What causes oily skin in adults?

What causes oily skin in adults

Oily skin is the bane of all who seek a clear complexion. Besides the knock-on implications of acne breakouts and dull skin, the discomfort of that greasiness can be a real bother. 

Let’s find out the main causes of oily skin in adults. Our therapists also offer expert tips on ways you can manage oily skin at home. 

Hormonal changes

Oily skin in adults can often be attributed to hormonal changes, including the influence of androgens like testosterone, which stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. In women, fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle, menopause, and pregnancy can lead to increased oil production. Stress-induced cortisol production, diet, and lifestyle can also influence hormones and contribute to oily skin.


Inherited genes can influence the size and activity of the sebaceous glands, which are responsible for producing sebum on the skin. If a person has a genetic predisposition toward larger or more active sebaceous glands, they are more likely to have oily skin.

Besides predisposition, genetic factors can also influence the body’s hormonal balance, which, as previously explained, can affect sebum production. Some individuals may have a genetic tendency to produce higher levels of androgens, leading to increased oil production.

Skin type, including oiliness, often runs in families. If close family members have oily skin, there’s a higher likelihood that an individual will also experience oily skin. This genetic predisposition can be seen across generations.

Genetics can also influence how the skin responds to various environmental factors like diet and climate, which can indirectly affect oil production. Some individuals may have a genetic makeup that makes their skin more responsive to dietary changes, leading to increased oil production when consuming certain foods.

Slower cell turnover

Cell turnover is the process by which new skin cells replace old ones. 

In healthy skin, this process occurs every 28 to 30 days, but as people age or due to certain conditions, it can slow down. This slowdown leads to a build-up of dead skin cells on the surface, which can clog pores and trap the oil produced by the sebaceous glands. The trapped sebum results in an oily appearance on the skin’s surface. This combination of oil and dead skin cells can create an environment for bacteria, leading to acne. All this further exacerbates the appearance of oily skin. 

Factors such as aging, sun damage, poor nutrition, dehydration, and the use of harsh skincare products can also affect the rate of cell turnover, indirectly contribute to oily skin. It’s worth noting that slower cell turnover alone doesn’t always lead to oily skin; the outcome depends on other factors like sebaceous gland activity, hormones, and genetics. The good news is that proper exfoliation and a well-balanced skincare routine can help promote healthy cell turnover and manage oily skin.

Overactive sebaceous glands

The sebaceous glands are microscopic glands in the skin that secrete an oily substance called sebum, which helps to lubricate and protect the skin. When these glands are overactive, they produce an excessive amount of sebum. 

This overproduction can lead to a visibly oily complexion, giving the skin a shiny or greasy appearance. The excess oil can also clog pores, combining with dead skin cells and bacteria to form blackheads, whiteheads, or acne

This condition of having overactive sebaceous glands may require specific skincare routines, such as using gentle cleansers and oil-free moisturisers, to manage the symptoms. In more severe cases, medical treatments like topical retinoids or oral medications may be prescribed by a healthcare provider.

Certain health conditions and medications

Some health conditions can cause you to have oily skin. For example, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that can cause an increase in androgens, leading to overactive sebaceous glands and oily skin. Thyroid disorders, particularly hyperthyroidism, can also stimulate the sebaceous glands, resulting in an oily complexion. Other conditions that affect hormone balance, such as adrenal gland disorders, can also have similar effects on the skin’s oil production.

Medications can also have a similar effect. Hormonal medications like birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy can alter the hormonal balance in the body, leading to changes in oil production. Some psychiatric medications and anti-seizure drugs may also have side effects that include increased oiliness of the skin. Even topical treatments like steroid creams can sometimes stimulate the sebaceous glands if used excessively.

Skincare routine and products

While a skincare routine should help to keep our skin in balance, it is possible that using products not suitable for your skin type can lead to oily skin. 

For example, using overly harsh cleansers or washing your face too frequently can strip the skin of its natural oils, causing the sebaceous glands to overcompensate and produce more oil. Similarly, heavy creams and moisturisers that contain oils may exacerbate oily skin, especially if they are not formulated for that specific skin type.

Skipping moisturiser or using the wrong type can have a similar effect. Even oily skin needs hydration, and if the skin is not adequately moisturised, it may respond by producing more oil. Using an oil-free moisturiser designed for oily skin can help maintain balance.

Finally, products that contain ingredients that can clog pores (comedogenic) can trap oil on the skin’s surface, leading to an oily appearance and potential acne breakouts.

Environmental factors

The environment is what our skin protects us from, which is why it will also affect the level of oiliness our skin is at.

Living in a humid or hot climate like Singapore’s can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil, leading to an oily complexion. Exposure to pollutants in the air can lead to an imbalance in the skin’s oil production. Pollutants can create oxidative stress on the skin, triggering inflammation and stimulating the sebaceous glands. This can result in an oily appearance and may also exacerbate other skin issues like acne.

Certain work environments, like kitchens where there is exposure to greasy or oily substances, can contribute to oily skin. Regular contact with these substances can create a film on the skin’s surface, leading to clogged pores and an oily appearance.

Hard water, containing high levels of minerals, can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier, leading to increased oil production. Soft water may not remove soap and other residues effectively, leaving a film on the skin that can contribute to oiliness.

Taking care of your oily skin now

Cleanse regularly 

Using a gentle, oil-free cleanser formulated for oily skin can maintain the skin’s natural balance without over-stripping it. This routine helps keep the skin clean and fresh, reducing the likelihood of acne and other blemishes associated with oily skin, while promoting a healthier complexion.

Use oil-free and non-comedogenic products

These products are formulated to provide necessary hydration without adding extra oil, and they avoid ingredients that can lead to breakouts. By aligning with the skin’s natural balance, oil-free and non-comedogenic products support a clearer, less greasy complexion, making them suitable choices for adults with oily skin.

Exfoliate gently and regularly

Exfoliating gently and regularly helps with oily skin in adults by removing dead skin cells that can clog pores and trap oil. This act promotes smoother skin surface, allowing sebum to flow freely without building up. By preventing clogs and encouraging healthy cell turnover, gentle exfoliation supports a balanced oil production, reducing the appearance of greasiness and contributing to a clearer complexion.

Moisturise consistently

Even oily skin requires hydration, so using an appropriate, oil-free moisturiser prevents the skin from overcompensating with excess sebum production. 

Avoid drying products

By using gentle, hydrating products instead of harsh, drying ones, adults with oily skin can maintain a natural balance, reducing excess oil production and promoting a healthier, more balanced complexion.

Eat a balanced diet

Eating a balanced diet helps with oily skin by providing the nutrients necessary for healthy skin function. Diets rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and low in greasy or processed foods support balanced sebum production. Foods high in refined sugars and dairy may trigger oil-producing hormones, so a diet focusing on whole, unprocessed foods can contribute to controlling oiliness.

Manage stress levels

High stress can lead to hormonal imbalances that trigger the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, resulting in an oily complexion. By engaging in stress-relieving activities like exercise or meditation, individuals can maintain a hormonal balance, controlling oiliness and promoting overall skin health.

Refresh your skin with a face treatment for oily skin

Lustrous, radiant skin and a clear complexion is all about committing to a good skincare routine, and that’s entirely possible with the support of experienced, well-trained professionals who know all about dealing with oily skin. At SkinLab, Singapore’s largest medical spa chain, our highly trained therapists will think of the best possible combination of treatments and products that work together to bring you the magic of a more beautiful you.

Contact us now.

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