11 Surprising Reasons Your Skin Gets So Greasy

Updated: Feb. 19, 2021

Sick of dealing with shiny skin no matter how much effort you put into fighting it? Here, we ask dermatologists for the unsuspecting culprits that lead to excess skin grease.

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woman holding birth control pills

Your hormones

It seems like we can blame our hormones for just about anything—check out this list of hormonal troubles. Your skin also is also a potential victim: Hormonal imbalances can be caused by everything from diet, exercise, birth control use and, of course, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. “These hormonal changes lead to overactive sebaceous glands in our skin and excess oil production which makes the outer layer feel greasy,” explains Joel Schlessinger, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Omaha, NE, and a RealSelf contributor. He recommends a gentle cleanser that will remove excess oil without stripping the skin and causing irritation, like Epionce Lytic Gel Cleanser.

wooden bowl filled with yogurt with a wooden spoon
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Eating too much dairy

Some of our favorite foods fall into the dairy category—cheese, milk, yogurt, butter. But studies have shown that these products, milk especially, may cause inflammation that triggers breakouts, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. “Due to the amount of hormones they contain, dairy products can cause an imbalance in oil production and lead to greasy skin, which is especially problematic for those who are acne-prone,” Dr. Schlessinger explains. (Here are some dairy myths you can stop believing right now.) If you can’t find the strength to cut back on your consumption of dairy, he recommends using a detoxifying mask such as Dermalogica Charcoal Rescue Masque when your skin is feeling particularly oily.

illustration of dna strand
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Your genetics

You know your curly hair comes from your dad’s side of the family and your freckles and blue eyes come from your mom’s, but did you know your skin type is also genetic? If you’re wondering about what else your genetics can tell you, here’s what you need to know about genetic testing. And like many things about you, your parents can determine whether you’re more or less likely to have oily skin (as well as wrinkly!). “If you are genetically built to have more sebaceous glands in the skin, then, naturally, you will have more oil production,” explains Anna Avaliani, founder of Cosmetic & Laser Surgery Center in New York City. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to fight this except to manage lifestyle habits and practice good skin care.

woman looking into the mirror and applying Moisturizer
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Using the wrong moisturizer

Even oily skin types still need to incorporate a moisturizer in their skincare regimen. However, the right one is key. “If someone with oily skin uses a rich moisturizer formulated for dry skin, their skin will likely feel greasy by the end of the day,” says Dr. Schlessinger. He recommends LovelySkin LUXE Mattifying Antioxidant Moisturizer. “It’s oil-free and provides essential lightweight hydration to minimize excess oil and shine,” Dr. Schlessinger says.

teaspoons holding different types of supplements

Certain supplements and medications

You may not have realized, but some of the OTC vitamins you’re taking may have an effect on your skin. For instance, a study in Science Translational Medicine in 2015 found that vitamin B12 supplements may trigger acne. Your doctor can update you on any potential side effects that may impact your skin. As always, be sure to consult your doctor before starting or stopping any medications you’re taking, inquire about side effects, and ask these 10 questions when you get a new Rx.

woman pressing her hands to her face

Your stress level

Stressed much? Stress not only takes a toll on you emotionally, but it also takes a toll physically—make sure you know these 37 expert stress management tips. “When we become stressed, the level of the body’s stress hormone (cortisol) rises,” explains Dr. Schlessinger. “This, in turn, causes an increase in oil production, which can lead to oily skin, acne and other related skin problems, that can create even more stress for us,” he says. Learning how to manage the effects of stress can help keep skin from becoming aggravated.

collection of different shades of makeup
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Wearing heavy makeup

Especially if you have blemish-prone skin, you may be tempted to pile on the cover-up, but skin experts warn that this can lead to more breakouts and greasier skin. “Heavy, full-coverage makeup increases oil production and blocks pores,” says Dr. Avaliani. She recommends opting for lighter textures and searching for products that contain keywords like “oil-control” or “mattifying.” Try powder-finished make-up, like Glossier’s Wowder, and see a skin specialist to help you clear your skin so you will start using less makeup, she adds. While you’re at it, be sure to clean your brushes regularly.

woman drinking a glass of water

You’re not drinking enough water

It might sound counterintuitive—if you’re not drinking enough water then wouldn’t your skin be dry instead of greasy? Potentially, but experts point out that hydration usually makes oil glands less oily. “Drinking adequate amounts of water throughout the day leads to less blockage of the skin glands and less inflammation,” says Dr. Avaliani. She recommends trying to consume at least two liters of water daily and avoiding soda, as it doesn’t hydrate you the same way and can even lead to skin problems. Here are some clever ways to work more fluids into your day.

woman with towel wrapped around her head applying face cream

Applying the wrong sunscreen

If you’re putting on sunscreen daily, good for you. That’s one step in the right direction, as sunscreen is a must for everyone regardless of skin type. However, Dr. Schlessinger points out that certain sunscreens can leave a greasy residue on the surface of the skin, which can lead to blemishes and skin irritations. This is a list of sunscreens that dermatologists prefer. Dr. Schlessinger recommends investing in a sunscreen brand that caters to individual skin types, like EltaMD. “EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is oil-free and non-comedogenic, so it’s perfect for oily and acne-prone skin,” he says. “With niacinamide, this sunscreen clears breakouts and soothes skin while providing necessary sun protection,” he says.

bed sheets and pillows in front of a window

Your bed linens

Beauty rest can backfire if your sheets are all wrong. Dr. Avaliani suggests shopping for sheets that are made with natural fibers, like cotton and linen, and to avoid polyester. “Natural fibers help absorb oil production and cause less irritation to the skin,” she says. She also suggests trying a less harsh detergent and avoiding fabric softener. Not convinced? Check out exactly what happens between the sheets.

woman in winter clothes catching snow
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The weather

Ever wonder why you feel more sticky and greasy in the summer and more dry in the winter? Answer: Hot, humid or rainy weather can rev oil production. Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather but Dr. Avaliani recommends carrying around blotting papers, like Shiseido’s Oil-Control Blotting Paper, and using a charcoal mask, like Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask, to help flush out pore-clogging environmental toxins, dirt, and debris.