How To Reduce Sebum Production Internally

Reducing sebum production internally is desirable in very oily skin types; but is it possible to reduce sebum? Can you reduce oil production on the face with your lifestyle choices?

Sebum is a lipid filled substance on the skin made by sebaceous glands and commonly referred to as oil.  Sebum production rates are affected internally by genetics, hormones, and partially by diet. Do vitamins, supplements, green tea, foods, or pills ingested internally affect oily skin? How about lifestyle choices? 

But first? Are you sure you have very oily skin? Be certain by taking our validated scientific quiz. Studies show that people usually over estimate their sebum production.

How To Reduce Sebum Production with Diet

Do foods reduce sebum production? Is there such thing as a Sebum Control Diet? Not really. Stress and hormones seem to control sebum flow rates more than diet. This is what we know about foods that reduce or increase sebum production:

Effect of low glycemic diet on sebum production

The ratio of saturated to monounsaturated fatty acids changes on a low glycemic diet. In a 12 week study, 6 a low glycemic diet increased the amount of monounsaturated fatty acids compared to saturated fatty acids. The increase of monosaturated fats resulted in increased sebum production. This suggests that a low glycemic diet INCREASES sebum production internally. A low glycemic diet would benefit dry skin types by increasing sebum production and reducing glycation.

Eating saturated vs unsaturated fats in the diet and the effects on sebum production

The Smith study 6 suggests that increasing saturated fats in the diet would decrease sebum production, however this was a small study in 2008 and the results have not been repeated. Eating too much saturated fat in the diet can increase LDL cholesterol levels, so the health risk is higher than the benefit of a decreased sebum production rate. For this reason, we suggest using facial moisturizers with saturated fatty acids, however these are usually too heavy for oily skin.

Eating Foods Rich in Vitamin A and Effects on Sebum Production

Vitamin A is well knowns to reduce sebum production when taken orally as a retinoid medication. However, it is difficult to get enough Vitamin A to the sebaceous glands in the skin through diet alone. A 2003 study 7 showed that a 4.8% increase in Vitamin A in the blood from dietary sources resulted in a 1.4% decrease in sebum production.

Vitamin A in foods reduces sebum

Foods that are high in Vitamin in A may reduce sebum production when added to the diet such as:

  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Beef Liver
  • Mango
  • Cantaloupe

Diet alone does not seem to be an effective way to lower sebum production (a 1.4% decrease is not much!), but what about vitamins and supplements?

How To Reduce Sebum Production with Vitamins and Supplements

Vitamin A and Sebum Production

Vitamin A supplements may reduce sebum production, however, these fat soluble vitamins can accumulate in the body and cause toxicity. 8 If you are pregnant women, you should not take Vitamin A supplements without discussing with your doctor. The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of Vitamin A is 2700 IUs for women. You should never take more than 10,000 IU per day even if you are not pregnant because high levels of Vitamin A can cause many issues including hair loss.

It is better to eat foods high in Vitamin A and apply retinoids topically, than to take supplements. If you are not on a retinoid, you can learn more about retinol for beginners here.

There are no other supplements that have been shown to reduce sebum production.

Pills to reduce sebum

Sebum Reduction Pills

Are there prescriptions to control oily skin? Yes! Medications to reduce sebum production have been used for years to treat acne. These are called retinoids. You have probably heard of Accutane for oily skin. These oral medications require a prescription. You can find a board certified dermatologist at AAD.org to get a prescription for a prescription Vitamin A pill. There are many more brands now than just Accutane.

Sebum Secretion and Hormones

Sebum secretion is most effected by testosterone hormone levels. if you are taking testosterone, working out alot, or taking supplements to raise testosterone levels, this will increase sebum production.

5-alpha reductase inhibitor medications like Propecia will lower testosterone levels.

Spironolactone is another prescription pill used to lower testosterone levels.

Lifestyle Choices and Sebum Production

Surprisingly, studies have not shown a link between sebum production and stress. It is well known that stress can cause acne, but this is not due to changes in sebum production.

Tips To Reduce Sebum Production

Fragrance 9 may affect sebum production, but the study that showed this does not clearly talk about which fragrances to look for, and there was only the one study from 2008.

A interesting study showed that oral green tea might lower sebum production. However, topical green tea is more effective at reducing oil production than drinking green tea.

Our favorite topical moisturizer with soybean derived fatty acids (15% monounsaturated fatty acids) and green tea is Essopi Antioxidant Cream.

Although this moisturizer is great for oily skin, you really need a comprehensive skin care routine that addresses sebum production and avoids comedogenic ingredients.

To find a skin care routine composed of multiple brands that is right for your oily skin, you first need to know your Baumann Skin Type.

Did you know that over 80% of people overestimate the amount of oil that their skin produces? 12, 13

So do yourself a favor- take the quiz and get a dermatologist- recommended customized skin care routine. You will be able to choose products from multiple brands in our build a regimen feature.

References and Scientific Publications on Reducing Sebum

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists
  1. WALTON, S., Wyatt, E. H., & Cunliffe, W. J. (1988). Genetic control of sebum excretion and acne—a twin study. British Journal of Dermatology, 118(3), 393-396.
  2. Trivedi, N. R., Cong, Z., Nelson, A. M., Albert, A. J., Rosamilia, L. L., Sivarajah, S., ... & Thiboutot, D. M. (2006). Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors increase human sebum production. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 126(9), 2002-2009.
  3. Yosipovitch, G., Tang, M., Dawn, A. G., Chen, M., Goh, C. L., Huak, Y., & Seng, L. F. (2007). Study of psychological stress, sebum production and acne vulgaris in adolescents. ACTA DERMATOVENEREOLOGICA-STOCKHOLM-, 87(2), 135.
  4. Saric, S., Notay, M., & Sivamani, R. K. (2016). Green tea and other tea polyphenols: Effects on sebum production and acne vulgaris. Antioxidants, 6(1), 2.
  5. El Akawi, Z., Abdel?Latif, N., & Abdul?Razzak, K. (2006). Does the plasma level of vitamins A and E affect acne condition?. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology: Experimental dermatology, 31(3), 430-434.
  6. Smith, R. N., Braue, A., Varigos, G. A., & Mann, N. J. (2008). The effect of a low glycemic load diet on acne vulgaris and the fatty acid composition of skin surface triglycerides. Journal of dermatological science, 50(1), 41-52.
  7. Boelsma, E., Van de Vijver, L. P., Goldbohm, R. A., Klöpping-Ketelaars, I. A., Hendriks, H. F., & Roza, L. (2003). Human skin condition and its associations with nutrient concentrations in serum and diet. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 77(2), 348-355.
  8. Olson, J. M., Ameer, M. A., & Goyal, A. (2021). Vitamin A toxicity. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  9. Tanida, M., Katsuyama, M., & Sakatani, K. (2008). Effects of fragrance administration on stress-induced prefrontal cortex activity and sebum secretion in the facial skin. Neuroscience Letters, 432(2), 157-161.
  10. Saric, S., Notay, M., & Sivamani, R. K. (2016). Green tea and other tea polyphenols: Effects on sebum production and acne vulgaris. Antioxidants, 6(1), 2.
  11. Mahmood, T., Akhtar, N., Khan, B. A., Khan, H. M. S., & Saeed, T. (2010). Outcomes of 3% green tea emulsion on skin sebum production in male volunteers. Bosnian journal of basic medical sciences, 10(3), 260.
  12. Youn, S. W., Kim, S. J., Hwang, I. A., & Park, K. C. (2002). Evaluation of facial skin type by sebum secretion: discrepancies between subjective descriptions and sebum secretion. Skin Research and Technology, 8(3), 168-172.
  13. Baumann, L. Oily Skin in Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology (McGraw Hill 2022)

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