Sebum is a type of secretion composed mostly of lipids, wax and smaller amounts of other substances. It is produced by sebaceous glands located throughout the body, particularly concentrating in regions with hair. Sebum can be released either onto the hair follicle or reach the skin surface via sweat pores. In humans and other animals, the secretion is intended for protection against dryness and bacterial overgrowth.
The activity of sebaceous glands is principally controlled by androgens, or sex hormones. Overproduction of sebum is a common cause of acne.
Internally Active Herbs
Some herbalists recommend botanicals that help clear blood of various toxic elements, which are believed to be the culprit behind a number of skin conditions. From the physiological standpoint, this primarily involves stimulation of liver function and bile production and its secretion---which is one method for the body to excrete waste products. Major herbs in this category are turmeric (Curcuma longa), milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), artichoke leaf (Cynara scolymus), burdock root (Arcticum lappa), and yellow dock (Rumex crispus).
Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) may also have potential to reduce sebum production, due to its reported regulating effects on sex hormone levels. Although it is predominantly an herb used for normalisation of oestrogen and progesterone, the two major hormones in female physiology, it may be applicable in this instance in males as well, at least according one source.
External Herbal Applications
Sebum production may also be controlled topically by constriction of pores and tightening of tissues surrounding the hair follicles. Various external preparations are made of herbs with such astringent qualities. These include oak bark (Quercus alba/robus), bayberry root bark (Myrica cerifera), raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus), yarrow leaf and flower (Achillea millefolium), witch hazel bark and leaf (Hamamelis virginica), white pine inner bark (Pinus strobus/alba), chamomile flower (Matricaria recutita), and calendula flower (Calendula officinalis). Two subsequent applications may be necessary to effectively cleanse the skin, as excess oil is initially squeezed onto the surface due to tissue constriction.
As in virtually all physiological conditions, the diet plays an important role. A diet consisting of 45% protein, 35% carbohydrate, and 20% fat, may be advantageous, as it associated with lower production of the highly active form of testosterone---which is thought to be a major factor influencing sebaceous gland activity. Reducing consumption of fat (specifically saturated and trans), processed foods, sugar and acidic foods, may also offer benefits. Foods of animal origin (meat, dairy, eggs) should be exclusively organic, to avoid consumption of hormones commonly used by the conventional agricultural industry. Of course, as much as possible, all foods should be organic, as the chemicals utilised in non-organic farming can disrupt a number of bodily systems, including hormonal.
Also, compounds in certain plastics, which can leach into food and drink, have been shown to upset the body's hormonal balance, as reported, among many other places, in Insciences.org. To minimise exposure, it is advisable to refrain from using plastic tea kettles to boil water and drinking from plastic water bottles, as well as limiting consumption of canned goods.
This article is for informational purposes only and in no way constitutes as medical advice. All herbs carry a risk of interaction with prescription and non-prescription medications, and may be contraindicated in certain health conditions. A qualified herbalist can recommend the most appropriate and highest quality botanicals. All skin conditions should be discussed with a dermatologist.
- "Textbook of Natural Medicine"; M. Murray and J.E. Pizzorno; 2006
- "Healing with the Herbs of Life"; L. Tierra; 2003