Oily skin – Science

Oily skin – Science

Study summaries


Through yet unconfirmed mechanism, Botox affects the sebaceous glands and results in a relatively long-term reduction in sebum production.

So far, four studies have looked at the effect Botox injections have on sebum production. The best of the studies showed that after a single treatment (several injections on different parts of the face during a single office visit), sebum production dropped by 80%. Over time, sebum production gradually increased but was still 59% lower at three months than before the injections. All of the four studies showed a similar reduction in sebum production.

Going by this, I would expect a single treatment to significantly reduce sebum production for six months.

I must say that this is still very much of an experimental application for Botox, and you may find that many doctors aren’t willing to do this. Anyway, this is something you can discuss with a doctor.

Green tea

Green tea catechin Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is not only a strong antioxidant but also inhibits conversion of T to DHT.

Two studies have looked at the effect of green tea lotions on sebum production. The first one of them showed a whopping 70% reduction in sebum production in men without acne, but I wouldn’t get too excited yet as the study had some problems, and it’s very unlikely you’ll get results like that.

Another study tested two different green tea formulations, one with 5% green tea extracts and another with 2.5% green tea and 2.5% lotus flower extracts. Both lotions caused about 30% reduction in sebum production as compared to a placebo lotion.


Most sebum suppressing substances work by interfering with the hormonal pathways that increase sebum production. As a result, they reduce the amount of sebum skin cells produce. L-carnitine works a little differently. It increases the ‘fat burning’ in the sebaceous glands; in a way tricking the cells to burn sebum for energy – instead of releasing it on your skin. Test tube studies show l-carnitine can reduce fat content in sebum producing cells by 40 to 50%.

It has also been shown to reduce sebum production in humans. 21 women aged between 21 and 56 and struggling with oily skin applied 2% l-carnitine cream on one side of the face and a placebo cream on the other side (split-face study design). The creams were applied twice a day. Unfortunately, this paper used a very confusing way to quantify the reduction in sebum production. So I can’t give you exact percentages, other than to say that the decrease in the active treatment side was much larger than on the placebo-treated side.

In another study a cream containing licochalone (licorice extract, antioxidant), l-carnitine and 1,2-decanediol (antibacterial) reduced inflammatory acne by 70% (vs. 20% reduction by placebo) and sebum production by 19% (vs. no change with placebo) in 60 14 to 40-year-old participants.

Java tea (Orthosiphon stamineus)

Another study tested the effect of 2% Java tea leaf extract cream on sebum production in European and Asian women with oily skin. This study didn’t directly measure sebum production but evaluated ‘shiny appearance’ and pore size. In both measures, there was about 30% reduction with the 2% Java tea cream.

Sea buckthorn (hippophae rhamnoides)

Pakistani researchers tested 1% sea buckthorn on 10 20 – 35-year-old men. The volunteers applied the sea buckthorn cream (active treatment) on one side of the face and a placebo cream (control) on the other side. After eight weeks, there was about 40% reduction in sebum production in the active treatment side with no change on the placebo treated side. However, this was a very small study, and some skepticism of the results is warranted.

Vitamin B3 (as nicotinamide)

Draelos et al. studied the effect of 2% vitamin B3 and 1% d-panthenol (provitamin B5 that’s converted to B5 in the skin) on sebum production in American and Japanese women with oily skin. Among the Japanese women, the B3 lotion reduced sebum production by 21% vs. 11% reduction in the placebo group. Among the American women, vitamin B3 gel reduced sebum production by 15%.

Kerda (Capparis decidua)

Yet another study from Pakistani researchers showed a modest reduction in sebum production with a lotion containing 5% Capparis decidua extract. In this split-face study, the participants applied the active treatment on one side and a placebo treatment on the other side of the face. Sebum production was roughly 20% lower on the active treated side.

Capparis decidua is a local desert plant in Pakistan and also known as kerda or kair.

Saw palmetto, sesame seed, and argan oil combination

Another study showed 20% reduction in overall sebum level and 42% reduction in oily areas of the skin with a cream containing saw palmetto, sesame seed, and argan oil extracts. This study lacked placebo control, which makes it hard to know how reliable these results are.


An older study showed progesterone cream reduced sebum production in women but not in men. Progesterone has an anti-androgenic effect on the skin. This study used a prescription cream, and it’s not possible to say if natural or bio-identical progesterone creams have the same effect.


The effect of topical zinc as a solo-therapy on sebum production has not been studied, but two studies showed that adding zinc to topical antibiotics reduced sebum production more than topical antibiotics alone.

Bis-ethylhexyl hydroxydimethoxy benzylmalonate (HDBM)

HDBM is an antioxidant used in many skin and hair care products. A study published in the Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology showed twice a day application of 2% HDBM emulsion reduced sebum production by 20% (vs. 3% decrease in patients using placebo emulsion).

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About Me

Hi, I am Acne Einstein(a.k.a. Seppo Puusa). I'm a bit of a science nerd who is also passionate about health. I enjoy digging through medical journals for acne treatment gems I can share here. You can read more about my journey through acne and how I eventually ended up creating this.