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Shiny skin can be a nuisance. And when you try to alleviate the problem — “Maybe I just need to wash my face again?” — you can unknowingly aggravate already irritated skin.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to figure out what’s giving your face a little bit of extra shine. And that makes figuring out how to fix it a little bit more difficult, too.
The good news is, the oil that causes shine isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a perfectly healthy part of your skin’s barrier.
But sometimes, the environment, the products you use, and even your hormones can throw off your skin’s natural balance.
Here’s what exactly shiny skin is, plus how to manage the shine no matter what’s causing it.
In the world of dermatology, the term “shiny” refers to skin that’s oily or wet, says Hooman Khorasani, MD, chief emeritus of the division of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York.
The oil comes from sebaceous glands. Often appearing around hair follicles, sebaceous glands secrete sebum, an oily substance packed with ceramides.
Essentially, ceramides are fatty acids that help form your skin’s protective barrier. This barrier is meant to defend against environmental stresses like sun or pollution. Ceramides also help your skin regulate moisture levels.
Since there’s little depth to the skin, oil can appear as a film on the surface, says Stacy Chimento, MD, a board certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, Florida.
Of course, having shiny skin doesn’t necessarily mean that your skin isn’t healthy.
“It is perfectly healthy and normal for the skin to have some shine — lack of shine or glow can be a sign of poor diet, insufficient sleep, and dehydration,” says Chimento.
“However, if your face gets extremely oil or shiny by noon, chances are you have a slight problem with sebum production.”
There are a few different causes of shiny skin.
For one, if you have more sebaceous glands, you might simply have oilier skin than someone who has fewer of these oil-producing glands.
Your number of sebaceous glands is genetically determined. A high number is more common in people with fair skin, says Khorasani.
Your T-zone — aka your forehead, nose, chin, and around your mouth — is also packed with sebaceous glands, so it tends to be the oiliest part of your face, Khorasani adds.
On top of excess sebum, other factors can contribute to oiliness and shine, such as:
- hormones, especially during adolescence or pregnancy
- anxiety or stress
- environmental factors
One surprising potential factor is dry skin.
Over-exfoliating, for example, can alter your skin’s natural barrier function, leading to dehydration and tighter-feeling skin, says Chimento. Harsh products that strip the skin of natural oils can also contribute to the problem.
“When our skin lacks moisture, it can feel tight and itchy but look oily,” says Chimento.
Say you wash your face too often and don’t moisturize. Your body may trigger an overproduction of oil to try to compensate, explains Alix J. Charles, MD, a dermatologist in Hinsdale, Illinois.
Dewy skin is a little different from shiny or oily skin. It usually refers to skin that has a glow or skin that’s well-hydrated without hyperpigmentation or blemishes, says Khorasani.
Regardless of whether your skin is shiny, dry, or oily, everyone should have a daily cleansing routine for their face, says Charles. “A proper routine always includes using a facial moisturizer after cleansing to keep the skin healthy.”
There are some unique approaches you can take, though, depending on which types of skin issues you notice.
Dry and shiny skin
If you notice your skin is shiny and dry, use a moisturizer designed for dehydrated skin.
“If you use a moisturizer after cleansing, you can ‘trick’ the skin into believing it has the right amount of oil so it does not overproduce,” says Charles. Limit your face wash sessions to once or twice a day too (or three times if you’re getting seriously sweaty).
Products with ceramides can help restore moisture to the skin, says Khorasani.
A few popular options you can buy online are:
- CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
- SkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream
- SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2
Oily and shiny skin
Feel like you’re shiny and oily? A salicylic acid– and water-based cleanser or a glycolic acid-based cleanser will work to encourage exfoliation and dissolve skin debris that clogs pores, says Chimento.
As a general rule, if you have oily skin, it’s best to use gels and creams (which tend to be more drying) over oils and emollients, says Khorasani. He recommends Chanel Hydra Beauty Gel Creme.
When it comes to moisturizers, watch where you apply the product. Your nose, for example, has enough oil glands that you don’t need to moisturize, says Chimento.
To manage shininess during the day, wipes tend to be the most effective way to remove oil from your forehead, nose, and chin. “Use them in the morning and in the evening,” suggests Khorasani.
Additionally, vitamin A (retinol) is a great skin care ingredient that helps regulate skin cell turnover and repair skin barrier function, says Chimento.
“Using serums with retinol can give an exfoliating effect without the need for skin scrubs — not to mention, vitamin A also helps to regulate sebum production, offering benefits whether excess sebum is part of the problem or not.”
Adjusting your skin care routine a bit can help prevent shiny skin.
If you’re concerned about oily skin, talk with a board certified dermatologist as well.
There are some skin care procedures, including microneedling with radiofrequency, that can help with oiliness, says Khorasani.
Microneedling involves using small needles to penetrate the top layers of skin, while radiofrequency involves using a radiofrequency wave to shrink sebaceous glands.
But remember, it may not be 100 percent possible (or necessary) to prevent a little bit of shine since being a little bit oily is a normal skin type, says Charles.
Ultimately, there are many different factors that play a role in how oily your skin is. Some, like genetics, might be out of your control. Others, like how often you’re scrubbing, are something you can modify.
Small changes to your skin care routine can often work to help you manage the shine.
Since everyone’s skin is different, you should talk with a board certified dermatologist if you have concerns. They can help you come up with the best plan of action for your individual case and skin type.