Reviews

Reviews
Reviews

Favorites

Favorites
Favorites

Knowledge Series

Knowledge Series
Knowledge Series

Sebum—Your Skin's Natural Moisturizer

When you look in the mirror and think, "Eeks! Why does my skin look so greasy?" You can thank sebum for that. As you may have guessed, sebum gets a bad rap for providing us with that greasy glow, as well as for contributing to acne. So why discuss this oily nuisance? Well, sebum is actually pretty awesome! It is your skin's natural moisturizer! Not to mention, learning about sebum will help you understand the wants and needs of your skin so that you can keep it happy, healthy, and balanced for years to come.

What is it?

Sebum is a lipid mixture of triglycerides, wax monoesters, free fatty acids, squalene, and cellular debris that is secreted by the sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands occur in high numbers on your face and scalp, but can be found all over your body except for the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. These glands, which are usually connected to hair follicles, deposit sebum onto hair for it to be brought to the skin's surface along the hair shaft.

Why is it important?

Sebum helps protect and moisturize the skin essentially by waterproofing it. The acids secreted by sebaceous glands form a film on the surface of the skin (often referred to as the acid mantle) that act as a barrier to contaminants that could penetrate the skin. Nutrient delivery and temperature regulation are also associated with sebum. Did I mention that sebum is also critical to the maintenance of skin's elasticity and youthful bounce? Unfortunately, the downside to this wonder oil is that blockages in the hair follicle caused by dead cells (or that makeup that you were too lazy to take off last night), clog the skin's pores, leading to inflammation and acne.

Too Little Sebum

Age, gender, and pore size are just a few factors that can affect sebum levels. In general, mature skin produces less sebum than young skin; women produce less sebum than men; and people with smaller pores produce less sebum than people with larger pores. It is also possible to inadvertently strip our skin of sebum through the use of our most coveted beauty products.

Too little sebum manifests itself as dry, dehydrated skin. The stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the epidermis, is composed almost entirely of biologically dead cells called corneocytes. When there is not enough sebum to keep your corneocytes happy, they start to flake off at an accelerated rate. This ultimately results in wrinkly, cracked skin.

Lack of sebum can be treated cosmetically with moisturizers. Certain lipids will fill in the cracks left by having too little sebum and smooth out the stratum corneum. Because of that, rich creams are effective at reducing the signs of aging because they simply take the place of sebum to appease those corneocytes and give the appearance  of plump, youthful skin.

Too Much Sebum

Sebum production is controlled by sex hormones. Output of these hormones is heightened during puberty, before menstruation, during menopause, and as a result of certain medications and pathologies.

When the skin produces too much sebum, the dead skin cells that your body is trying to shed get mixed in with excess oil and end up clogging your pores. If bacteria then invade your congested pores, this can lead to inflammation and acne.

To remove extra sebum, try a gentle cleanser that will break down your surplus of oil without aggravating your corneocytes.

So there you have it! The basics of sebum, the key to hydrated, well-balanced skin.

For more information about sebum, check out my references: Gray's Anatomy, How Stuff Works, XO Vain

No comments