What are Oil Glands?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2019
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Oil glands are any glands in animals that produce oils, for any number of purposes. For example, among birds the primary oil gland is the preen gland, which is near the base of the tail and releases oils that help the birds preen their feathers to keep themselves water resistant. In humans and other mammals the main ones are the sebaceous glands, which secrete oil that helps protect skin and hair. Overactive sebaceous glands are one of the causes of acne in humans, and so regulating the way these glands produce oil is an important part of managing acne.

These oil glands produce an oil called sebum, and can be found all over the body, with the exception of the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands. They have a particularly high concentration on the scalp and the face, producing oil to lubricate and protect the hair and face. Sebum is made up of around 40% trigylcerides, 25% wax monoesters, 16% free fatty acids, and 12% squalene. If the pore gets clogged with cellular debris, sebum released by the glands continues to build up behind it, creating a rich environment for microorganisms to flourish, creating an inflammation that appears as a pimple or cyst.


At times, these oil glands may become overactive, producing far more sebum than the body needs. This can occur for a number of reasons, but is most common in people between the ages of around 12 and 20 years. Overactive glands can cause all sorts of skin conditions, including rosacea, steatoma, furuncle, seborrheic dermatitis, seborrhea, acne, milia, asteatosis, and comedones. They can form almost anywhere, though generally the effects are most pronounced on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulder regions.

Treating overactive oil glands can take many different forms, and different doctors or professionals may have different recommendations. Some push treatment through a change of diet, others suggest prescription medication to handle the overproduction of sebum, while others promote a skin care regimen which may include various lotions and cleansers. Depending on how bad the overproduction of sebum is, you may want to see a medical professional, but for more minor cases an esthetician can help you manage the sebum. By setting you up on a home-care regimen, and having you come in for regular facials, an esthetician can help get the production of these oil glands down to more reasonable levels, and help you manage the sebum that is produced, and keep pores clean and clear.

Many environmental things may also lead oil glands to overproduce sebum. For example, many people find that going out in the sun seems to make their skin look better, but this tends to be only a temporary shift in appearance. Over time, sun damage and sun exposure leads to the skin producing more sebum, exacerbating acne or other skin conditions. Similarly, many products purport to zap acne in a matter of days or weeks, and do so by drying out the skin immensely. While initially this does seem to clear up the acne, this excessive drying leads the oil glands to respond by producing even more sebum, which means that when the acne does come back, it will often be quite a bit worse, leading to a vicious cycle of constant overdrying of the skin.


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Post 3

Do certain foods cause the oil glands on our face to produce more sebum?

Since I was little, I was told that sodas and chocolate cause acne and I have always tried to limit my consumption of these. But even during periods when I don't have any, I still have acne, although it is usually not as aggravated.

I've also heard that dramatic increases and decreases in blood sugar levels, as well as too much fat in out diet can cause increased sebum production. There was even an article which claimed that milk which comes from pregnant cows cause the skin to produce more sebum and lead to acne because it contains hormones.

I honestly don't know

what to believe anymore. I eat a healthy diet, but also consume a lot of cheese, milk and yogurt. I drink a lot of water and have chocolate and cola from time to time. Are my eating habits the cause of my acne?
Post 2

My dog's skin becomes very sensitive in the summers and I see him itching and scratching all the time. I had him checked for fleas and ticks but he didn't have any. Finally the veterinarian said that the problem is due to the oil glands in his skin. I didn't realize that the oil surrounds the dog's hair and prevents pollutants, dust and other irritants from reaching his skin. When it is really hot and the dog heats up, the oil glands can get clogged and the oil will not be able to spread along the dog's hair and protect the skin. This is why my dog was itching so much in hot weather.

We were advised to keep him indoors in air conditioning when it is very hot and also not to wash him too often so that we don't remove the necessary oil from his skin. He is doing great in the summers now!

Post 1

This is great information! I didn't know that acne was caused by debris-clogged oil glands on the face.. But it makes total sense because my acne clears up when I wash my face twice a day rather than once and also use mattifying lotions. The lotions claim to control sebum production and I guess they really do work.

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