Oily skin is clearly a nightmare for acne in more ways than one. The principle problem is that the oil, scientifically called sebum, clogs your pores up by combining with dead skin cells. Once that happens you’ve got two scenarios.
One, the melanin in your sebum oxidises and turns black, leaving you with a blackhead.
Two, the lack of oxygen and oil filling your pores provides the perfect breeding ground for p.acnes bacteria.
This second scenario is how most acne forms; p.acnes multiplies and grows like a woodland ant colony, your immune system takes notice, and a massive bombardment of inflammatory chemicals is unleashed, which damages your pore and creates acne.
Thanks to your overly oily skin your face is full of cysts, pustules, pimples, whiteheads and blackheads.
What can be done about the problem? That’s what we’re going to discuss today.
One – eat sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are terrific for many conditions behind acne. They’ve been shown to reduce inflammation and contain a compound called quercetin that soothes the symptoms of food allergies.
But their best claim to fame by far is their massive content of beta-carotene AKA the plant form of vitamin A. 100 grams of roasted sweet potatoes contains 283% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin A, and 100 grams is barely half a serving if you have the slightest bit of hunger.
How does vitamin A prevent oily skin? By directly lowering the activity of your sebaceous glands, which produce the skin’s oil. Specifically, your sebaceous glands are lined with retinoid receptors, and retinol, the active form of vitamin A, binds to and stimulates these receptors.
Vitamin A can also shrink your skin pores, making what oil you do have less able to clog them. Sweet potatoes can also inhibit keratin production and prevent dead skin cells from sticking together. Accutane uses vitamin A as its main ingredient.
You can tell that sweet potatoes reduce sebum production just by looking at them – beta carotene provides yellow, orange, and red pigments in foods (see carrots and pumpkins). The richer the colour of the brand of sweet potatoes you buy, the better for acne and oily skin they will be. I eat sweet potatoes every other day.
For the same purpose you could eat eggs, which contain both the beta carotene and retinol forms of vitamin A, or liver, the best food source of retinol in the world. 100 grams of beef liver contains 634% of the RDA for vitamin A.
Two – eat some oysters
First and foremost, the oyster is the world’s best source of zinc, bar none. 100 grams of oysters contains 91mg of this mineral; the RDA is 15mg and a typical zinc pill contains 30mg. Zinc is a potent aphrodisiac, and the world’s most famous lady’s man Casanova reportedly ate 50 plus oysters every day.
How does that help oily skin? Simply because zinc is a necessary cofactor for the creation of retinol binding protein, the substance which transports all vitamin A around the body. Without zinc, your vitamin A cannot bind to your sebaceous glands where it’s needed. Without zinc your vitamin A is useless for oily skin. Not to mention that zinc cures acne itself by controlling the immune system.
Oysters are also a great source of the rare mineral magnesium, with 14% of the RDA per 100 grams. Magnesium is used to clear excess cortisol levels from the bloodstream and can thus indirectly reduce oily skin caused by stress hormones (see below).
Note: if oysters are too slimy or difficult to cook for your tastes, a dedicated zinc supplement will work just as superbly. Isolated zinc gluconate was shown to lower acne by 49.8% in this study.
The zinc best supplement, with a bonus blend of health fruits and vegetables, is this MegaFood Zinc. A great cheap (and pure) option is this NutraBio Zinc Gluconate. Nutrabio is the zinc supplement which I use daily.
Three – use the secret natural topical treatments
Diet and lifestyle are the most important causes of oily skin with ease, but topical treatments are also a hidden secret. The main prescription acne remedies for oily skin are topical retinoids, but many unknown secrets lurk in nature. It might be strange that an oil can decrease sebum production in the long run, but according to studies, it’s true.
The topical treatments tackle the same factors that supplements do internally, like DHT and vitamin A, but in a hyper concentrated localised burst:
Sea buckthorn oil – an orange berry from the Himalayan valleys, which Nepali villagers sell in juice form to passing mountaineers. The oil of sea buckthorn berry has two excellent properties for oily skin: 1) it’s extremely rich in vitamin A, which controls your sebaceous glands locally. And 2) sea buckthorn oil contains two compounds called stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol, both of which are strong inhibitors of the androgen DHT.
One study found that after just one week, sebum production fell by 17%, while among the patient people who applied it for eight weeks, sea buckthorn oil caused a 45% improvement in oily skin, an amazing improvement from such a random berry. Remember to buy sea buckthorn berry oil, a completely different oil to sea buckthorn seed oil, with the berry oil being easily identified by its more intense orange colour. Best product: US Organic Sea Buckthorn Berry Oil.
Green tea – another random foodstuff with amazing results in studies. Green tea also inhibits DHT on the skin’s surface, through an antioxidant compound called epigallocatechin gallate. In one study, green tea worked slightly slower than sea buckthorn oil, with a 6% reduction in oily skin after 1 week…
…but after 8 weeks, topical green tea reduced oily skin by 60%. A separate study found that green tea reduced acne itself by 50%. A great solution would be to combine both green tea and sea buckthorn oil, as they work their magic through different compounds. Best product: Nature’s Answer Alcohol-Free Green Tea Leaf.
Turmeric – this spice from India might be the single food with most different powers for acne. Applied topically, it has anti-inflammatory properties, strong antioxidant properties due to being loaded with them, and can increase collagen formation thanks to its curcumin compound. According to one study, turmeric can also reduce oily skin by 24.76% in 5 weeks. Like sea buckthorn oil, the beta sitosterol and stigmasterol may be responsible, but the exact causes remain mysterious. A great powder to combine with grapeseed oil or sea buckthorn oil. Best product: Certified Organic Ground Turmeric Root.
Rosehip seed oil – the oil of the seed of the wild rose bush in the Andes is another oily skin weapon. Rosehip seed oil is one of the richest natural oils in vitamin A, so much so that natural acne enthusiasts commonly recommend it as an alternative to prescription retinoids. Rosehip seed oil is very rich in vitamin E as well. A great alternative to sea buckthorn oil, and there’s evidence that rosehip seed oil can prevent signs of ageing such as wrinkles, fine lines and loss of elasticity too. Best product: Eve Hansen Organic Rosehip Oil.
Grapeseed oil – the rule with topical vitamins is that vitamin A is the best direct nutrient for oily skin, while vitamin E is the best indirect nutrient. Vitamin E is the main antioxidant used to protect the skin, and prevents your skin’s oil from oxidising and mutating into compounds like squalene peroxide which trigger even more oil production. Grapeseed oil is one of the highest acne-friendly oils in vitamin E. It has many other great features for acne, such as its 69% content of linoleic acid, which strengthens the skin barrier and helps it to lock in moisture. Best product: this Cold-Pressed Unrefined Grapeseed Oil.
Argan oil – an excellent alternative to grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil is higher in linoleic acid, the best fatty acid for acne, but argan oil is even richer in vitamin E. Argan oil also has a slightly lower comedogenic score of 1 out of 5, making it extremely unlikely to clog skin pores. What’s more, if you’re suffering from hyperpigmentation, argan oil is a little known remedy: it inhibits two of the three main enzymes behind melanin accumulation, which are tyrosinase and dopachrome tautomerase. Best product: InstaNatural Argan Oil.
Four – sprinkle cinnamon over everything
The vitamin A in sweet potatoes is impressive, but it still falls short next to the greatest food for oily skin of all – cinnamon. This common spice found in nearly every kitchen is widely prescribed to diabetics for lowering blood sugar and insulin.
Chronically elevated blood glucose can stimulate sebum production strongly. Insulin is the worst hormone for oily skin ever – it’s far stronger than DHT or testosterone. Insulin both encourages the creation of IGF-1, an anabolic hormone also found in dairy, and increases the receptiveness of the androgen receptors of the sebaceous glands to DHT.
Hence, insulin fires up your oil pumping machine twice as hard, and cinnamon can combat that well. In a study published in Diabetes Care in 2003, 60 type 2 diabetes patients were divided into 6 groups. Groups 1, 2, and 3 received 1, 3, and 6 grams of cinnamon respectively, while groups 4, 5, and 6 received the same quantities of a placebo.
The cinnamon group enjoyed a reduction in blood sugar of 18-29%. A mere ¼ to ½ of a tablespoon lowered blood glucose by 20%. The placebo groups displayed no difference. A further 2003 study found that cinnamon lowered fasting insulin levels substantially.
So get a packet of Ceylon (not cassia) cinnamon and sprinkle it on foods like a maniac, and enjoy this tasty way to reduce oily skin.
A great bulk brand is this 1 pound bag of Certified Organic Ceylon Cinnamon Powder. Bio-live natural yoghurt is an efficient and acne-friendly medium for eating cinnamon, as long as you don’t have a dairy sensitivity.
Five – get more vitamin D
Vitamin D again clears oily skin by reducing insulin levels, this time by improving your insulin sensitivity. What is insulin sensitivity? In short, insulin’s job is to convert blood glucose to glycogen (energy) and store it in your muscle glycogen cells…
…but the receptors in those cells can lose their sensitivity and become insulin resistant. Your pancreas must pump out more insulin to compensate and now your levels are elevated. In a nutshell, improved insulin sensitivity = less oily skin. A state of insulin resistance = very oily skin.
The good news is that one essential nutrient, vitamin D, can improve insulin sensitivity excellently. The better news is that you’re extremely likely to be deficient in vitamin D.
Basically, there are vitamin D receptors all over your body. A human body contains 30,000 genes, and vitamin D affects nearly 3000 of them. One of them is the gene that promotes the function of the insulin receptors in your glycogen stores.
This study took 100 Iranian volunteers, 70 women and 30 men, and fed them 50,000IU of vitamin D weekly (for context, I take 5000IU daily) for eight weeks. 24% of participants were vitamin D deficient at the beginning of the study.
The end result was a significant reduction in both serum insulin levels and insulin resistance in glycogen receptors. The results “suggested that vitamin D supplementation could reduce insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes”.
So you now have a fun strategy to follow: get to the beach right now, do some surfing or sunbathing, and relax as your oily skin is confined to history.
If you live somewhere damp and grey like England, you can take NatureWise Vitamin D3, a natural brand (note that the link goes to Garden Of Life for UK readers).
Six – eat more antioxidants
Insulin is a hormone that’s highly prone to oxidation, and when it does, it becomes useless at stimulating glycogen store insulin receptors. If a large proportion of your insulin is oxidised compared to usual, your somewhat primitive body will simply pump out more insulin to compensate.
Basically, high oxidation of insulin is another form of insulin resistance which it is critical to prevent to get healthy non-oily skin…
…and not surprisingly, the best way to protect your insulin molecules is to eat more antioxidants. Dietary antioxidants can both directly keep insulin intact and scavenge free radicals elsewhere in the body which oxidise insulin down the road.
So your solution, in a nutshell, is to pack your diet with herbs, vegetables, fruits and spices. Eat a wide variety to get many different antioxidant classes with many varying powers – phenols, flavonoids, catechins, anthocyanins, carotenoids, and individual superstars like resveratrol in red wine and lycopene from watermelons.
The best sources of antioxidants may be lurking under your nose. Dark chocolate is bursting with them, and coffee is the number one source of antioxidants for the average American. Ground garlic cloves are the single best food for antioxidants, according to the ORAC scale. Basic dried oregano ranks fifth.
Never underestimate herbs and spices! They’re often way more nutritious than fruits and vegetables, since drying them out makes the nutrients hyper concentrated.
Seven – sleep well
Sleep deprivation is easily one of the most overlooked causes of acne. Why would it not be – you spend a third of your life sleeping. That’s over 25 years by the time you’re 80. Lack of sleep can cause heart disease, depression, and shrink your brain. But most acne patients forget about getting 8 hours of sleep each night. In my eBook Annihilate your Acne we discussed the strategies for a perfect night’s sleep and how sleep affects acne in a variety of ways.
One of the best benefits from sleeping properly is less oily skin. Like vitamin D sleep improves insulin sensitivity by maintaining the function of your insulin receptors.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine compared two groups of healthy humans; one assigned to sleep for eight hours and the other for no more than 4.5 hours.
Insulin sensitivity fell by 16% in the sleep deprived group. Furthermore, the insulin sensitivity in fat cells fell by 30%. The loss of insulin sensitivity rivalled that of patients with type 2 diabetes. The head scientists said that the deterioration was equivalent to aging somebody 10 to 20 years.
A later study again analysed sleep and insulin sensitivity. Two groups again slept for either 8.5 hours or 4.5 hours. The scientists concluded: “Partial sleep deprivation during only a single night induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects”.
If you want to lower your sebum production, then getting a solid eight hours of sleep each night is a good way to do it.
Eight – relax and reduce stress
The reason is what the legends of old knew all along – stress causes acne. Stress causes acne through impaired nutrient absorption, digestive inflammation and delayed wound healing, but it also makes your skin oily by increasing your blood sugar. The main stress hormone is cortisol, and one of cortisol’s main non-stress related functions in the human body is to pull glucose from your skeletal muscle stores.
For example, cortisol is naturally higher in the morning because you’ve been fasting for 8 or 9 hours during sleep, and need extra glucose for energy. Cortisol has a potent blood sugar raising effect, but this applies when you’re simply stressed out too. That matters, because any mental stress and anxiety can trigger a large increase in cortisol secretion.
Hence your goal must be to relax your mind in whatever way you can. Scientists have examined the effect of several fun activities on cortisol levels; the ones which caused the biggest reduction were laughing, exercising and listening to music. Watching a comedy film can slash elevated cortisol by 50%. Any foods which inhibit cortisol secretion will also help; a good example is the pomegranate, which stops the creation of cortisol from its less active form, cortisone.
Nine – correct your body language
Further to our discussion of cheap tricks and body hacks to lower stress, the king of them all is simply standing up straight. It seems like the tale of a scammy advertisement lurking in the depths of the internet accompanied by the words “dermatologists hate her”, but this “one weird trick” is supported by science for once.
In 2012, Dr Amy Cuddy and her team of researchers performed a study to analyse the effect of body language on hormones. 60 men and women were divided into two groups, and were asked to perform either a low power pose or a high power pose for two minutes.
High power poses involved general expansiveness; standing up straight, hands on hips, no slouching, legs stretched out when sitting, hands behind etc. Low power poses were contractive and defensive; legs crossed, arms folded, a slouched back and less space covered.
The scientists discovered that after just two minutes in a higher power pose, the patients enjoyed a 25% fall in cortisol levels.
Meanwhile, the lower power people had 20% more cortisol. You can slash stress hormones simply with proper posture, and slash oily skin too.
The explanation is that somewhere in the recesses of our minds, the primitive lizard brain is still alive and kicking. All animals follow the simple rule – space is status.
By increasing the space your body covers you trick yourself into becoming more powerful and hence your stress instinctively falls.
Ten – take saw palmetto (for women only)
You might have wondered why we haven’t discussed male sex hormones like DHT and testosterone yet. That’s because I don’t recommend that any man focusses on them. Androgens do cause oily skin by binding to androgen receptors in your sebaceous glands similarly to insulin.
But as we discussed in this article, DHT and testosterone are a man’s lifeblood and well of vitality. You need these androgens for building muscle mass, a happy mood (low testosterone can cause depression), physical energy, and sex drive. Furthermore, you can cure acne while still enjoying high DHT/testosterone anyway.
However, women do not benefit from higher levels of androgens and in addition, their sebaceous glands are far more sensitive to higher DHT. So if you’re a women, you’ve got an extra avenue for controlling oily skin by using anti-DHT strategies…
This is a herbal supplement extracted from the serenoa repens plant growing in Southern US states. Its most notable power is strongly inhibiting the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase, the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT. Since DHT is a more potent androgen at stimulating your sebaceous glands, more testosterone and less DHT is a better balance to have for oily skin.
If you want to try saw palmetto for oily skin then the best quality supplement is this Oregon’s Wild Harvest Saw Palmetto.
Follow those steps and you’ll cut the head off the acne-causing snake, or at least one of the heads because acne does have other major causes.
The single most common cause of oily skin is easily elevated insulin levels. We’re so seduced by TVs and Xboxes that we get no exercise anymore, and that’s why our glycogen stores are full. Controlling insulin and blood sugar are priority number one for you.
As for those other major causes, treating oily skin alone will help, but for maximum benefit you also need to make that oil less damaging in the first place. That means lowering keratin production to prevent dead skin cells from sticking together, and getting antioxidants to prevent your sebum from going rancid.
Above all else, any acne patient has to tackle chronic inflammation. The inflammatory immune system response is what finally ignites acne, through massive collateral damage to pores. Oily skin and p.acnes bacteria simply set the stage.
Lower chronic inflammation and combine that with the above steps, and your acne will be history.
Thanks for reading!