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Does eating greasy food make your skin oily?

Let’s talk about greasy food and oily skin. What you eat can certainly affect your skin and how it feels, and you may have heard the old wives’ tale that eating oily foods will give you oily skin. But does that hold water when it comes to the science of skincare?

The short answer

Nope! Well, not directly. Oily skin is caused by your sebaceous glands producing sebum  – that’s the name of the oil you might feel on your face that can make you look shiny – not by the amount of oil you put into your body. An increase in sebum production can be caused by a lot of things, but one french fry isn’t going to go directly out your pores and start wreaking havoc.

Some people just have a natural tendency toward oily or dry skin, and many different external factors can affect how much oil your skin produces.

The long answer

That said, what you eat can affect your skin! The oily food to oily skin connection is an old wives’ tale, yes, but it’s not completely fantastical. Too many saturated and trans fats (note – not all fats!) in your food can cause inflammation in the body, including in the skin, and inflammation is something that can cause your sebaceous glands to increase sebum production. But they’re certainly not the only or even primary cause of shiny skin.

To explain, we’ll take a closer look at what causes oily skin, foods that can affect your skin, and ways to deal with oily skin that are based in science.

What actually makes your skin oily?

As mentioned above, what we call oily skin is what happens when our skin’s sebaceous glands get overzealous about sebum production, basically pumping out more than the average amount of oil. 

What causes them to do that? Lots of different things! 

If you’re struggling with shiny skin, here’s the short list of things that might be causing your sebum tsunami:

  • Genetics – Sorry to say it, but some people just have oily skin! The good news is, you might get wrinkles slower?
  • Dry skin – This might seem counterintuitive, but dried out skin will try to overcompensate by producing more oil. If you have more oil on your skin than you want, you might want to try hydrating more and adding a gentle moisturizer to your skincare regimen!
  • Irritation – Skin sometimes starts producing more sebum when something is irritating it, like a product that doesn’t sit quite right or something physical, like a mask or scarf. If you feel like something’s been rubbing on your skin, you might get more oil on your face.
  • Inflammation – This is where all the stories about food causing breakouts come in. While the connection isn’t as direct as some people might think, too much processed food, sugar, and fat in your diet can indirectly worsen a lot of problems, inside and out.
Which foods to eat or avoid if you have oily skin

At Dermala, we study how the microbiome – the ecosystem of bacteria and other microorganisms that live on and in your body – affects how people look and feel, focusing on skincare and stubborn acne. 

While the exact list of helpful and less helpful foods will vary a little based on your own body chemistry (and on who you ask), the upshot is that what you eat can affect your skin. This is because, to put it simply, different foods can affect the populations of good and bad bacteria in your gut. An overgrowth of the bad guys can cause inflammation and wide ranging effects throughout your body’s system, including aggravating skin issues by boosting sebum production. 

While it’s not as simple as a bag of chips leading directly to a breakout, if you’re bothered by shiny skin or have acne that won’t seem to go away, you might want to eat more foods that encourage the growth of the good bacteria that keep inflammation-causing organisms in check (or incorporate an awesome skin-friendly probiotic into your routine!).

Here are a few foods that are good for your microbiome:

  • Kimchi and other fermented, probiotic foods
  • Lentils and beans
  • Fatty fish

And a few that you may want to avoid:

  • High-glycemic food like white bread, white rice, soda, and pastries
  • Chocolate (sorry, we know)
  • Fast food (and similar processed foods high in refined carbohydrates and fatty acids)

(Curious? Learn more about foods that can trigger acne and foods that are good for your microbiome on our blog.)

How to reduce oil

If you’re suffering from shiny skin syndrome, there are a few things you can do to turn that shine into a glow. Here are our top tips for reducing oily skin.

    1. Get hydrated.

Use a gentle moisturizer daily. For many people who feel like they’ve tried everything, they’re actually overdrying their skin, which will make the oiliness worse instead of better. Take a pause on some of the heavy duty drying skin products (like anything with benzoyl peroxide) and instead use a toner with a natural astringent that can clear debris and reduce inflammation in your pores.

    2. Check your methods.

When you wash your face, make sure you’re using warm water and a gentle cleanser free from fragrances and harsh chemicals. These things can dry out your skin and trigger more oil production (yikes). And after washing, pat your face dry gently – added friction can aggravate the problem too.

    3. Take a full body approach.

We know this is easier said than done, but try to lower your stress levels. Stress can increase hormone levels, which can aggravate inflammation in the body. High stress levels can make everything in your body work harder, including your sebaceous glands (not fair!), and can increase cravings for some of those less-than-skin-friendly foods. Do a little deep breathing and try to focus on bringing good, inflammation reducing foods into your diet. 

There are many ways to start to control your skin’s oil production, but these are a great place to start.

And that’s what you need to know about greasy food and your skin

Look at you being all well-informed! Oily skin can be annoying, whether it’s being caused by your genes or your job stress, but it’s easy to control with the right skincare routine and a little bit of knowledge. 

And if you’re struggling with stubborn acne (or just looking for gentle products that reviewers love!), give Dermala’s line of science-backed skincare products a try.


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