gentle, foaming cleansers and avoid harsh scrubs to maintain balanced skin.

• • •

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

  1. Sakuma, T.H. and Maibach, H.I. Oily skin: an overview. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. (2012, n.d.).

  2. Sakuma, T.H. and Maibach, H.I. Oily skin: an overview. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. Ibid.

  3. Lovászi, M., et al. Sebaceous-immunobiology is orchestrated by sebum lipids. Dermatoendocrinol. (2017, October 17).

  4. Zouboulis, CC. and Boschnakow, A. Chronological ageing and photoageing of the human sebaceous gland. Clin Exp Dermatol. (October, 2001)

  5. Sakuma, T.H. and Maibach, H.I. Oily skin: an overview. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. Ibid.

  6. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (August 2017).

  7. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (August 2017).

  8. 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 14).

  9. Lim, S,. et al. Dietary Patterns Associated with Sebum Content, Skin Hydration and pH, and Their Sex-Dependent Differences in Healthy Korean Adults. Nutrients. Ibid.

  10. Wang, Y.N., et al. Survey on skin aging status and related influential factors in Southeast China. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. (January 2009).

  11. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (August 2017).

  12. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  13. Adamski, Z., et al. Acne - therapeutic challenges to the cooperation between a dermatologist and a cosmetologist. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. (February 2021).

  14. Adamski, Z., et al. Acne - therapeutic challenges to the cooperation between a dermatologist and a cosmetologist. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. Ibid.

  15. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  16. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  17. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  18. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to control oily skin. (n.d.).

  19. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to control oily skin. Ibid.

  20. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to control oily skin. Ibid.

  21. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to control oily skin. Ibid.

  22. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to control oily skin. Ibid.

  23. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to control oily skin. Ibid.

  24. Makrantonaki, E., et al. An update on the role of the sebaceous gland in the pathogenesis of acne. Dermatoendocrinol. (January-March 2011).

  25. Adamski, Z., et al. Acne - therapeutic challenges to the cooperation between a dermatologist and a cosmetologist. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. Ibid.

Kristen Jokela is a certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. 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 thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

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