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Oily skin is a common dermatologic concern for many patients.  A recent review highlights the different treatment options currently available – these can include oral medication or topical treatments.

Oily skin is a frequently encountered complaint in dermatologic consults. Besides acne, patients commonly decry the shiny or even greasy appearance that excess oil production gives the skin. The plethora of oral and topical medications, and over-the-counter remedies are proof of the prevalence of oily skin as well as the concerns towards it.

What Causes Oily Skin?

The oil that our skin produces is called sebum. It is a mixture of fatty acids and esters that are produced by glands within the layers of the skin. Sebum serves as an additional protective barrier for the skin, as its oily composition serves as a barrier against many substances.  Sebum also serves to lubricate the skin and keeps the skin from drying out, and it is a necessary component of our immune system.

Many factors play a role in excess sebum production. Hormones such as androgens are a well-known culprit. This is why acne is so typical during puberty when there are many hormonal changes taking place. Other factors can also include race, humidity, and conditions that increase androgen production.

The numerous oral medications and treatment options for oily skin were reviewed by dermatologists in an article in the Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology. The authors of the article give a concise summary of the treatments are available for oily skin, as well as others that may not be so well-known. 

Topical Treatments

Unlike oral medications, topical treatments are applied directly to oily skin.  The majority of cosmeceuticals are topical treatments with the most common active components being niacinamide, green tea, or L-carnitine. These components have been shown to reduce sebum production. Topicals available by prescription include retinoids, which reduce sebaceous gland synthesis, and olumacostat glasateril (OG), which blocks the creation of fatty acids in the sebaceous gland itself.

Oral Treatments

Oral medications for oily skin include oral retinoids, diuretics like spironolactone, and oral contraceptives.  While these have been shown to reduce sebum production, there will always be concerns about the broader effects of these medications throughout the body.


Other treatments currently being explored include injecting botulinum toxin into the facial areas susceptible to sebum production (the “T-zone”), photodynamic therapy, or selective laser treatments. The authors see these as viable options once further studies have been completed.

With each option having its inherent pros and cons, there is still no clear consensus on the treatment of choice.  The authors recommend thorough consultations and discussions on these available choices to develop a treatment plan that best suits the patient.

Natural skincare may help

Many people now opt for natural skincare products, with some evidence to suggest that these products can effectively reduce oily skin and improve its appearance. 




Reference: Endly and Miller. “Oily Skin: A Review of Treatment Options”.  Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology. 2017: 10(8):49-55

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