- What Is Sebum?
- Increased production
- Decreased production
- How to reduce sebum production if you have oily skin or hair
- How to boost sebum production if you have dry skin and hair
- What is Sebum | Skin Care
- What Is Sebum and How Does Your Skin Produce It?
- Sebaceous hyperplasia: Causes, symptoms, and removal
- Sebaceous gland lipids
What Is Sebum?
Sebum is an oily, waxy substance produced by your body’s sebaceous glands. It coats, moisturizes, and protects your skin.
It’s also the main ingredient in what you might think of as your body’s natural oils.
So, what exactly is sebum made up of? As an article from Harvard Medical School explains, “sebum is a complex mixture of fatty acids, sugars, waxes, and other natural chemicals that form a protective barrier against water evaporation.”
To be more specific, sebum contains triglycerides and fatty acids (57%), wax esters (26%), squalene (12%), and cholesterol (4.5%).
If you have very oily skin, your body may be producing an excess amount of the mixture of lipids (fat- molecules) that make up sebum.
Of course, what we call “oil” on our skin is made up of more than just sebum. It also contains a mixture of sweat, dead skin cells, and tiny particles of pretty much whatever else is in the dust floating around you.
Sebaceous glands cover the vast majority of your body. Although they’re often grouped around hair follicles, many exist independently.
Your face and scalp contain the highest concentration of glands. Your face, in particular, may have as many as 900 sebaceous glands per square centimeter of skin.
Your shins and other smooth surfaces typically have fewer glands. The palms of your hands and the soles of your feet are the only areas of skin without any glands at all.
Each gland secretes sebum. To help you picture the process more clearly, it might be helpful to think of your tear ducts and the way they secrete your eyes’ natural moisture.
Although sebaceous glands are much smaller than tear ducts, they work in a similar way.
Sebum production is a complex process that scientists don’t fully understand.
That said, researchers do know that its primary function is to protect your skin and hair from moisture loss.
Some scientists speculate that sebum may also have an antimicrobial or antioxidant role. It may even help release pheromones. Research into these potential functions is ongoing.
Your androgens help regulate your overall sebum production.
Very active androgens, testosterone, are produced by your adrenal glands and your ovaries or testes.
These glands are, in turn, regulated by your brain’s pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland is in charge of your body’s entire endocrine (hormonal) system.
The more active your androgens are, the more sebum your body may produce.
Although progesterone — a female-specific sex hormone — isn’t an androgen, it does appear to have an effect on sebum production.
Progesterone weakens the effect of the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase. 5 alpha-reductase activates sebum production.
So, in theory, high progesterone levels should cause sebum production to go down.
But that typically isn’t the case. Researchers have found that when progesterone levels spike, sebum production actually goes up. More research is needed to understand why.
You might be surprised to learn that you begin to use your sebaceous glands before you’re even born.
While in the womb, your sebaceous glands produce vernix caseosa. This white, paste- coating protects and moisturizes your skin until birth.
Your sebaceous glands begin to produce sebum after you’re born.
For the first three to six months of life, your glands produce as much sebum as an adult’s. From there, sebum production slows until you hit puberty.
When you hit puberty, sebum production may increase up to 500 percent. Male adolescents tend to produce more sebum than their female counterparts. This often results in oily, acne-prone skin.
Your sebum production will ly peak before you reach adulthood.
Although adult males produce slightly more sebum than adult females, everyone’s sebum production declines with age. This often results in dry, cracked skin.
There are several medications, underlying conditions, and other outside factors that can make your sebaceous glands more or less active.
This, in turn, affects how much sebum your glands produce.
Hormonal medications often increase sebum production. This includes testosterone, some progesterones, and phenothiazine.
Parkinson’s disease has also been associated with an uptick in sebum production.
In many cases, pituitary, adrenal, ovarian, and testicular conditions can cause either an increase or decrease in production.
Certain birth control pills, antiandrogens, and isotretinoin typically decrease sebum production.
Starvation and long-term malnutrition are also associated with a decline in sebum production.
As previously stated, pituitary, adrenal, ovarian, and testicular conditions can cause either an increase or decrease in production.
You can typically use creams, soaps, and other topicals to help treat the symptoms associated with too much or too little sebum.
Although more research is needed, there’s some evidence to suggest that your diet can affect how much sebum your body makes. If you aren’t able to easily identify specific triggers, you may find it helpful to try an elimination diet.
In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe hormonal medication or supplements to help balance your sebum production from within.
How to reduce sebum production if you have oily skin or hair
You may consider talking to your doctor about combination birth control pills. The combination of estrogen and progestin may help reduce your sebum production.
If you’re already taking the progestin-only pill or a combination birth control pill, talk to your doctor about switching. They may be able to recommend a different pill that suits your needs.
If you’re experiencing severe acne, your doctor may also prescribe isotretinoin. This oral medication may lower sebum production by up to 90 percent.
Certain foods have also been linked to excess oil production and acne. Avoiding foods that disrupt your blood sugar levels or are high in saturated fat might help to curb your oil production from within.
How to boost sebum production if you have dry skin and hair
If you’re dealing with dryness, take an inventory of the products you’re using on your skin and hair.
This includes shampoos, cleansers, makeup, laundry detergent — anything that comes into contact with your body.
Alcohol, acids, and fragrances are all common ingredients known to cause irritation. If you can, switch to products catered toward sensitive skin or fragrance-free versions.
Switching from hot to lukewarm showers can also help. Spending time in excessively hot water strips the oils from your hair and skin.
And if you aren’t already using moisturizer on your face and lotion on your body, now is the time to start.
Increasing your water intake and eating more healthy fats, omega 3s, may also help.
If you suspect that your lack of sebum is related to a hormonal imbalance, talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider. They may recommend testosterone therapy to help increase production.
Sebum is a necessary component of healthy skin. It moisturizes and protects the surface of almost your entire body.
But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, or too little. Everyone’s body is different, so there’s no exact amount to have.
If you’re dealing with chapped and cracking skin, oily patches, or severe acne, talk to a doctor or healthcare provider.
They may be able to recommend different things you can do at home to help restore balance. In some cases, they may also be able to prescribe clinical treatments.
What is Sebum | Skin Care
Sebum is an oily and slightly waxy substance found on the skin. It is mostly produced on the face and scalp, but it can also occur on the rest of the skin, except on the palms or soles of the feet.
Sebum is used as a way to keep the skin moisturised and acts as a waterproofing mechanism, keeping water from leaving your body.
It also helps maintain flexibility in the skin and can act as a barrier from harmful matter such as bacterial and fungal infections. Sebum production is normal and healthy, if not enough sebum is produced, skin can become dry.
However, if there is an excess of sebum, you may notice the appearance of oily skin, which can get trapped in pores and lead to acne.
Find out more about what causes spots here.
Sebum is secreted from the sebaceous glands found on the surface of the skin and are usually connected to hair follicles. Sebum is usually mixed with lipids from skin cells and sweat in the hair follicle, as the follicle fills up, the sebum is pushed to the surface and is spread over the skin creating a waterproof layer.
Sebum production is controlled by hormones in the body. This means that in periods of time where hormone levels fluctuate, or when taking medications that effect hormones – sebum production can be affected. For example, progesterone (found in birth control) can increase sebum production whereas vitamin A can reduce it.
Whilst going through puberty hormone levels change and sebaceous glands become enlarged causing more sebum production. This is why teenage skin is more prone to acne.
For all of you out there with oily skin, these tips can help!
- Considering your diet could help. For example, foods containing sulphur such as fish, vegetables, legumes, eggs and nuts can help reduce excess levels of sebum.
- Dry hair can cause more sebum to be produced, sulphates in shampoo can dry out your hair, so look for a shampoo which is sulphate free.
- Make sure to use a face cleanser such as the NIVEA MicellAIR micellar water, designed to remove dirt and sebum from the face without stripping it of too many oils, which could lead to an increase in sebum production.
- Ensure to wash your face twice a day, once in the morning and once at night with a mild facial wash to keep it clean and remove residue from the skin.
- If you dry your skin out too much it will produce extra sebum to compensate, so even if you have oily skin still make sure to moisturise, just be careful to use an oil-free moisturiser.
- Using a face mask at least once a week, will deep clean your face and remove dirt from clogged pores.
Dry skin can be caused by a lack of sebum, you can help combat this by drinking more water, eating more healthy fats such as omega 3 and having not as hot showers.
Try to be conscious of all the products that come into contact with your skin, everything from skincare to shampoo and clothes detergent could all be having an effect on your dry skin.
Look for products directed at sensitive skin, as alcohols, acids and fragrances could all have a drying effect.
And of course make sure you are using a hydrating moisturiser!
What Is Sebum and How Does Your Skin Produce It?
JOHN BAVOSI / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images
Healthy skin is naturally soft and supple thanks to the body’s ongoing production of sebum. This light yellow, oily substance is secreted by sebaceous glands, which cover most of your body.
The unique makeup of sebum seals in moisture and prevents over dryness. Packed with antibacterial power, sebum is also the body’s first defense against infections.
However, too much or too little sebum can cause skin problems including acne, oily skin, and chronic itchiness and skin irritation.
The sebaceous glands produce sebum through a process called holocrine secretion. It starts with the glands producing lipids, which sit inside the sac- glands for about a week until the sac erupts and the sebum oil freely flows into the hair follicles that the gland is attache to. The hair then wicks the oil onto the skin to lubricate and protect it.
All babies are born with sebaceous glands, which produce significant amounts of sebum right after birth. This is because the glands are regulated by hormones, particularly androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone), which newborns are flush with.
As a baby's hormone levels drop, the glands are less active, and from age 2 to 6, they produce very little sebum. As you approach puberty and androgens again flood the body, the glands produce steady amounts of sebum.
After adolescence, secretion slows down again.
Sebaceous glands are found throughout the body except on the lower lip, palms, and tops and soles of the feet.
The face, scalp, upper neck, and chest host the most sebaceous glands, so when there's a surge in sebum production, these areas are prone to acne breakouts or oily skin.
The size of these glands and the way hormones influence them are tied to your genes, so if you have close relatives with acne, dry skin, or other sebum-related conditions, you're more ly to suffer from the same problem.
Sebum is a complex fusion of lipids, mostly glycerides and free fatty acids with a substantial percentage of wax esters and squalene, plus a mix of cholesterol esters and cholesterol.
These lipids work together to moisturize the skin and defend the body.
Squalene and wax esters, for instance, create a protective barrier on the surface of the skin, to keep in what's essential such as moisture and electrolytes.
Meanwhile, hydrolyzed triglycerides and free fatty acids (particularly sapienic acid) act as antimicrobial agents to keep out what's potentially harmful and defend against infection.
When sebum spreads out on the skin, its lipids support the skin in several ways.
- Hydration: Sebum is essential for pliable skin, but the level of lipids secreted has to be properly balanced to prevent skin irritation.
- Antibacterial: Lipids secreted by sebaceous glands create a slightly acidic covering for the skin with a pH of 4.5 to 6.0, which defends against bacteria and viruses
- Antifungal: Sebum has been shown to prevent fungal infections such as ringworm, which may explain why young children, who release little or no sebum, are more susceptible to the skin disorder.
- Sun protection: Squalene, specifically, has been shown to protect against sunburn and the damage caused by UV irradiation.
Beyond helping the skin, sebum also seems to support heart health. Researchers believe that a major benefit of sebum secretion is that it gets rid of excess lipids and cholesterol, which can block your arteries and cause heart disease.
Sebum production is controlled by hormones, so if hormones are imbalanced you might have too much sebum, which can cause a number of conditions.
Especially during adolescents, a spike in hormones can cause a spike in sebum production. Often, this creates acne, an inflammatory skin disease that may cause emotional stress, physical discomfort, and permanent scarring or skin discoloration.
When excess sebum combines with dead skin cells, the skin's pores become blocked and bumps form called blackheads or pimples, which are types of acne blemishes.
Acne is often treated with topical creams or oral medications that contain retinoids, antibiotics, and hormones.
Some people try to manage symptoms with alternative medicines or diet, but there’s little research to show these methods are effective.
For those at risk of heart disease, it might be best to consider acne treatments that do not suppress sebum. Some studies show that people who had acne as adolescents may have a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease because they regularly secreted lipids.
Men undergoing testosterone replacement therapy are ly to have increased levels of sebum and may be more ly to have acne.
Excessive sebum can also cause oily skin. Oily skin may accompany acne, but it doesn’t always. While testosterone and progesterone are associated with acne, too much growth hormone is connected with sebum production that leads to oily skin.
With oily skin, facial pores look larger and skin may seem greasy and unclean. An appropriate facial cleansing routine may help in mild cases.
Oral or topical retinoid (vitamin A derived compounds) treatments and oral contraceptives are sometimes used to treat oily skin; however, these have side effects that should be discussed with your doctor.
A host of over-the-counter cosmetics and beauty products promise a solution, but there is little proof that these are truly effective.
An inflammatory skin disorder, seborrheic dermatitis can cause dandruff of the scalp as well as itchy, flaky, or scaly skin wherever there are overactive sebaceous glands.
This problem affects up to 3% of the general population. However, those with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and immuno-suppressed persons, such as those with HIV/AIDS, are significantly more ly to contract seborrheic dermatitis.
Usual treatments include topical antifungal or anti-inflammatory creams or washes. Some alternative and homemade remedies may provide relief, but you should discuss these with your doctor to ensure they are safe.
Medications used to treat acne and oily skin suppress sebum production. Approved treatments include oral contraceptives, antiandrogens, and prescription vitamin A derivatives retinoids taken orally or used topically. If you have normal sebum levels to start with, you should be cautious using these medications.
Research also shows that products containing cannabidiol (CBD) may reduce sebum production. Studies have shown that CBD infused into the bloodstream has been effective for suppressing sebum, but more studies are needed to see if topical applications are also effective.
Sebum production is severely impacted by eating disorders, severe fasting, and malnutrition. Within five days of significantly restricting calories, there’s a drop in sebum that can lead to a type of eczema called asteatosis.
Sebum production starts to decrease by age 20 and continues to slow with age.
The most common problem of too little sebum is dry, red, flaky, and itchy skin. Dry skin is exacerbated if you use harsh soaps or take frequent, long, hot showers. You can treat mild cases of dry skin by applying moisturizer after a shower while skin is still damp and by using a lotion that contains ceramides, emollients, sorbitol, glycerin, or humectants.
Thicker, greasier moisturizers contain ingredients petroleum jelly and mineral oil. They're more effective, but they take a while to sink into the skin and can clog pores. If your skin is mildly chapped, cracked, or oily, you might talk to your doctor about the best moisturizer for your skin type, which might be all you need to have soft, healthy skin.
Sebaceous hyperplasia: Causes, symptoms, and removal
Sebaceous hyperplasia causes small bumps to appear on the skin when sebaceous glands become enlarged.
These bumps are harmless and often appear on the forehead and cheeks. There are sebaceous glands all over the body, and the bumps can form almost anywhere. They are more common in middle-aged and older people, but they can show up at any age.
Sebaceous glands secrete an oily substance called sebum. This helps to protect the skin from the outside environment. Too much sebum can contribute to several problems, including acne, oily skin, or an oily scalp.
Sebum can also become trapped inside the gland, causing it to swell and form a bump under the skin.
There is currently no cure for sebaceous hyperplasia. Some medications and home remedies may reduce the appearance of bumps, while cosmetic procedures can remove them.
Several factors increase the lihood of developing sebaceous hyperplasia. Fair-skinned people older than 40 tend to develop the condition, especially when their skin has frequently been exposed to the sun. Continual sun damage can worsen symptoms or cause them to appear earlier.
People may be more ly to develop sebaceous hyperplasia if they have a family history. People with suppressed immune systems and those taking the immunosuppressant medication cyclosporine may have a higher risk of developing sebaceous hyperplasia.
A rare genetic disorder called Muir-Torre syndrome can also cause sebaceous hyperplasia. People with the syndrome should take special care to have sebaceous hyperplasia properly diagnosed, as it may indicate a tumor.
The main symptom of sebaceous hyperplasia is the appearance of small, shiny bumps under the skin. A bump can have a slight indentation in the center and a white or yellow outer edge.
It may be difficult to distinguish the condition from acne. However, a whitehead or blackhead will usually have a lifted center, while bumps caused by sebaceous hyperplasia are indented. These bumps are typically small and cause no pain.
Many people with oily or combination skin may notice these bumps as they age. Bumps may appear on their own or in small clusters.
A dermatologist will often visually diagnose sebaceous hyperplasia. However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between this and a serious condition, such basal cell carcinoma.
Bumps caused by basal cell carcinoma are typically larger and may have a darker or more pronounced color than the surrounding skin. If a doctor is uncertain about a diagnosis, they will usually take a sample and send it to a lab for testing.
Share on PinterestSebaceous hyperplasia does not often require treatment, but a person can have them removed for cosmetic reasons.
Sebaceous hyperplasia is harmless in most cases. If the bumps are unsightly or embarrassing, a person may have them removed. Various methods are available, but a few sessions or applications are often required for full removal.
Retinol is a form of vitamin A that may help with a range of skin-related issues. Prescription retinoid is often recommended for people with sebaceous hyperplasia, but it requires regular application to work properly. The bumps may also return if a person stops using the treatment.
A facial peel may contain chemicals such as salicylic acid. Chemical facial peels may also cause irritation, redness, and sensitivity. This can aggravate sebaceous hyperplasia if a person does not receive proper aftercare.
A dermatologist may recommend removing the trapped sebum from the gland using a laser. This can smooth the appearance of bumpy skin. Laser therapy can be tested on a small area of skin to ensure that a person will not have an adverse reaction.
A doctor can remove sebaceous hyperplasia bumps in a process called cryotherapy. The doctor will freeze the bumps, causing them to dry up and drop away, but this can also cause discoloration in the area.
This involves using a charge of electricity to burn the bump. The skin will then scab over and fall away, leaving behind a smooth area. Extra care should be used during treatment, as the scabs may leave discolored marks as they heal.
This involves applying a drug to the affected cells that makes them sensitive to light. The area is then exposed to a strong light which kills the cells. The skin may become extremely sensitive after treatment, leading to redness, irritation, and peeling.
If sebaceous hyperplasia is severe or persistent, a doctor may consider surgically removing the bumps. This will prevent them from returning, but it can cause scarring and is usually considered a last resort.
There may be a link between sebaceous hyperplasia and increased testosterone. Some doctors may recommend antiandrogen medications for women with severe symptoms who do not respond well to other treatment methods.
Some home remedies can also diminish bumps caused by sebaceous hyperplasia. Over-the-counter medications, creams, and face washes that contain retinol may help to clear clogged sebaceous glands.
Some people find that regularly washing with a cleanser containing salicylic acid can help to dry oily skin and prevent clogged glands.
Warm compresses may also draw out any trapped sebum. After washing with a medicated soap, try soaking a clean washcloth in warm water and placing it on the face. While a warm compress may not get rid of bumps altogether, it may help to dissolve sebum buildup and reduce swelling and inflammation.
There is no definitive way to prevent sebaceous hyperplasia, as it can run in families. However, the tips listed above may help to reduce symptoms.
Also, as sebaceous hyperplasia may be exacerbated by sunlight, keeping the skin protected from the sun may help.
Sebaceous hyperplasia is harmless. Because bumps may be unsightly or embarrassing, some people may wish to reduce their appearance or get rid of them completely.
Home remedies can sometimes help to diminish bumps or prevent them from developing, but usually only medical treatments can remove them.
Each treatment method has benefits and side effects. Discuss all options thoroughly with a doctor or dermatologist.
Sebaceous gland lipids
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