Is your squeaky clean face and makeup generally covered by grease and shine towards the afternoon? Are you curious to know who the culprit is? It is sebum – the excess oil secreted by the sebaceous glands present in your skin. Why do these glands exist and is it possible to control their activity?
Sebaceous glands are microscopic organs in your skin that secrete an oily substance. The secretion is called sebum, which lubricates and waterproofs your skin.
The sebaceous glands are part of the integumentary system – which often includes the hair, skin, nails, and other structures that might help protect your body from env or physical damage. The glands are part of the pilosebaceous unit, which comprises the hair follicle, hair shaft, and erector pili muscles (responsible for your goosebumps).
These pilosebaceous units are found everywhere on your body except the lower lip, palms of the hands, and tops and soles of the feet. The most significant concentrations of these units – are on the face, scalp, upper neck, and chest, where most acne outbreaks occur.
What Sebaceous Glands Do?
Depending on their location in your body, there can be anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 sebaceous glands per square inch. The number is surprisingly high. While most of these sebaceous glands are connect to a hair follicle, some open directly to the skin surface. It may include the meibomian glands of the eyelids and the Fordyce spots of your lips and genitals.
These glands work in tandem with your eccrine glands, which produce sweat. They help regulate the body temperature. In hot conditions, these glands excrete sebum mixed with sweat to slow the rate of evaporation. In cold temperatures, your sebum will contain more lipids. These lipids will shield the hair and your skin from moisture that can facilitate heat loss.
Additionally, sebum contains squalene and other substances to maintain moisture and regulate temperatures. Squalene also prevents bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms from causing infection.
- Sebaceous glands, along with sweat glands, help to regulate your body temp.
- Sebum’s composition is such that it helps prevent the entry of fungi, bacteria, and other microbes into the deeper layers.
- Sebum keeps your skin lubricated and prevents water loss.
- These glands make acids that form an acid mantle on the skin. The pH of this thin protective layer is 4.5 and 6.2. This pH level helps against the alkaline foreign substances.
What Is Sebum?
These glands are attached to your hair follicles and release natural oils called sebum. It comprises fats (like triglycerides, wax esters, squalene, and cholesterol) and cellular debris.
In a scenario when your skin produces too much sebum due to overactive sebaceous glands, you tend to have oily skin. But when there is too little sebum due to underactive glands, you may have dry skin.
The oil you see on your skin’s surface is more than just sebum. In addition to sebum, it contains dead skin cells, sweat, and dirt.
Role in Pimples
Most of us associate the condition with sebaceous glands like pimples and acne. At the same time, the pores of your skin are great self-cleaning machines. But any accumulation of debris or dirt can combine with sebum. Resulting in the creation of a glue-like compound that can seal the entryway.
Once the pores on your skin are blocked, bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and Propionibacterium acnes can begin to multiply. Over time they thrive, leading to the development of a pus-filled bump you recognize as a pimple.
The colonization of bacteria may further trigger an immune response, thus leading to inflammation as your body tries to control the infection.
Hope you know that pimples are medically known as acne vulgaris. Acne that is severe and consolidated into boil-like pustules is commonly referred to as cystic acne.
You may also be aware that teenagers tend to be most vulnerable to pimples. Probably because the changes in hormones increase the volume of sebum during those years. The hormonal change also leads to the concentration of wax esters within it, which leads to thicker, gummier oils. Some of the most common treatments may include antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, and anti-androgen drugs such as spironolactone.
Pimples might indeed result from hormonal imbalances – they can also be caused by steroids, contraceptives, and some immune-suppressing drugs. Pimples can also be mistaken for other conditions like folliculitis, lupus miliaris disseminatus faciei, and Demodex mites. However, these conditions are scarce.
How To Control Sebum Production?
You can use skincare products like moisturizers, cleansers, and serums that regulate the amount of sebum your skin makes. You can use a face cleanser if you have been struggling to find a gentle cleanser that may suit your oily skin.
One of its key ingredients is niacinamide – which can control the overactive sebaceous glands and also minimizes sebum production.
One primary reason could be your diet – it could be why there is an overproduction of sebum in the skin. So try to avoid foods high in fats and sugars. Consult your doctor if you are worried about excess sebum on your skin.
Your doctor might suggest birth control pills if you have extremely oily skin. They may also examine acne and prescribe drugs that can reduce sebum production.
Do you know your baby’s sebaceous glands are first visible between weeks 13 and 16 – of the fetal development process? They emerge from the same stem cells that give rise to the fetus’s outermost layer of skin, called the epidermis.
Following birth, the activity of these glands will gradually decrease and become nearly inactive between the ages of two and six. After this period, the production of sebum will steadily increase. It reaches an apex during puberty as boys and girls both experience a sudden spike in the male hormones (androgens).
The overproduction, combined with the routine shedding of dead skin cells – may clog pores and lead to blackheads. Blackheads are also known as open comedones, whiteheads or closed comedones, and pimples or acne.
Your sebum production will slow down by around 20, and it will continue to diminish the older you get. As this occurs, your skin can become drier and lose elasticity. These changes are referred to as sebostasis – which tend to occur in tandem with decreases in androgen production.
The loss of moisture and depletion of collagen and keratin can lead to characteristically dry skin (xerosis cutis) and brittle hair.
Role in Other Disorders
As you may be aware, pimples are the most common concern associated with the sebaceous glands. Other conditions may affect them as well:
- Seborrheic dermatitis – a chronic, mild form of dermatitis often caused by changes in the these glands.
- Nevus sebaceous – it is the development of a benign tumor on the skin surface. They are often visible on the neck, face, or scalp – which might sometimes turn cancerous.
- Rosacea – a chronic inflammatory, non-infectious disease of the sebaceous glands and also the connective tissues of the face
- Phymatous rosacea – is also a non-infectious skin condition often characterized by the overgrowth of these glands.
- Sebaceous carcinoma is a rare but aggressive form of cancer.
Skin Care Tips
While hormones and genetics play a large part in the way these sebaceous glands work, there are certain things you can do to help them function properly:
- Stay well hydrated. Indeed, dehydration does not cause acne. But it can lead to the thickening of sebum as your eccrine glands are deprived of water. Generally speaking, try drinking around eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day to stay hydrated. Drink more if you are overweight.
- Avoid harsh cleansers. Harsh ones can cause dryness and flaking that may further potentiate pore blockage.
- Use a warm compress. If you often have blocked pores, wash with a medicated soap. Later hold a warm, moist washcloth against your skin to dissolve the sebum build-up.
- Avoid excessive sun exposure. A little sun may indeed help improve acne. But anything more could cause dryness and inflammation. Limit your exposure to no more than 15 minutes every day. Always wear sunblock or sunscreen.
- Moisturize. You do not need an expensive product to replace lost collagen. Instead, you should find a non-oily cream or lotion made especially for the face. By replenishing the moisture, your sebaceous glands can not, you can slow down the aging-related damage. In the process, it improves your overall skin quality.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is sebaceous hyperplasia?
People with overactive sebaceous glands might have a relatively common condition commonly known as sebaceous hyperplasia. This condition typically causes small, skin-colored bumps that generally appear on the skin. These small bumps are glands that have become enlarged and are often visible on the skin.
Where are sweat glands located?
Sweat glands in your body are located in nearly every area. The only places in the body that do not contain sweat glands are the lips, nail beds, external ear canal, and specific parts of the genitals.
Do Fordyce spots have a cure?
Fordyce spots are harmless. So generally, a cure or treatment is not necessary. Fordyce spots are tiny, yellowish, non-cancerous bumps that can appear on the outer edge of your lips and genitals. If they become irritated or itchy, your doctor may prescribe a mild topical steroid to offer relief.
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