Most acne patients suffer from oily skin. Excess sebum produced by the skin causes clogged pores and acne. In this post I’ll share some scientifically proven remedies that can cut down sebum production by 50% or more.
Genes make acne-prone skin sensitive to hormones, and those hormones boost sebum production in the skin. Lucky for us science has given us effective treatments for oily skin. These include topical treatments that mitigate genetic sensitivities, and diet and lifestyle changes that reduce the levels of acne-causing hormones.
Let’s start by understanding the problem. In acne patients sebum production hinges on two things: genes and hormones. Genetics make acne-prone skin more sensitive to androgen hormones.
These hormones then act on the skin and increase sebum production. What happens is that the skin converts free testosterone from the blood into much more potent DTH. DHT can be up to 10 times more potent on the skin than testosterone. This conversion happens through an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which is over-expressed in acne-prone skin, thanks to genetics!
As with acne, you have to attack oily skin from two sides. Topical treatments can reduce the effect of hormones, and with smart diet and lifestyle changes you can reduce the levels of these hormones.
You can fight oily skin at the skin level with substances known as 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. These substances inhibit the enzyme 5-alpha reductase that increases the conversion of testosterone to DHT, and that way increase sebum production.
Here are some natural 5-alpha reductase inhibitors:
Most of the above mentioned studies are in vitro (test tube) studies. While useful many substances that show effect on test tube turn out to be useless in live humans. So let’s look at studies done on humans that measure sebum production.
I already mentioned the study with green tea. Another study showed good reduction with cream containing saw palmetto, sesame seeds and argan oil. The study showed 20% reduction in overall sebum levels and 42% reduction in oily areas after 4 weeks. The green tea study showed similar results, and had they continued this study for another 4 weeks the results would have likely been better. In the green tea study the results really kicked-in after week 4.
When you look at the ingredients in the cream these results are not surprising. Argan oil is high in GLA, linolenic and oleic acids, sesame seeds contain GLA and saw palmetto itself is effective inhibitor.
I also found a report of two studies using java tea (Orthosiphon stamineus) leaf extract. The paper says 2% java tea leaf extract reduced sebum more than formulation containing 1% zinc gluconate (ingredient frequently used in oily skin care products). Unfortunately I don’t have access to the full-text report and they didn’t mention percentage reductions in the abstract.
Because of genes acne-prone skin is extra sensitive to androgen hormones. You can mitigate this with topical treatments that contain 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. Some of the most promising are green tea extracts, gamma linolenic acid, saw palmetto and zinc. Studies have shown over 50% reduction with these ingredients.
As a disclaimer I have to mention that the evidence for these things is still fairly weak. Not too many human studies have been done, and even fewer have been replicated. So while these results are promising we should take them as preliminary.
You can also fight oily skin with diet and lifestyle changes that reduce the levels of acne-causing hormones. I covered this in detail in the hormonal acne page, so just a quick summary here. Sebum production is affected by hormones androgens, insulin and insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).
The best choice of action is to target insulin levels. Because IGF-1 follows insulin, and insulin and IGF-1 acts as androgen boosters (they stimulate androgen release from the liver and increase the effect androgens have on the skin). Since insulin follows blood sugar levels your goal is to maintain steady blood sugar levels.
Diet is perhaps the most important determinant of blood sugar and insulin levels. So let’s start with diet tips:
How you live your life also affects insulin levels. Pay attention to these things:
Oily skin is just one of the struggles we acne patients have to go through. It’s caused by combination of genes and hormones. Luckily science has uncovered effective remedies for oily skin.
Topical treatments can mitigate genetic sensitivity to hormones. Studies have shown over 50% reductions in sebum production after 8 weeks of topical treatment. Some effective remedies include green tea extracts, gamma linolenic acid, saw palmetto and zinc.
You can also reduce the levels of hormones that put the skin glands into overdrive. One way is to moderate carbohydrate intake and focus on low GI, complex carbohydrates. Regular exercise, proper sleep, and stress management also helps.
There’s no getting over the fact that as acne patients we were dealt a bad hand in the genetic lottery, and oily skin is one of the consequences. But you don’t have to remain a victim of your genes. By putting into action the tips covered in this article you can take a big step towards healthy and beautiful skin.
Seppo Puusa, a.k.a. AcneEinstein shares rational advice about natural and alternative acne treatments. Read more about me and my acne struggles at the about me page.