The Truth About Sebum: The frenemy on your skin.

The Truth About Sebum: The frenemy on your skin.

Let's get one thing straight.  Sebum is not your enemy.  Well… not exactly.  

Yes, when you suffer from oily skin, battling break-outs and Acne or generally living in a daily pool of your own secretions like a loan french fry in a deep fryer, it’s totally understandable that you would feel the need to totally obliterate oily skin from your existence.

But, the truth is that without sebum, our skin would literally dry up, crack open and allow our bodies to be invaded by trillions of microorganisms and bacteria.  We would be engulfed by fungi and viruses and, with the skin no longer able to keep us protected from sun, wind and water we would basically disintegrate.

Mmm… too much?  Ok, sure, I’m kind of exaggerating here but the fact is that Sebum is not your enemy.  It’s just a wacky friend with a split personality

What exactly is sebum?

Sebum is the waxy oil that your skin produces in order to moisturise and protect itself.  It’s a very complex substance initiated by the sebaceous glands and actually changes composition as it moves up through the hair follicles and across the skin.  It’s made up of a mix of triglycerides, wax esters, squalene, cholesterol and free fatty acids combined with cellular debris and, together with the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of dead skin cells), is a crucial part of your skin’s natural defensive layer.

Take the time to get to know sebum and you won’t help but be a little impressed.   Amongst its many attributes, the fatty acids that make up sebum have been shown to have strong antibacterial and antifungal activity ( as well as playing a part in maintaining our skin’s PH balance, natural UV protection and hydration levels.  

Most interestingly, Sebum also acts as a type of communication medium in which your skin cells can effectively communicate with each other; a liquid information matrix where skin cells can move and talk to each other to complete their various roles in maintaining the skin’s integrity.

But when it comes to sebum, having too much of a good thing can definitely wreak havoc on your skin.  Excessive sebum production can cause hair follicles to plug up, blocking the pores and leading to the formation of whiteheads, blackheads and closed comedones (those white bumps you can see under the skin when you stretch it).   Once the pores are choked with sebum plugs, the skin’s protective barrier becomes compromised and the bacteria that lives on our skin (like the p-bacteria that causes acne) move in, causing infection in the form of pustules and acne cysts.

Why does skin produce excess sebum - why is my skin oily?


Scientists have linked sebum production to our hormones.  Very active androgens like testosterone are produced in the adrenal glands, ovaries and testes… and these glands are regulated by the brain’s pituitary gland.  Also, although not an androgen, research has found that when the female sex hormone progesterone spikes, sebum production also goes up, however more research is needed to understand why.

So it makes sense that fluctuating hormones, like during puberty, just before menstruation, during pregnancy or menopause, can cause your skin to produce excess sebum, leading to breakouts or acne.  In addition, since the adrenal glands that produce these androgens are regulated by the pituitary gland…  it also makes sense that breakouts can occur during times of stress.  The hypothalamus at the base of your brain is activated when a stress response is triggered in your body.  The hypothalamus, in turn, stimulates the pituitary gland which then sends a signal to the adrenal glands to produce androgens.  It’s all connected!


High insulin levels and insulin resistance has been linked to an increased sebum production.  Research has shown foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates increase the production of IGF-1, a peptide hormone that stimulates growth but can also cause an overproduction of sebum,  while a diet high in saturated fats can cause inflammation in the skin which also leads to excess sebum production.

Also, these types of highly processed, fatty foods not only increase sebum production but they also make the quality of your sebum, thick and gluggy… making it extra sticky and slow flowing, easily clogging pores and slowing the skin’s metabolism.  

Making sure your diet has plenty of healthy EFA’s like those found in oily fish, nuts, eggs and grains will produce a thinner more fluid sebum that won’t get easily trapped in the pores. 

And, you may want to keep your salt consumption in check.  Consuming excessive amounts of salt can also lead to an overproduction of sebum as the skin attempts to recover from the dehydration caused by the salt.

From the outside, make sure to use EFA based skincare to help support your skin’s lipid layer by not only maintaining hydration levels and working as antimicrobial/anti inflammatory agent but by also enhancing your skin’s natural filtration system, allowing essential nutrients to gently flow through the intercellular spaces throughout the various layers of the skin.  

Australian Skin Institute uses nanotechnology and EFA’s such as macadamia and avocado oil to encapsulate active ingredients and boost EFA levels at the skin’s surface.  Read more about Nanotechnology in my blog: The NANO state: How Nanotechnology is taking skincare to the next level 


Oily skin is a genetic trait that can be passed on through your genes.  If either of your parents have oily skin then it’s likely you will have too.  Larger sebaceous glands that produce excess oil are hereditary and relevant to ethnicity.  

Keeping these larger sebaceous glands in check needs regular skin maintenance but it doesn’t necessarily need to involve complicated treatments.  

A simple but effective in-clinic AHA peel will help to break down excess oil and dead skin build-up, helping to keep the skin’s surface smooth and clear as well as supporting it’s natural metabolic cycle while regular sessions of Blue-Light LED Therapy will make sebaceous glands less active, reducing oil production and killing any acne causing bacteria on the skin.

Visit the skin specialists at Brazilian Beauty for a complimentary skin consultation and a Pro-Peel and LED Therapy treatment plan.


Hot and humid weather naturally stimulates the skin to produce more sebum.  Remember, your sebum forms part of your skin natural protection barrier, not only fighting free-radical damage caused by sun exposure but by also guarding against TEWL (Transepidermal Water Loss).  Also, a warmer skin surface actually works to soften and loosen the waxy sebum so it’s normal to feel oiler than usual in hot environments or warmer summer months.  

Don’t be tempted to over wash your skin or use aggressive cleansers as this will only cause your skin to ramp up sebum production to compensate for the loss of oil at the surface.   Instead, use hydrating, foaming cleansers that can break down and wash away the excess oil without completely stripping the skin.

Try ASI’s Rejuvenating Foaming Cleanser with restorative Vitamin C and calming Chamomile for a deeply clean and fresh feel.  Then load your skin up with Pure Hydration Concentrate for a hydration boost that will cool the skin’s surface temperature as well as keep oil production in check.  

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