Have you ever noticed how washing your face frequently only makes your skin worse? If you paid close attention to it, you might have noticed that it just becomes more inflamed and sensitive.

But WHY would that be if you are supposed to remove the oil of your face that causes acne?

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, in a natural way, you will have to embrace some oil.

Sorry to tell you, but oil-free products will not do much for your oily skin. They simply can’t correct the inherent deficiency of the acne-prone skin, while linoleic acid can.

Let me explain.

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 sebaceous glands produce this extra sebum with oleic acid instead.

This is a huge 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 leads to clogged pores.

HOW TO PREVENT CLOGGED PORES (THE BEGINNING 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. This is a perfect environment for bacterial growth (due to the absence of oxygen, which is perfect for anaerobic bacteria like P.acnes), 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.

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.

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 EXCESSIVE SEBUM PRODUCTION TO PREVENT ACNE

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

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

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.

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 the pores.

UNCLOGGING THE PORES VS. PREVENTING THE PORES FROM CLOGGING IN THE FIRST PLACE

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

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

Imagine that you are trying to keep your front door from being blocked by the falling snow by constantly shoveling away the snow.

Or, you come up with this amazing idea to have a big cover over the doors that would magically catch the falling snow and prevent it from building up.

Both ways would enable you to open the doors, but you can see that the second one is more effective and requires less effort from you. 

Similarly, 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.

SUMMARY

  • 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. 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

FINAL WORD

Choosing the right oil is CRUCIAL, as you can read in my post How to choose the right face oil for acne-prone skin.

My nr.1 recommendation for oily and acne-prone skin is hemp seed oil. Best kept in the fridge!

It might take months to truly see a difference (the skin needs 28 days to renew itself), although you will most likely quickly see that it is healing to your skin.

REFERENCES

Linoleic acid deficiency and sebum production

5-alpha reductase inhibitors

Linoleic acid patent for acne