I have a riddle for your today.
What is your skin’s BFF and its worst enemy at the same time? Its frenemy, you know?
Ok, I’ll tell you…
When skin makes just enough of it, a miracle happens: your skin is perfectly moisturized. It is soft to the touch. It’s plumper. It glows. It’s healthy. It looks awesome.
But when those pesky sebaceous glands decide to go on strike and you need to beg them to give you at least a tiny amount of oil? Then it’s hell. That’s when your skin gets as dry as the desert. It flakes. It’s inflamed all the time.
But when skin makes so much sebum it practically bathes in it? That’s even worse. It’s breakout galore.
What is sebum, exactly?
Sebum is a mixture of fatty acids, wax esters, glycerides, cholesterol and squalene (this is why these ingredients are often found in skincare products) that’s produced by sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are present all over the body (except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet), but are more numerous in the forehead, chin and middle portion of the back, which is why these areas are more prone to acne. Sebum production is regulated by hormones and decreases with age. That’s why acne is most common in teenagers, while many older women suffer from dry skin.
What is sebum good for skin?
Sebum mixes with sweat, forming a protective layer called the acid mantle. The acid mantle prevents moisture loss, thus keeping skin soft and moisturized. In addition, this layer also protects skin from external agents, such as the wind or pollutants, that may harm it, and inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi, thus preventing infections. See how useful it is?
When sebum doesn’t work well
Sebum may be good for the skin, but too little or too much of it, isn’t. When skin doesn’t produce enough, it becomes dry and flaky. Damage to the acid mantle (which can be due, among other things, to harsh cleansing agents and environmental conditions) can also cause dryness, as well as leaving skin prone to infections. When this happens, you need to apply a moisturizer with skin-identical ingredients (such as fatty acids and glycerides) that can repair this protective barrier.
On the other hand, when too much sebum is produced, it will give skin a shiny appearance and clog the pores, which can lead to breakouts. To prevent it, you should keep the pores clean by exfoliating them with Salicylic Acid (this ingredient can penetrate inside the pores and remove all the gunk that has accumulated inside them). You should also consider using retinoids, which can help keep sebum production under control.
I hope this has helped you realise how important sebum really is for our skin. 😉
Did you consider sebum a dirty word too?