How to control sebum

Updated November 21, 2016

No matter how old you are, you might find yourself with the oily, pore-clogged skin that leads to acne. Oily skin is a result of excess sebum production from sebaceous glands on the face, neck, chest and back. Excess sebum production is in part because of hormones and hereditary factors and commonly persists beyond adolescence. Fortunately, there are a variety of effective ways to control sebum and clear oily skin, regardless of the forces that cause it.

Wash your face and other oily areas twice daily with a mild cleanser containing salicylic or glycolic acid, following the product instructions. This should clear your face of oil as well as pore-clogging dirt and bacteria. Apply the same cleanser or another mild acne wash formulated specially for the body in the shower on oily areas such as the back and chest. After gently towelling off, apply a light moisturiser (one with SPF for daytime), which can actually help control sebum and reduce oil production. Look for a moisturiser that's specifically designed for oily or combination skin for the most effective lightweight formula.

Use a facial mask made from clay or mud once or twice per week. Apply the mask to clean skin, following product instructions, then gently rinse and blot face with a towel. According to Web MD, these products can be an effective, if temporary, sebum reduction solution by absorbing oil from pores and leaving you with a clean, healthy glow for hours.

Try an over-the-counter treatment for oily skin if you find that even after a few weeks, the above techniques are insufficient to control sebum production. Use a topical acne treatment containing alcohol such as an astringent or toner, which dries the skin's surface and temporarily absorbs oil. Apply to skin just after cleansing in the morning and at bedtime. Also, try a shine-control primer before you apply make-up to create an oil-absorbent buffer between skin and make-up that should give the appearance of smooth, matt skin.

Consult a dermatologist if you're still unable to control sebum using over-the-counter products. Based on your information, she can prescribe a face wash, topical treatment or a more long-term oral medication such as Differin, Retin A or Accutane. Follow these treatments daily or weekly as directed, and don't hesitate to head back to your doctor if you find the treatments overly drying or otherwise ineffective.


You might need two separate face washes to control sebum, depending on the season. It's often best to use an extra-gentle cleanser in autumn and winter when skin tends to be drier and a more deep-cleaning wash during warmer weather to combat the combination of sweat and oil.


Never over-cleanse oily skin in an attempt to control sebum, regardless of how gentle your face wash is. Over-washing can irritate skin, stripping it of essential oils and drying it out. Stick to a twice-a-day cleansing routine unless otherwise instructed by your dermatologist.

Things You'll Need

  • Mild cleanser
  • Light moisturiser
  • Facial mask
  • Topical treatment
  • Primer
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