The Inside Scoop on Oily and Acne-Prone Skin

The Inside Scoop on Oily and Acne-Prone Skin

A man with acne holding a white palm frond in front of his face

Acne is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that causes pimples and spots on many areas of the body such as the face, shoulders, back, neck, chest, and upper arms. Frequently, acne is accompanied by oily skin, which can be difficult to care for.

Acne affects 50 million Americans every year, making it the most common skin condition in the United States.1  It predominantly affects adolescents and young adults, considering that 85% of people between the ages of 12 and 14 experience acne. Although, adults are beginning to report more acne issues, including up to 15% of women.2 

While acne can be incredibly painful and annoying, it isn’t a life-threatening condition. However, acne can potentially cause emotional distress by affecting self-esteem and body image. It’s also connected to increased levels of anxiety, anger, depression, and frustration.3

What Causes Acne?

Beneath the surface of the skin, pores connect to oil glands. Follicles, which connect the pores to the glands, are a grouping of cells enclosing a cavity that produce and secrete liquid.

The glands create an oily, waxy substance known as sebum, which is a mixture of fatty acids, sugars, waxes, and other natural chemicals that form a protective barrier against water evaporation.4 Sebum carries dead skin cells through the follicles to the skin’s surface.

Pimples grow when follicles get blocked and oil builds under the skin. Essentially, sebum, skin cells, and hair clump together to make a sort of plug. The plug then gets infected with bacteria, known as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). This results in swelling. When the plug begins to break down, a pimple forms.

While many factors trigger acne, the main cause is thought to be a rise in androgen levels. When adolescence begins, androgen levels rise. In women, though, it’s converted into estrogen, which like androgen, is a hormone naturally produced by our bodies. Rising androgen levels cause the oil glands under the skin to grow, which in turn produces more sebum. An excessive amount of sebum can break down cellular walls in the pores, causing more bacteria to grow.

Although acne is a normal physiologic occurrence, certain factors may agitate the condition, such as:

  • Manipulation of acne lesions (picking)
  • Fluctuating hormone levels, especially during menstruation (women)
  • Emotional stress
  • Genetic factors
  • Some medications that include androgen and lithium
  • Greasy cosmetics
  • Clothing and headgear

Types of Acne and Pimples


Noninflammatory Acne

Noninflammatory acne includes blackheads and whiteheads, which are both known as comedones. Comedones are skin pores or hair follicles that are clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. if you have a single lesion, then it would be called a comedo.

Blackheads are open comedones. They are at the surface of the skin and are tinged black due to the oxygen in the air and the skin’s melanin. They typically occur when a pore is clogged by dead skin cells and sebum.

Whiteheads are closed comedones. They are just under the surface of the skin, giving them a white appearance. Just like blackheads, they’re formed when dead skin cells and sebum get trapped within pores.

Inflammatory Acne

Inflammatory Acne refers to pimples that are red and swollen. While sebum and dead skin cells are contributing factors to inflammatory acne, bacteria can also play a role in clogging pores. Bacteria can cause an infection deep beneath the skin’s surface, resulting in painful acne that’s hard to get rid of.

Inflammatory acne includes:

  • Papules – occur when the walls surrounding your pores break down from severe inflammation, resulting in hard, clogged pores that are usually pink and tender to the touch.
  • Pustules – also form when the walls surrounding your pores are broken down. Pustules are filled with pus, usually red, and often have yellow or whiteheads on top.
  • Nodules – are formed when swollen, clogged pores are further irritated and grow larger. Nodules are deep beneath the skin, which means they typically can’t be treated at home and can benefit from a dermatologist’s assistance.
  • Cysts – develop when pores are clogged by dead skin cells, sebum, and bacteria. Cysts are further below the skin’s surface like nodules. They’re the largest form of acne with bumps that are red or white and can potentially cause a severe infection.

Caring for Oily and Acne-Prone Skin

Keeping your skin’s oil production down and maintaining breakouts is difficult. However, it’s not impossible. Altering many of your everyday activities can contribute to a clear complexion. Here are some steps you can take to breathe new life into your skin:

1.   Eat a Healthy Balanced Diet

Your diet affects your skin more than you think. Try to eat a healthy diet that contains glycemic index foods with omega-3 fatty acids and complex carbohydrates. The glycemic index is the measurement of how fast food is broken down into single sugar units (glucose). Complex carbohydrates are found in fruits and veggies, while omega-3 fatty acids are known to be essential fats because the body does not naturally produce them. You can see if your favorite foods are low on the glycemic index here.

2.   SPF-30 and Ultralight Sunscreen

People who have oily or acne-prone skin don’t like the idea of wearing a heavy, greasy sunscreen, however it is crucial not to skip this important skincare step. The regular use of a good quality broad-spectrum SPF-30+ not only helps to reduce early-onset wrinkles and pigmentation issues, it also helps minimize the chance of worsening post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) caused by acne. Additionally, in the long term, using these products reduces your risk of deep collagen damage, sunspots and skin cancers. Since chemical sunscreens have a higher tendency to cause skin irritation or allergic reaction, try using a mineral sunscreen made with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

3.   More Exercise, Less Stress

Hormone fluctuations result in breakouts, and stress can be a huge trigger for hormone changes. Regular exercise, though, reduces levels of acne-causing hormones by decreasing the amount of cortisol, which is your body’s main stress hormone. Even just a moderate exercise releases endorphins and serotonin that lessen levels of stress. Besides just exercising, you can try meditation or a sound bath to reduce stress.

4.   See a Dermatologist

If your skin suffers from blind pimples, which refer to acne that has developed under the skin’s surface, you should consider speaking to a specialist. Blind pimples are commonly caused by a cyst or nodule and don’t have a “head.” They may also be painful to the touch and red with inflammation. Remember to always avoid the urge to squeeze or pop a blind pimple or you could be left with worsening inflammation and a scar.

However, you should also seek professional help if you find yourself skipping social outings or if your breakouts upset you. It’s difficult to know when it’s time to see a specialist for your acne, especially if you don’t believe your breakouts to be severe. Your skin can benefit from seeing a dermatologist even if your acne isn’t severe. You can also try a quiz to see if you should seek advice from a dermatologist.

Skincare for Oily and Acne-Prone Skin 101

A normalized skincare routine that caters to your skin type is crucial for a clear complexion. By cleansing and caring for your skin morning, night, and after exercising, you can see a huge improvement.

Make sure to choose your skincare products wisely, and avoid any that contain drying alcohol. Alcohol can cause an increased amount of oil secretion. While alcohol appears to quickly degrease the skin, it can lead to irritation and dryness.

Here’s an idea of a dermatologist’s suggested skincare routine for oily and acne-prone skin:

  1. Remove makeup with a makeup remover.
  2. Use a gentle non-perfumed cleanser that contains Salicylic Acid. Also try using micellar water for gentle, effective cleansing.
  3. Don’t over-cleanse. This could dry out your face and encourage oil glands to produce more oil.
  4. Use a light moisturizer that contains zinc or niacinamide to minimize enlarged pores. If your skin is very oily, try lotions or gels.
  5. During the day, apply a non-fragrant, non-comedogenic sunscreen gel or lotion.
  6. Before bed, apply topical retinoid cream to your T-zone and acne-prone areas. Use a small amount 3 times a week to decrease dryness and irritation, then increase the amount slowly.

Skincare Oils Can Benefit Everyone

Sometimes the skin becomes oily because it is stripped of its natural oil from over-cleansing or frequent exfoliating. The body tends to overcompensate when this happens, leading eventually to excess oil production on the skin. However, oily skin can also be a result of living in a warm and humid climate. Either way, facial skincare oils shouldn’t be your enemy.

Knowing the ingredients within a serum or skincare oil is vital. For example, non-comedogenic oils can help keep dry skin supple and oily skin acne-free. Non-comedogenic oils don’t clog pores, allowing the skin to stay hydrated, breathe, and remain free from breakouts. Many non-comedogenic oils also have anti-inflammatory properties and contain antioxidants, vitamins, and essential fatty acids.

The Humanist Beauty Herban Wisdom Facial Oil is formulated with an abundance of natural,  non-comedogenic oils that don’t lead to breakouts and do help skin look and feel its best, such as:

  • Sweet Almond Seed Oil: Contains high levels of fatty acids, and is also shown to reduce psoriasis symptoms and severe hand dermatitis.
  • Sunflower Seed Oil: High in beta-carotene, vitamin E, and fatty acids that are essential in skin repair.
  • Hemp Seed Oil: Balances out oily skin, while hydrating and regulating skin’s oil production.
  • And more.

If you’re interested in trying the Humanist Beauty Herban Wisdom Facial Oil, give our mini size a try. We assure our ingredients are 100% naturally derived, vegan, paraben-free, dye-free, gluten-free, and naturally scented. [1] [2],observed%20in%20patients%20with%20acne. [3],by%20your%20body’s%20sebaceous%20glands.&text=If%20you%20have%20very%20oily,of%20more%20than%20just%20sebum. [4]