Reducing Shiny Skin: Control that oil slick

Reducing shiny skin is usually high on the priority list of anyone affected by it – and since oily skin and acne tend to go hand in hand (in men at least) I’ll wager a shiny penny most of you could do with a few tips on controlling that forehead gloss.

I used to have a brilliant oily sheen myself, so I know exactly how it feels. You wake up looking pretty reasonable, by mid-morning you can sense the oil forming, and by lunchtime you feel grease just sitting there on your face.

By the time evening came around I could turn a tissue transparent at twenty paces. Try and take a picture of me after 3pm and all you get is a photograph of a body with a bright, halo-like flash where the head should be (albeit a 200-pound, ripped and muscular body – if you want one just like it, click here)

It just feels so… uncomfortable, so obvious, and you feel that others must think you’re unhealthy or stressed out. However you feel, it’s undesirable.

Firstly, The Four G’s: Rules for Oily Skin will help immensely by reducing the size of the oil slick you’re dealing with.  If you haven’t already, following the points in that post should give you a head start – and hopefully improve your acne at the same time.

Before we go on though, we need to arm ourselves with a little knowledge about exactly how that shine forms in the first place.

Understand where that “shine” comes from

Reducing shiny skin and reducing oil (sebum) will have to occur at the same time, but they are not exactly the same thing.

Skin can actually be oily but relatively matte.  Of course, the more oil you skin produces, the shinier your visage is likely to be and the more breakouts you are likely to suffer, as dead skin cells mix with this sebum and clog your pores.

Skin tends to become shiny when this sebum either:

  1. Gets hot
  2. Mixes with sweat
  3. More frequently, both

The amount of oil your skin produces will probably be constant all year round. The reason your skin looks shinier in the summer is that the temperature of your skin increases.

As you warm up, sebum “melts” and becomes much more liquid. This allows it to “flow” around your face, collecting in the middle and bottom of your forehead, on your nose and on your chin – likely to be your shiniest areas.

This effect also makes it seem like there’s more oil than there is – if you think of a tiny ice cube sat on your kitchen counter, it doesn’t look like a lot of water. Warm it up and watch it melt, and the resulting flood will probably seem a lot more!

When this sebum mixes with sweat, which will also be more abundant in summer, you get a different problem.

Like oil floating on water, your skin’s oil floats… on water. And this causes the oil to be even more liquid and even more obvious, and therefore even more shiny.

Keep cool and carry on

We now know that heat is the enemy of matte skin and therefore the key to reducing shiny skin has to do with mitigating the effects of heat, sweat and oil.

With this in mind, one of the very best (and cheapest, and simplest) ways of keeping shiny skin at bay for a significant length of time is to try and keep your skin as cool as possible.

I cannot stress enough the benefits of washing only with cold water.

I shower in cold water every morning.  It’s great for reducing sebum because hot water strips your skin’s natural oils, meaning it must quickly produce more in order to keep from going dry.  Cold water, on the other hand, allows your skin to retain its natural oils.

And there’s a whole host of other health benefits associated with standing under this freezing jet:

  • It’s great for lowering stress
  • It’s good for improving circulation and fitness
  • It sure as hell wakes you up if you have trouble getting going in the morning!
  • And it’s especially great for increasing your manly self-discipline, empowering you to achieve things you never thought you could.

Once I’ve grabbed my cohones and stepped into that icy shower at 5am I already know the hardest part of my day is behind me and the rest of the day’s tasks seem easy by comparison.

I also shave in cold water.  Like your great-grandfather almost certainly did.  In the days before hot water was plumbed straight into your bathroom tap, most men didn’t waste time, energy and fuel heating up a pan of precious water just to shave their face.

Besides, as that post explains, in my experience wet shaving with cold water results in much less irritation, no razor burn (ever!), less sebum

Keeping cool skin during the day

Whether at home, work, school, or wherever, I used to keep a pack of Simple Cleansing Facial Wipes in a fridge.  In the summer this was an absolute life saver – a quick swipe over at lunchtime and most of the afternoon could be spent blissfully matte.

If you don’t have a fridge handy, a re-freezable ice block and a plastic tub are just as good. And buy a desk fan!


Is your cleansing routine actually making things worse?

I’ve railed a lot on this blog about harsh soaps and cleansers and how almost everyone needs to give the caveman regimen a shot for at least one month, if only to snap themselves out of the soap-and-hot-water-cures-acne mindset.

Note: two exceptions to this – those who might have seborrheic dermatitis (read this) and those with mild cases of acne, for whom this post might help.

Soaps are designed to break down the lipids which make up sebum.

Realise this – sebum is there for a reason.  Yes, some of us have more of it than we’d like, but sebum is how your body moisturizes and lubricates the skin, keeping it healthy.  Without sebum, your skin would be dry, cracked, and entirely defenceless against infection.  Including by the acne bacteria, P. acnes.

By stripping way this protective sebum layer you are disrupting the natural oil balance your skin requires, and this means it must ramp up the oil glands to get this oil back again.

Using harsh soaps and cleansers is the ultimate in short term thinking – drastically reducing shiny skin for an hour or two, in return for an excess of oil once your skin finally catches up.

A better method is to wash with nothing but cold water, or a very gentle cleanser like Cetaphil if you prefer, and retain as much of your natural sebum as possible.  By doing so, your skin will hopefully maintain a constant, low level of oil and you won’t go through the same shiny –> dry –> shiny cycle.

To moisturize or not to moisturize?

If only I had a shiny penny every time I got asked this question!

If only it were that simple – there are so many different variables it’s impossible to come up with a blanket rule.

Personally, my advice is to try all the things you can to reduce your oily skin (especially cold water showering/shaving) and then start with the assumption that you DO NOT require moisturizer.

After all, humankind has not suffered with exceptionally dry skin for millennia. Cynical old me would say that moisturizers were invented to sell you a solution to the problem caused by selling you those harsh cleansers we just mentioned.

If you notice after a couple of weeks without a moisturizer that your skin is uncomfortably dry, then use a moisturizer, make sure it’s the last step of your skincare routine. Moisturizers need time to soak into your skin – usually up to an hour.

Make sure also that it’s a very light, very absorbable moisturizer – my choice would be Simple Hydrating Light Moisturizer, which contains natural ingredients, antioxidants, and no irritating chemicals.

In my opinion moisturizing incorrectly or unnecessarily is where a lot of shiny guys’ routines fall down.

Applying anything other than a very light, very absorbable moisturizer is just adding to the oily mix on your face. Heavier face creams will not soak in fully, leaving a shiny residue of oil to linger all day long.

Finally – quick fixes, for when you’re in a pinch

For an instant quick fix you have two options:

  • Dab with the softest toilet paper you can find, moistened with a few drops of cold water
  • Specialist blotting papers

If I feel even slightly shiny, a quick dabbing (never wiping!) and the powder on the blotting papers immediately soaks up the shine and keeps my skin completely matte for a good three or four hours – at least enough to get me through my meetings.

The blotting papers are covered in a special ultra-fine powder which is highly absorbent. It’s not visible like makeup powder either, if that’s what your worried about – once you’ve dabbed your shiny spots with a sheet of this blotting paper you simply look like… well, exactly how you want to look.

No longer shiny, just a nice normal skin tone.

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