Most teenagers and adults who struggle with excessively oily skin may consider it more of a curse than a blessing. However, that feeling may subside when, at some point, they will likely hear something like, “it might bother you now, but you’ll be grateful for it in 20 years because oily skin ages slower than dry skin.” Is this an old wives’ tale or is there truth to this common skin myth?
Anatomically speaking, oily skin is different from dry skin in that oily skin has larger pores which secrete more sebum due to higher activity in the sebaceous glands. In addition to increased activity in the sebaceous glands, oily skin may also have a greater number of sebaceous glands. This abundance can contribute to a thicker dermis, which also means increased collagen and elastin, leading to plumper, firmer skin with fewer fine lines and wrinkles.
The fatty acid composition of sebum also adds more protection against free radical damage from environmental pollutants, as well as the sun’s UVA and UVB rays (although it still requires regular usage of sunscreen). The added lubrication and emollient protection from the sebum also helps maintain skin hydration (although dehydration is still possible for oily skin), which also contributes to smooth, plump, youthful-looking skin.
While oily skin is slower to show signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, it is not exempt from other features associated with premature aging, such as uneven texture and hyperpigmentation. Many people with oily skin also tend to produce more melanin. This is typically a good thing, as melanin is another way the skin protects itself from environmental invaders. However, when damage to the melanocytes themselves occur due to either intrinsic (poor diet or illness) or extrinsic factors (sun damage or trauma), hyper- or hypopigmentation may occur. People with oily skin also have likely struggled with acne at some point in their lives, which likely left scars. Scarring causes uneven thickness and texture and may also be accompanied with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – all of which may add to a prematurely aged appearance.
While it may seem that oily skin does have several features that support the idea that it ages slower than dry skin, keep in mind that biology is only one factor. The majority of factors that determine how someone’s skin ages have to do with epigenetics. Epigenetics has to do with factors in one’s daily lifestyle – such as diet, sleep, hydration, topical skin care regimen, exercise, exposure to toxicants, sun care, and so forth – and how they affect one’s skin and overall health. Multiple studies over the past several years have shown how epigenetics affect skin aging more than genetics and other intrinsic factors.
Therefore, while oily skin may have anatomy and physiology on its side, it is not guaranteed to age slower than dry skin. Clients should always be educated about the importance of a balanced topical regimen (avoiding over-cleansing and over-exfoliation, getting the right combination of humectants and emollients, and so forth), as well as a healthy diet, adequate hydration, proper sleep, stress management, and other lifestyle factors.
Orioli, Donata, and Elena Dellambra. “Epigenetic Regulation of Skin Cells in Natural Aging and Premature Aging Diseases.” Cells 7, no. 12 (2018): 268. doi:10.3390/cells7120268.