Why Does Your Skin Need Oil?

Why does your body produce skin oils? It's all part of a delicate balance. Understand your skin better in order to better care for it.

Natural Skin Oils: Why Oil Is Actually Good

In today's makeup world, the dewy, sun-kissed look is definitely "in." However, some people suffer from the excessive shine that comes from naturally oily skin. The first instinct here may be to scrub away all the excess oil—but over-cleaning can actually make oil issues worse.

The skin needs oil. Otherwise, the body wouldn't produce it. However, there are healthy and unhealthy levels of oil when it comes to the skin on your face. Knowing where skin oil comes from, why we need it, and how to strike that perfect balance will help you find the perfect products to keep your skin at top quality.

Where does skin oil come from?

Oil comes from specialized glands in our skin called sebaceous glands. These little glands live in hair follicles or pores in every part of the body from the scalp to the toes (except for the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, which need to stay oil-free for natural traction). The sebaceous glands produce sebum, a natural oil made from cholesterol, fatty acids, triglycerides, and a mix of other substances our bodies produce organically.

Some people's sebaceous glands are prone to over-activity, which can lead to the shiny, greasy skin that many people work so hard to avoid. People with very oily skin may notice their entire face is shiny, while people with combination skin only notice excessive oil in the "T zone" that covers our foreheads, noses, and lips.

Why does the skin need oil?

Not all oil is bad oil! Yes, excessive oil can contribute to acne issues, especially if the skin is frequently dirty or unwashed. However, oil acts as a natural barrier between our skin and the outside world, protecting our immune systems from bacteria, dirt, and other particles that can wreak havoc on our skin and bodies.

All skin needs a blend of oil moisture and water moisture to keep dryness, acne, and signs of aging at bay. When sebum mixes with water from your sweat glands, it creates a substance called the hydrolipidic barrier. This is what keeps your skin protected, balanced, and healthy—and it's also what gives the skin its natural elasticity, which makes our faces look younger.

Shouldn't I just wash away all that excess oil?

Nope! One of the major mistakes many teenagers make is thinking that a face scrubbed raw equals a face free of acne. Especially for people prone to oily skin, the first instinct is usually to scrub away as much as we possibly can. However, all that scrubbing strips the skin of all the healthy oils it needs to stay balanced, and harsh cleaning solutions can actually do more damage to your skin instead of treating the issues you're trying to deal with.

Our skin is a complicated organ, just like every other organ in the body. It relies on a complex balance of natural acidity (pH), hydration, and oil to stay protected, supple, and clear. When we mess up that balance by removing too much oil, introducing too many caustic chemicals, or drying out our skin through poor hydration and alcohol-based cleansing products, we set up a dry and painful ecosystem that our skin has trouble balancing out. Its first reaction is actually to produce more oil, which makes all the hard work of scrubbing completely useless. Now, the skin has to battle even more elements to stay clear and healthy—which is often why we suffer from things like acne, wrinkles, and inflammation.

How do I restore the proper levels of oil, pH, and hydration to my skin?

The key to healthy skin is a healthy skincare routine. You don't have to go all-out and spend hundreds of dollars on a complex medical serum, but you should commit to a few tried-and-true products that will keep your skin glowing and clean. A skincare routine should follow the same basic steps:

  • Cleansing: Your face cleanser is up to you. People with high-activity lifestyles may choose exfoliants and a harsher cleaner to snag any stubborn bits of dirt. Someone with sensitive or dry skin, on the other hand, will want an alcohol-free, gentle product like a foaming cleanser with a hydrating essential oil.
  • Toner: Say it with me: "I will not skip my toner!" Toner is a cleanser and a treatment in one—it removes the last traces of dirt and grime from the skin while preparing it to take on the next layer of skincare or makeup. You can find toners designed to treat any number of maladies, from inflammation to acne to dryness.
  • Moisturizer: If you do skip toner, moisturizer is critical to maintaining healthy skin. Moisturizer adds back in some of the hydration and natural oil that you lose when you scrub your face clean. It also acts as a protective layer between your skin and the outside world. Once it's dry, it's a great base for makeup!

When it comes down to it, skin oil isn't the slick enemy our teenage years make it out to be. In the right levels, oil keeps our skin hydrated, free from bacteria, and packed with that healthy, natural glow. While an over-abundance of oil can feel greasy, or contribute to acne breakouts, it's never a good idea to remove all of the skin's oil. Instead of over-scrubbing, clean twice a day (at most!) and follow up with toner and moisturizer.

Resources— HEYDAY Skincare, Skinbetter Science, Bioelements

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