According to science, if the skin produces too much sebum, acne is more likely to occur.

Therefore, it sounds logical: 

Don’t put more oil on your face if you already have oily skin and/or acne, and wash your face morning and evening. Right? Wrong.

It’s unfortunately not that simple. You need a good amount of sebum (oil) to have healthy and clear skin.

To really clear up your skin long term, you will have to embrace some oil. More specifically, linoleic acid present in certain plant-based oils.

It is the time we put the old skincare info and fear of the oil behind us and start healing our skin with powerful natural products!

Acne-prone skin, especially oily acne-prone skin, is deficient in an essential fatty acid called linoleic acid.

Linoleic acid is a vital component of sebum – oil your skin produces that coats your skin.

This deficiency indirectly clogs your pores and leads to acne and breakouts.

Bringing back the extra linoleic acid to your skin is very healing and will also help to prevent future breakouts and acne. 

Deficiency generally occurs when too much sebum is produced – resulting in oily skin, and the sebum producing cells in your skin produce this extra sebum with oleic acid instead.

This is a problem because the lack of linoleic acid triggers certain pore-clogging processes:

1. An increase in a pro-inflammatory factor called Interleukin 1 alpha (IL-1alpha) – a cytokine shown to play a very important role in acne development

2. An increase in IL-1alpha triggers hyperkeratinization, which causes clogged pores – the first stage of acne!


Hyperkeratinization occurs when the dead skin cells lining the inside of a pore accumulate too much of a protein called keratin, making them stick together.

When the pores are clogged by the dead skin cells stuck together, excess sebum keeps building up, creating a plug in your pore. Due to the absence of oxygen, a clogged pore is a perfect environment for bacterial growth (acne bacteria P.acnes is anaerobic), which leads to inflammation.

In other words, clogged pores + inflammation equals red, painful acne spot!

Hyperkeratinization is affected by hormones (which are also affected by our diet and lifestyle), and some are more prone to it than others, thanks to our genes.

Sebum deficient in linoleic acid causes clogged pores, comedones, and ultimately ACNE!Click To Tweet

Simply washing your face morning and evening will not make the deficiency go away. It will just make it worse because too frequent washing dehydrates the skin, and then the skin produces even more oil to compensate, further diluting the linoleic acid content, and aggravating acne.

Yes, you read that right, those foaming cleansers ‘suited’ for acne-prone skin actually make acne worse!

Supplying linoleic acid to the skin by applying plant-based oils rich in linoleic acid helps to correct the linoleic acid deficiency in the sebum.

Without the deficiency, the amount of IL-1alpha is reduced, and the pore-clogging hyperkeratinization process is slowed down (or stopped), reducing the clogged pores and comedones.


Reducing the sebum production, in addition, is a very effective means of preventing acne and breakouts.

In fact, the most powerful acne drug on the planet, isotretinoin (Accutane), basically works by killing the sebum-producing cells.

So what causes oily skin? Hormones are the cause of oily skin, mainly androgens (male hormones, but both men and women have them).

Conversion of testosterone to the very potent dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the skin is particularly important as it puts the sebum production into overdrive.

There is a special enzyme doing the conversion. It is called 5-alpha reductase.

There are some known 5-alpha reductase inhibitors – they prevent the action of 5-alpha reductase, so we end up with less DHT and less sebum.

Among the known inhibitors are essential fatty acids like gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), linoleic acid (LA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and the mineral zinc.

Certain plant-based oils are very rich in linoleic acid, and can, therefore, act as 5-alpha reductase inhibitors.

Check out how high linoleic acid oils correct the inherent deficiency of acne-prone skin!Click To Tweet

The important thing to remember when using oils rich in linoleic acid is to use those that also have very little oleic acid, to avoid clogging of the pores. Oleic acid in itself is comedogenic without plenty of linoleic acid to prevent that effect.

Related: How to choose the right oil for acne-prone skin

Certain anti-acne ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are (temporarily) effective because they ‘unclog’ the pores, helping to shed off those dead skin cells that could clog the pores.

However, this is merely a time race with your skin, which you are probably not going to win in the long run.

Linoleic acid acts closer to the root causes of clogged pores than other over-the-counter anti-acne treatments by decreasing both sebum production and hyperkeratinization process.


  • Sebum of acne-prone skin is deficient in linoleic acid – a vital component of sebum that affects its quality
  • The deficiency increases the level of a pro-inflammatory molecule (cytokine IL-1alpha), which induces hyperkeratinization and clogs the pores

  • Clogged pores set the perfect stage for acne development

  • Linoleic acid (among others) inhibits the enzyme that converts testosterone to the potent DHT. Therefore, we want as little as possible DHT because it triggers pore-clogging hyperkeratinization process

  • Linoleic acid has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, which also helps with acne

  • Applying plant-based oils high in linoleic acid helps correct linoleic acid deficiency, which greatly reduces chances of future acne breakouts.

I hope you got some inspiration to include the right oils into your skincare routine! Here is a list of oils for acne-prone skin I recommend.

Questions! Have you used high linoleic acid oils in your skincare routine? Did they help? Let me know in the comments!


Linoleic acid deficiency and sebum production

5-alpha reductase inhibitors

Linoleic acid patent for acne

If you are struggling with acne and breakouts, or have sensitive acne-prone skin, it is important to implement a good skincare routine, suited for your skin needs. In my FREE guide to a natural skincare routine, designed specifically for acne-prone skin (whether it is dry, oily or combination), you will learn how to create your own natural skincare routine and understand what works (and what doesn’t!).

Download your FREE Natural Skincare Plan here:

natural skincare plan