Have you been struggling with stubborn oily skin, and nothing ever seems to help to reduce that unwanted oil?
You can use all the blotting papers, mattifying powders, primers, clay masks, oil-free moisturizers, but none of them truly reduces the oiliness of your skin. They can just make it look temporarily less oily.
So how to make lasting changes to your skin?
The secret is to combine multiple scientifically-proven treatments and strategies, all of which I am about to share with you in this post.
SHORT INTRODUCTION TO WHAT CAUSES OILY SKIN
Oily skin is caused by hormones and genetics. People with acne-prone skin are often particularly sensitive to those hormones, mainly androgens (testosterone group).
Testosterone from the blood gets converted in the skin to a much more potent form, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is the hormone that forces sebum producing glands in your skin to make more sebum.
More DHT -> More sebum production -> oily skin!
And more acne, but that is another story. Here I want to review some of the natural, yet powerful and scientifically proven remedies to reduce the amount of DHT and thus oiliness.
If you make sure you are following the steps over the course of several months, you should notice a significant improvement on how oily your skin is.
That said, I don’t want to overwhelm you since there is a lot of information. It is your journey and yours alone. Do the steps at your own pace, the way that works best for you.:)
START WITH YOUR DIET
There is no doubt that the diet has to be in place first. Only then you can fix the poor genetics by the right supplements that slow down the conversion to DHT and make your skin less oily.
If you just take supplements, without working on your diet, you might not notice much difference.
However, I must admit that even if you do virtually everything right diet-wise, your androgen receptors in the skin might still react to any DHT it comes over to the sebocytes (sebum producing glands in your skin), resulting in oily skin.
This is why a good natural supplement and a topical treatment, in combination with the right diet, can really result in a much less oily skin over a month or so.
Here are the dietary guidelines that will make your skin less oily, and overall more healthy looking and glowing!
CONTROL YOUR BLOOD SUGAR (TO KEEP THE INSULIN LEVELS STABLE)
The most important thing to remember diet wise is to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
When the blood sugar goes up, pancreas pumps insulin into the blood, which signals to the cells to take up that sugar and store it. This increase in insulin causes insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1) to increase, as well. Both hormones raise testosterone, which then converts to DHT in your skin, making it oily.
High insulin -> high IGF-1 -> high testosterone -> high DHT -> oily skin.
In addition, they make your skin more sensitive to that testosterone.
The first course of action is to cut out all refined starches and sugars, which raise your blood sugar and cause insulin spikes.
When we think of sugar, many of us think of candy, but to really cut out all the refined sugar, you also have to cut out all the following foods (still not a complete list, but you get the idea):
- Agave syrup
- Corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup
- Brown sugar
- Maple syrup
- Fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates (bad due to the lack of fiber, eat whole fruit instead)
- Pancakes (due to the flour, ‘paleo pancakes’ might be ok)
- Chocolate (dark chocolate might be ok if you are not sensitive to caffeine and theobromine in it, both of which can trigger acne).
- All types of dough
- Most bought cereals except for unsweetened, 100% whole grain, gluten-free cereals (like gluten-free oats)
- Pasta & noodles
- Pizza (because of the flour in the dough)
- Corn & potato chips (this is bad on several levels!)
- Most granola bars, power bars, energy bars, etc (Even healthy bars can contain too much healthy sugar, like that from dates, honey, maple syrup, etc.)
- Rice cakes and corn cakes
- Honey mustard
As you can see, the sugar is almost everywhere!
A special note about honey: Even though the real, raw honey isn’t refined, it is still a pure sugar and affects our health and insulin levels in exactly the same way that other sugars do, so you might want to limit it.
MANAGE THE INSULIN RESISTANCE
If you have been eating a lot of sugar in the recent months or years, you might have developed insulin resistance. What does this mean?
Normally, the cells take up glucose from the blood when the insulin comes over and signals them to (by binding to insulin receptors).
When your blood is flooded with a lot of sugar for prolonged periods of time, the pancreas pumps more and more insulin into the blood to regulate the blood sugar levels. Not surprisingly, appropriate levels are of life-and-death importance.
What happens next is that the cells are not sensitive to the incoming insulin anymore, simply because there is so much of it present all the time. This is just one of the common regulatory mechanisms in the human body.
The problem is, if your cells are not sensitive to insulin, more and more insulin is pumped in the blood to make these cells finally take up glucose (blood sugar).
What’s worse, this high level of insulin is making the cells even more desensitized, creating a vicious cycle.
The more sugar you eat, the less sensitive your cells are to insulin, and you can develop insulin resistance, which means chronically high insulin and testosterone!
If you think this might be your case, try to cut out sugar for a couple of weeks or so, and watch your skin closely.
You might also consider berberine, mint tea and Ceylon cinnamon, described below in the supplements section.
CUT OUT VEGETABLE OILS, ESPECIALLY TRANS FATS
Vegetable oils, especially those widely used for cooking, like sunflower or canola oil, increase the inflammatory response and oxidative stress in the body.
Insulin is highly prone to oxidation, and when it oxidizes, it becomes useless at stimulating insulin receptors on the cells. If a large proportion of your insulin is oxidized, your pancreas will simply pump out more insulin to compensate. Thus, creating insulin resistance eventually and making your skin more oily as a result!
To counter this, you must absolutely avoid vegetable cooking oils and trans fats (like margarine), and cook your food only with coconut oil (grass-fed ghee is ok, too).
They both have a much higher smoking point than vegetable oils, so they don’t oxidize under heat and don’t cause inflammation in the body (not to mention their many other health benefits!).
Extra virgin olive oil and other healthier oils, like pumpkin seed oil, are ok when unheated.
CHOOSE ONLY COMPLEX AND FIBER-RICH CARBS
Complex carbs are molecules where the simple sugars are bound up in a chain, called starch. Starch needs breaking down before those simple sugars can be released into your blood.
As such, complex carbs, including brown rice, quinoa, oats, etc, provide a slowly releasing sugar and won’t cause insulin spikes.
Even better are complex, fiber-rich carbs, usually found in vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, eggplant, peppers, etc. This is because when the carbs are bound up by lots of fiber, it gets slowly released into your blood, and you will have stable insulin levels.
For some people, even cutting out the obvious sugary foods might not be enough if they are getting too much ‘healthy’ sugar, which also causes insulin to rise.
For example, fruit like mangoes, pineapple, bananas, dates, and juices from the fruit, such as orange juice (that don’t contain the fiber to slow down the sugar release), all raise insulin. Too much and too quickly.
One indicator you can use is the glycemic index (GI) for each food you eat. GI is a measure of how quickly the certain food causes blood sugar to rise.
The point here is to simply be mindful of the healthy foods, such as the high GI fruit, that raise your blood sugar quickly, and see how well your skin tolerates them.
This wraps it up for the diet guidelines. If possible, also try to avoid the common acne triggers like dairy, gluten (commonly found in sugary, starchy foods as well) and soy products, which also make the skin oilier.
You can fight oily skin topically with 5-alpha reductase inhibitors (DHT blockers). These substances inhibit the enzyme 5-alpha reductase in the skin that increases the conversion of testosterone to DHT (making your skin oily).To reduce oiliness of your skin, keep your blood sugar stable and use DHT blockers.Click To Tweet
SEA BUCKTHORN OIL
This oil does wonders for the oily skin. In clinical studies, it has been shown to reduce oiliness by up to 45%!
It also makes the skin less sensitive to testosterone and more importantly, DHT.
Sea buckthorn oil contains two anti-androgen compounds, beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol, along with vitamin A, which work together to reduce the oil production in the skin.
My choice: Sea Buckthorn Berry Oil – 100% Pure Virgin Cold-Pressed by BEAUTYOILS.CO
How to use it: Simply use it instead of your moisturizer at night, starting with a small area of your face. Slowly increase the area during several days as your skin adjusts. Apply on a slightly damp skin – after rose water or another gentle toner has absorbed, for example.
You can also dilute it beforehand with a high linoleic acid oil suitable for oily skin, like hemp seed oil or grapeseed oil, which also act as DHT blockers.
I know some of you may be afraid that using oils will make your skin more oily, but that is NOT the case. Read more about it in my blog post about choosing the right oil for acne-prone skin below.
Related: How to choose the right oil for acne-prone skin
NON-COMEDOGENIC OILS HIGH IN LINOLEIC ACID
Linoleic acid is one of the weak DHT blockers, but in my experience, it helps oily skin for one more, often overlooked, reason.
Many people with acne and oily skin use harsh, over-drying skincare that actually makes the skin produce even more oil!
Related: Why your skin needs sebum to be healthy & clear
Skin that is dried out and dehydrated (meaning it lacks water) has seriously impaired skin barrier, and it will produce more and more oil to compensate in the attempt to keep itself properly moisturized.
I was one of those people who could wipe off the oil of their skin literally every 10 minutes. When I started using hemp seed oil and the oil cleansing method, my skin was finally not oily anymore (mostly on my T-zone), but rather normal.The more hydrated your skin is, the less oil it will try to produce.Click To Tweet
My advice is to cut down on drying skincare, most commonly cleansers and (foaming) scrubs. For example, there is no need to wash your face in the morning. You can simply use rose water or another gentle toner to wipe off the excess oil.
Nutiva Hemp Seed Oil – Organic & Cold-Pressed
Nature Certified Organic, Cold-Pressed, Hexane-free Grapeseed oil
How to use it: Use your chosen oil the same way as described for sea buckthorn oil above, or combine the two. Plus, you might also introduce my simple oil cleansing method to your routine for best results.
GAMMA-LINOLENIC ACID (FOUND IN EVENING PRIMROSE AND BORAGE OIL)
Among the 11 known types of omega 6, gamma-linolenic is one of the least common in nature.
You can use evening primrose oil (EPO) or borage oil on the skin to reduce oiliness, due to their high amount of GLA. Evening primrose contains 9% of the GLA, whereas borage oil contains about 23%, making it a better choice for oily skin. However, depending on how oily your skin actually is, any of them might be a good choice.
Barlean’s Evening Primrose Oil
Barlean’s Borage Oil
How to use it: Take one capsule of either EPO or borage oil, then massage it gently onto the clean skin. Note that this might be too strong or irritating for certain people.
Even better, take a small tsp of the carrier oil (such as hemp seed oil or grapeseed oil), then dilute the capsule of GLA supplement in it. Apply immediately on clean skin. Best done at night.
If you prefer not to make your own mix, this is a great organic, non-toxic and non-comedogenic serum perfect for oily skin that contains EPO: Pure & Radiant serum for oily skin.
GREEN TEA EXTRACT
If you have oily skin, and I gather you do since you are reading this article?:), let at least one of your skin care products have green tea extract in it!
It is absolutely amazing for the skin health, and especially managing oily skin (and acne!)
Studies show that green tea can reduce acne by over 50%, making it a very promising treatment for oily skin and acne.
Green tea accomplishes this by reducing the conversion to DHT with a substance called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a DHT blocker (evidence here, here and here).
Green tea extract can be found in moisturizers, serums, or daily SPF formulations.
InstaNatural Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid (it has green tea extract and sea buckthorn oil, too. I love that it is very light, yet very moisturizing).
Marie Veronique Everyday Coverage Tinted Sunscreen SPF 30 (this one probably has more green tea extract than the above one, and it mattifies SO well!)
NATURAL SUPPLEMENTS FOR REDUCING OILY SKIN
The following supplements are rich in substances that inhibit the 5-alpha reductase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. Reducing the amount of DHT will reduce the oiliness of your skin. YAY!
Saw palmetto supplement is the extract of the fruit from the Serenoa repens plant. Being rich in beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol, it is perhaps the most potent DHT blocker out there. I use it personally to help balance my oily T-zone and prevent some hormonal breakouts on my chin.
Saw palmetto is widely used by doctors as a treatment for an enlarged prostate, which is believed to be due to too much DHT. However, it is not reserved just for men.
Here are some studies confirming the DHT blocking effect of saw palmetto:
This study found that saw palmetto (Serenoa repens extract) caused a statistically significant drop in DHT after three months in volunteers.
This study found that saw palmetto inhibits the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, which is responsible for the creation of DHT. The scientists said that there was a significant “therapeutic advantage of Serenoa repens (saw palmetto) over other 5-reductase inhibitors”.
How to use it: The usual starting dosage is 160-320mg of a standardized saw palmetto extract.
Nature’s Way Saw Palmetto Standardized, 160mg
Jarrow Formulas Saw Palmetto Standardized, 160mg
Although relatively safe, it can cause some side effects like dizziness, especially when you first start taking it, so always take it with meals.
Many acne sufferers are deficient in zinc, and it might help oily skin too, as it is a relatively weak DHT blocker.
It is amazing for the skin and skin repair, so you can’t go wrong with this one, although it might not reduce oily skin very much by itself. Choose zinc picolinate or zinc glycinate.
My choice: Garden of Life Raw Zinc
GAMMA-LINOLENIC ACID (FOUND IN EVENING PRIMROSE AND BORAGE OIL)
GLA is a moderately strong DHT inhibitor, but can, in addition, have great positive impacts on the skin health, especially if you have dehydrated, weakened, and dull skin that lacks elasticity.
However, there is a catch if you decide to take GLA supplements like EPO or borage oil.
Since GLA is omega 6, it can turn into acne-aggravating type 2 prostaglandins. Taking it with plenty of omega 3s makes GLA turn into the beneficial, type 1 prostaglandins.
If you are eating plenty of omega 3s like freshly ground flaxseed, hemp seeds, limiting omega 6 rich foods, and/or taking a good omega 3 supplement, you should be fine.
How to use it: Take one capsule of either evening primrose oil or borage oil with a tbsp of flaxseed oil or 1 tbsp of FRESHLY ground flaxseed (I grind mine in a coffee grinder) or cod liver oil. The point is to take it with some good quality omega 3 source.
Barlean’s Evening Primrose Oil
Barlean’s Borage Oil
Note that the above two choices have quite a lot of GLA, approx. 200mg each. Always check the labels how much GLA you get.
Berberine is not really a herb, but an alkaloid derived from plants in the Berberis family. It lowers insulin, helps with the insulin resistance, hence lowering the androgens that make your skin oily!
It might be worth considering if you suspect the sweet tooth might be behind your oily skin:)
Berberine acts as a natural antibiotic, which is perhaps why it can be so helpful with acne, too. Since it is very strong, don’t take it for more than 3 months in a row.
The main goal with this one is to help with the insulin levels and insulin resistance in the initial stages, then best follow up with a healthy diet that doesn’t cause insulin spikes.
Furthermore, berberine is known to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates in the gut, thus slowing down the blood sugar and insulin spikes. Additionally, it also helps with the gut repair.
How to use it: A typical dose for berberine is 500-1000mg daily. Take as directed.
My choice: Thorne Research Berberine-500
SPEARMINT TEA OR MINT INFUSED WATER
Spearmint tea has been clinically shown to act as a powerful anti-androgen when consumed daily.
It can be very beneficial for reducing oily skin if you have high free testosterone in your blood, which is the case with PCOS women.
The studies have shown that consuming spearmint tea daily, over several weeks, significantly reduced the free testosterone. The significance of this for oily skin is that less testosterone means less DHT to drive sebum production, leaving you with less oily and a more beautiful skin.
How to use it:
1. Boil 1L of fresh water
2. Pour it over 1 heaping tbsp of dried mint leaves
3. Leave for 10-15 min, then strain with a colander
I usually just let it cool down a bit, then pour into my 1L water bottle and drink it throughout the day.
If I have fresh mint (I just started growing some in a pot!), I will drink water infused with 2-3 sprigs of fresh mint (about 1L a day).
Ceylon cinnamon helps tremendously with controlling the blood sugar and insulin levels, the main offenders when it comes to managing oily skin.
If you have been guilty of eating too much sugar in the last months, it will help lower your fasting insulin levels.
There are even some preliminary indications that cinnamon can help regulate the monthly cycles of women, especially those with PCOS.
How to use it: Take up to 1 tsp of real Ceylon cinnamon daily with your meals or beverages.
BONUS…GET ENOUGH SUN (vitamin D3)
If you are not feeling overwhelmed by now, I have a final bonus for you!:)
Vitamin D clears oily skin by reducing insulin levels and by improving your insulin sensitivity.
Improved insulin sensitivity = less oily skin. Insulin resistance = very oily skin.
Your body makes all the Vitamin D it needs for a few days in just 10-15 minutes of full-body sun exposure, depending on your latitude and skin pigmentation.
The darker your skin, and further away from the equator you live, the longer you’ll need to stay in the sun.
Vitamins A and D work together in the body and need to be in balance, which is why I recommend taking cod liver oil, and have taken it myself for over 5 years now. It is not only rich in natural vitamin D but also vitamin A and beneficial omega 3s (EPA and DHA).
Rosita Cod Liver Oil
Ovega-3 Vegetarian/Vegan Omega-3
1.Make sure you are eating a healthy, whole foods diet, avoiding sugar, vegetable oils and trans fats (swap with coconut oil or grass-fed ghee). I recommend going heavy on the vegetables, especially leafy greens, whether you choose to go more plant-based or eat meat (paleo).
2. Switch to using either non-comedogenic oils high in linoleic acid in your skin care (like grapeseed or hemp seed oil) and/or sea buckthorn oil. You can also check out the full steps to my simple oil cleansing method. Alternatively, you can use some evening primrose oil diluted in the carrier oils like hemp seed oil.
3. Use moisturizers and SPFs with the green tea extract. They will not only protect your skin from the pollution and sebum oxidation but also help to reduce the oiliness of your skin, especially after 4 weeks of usage.
4. Choose one supplement from the above list for reducing the oily skin. Talk to your doctor to find out which one would be best for you. If you are a male, please DON’T take saw palmetto because DHT is crucial for your overall health.
5. Get enough sun daily for optimal vitamin D3 production in your skin and less oily skin. You can achieve this by exposing a larger area of your skin, without sunscreen on it, for 10-15min or more. The darker you are, the more time in the sun you will need to produce enough vitamin D3. Alternatively, you can take vitamin D3 supplements.
Time for questions! How are you battling your oily skin? Let me know in the comments!
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