Sebum 101: What is Sebum

Sebum 101: What is Sebum

Sebum is a mixture of lipids, or fats, that are secreted by sebaceous glands in the skin. Essentially, it’s what keeps the skin moisturized. Consisting mostly of triglycerides, wax esters, free fatty acids, and cholesterol, sebum functions as a lubricant. It makes skin and hair waterproof. Sebum production is regulated by hormones, namely testosterone. But what does sebum do to benefit us? And how does it work? Let’s explore the answers to these questions and more.

What is Sebum?

As we mentioned, sebum is an oily substance made up of fat molecules, known as lipids. These fats are are secreted by sebaceous glands in the skin. The purpose of these glands is not only to produce sebum but to keep sebum production at a consistent level at all times.

For example, when you wash your face with water or soap, you automatically end up removing some of your skin's natural oils, sebum included.  Shampoos are made to clean sebum and other debris from the scalp and hair. 


How Does Sebum Work?

Sebum works by lubricating the epidermis and making it waterproof. The sebaceous glands secrete sebum through hair follicles and skin pores. At that point, the sebum mixes with dead skin cells to form keratin plugs, which then close follicles and pores in a way that blocks anything from passing through them. Sebum is produced in the hair follicles via a small pocket under our skin. This pocket is filled with oil-producing cells called sebocytes. From there, the sebum is released onto your face when you wash your skin or rub your hands against your cheeks.

What Influences Sebum Production?

The amount of sebum that is secreted varies from person to person. Everyone’s individual sebum production is genetically determined. Although it is based on genetics, sebum production can be influenced by your hormones and your diet. Stress also plays a role in the regulation of sebum secretion. In addition to these factors, individuals may have different levels of sebum depending on their ethnicity. For example, Asians tend to produce less oil than Caucasians due to their genetic makeup.

Woman with oily hair. Use a gentle shampoo like Keratin Salon Direct to minimize the look

Negative Effects of Too Much Sebum Production

In normal circumstances, the majority of the lipid content presented in the form of sebum stays on the surface of your skin. This can manifest as an oily layer on the top of your skin. However, that’s only one possible outcome of an overproduction of sebum. It can also result in overly oily hair.

Overly Oily Hair

When there is an imbalance between the production of sebum and the rate at which sebum evaporates from the follicles, more and more lipid-rich cells are pushed out onto the surfaces of the hair shaft. As a result, hair strands become incredibly oily. You may find it helpful to shampoo more often. Use a gentle shampoo and focus the conditioner on your midshaft and ends.

Acne Breakouts

When you have too much oil on your face, it can lead to acne problems. That’s because bacteria grows more easily on oily surfaces than on dry ones. However, there's no reason to be alarmed if you have oily skin. It doesn’t automatically mean there's something wrong with how healthy or clean your skin is. Just know that you may experience acne breakouts if you produce high amounts of sebum.

The Importance of Finding the Right Balance of Sebum Production

Sebum production is something everyone should be aware of because it affects our health in general. While sebum is an oily substance that is naturally produced by sebaceous glands and protects the skin from drying out, too much of it can cause undesirable effects.

Even while sebum can prevent acne and other skin problems by creating a barrier between your skin and the environment, there are times where sebum production is too high. In those instances, the otherwise positive effects are suddenly negative instead because the overproduction of sebum can counteract the benefits. This is why understanding how to balance your sebum levels is important. That way, you won't have to experience any issues related to there being too much or too little oil on your face or in your hair.


While sebum is a necessary part of our hair and skin, too much sebum can cause issues, like a layer of oil on the skin, overly oily hair, or acne breakouts. While sebum is affected by genetics and environmental factors, there are ways to establish the right balance of sebum production. Once you find a comfortable level of sebum production for you, life will be so much easier!