Often, when our bodies do weird things they do so for a good reason, namely survival. Waking up with an oily face is no exception. The body produces oil to protect us from dehydration, limiting the amount of water we lose through our skin.
Overnight we are more prone to losing water. A build-up of oil particularly on the face and scalp is one of the body’s methods for tackling dehydration. This can happen due to conditions like sebaceous hyperplasia, or common problems like pore blockages. It can even be genetic, or depend on the climate you live in.
Perhaps understanding the reasons for an oily face is enough of a solution to the problem – after all, if it protects you from dehydration it is surely a benefit! But we have also included a short guide which can help lessen the amount of oil and help you to feel fresher when you awaken.
But first, it can be very helpful to understand why your face produces oil in the first place.
Why Does Your Face Get Oily?
First, it is important to understand that waking up with an oily face is a natural physiological process. It is one of your body’s ways of helping to guard against dehydration while you sleep. So why does the body produce oils?
There are pores all over your skin and under every pore there is a specialised gland called the sebaceous gland which is present on all mammals. The only exceptions are the soles of your feet and palms of your hands. These glands produce an oily substance called sebum which is excreted through the pores close to the hair follicles. Although this happens all over your body, there is a much greater concentration of sebaceous glands in the face and scalp. This secretion leaves a film of oil over the top surface of the skin – the epidermis.
Technically, sebum is made up of fat molecules including cholesterol, triglyceride, squalene, and wax ester. This oily substance is secreted for several reasons:
- It helps to keep your skin moisturized
- It helps to maintain your skin’s elasticity
- It helps to prevent the loss of water from your body
So, in general, an oily face is a healthy face! It can become a problem if there’s an excessive amount of oil, and there could be several reasons for this (we will have a look at some solutions further on in the article). But why do we notice a particularly oily face when we wake up in the morning?
Why Is Your Face Oily When You Wake Up?
There are a couple of reasons that are likely to be the cause of a particularly oily face on waking up.
1. Hyperactivity Of The Sebaceous Glands
This condition involves excessive activity of the sebaceous glands during the daytime. Peak activity is around midday but towards night time they will calm down. When you being to sleep, and your body lacks the protective layer of sebum, you can begin to lose water via the epidermis and become dehydrated. This stimulates the body to produce sebum in over-drive – more oil is produced and it is thicker than that produced during the day, leaving a thick and troublesome layer of oil on awakening.
2. Sweat And Sebum Mixing Together
One of the other glands in our body, present in every pore, are eccrine glands. These specialised glands produce sweat which mixes with the sebum, making the sweat more labile. This is again a part of the protection against dehydration but when it is happening excessively it can cause the oily skin problem.
This can be caused by over-heating when asleep if the room is too hot or your duvet is too thick. Sometimes man-made materials like nylon and polyester hinder breathability, so if your sheets are made of synthetic materials this may contribute to over-heating at night.
3. Sebaceous Hyperplasia
This condition is defined by an excess amount of sebum being produced when the sebaceous glands become enlarged. This also traps oil under the skin and produces small bumps. Teenagers, people with paler skin, and people who have had a lot of exposure to the sun are all more prone to sebaceous hyperplasia.
Although this condition is usually harmless, some people can have more serious problems with it and others prefer to get rid of it for cosmetic reasons. You can read more about this condition and ways of treating it here.
4. Genetics And Environment
Unfortunately excessively oily skin may be an inherited trait. If your parents have oily skin it is likely you will experience oily skin too. This, in combination with any of the above factors, could be the reason for waking up with oily skin.
Additionally, if you live in a hot and humid climate you are more likely to produce more oils on the skin.
5. Pore Blockages
When your skin pores become blocked this can lead to the trapping of sebum and an uncomfortably thick build-up of oil. Going to bed with make-up or lotion on your face will cause blockages and lead to skin conditions like acne. Air-borne pollutants can also build up on your face during the day, especially in cities. Alternatively, if you live in a very arid area where dust is easily kicked up, this can stick to the sebum on your face and contribute to pore blockage.
6. Over-Washing Your Face
Surprisingly, washing your face or exfoliating too often can contribute to oily skin when you wake up, especially if it is done before going to bed. Removing the natural sebum from your skin will stimulate the sebaceous cells and may stimulate them into production. They just want to protect you from dehydration, and when they sense a dry face they are triggered into secretion mode.
7. Exposure To The Sun Or Wind
If you have a lot of exposure to the sun during the day and do not apply sun screen, this can cause your face to dry out. Similarly, on a very windy day your skin will dry out more quickly. Drying is a trigger for the sebaceous cells to start producing sebum to protect you from dehydration.
Ways To Lessen The Amount Of Oil On Your Face When You Wake Up
Because it is a normal and healthy process, waking up with an oily face can’t be prevented. But it can be lessened! There are a few simple ways you can reduce that excess oil on waking, from changing your habits to employing a nightly skincare regime.
1. Drink Plenty Of Water!
Drinking plenty of water seems to be the solution to so many problems! As the production of sebum is a protection against dehydration, it makes sense that keeping yourself well hydrated prevents such an oily build-up on the skin.
Water helps to hydrate your skin and expel toxins and cellular debris. Try carrying water with you wherever you go – keep a bottle beside you while you work, study, exercise, and relax. Keeping a glass of water by your bed is also advisable so you can keep yourself hydrated if you wake up thirsty. But how much water do we really need to drink? Check out this study.
2. Consider Using Moisturizer
Sebum moisturizes your skin and keeps your epidermis from losing water. So, in a way, applying moisturizer is a way to relieve the sebaceous cells of their duty and calm them down so they are not stimulated into producing oils.
Make sure you choose the right type of moisturizer for your skin. Have a look at your skin and do some research into which kind will work best for it. People with naturally oily skin will require moisturizer with different ingredients compared to those with dry skin. It is recommended to choose moisturizers with natural ingredients which are kind on the skin and better for the environment.
Apply the moisturizer twice a day – once in the morning, and once before bed (such as this hydrating moisturizer!).
3. Reduce Your Use Of Cosmetics
Make-up products like toner and foundation can block up the pores, dry out the face, and interfere with the natural action of both the sebaceous and eccrine glands. Try to limit the amount you use, ideally consider cutting your use of make-up altogether, or at least try not to use it everyday.
It is also important to remove all cosmetics properly before sleeping. Use gentle face towels or cloth pads (like these reusable pads!), and avoid strong chemicals.
4. Avoid Over-Washing And Excessive Exfoliation
As mentioned above, over-washing and unnecessary exfoliation can cause oily problems, especially before bedtime. You only need to wash your face twice a day, on waking and before going to sleep.
Wash your face gently and avoid harder, scratchier materials or tools such as brushes. Patting your face dry rather than rubbing is also recommended.
5. Try Adding Moisturizing Elements To Your Diet
Water-rich fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, cucumber, watermelons, tomatoes and salad leaves can help to keep you and your skin hydrated. As we mentioned above, keeping well-hydrated is the key to preventing sebaceous gland stimulation. Healthy drinks like aloe vera water and coconut water are excellent for hydration and contain a whole host of minerals and useful elements for overall health.
If you are interested in trying some supplements that can help with skin hydration, vitamin E and omega-3 oil are recommended. You can try consuming these as part of your diet – vitamin E-rich foods include nuts and seeds, and some fruits and vegetables like bell peppers and pumpkins, and fish, seaweed or flax seed are often recommended as sources of omega-3. Alternatively these can be taken in pill form (such as these vegan omega-3 tablets, suitable for most ages and stages) and are found in many health stores and regular supermarkets.
6. Protect Your Face From Sun And Wind
If you are regularly exposed to the sun, applying and keeping on top of sun screen application is highly recommended. As well as protecting you from the sun, it keeps your skin moisturized and prevents it from drying out.
On windy days it can be a good idea to apply moisturizer to protect your face. In cold climates it can be useful to wear a scarf or snood to protect you face from the worst of the cold, drying wind.