What Is Sebum (And Why You Need It)?

by Gio
what is sebum and why is it good for skin

I have a riddle for your today.

What is your skin’s BFF and its worst enemy at the same time? Its frenemy, you know?

Ok, I’ll tell you…


When skin makes just enough of it, a miracle happens: your skin is perfectly moisturized. It is soft to the touch. It’s plumper. It glows. It’s healthy. It looks awesome.

But when skin produces too little or too much? Then all kinds of problems begin. Flakiness. Infections. Breakouts. It’s hell.  No wonder we all love to hate on sebum!

But I feel sorry for the poor guy. Ok, it often doesn’t do its job as well as it should, but without it, your skin would be a lot worse off. Here’s why:

What Is Sebum?

You’re probably referring to sebum as oil without even realising it.

That’s what sebum is: a mixture of oils and waxes. It’s made up of 41% triglycerides, 25% wax monoesters, 16% fatty acids, and 12% squalene, to be exact.

Sebaceous glands create sebum for you. You have them all over your body, except the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet (that’s why they never get oily).

Unlike the forehead, chin, and middle portion on the back, which often tend to get shiny and are more prone to breakouts. We have a TON of sebaceous glands there (roughly 2,600 to 5,800 per square inch!).

Hormones regulate the production of sebum. That’s why it’s mostly teenagers who get acne. Or why lots of women who are experiencing menopause suddenly find themselves dealing with bad breakouts for the first time.

Like many other things (think collagen), sebum decreases with age. Cue dry skin as you hit menopause.

Yep, sebum can be a pain at any age.

What Does Sebum Do For The Skin?

Sorry ladies, but sebum is essential for the skin. Without it, skin doesn’t function well. So, what does sebum do?

Sebum is the skin’s natural moisturizer. It creates a waterproof barrier on the skin that keeps moisture in and pollutants, germs, and other nasty stuff out.

When your skin has enough of it, it looks hydrated. Softer. Plumper. Glowy, even.

What Happens When Your Skin Doesn’t Make Enough Sebum?

You have dry skin.

Without enough sebum, the skin’s protective barrier lacks its most important building blocks, so it breaks up all over the place.

Moisture evaporates, leaving skin feeling and looking as dry as the desert. If it gets really bad, it even starts to flake.  Bacteria, toxins, and a whole bunch of not-so-nice stuff can get inside the body, leaving skin red and irritated.

When this happens, you need to use skincare products that repair the skin’s barrier. And, of course, you need to treat your skin super gently so you won’t make things worse.

Need help creating the best skincare routine for you dry skin? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Dry Skincare Routine Cheatsheet” (it includes product recommendations, too!).

Related: How To Care For Dry Skin

What Happens When Your Skin Produces Too Much Sebum?

You have oily skin.

The excess oil your skin produces gets trapped in the pores where it mixes with dead skin cells and other gunk in there. Your pores get clogged. You get pimples.  Blackheads. Whiteheads. It’s breakout galore.

Oh, some oil stays on the surface of your skin too. It makes it shine like a frying pan.

When that happens, you need to use skincare products that keep the production of sebum under control and absorb any excess.

Need help creating the best skincare routine for you oily skin? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Oily Skincare Routine Cheatsheet” (it includes product recommendations, too!).

Related: How To Care For Oily Skin

The Bottom Line

Your skin needs sebum, so learn to get along with it. Understand how it works, so you can help your skin get just the right amount it needs to stay healthy and moisturized.

Did you consider sebum a dirty word too? Share your thoughts on sebum in the comments below.



Eli April 23, 2013 - 1:24 pm

Aren’t retinoids causing sun sensitivity? I’ve been staying away from them so far because of that 🙁

beautifulwithbrains April 23, 2013 - 7:01 pm

Eli, yes, they can cause sun sensitive. Because of that, dermatologists recommend to use them at night. That way, that won’t be a problem. 🙂

PrettyKitty April 24, 2013 - 12:30 am

Hi! I’ve always loved your blog-would you be intrested in
doing in interview? All I would do is ask you some questions
on here and put it on my blog.

beautifulwithbrains April 24, 2013 - 5:52 am

Prettykitty, hi! Thank you and sure, I’d be honoured! Just send me an email with the questions at beautifulwithbrains[at]gmail[dot]com. 😉

PrettyKitty April 26, 2013 - 2:55 am

I emalied you on tuesday. Did you receive it?

beautifulwithbrains April 26, 2013 - 8:09 pm

PrettyKitty, yes, I did, thanks. I’ve already started answering the questions. 🙂 I will send you my answers asap. 🙂

PrettyKitty April 27, 2013 - 2:11 am

Thanks so much that is awsome! Much appreciated! 🙂

beautifulwithbrains April 27, 2013 - 6:06 am

You’re welcome. 🙂

Janessa April 24, 2013 - 2:02 am

I didn’t know THIS much about sebum! 😀 I’m always learning from you! <3

Sorry I've been really busy.

beautifulwithbrains April 24, 2013 - 5:56 am

Janessa, no worries hun. And Iìm glad you found this post useful. 🙂

Why Care About Haircare? – The Method January 14, 2018 - 8:44 am

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