does having oily skin make you smarterOily skin. Many people who have it curse it under the pretense that it looks greasy, causes breakouts, or is hard to keep clean.

In my bestselling book, Love Your Skin, Love Yourself, I mentioned how having oily skin might be a pain at certain times of life (like the teenage years), but in the long run, oilier skin types tend to age at a slower rate than drier skin types. Oilier skin is also thicker and more resilient as well.

That’s all well and good, but if you have oily skin and still aren’t convinced that it’s a blessing, not a curse, I’ve got news for you. Your oily skin, abundant with oil-producing sebaceous glands, might actually have an impact on your brain function.

Say what?

I’ve learned a lot about the skin over the past several years, not just in my aesthetics education and continuing education, but also in my own professional practice and research. The skin serves many functions (protection, temperature regulation, excretion, absorption, sensation etc), and its role in function of the central nervous system, is one that’s been turning up in various recent studies. Our nerve endings, responsible for our sense of touch, reactions to pain and different environments, in addition to other functions; are dispersed throughout the skin.

While the brain and the skin are two separate organs, they actually form from the same tissue in the embryo. While they separate as they grow, the central nervous system keeps them inherently connected throughout life. The study of the “intelligence” of the skin is studied in several different branches of science–neurology, physiology, dermatoendocrinology, and psychodermatology–and what’s being uncovered about this particular function of the skin is truly fascinating.

Though nerve endings are interspersed throughout all layers and areas of the skin, new research indicates significant links between both the endocrine system and the brain in the sebaceous (oil producing) glands, especially pertaining to Omega-3 fatty acids. Science has already taught us that Omega-3 fatty acids benefit and protect brain function–this is why prenatal vitamins contain high levels of DHA and other Omega-3 essential fatty acids (to encourage proper brain development in a growing fetus). Omega-3 fatty acids are also linked to healthy hormonal activity in adults and also are suspected to protect brain function in older adults.

What does this have to do with the skin?

471px-Anatomy_of_the_skinWarning: I’m about to get science-y on you. A recent review which referred to the sebaceous gland as the “brain of the skin” has identified a similarity between sebaceous glands and brain tissue, and the profound role that nutrients such as glucose and omega-3 fatty acids play in their functioning. Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily stored in the brain; however research has shown that αLA (alpha linolenic acid, an Omega-3 fatty acid) specifically targets sebaceous cells; which might suggest that the biology of the sebaceous gland and that of the brain are governed by comparable sensitivities in similar nutrients.

How does this mean that having oilier skin might make you smarter?

People with oilier skin have more sebaceous glands than people with drier skin–if Omega-3 essential fatty acids are in fact stored in the sebaceous glands, in addition to the brain, one might assume that the amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids in the skin might have a proportional relationship to the amounts stored in the brain. Since Omega-3 fatty acids are highly protective of brain function, one might conclude that higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the sebaceous glands–and thus, the brain–might signify higher levels of brain functioning in individuals with oilier skin.

What does this mean for people who don’t have oily skin?

olive oil

Olive oil is a great source of “good” dietary fat

If have drier skin and are a little mad at me for basically saying that because you have less oil, you might not have the same level of brain function as someone with oilier skin, please don’t worry. This area of study is fairly new and much more research needs to be done, first of all; but regardless of that, you can always help your skin–and your brain–out by making sure you get enough essential fatty acids–AKA good fat–in your diet and in your topical skincare. For tips on how to do that, check out this article.

Proper skincare for people with oily skin is a must.

One of the biggest mistakes people with oily skin make is over-washing and over-exfoliating the skin. They fear that having oily skin means that they have dirty skin, and that’s usually not the case. Using cleansers with harsh, foaming ingredients (which are likely industrial strength detergents and surfactants like sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate or ammonium lauryl/laureth sulfates), actually strips away the lipids in the surface of the skin–including any essential fatty acids that might be present–and forces the sebaceous glands into reactive overproduction which might cause the stores of essential fatty acids to be diluted if they’re not replenished internally and topically.

squeaky-clean-washAs tempting as it may be to wash, tone, and exfoliate oily skin until it’s “squeaky clean,” you’re really doing more harm than good. I recommend gentle cleansers–preferable cleansing oils or cleansing lotions that are made with non-comedogenic plant-based lipids (like jojoba oil or shea butter) that are rich with essential fatty acids. It doesn’t take the skin long to adjust at all, and you’ll likely notice that your skin is less oily throughout the day than it was with your old foaming cleanser.

I’m dying to know your thoughts on this topic. Please share them in the comments below!

*Image 2 by Wong, D.J. and Chang, H.Y. Skin tissue engineering (March 31, 2009), StemBook, ed. The Stem Cell Research Community, StemBook, doi/10.3824/stembook.1.44.1, [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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