Grease is the word – so what’s the solution?

Dr Joanna Gach is a consultant dermatologist at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull. Here she offers advice on how to deal with oily or greasy skin.

What is oily skin?  Oily or greasy skin is a problem usually first experienced when a person approaches puberty and is seen mostly on the face and scalp. The affected person will find that the hair closest to their scalp will look greasy on the same day as it was washed. The facial skin looks shiny from the grease within two to three hours of washing it. The medical term for this grease is sebum, which is produced by sebaceous glands.

Why do people have oily skin? Oily skin often runs in families. The function of the sebaceous glands in normal skin is regulated by hormones which are also dependent and responsive to the changes in the outside environment (changes in air humidity, pollution, smoking, stress, different foods, amount of sleep, air travel). During puberty our sebaceous glands become overactive and produce more sebum.

Many teenagers will also develop spots (teenage acne) at the time. Some people may also be more prone to developing facial cysts. These changes are usually temporary and limited but some people will need further treatment for acne.

How can sufferers best prevent oily skin? Over-washing the skin and using harsh products will stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil so my advice is to be gentle with your skin.

Use water-based products (lotions and gels) instead of oil-based creams and ointments. Look out for mattifying (cosmetics that reduce oil and shine on skin) and non-comedogenic products (cleansers and cosmetics that don’t block skin pores) as they will be kinder to oily skin.

Is it linked to diet? It is definitely linked to smoking as are so  many other health problems!  However, a diet high in carbohydrates may contribute to the problem while lots of fresh fruit and vegetables will benefit your skin. 

Why do people get back acne or ‘bacne’ as it is sometime called? They usually have acne on the  face as well. Like facial acne it is linked to hormonal changes but it can be worse on the back due to sweating and friction from their clothes. 

How can we prevent it? Good hygiene staying clean, but without over-washing. If clothes get damp from sweat change them whenever possible.  Don't wear bags across your shoulders or the rucksack style across your back as they will just increase sweating and make the problem worse.

Which products and ingredients can help reduce it? Try benzoyl peroxide products or salicylic acid solutions as body washes. If they don't help, seek further advice from your dermatologist.

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