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  5. Sebum: All About Sebaceous Glands & Its Natural Oil

Is your squeaky clean face and makeup covered by shine and grease towards the afternoon? If you are curious to know why your culprit is sebum - the excess oil secreted by the sebaceous glands present in the skin. Why do these glands exist and is it possible to control their activity? Find out.

What Are Sebaceous Glands?

Sebaceous glands [1] are small oil-producing glands present all over the body except the palms and soles. They are found in abundance on the face and scalp. There can be 2,500 to 6,000 of them per square inch.

What Is Sebum?

The sebaceous glands are attached to the hair follicles and release natural oils called sebum. It is composed of fats (triglycerides, wax esters, squalene and cholesterol) [2] and cellular debris.

When your skin produces too much sebum due to overactive sebaceous glands, you have oily skin. When there is too little sebum due to underactive sebaceous glands, you have dry skin.

The oil that we see on the surface of our skin is more than just sebum. It also contains dead skin cells, sweat and dirt.

Functions Of Sebaceous Glands

  • Sebaceous glands along with sweat glands help in regulating body temperature.
  • Sebum's composition helps prevent the entry of bacteria, fungi and other microbes into the deeper layers.
  • Sebum keeps the skin lubricated and prevents water loss.
  • Sebaceous glands make acids that form an acid mantle [3] on the skin. The pH of this thin protective layer is 4.5 and 6.2 (acidic). It helps against the alkaline foreign substances.

Development Of Sebaceous Glands

Sebaceous glands can be seen between the 13th and 15th week of fetal development [4]. They develop from the same stem cells that form epidermis (outermost layer of the skin). The production of sebum is highest at puberty as there is a sudden rise in hormones during this time. This excess oil along with clogged pores can cause acne ranging from blackheads to whiteheads to pimples and cystic acne.

Sebum production reduces as you age and almost stops after a point. This is called sebostasis. Meanwhile, your skin loses elasticity and tends to become drier.

Association With Pimples

Excess sebum from sebaceous glands, dirt, dead skin cells and bacteria can clog and infect pores [5]. This condition is termed acne vulgaris. It is further divided into inflammatory (pustules, papules, nodules, cystic acne) and non-inflammatory (blackheads and whiteheads) acne.

1. Seborrheic Dermatitis

It causes itchy rash, redness, flaky skin [6] and dandruff on the scalp.

2. Phymatous Rosacea

Overgrowth of sebaceous glands that leads to irregularities on the nose, chin, eyelids, or ears [7].

3. Nevus Sebaceous

Appears like a birthmark on the face or neck of the scalp. Although this is a benign condition, it can turn cancerous [8].

4. Rosacea

It is an inflammatory skin condition that causes redness and visible blood vessels in the skin.

5. Sebaceous Carcinoma

It is a type of cancer that begins in the sebaceous glands [9]. Although it is rare, it can be life threatening.

How To Control Sebum Production?

You can use skincare products like cleansers, moisturizers and serums that regulate the amount of sebum your skin makes. SkinKraft sebum control face cleanser is a must try if you’ve been struggling to find a gentle cleanser that suits your oily skin. One of its key ingredients is niacinamide which controls the overactive sebaceous glands and minimises sebum production.

Your diet could be a reason why there is an overproduction of sebum in your skin. Avoiding foods high in fats and sugars may help. However, there is little evidence with respect to the association of diet with sebaceous glands. Consult your doctor if you’re worried about excess sebum on your skin.

Your doctor may suggest birth control pills if you have extremely oily skin. He may also examine acne and prescribe drugs like isotretinoin that can reduce the production of sebum.

How To Increase Sebum Production?

In case you are dealing with dry skin and intend to increase sebum levels in your skin, here’s how you can do it:

  • Avoid hot water baths and switch to lukewarm water as extremely hot water can strip off the sebum from your skin.
  • Use a good moisturizer that can not only lock the moisture in your skin, but also repair your skin’s natural barrier (stratum corneum).
  • Avoid skincare products that contain fragrances, acids, dyes, alcohol and harsh chemicals as these can further dry out your skin.
  • Drink lots of water and eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids that promote skin hydration.

No matter how much you hate to spot oil or greasiness on your face, sebaceous glands might be beneficial for your skin. If you have any questions about sebaceous glands or their activity, shoot them in the comments below and we will have our dermatologist answer them for you.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin