a group of three girls

What is sebum?

What causes sebum on your face, and how can you reduce sebum production? Discover all this and more with NIVEA

What is sebum? Here’s everything you need to know

Slippery, a little shiny, and present on every face around the world. Everyone produces sebum. Everyone has sebaceous glands. And now, you can learn what happens when sebum runs rampant, and how you can control and balance your sebum production for beautifully glowy – not shiny – skin.

What is sebum?

The body produces sebum – a sticky, oily substance made up of various fat molecules and squalene. It does serve a good purpose, but a lot of people don't like it because it can make their skin appear oily.

Sebum is a sticky oily substance the body produces in order to keep the skin moisturised. It’s made up of a collection of fat molecules, waxes, and squalene.
woman touching her face

What does sebum do?

Sebum, composed of fats, helps lock moisture into the skin and it helps protect the skin from UV radiation. It even helps repel certain bacteria, protecting you and your skin from infection.  

Sebum is made up of various things that help support the skin in different ways:

  • Hydration
    Sebum holds onto moisture and keeps skin hydrated and flexible.

  • Antioxidant help
    Sebum holds onto fat soluble antioxidants and pulls them to the surface of the skin. These antioxidants help fight off the damaging effects of free radicals.

  • Protection
    Sebum is slightly acidic, which means it can fight off potential pathogens and keep them from penetrating the skin. 

Where does sebum come from?

That’s a good question. So, meet the sebaceous glands, where sebum is excreted.

Where are the sebaceous glands located?

These glands are attached to your hair follicles and they lubricate the hair to stop it from drying out.

The body is covered in sebaceous glands – you can find them everywhere except for the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands. But the face, scalp, and chest have the highest concentrations, which is why these areas are more prone to spots.

Can you remove sebaceous glands?

Your doctor will be able to provide more information here, but removal is not advisable unless you experience sebaceous cysts or sebaceous hyperplasia. And even then, it depends on the severity of your condition and whether the positives outweigh the negatives. 

Excessive sebum production

Sebum production varies in response to age-related hormone fluctuations, certain medications, and lifestyle factors. When it’s nice and balanced, your skin should be hydrated and dewy.

But an overproduction of sebum can lead to oily skin. People with oily skin may notice that their pores look larger, and their skin appears greasy or shiny.

Excess sebum can lead to problems such as:

Blocked sebaceous glands

When there’s too much sebum, it can block the gland and grow into something called a sebaceous cyst. This happens when the blocked pore continue to fill with excess sebum, skin cells, and debris. 

Eventually, the blocked pore ruptures, spilling bacteria, sebum, and dead skin cells into nearby tissue and creating acne lesions that may be painful. The introduction of bacteria to the surrounding skin can even lead to more acne, so it’s good to invest in some spot-clearing skincare.

Sebum plugs

There are lots of names for these. People have been known to call them sebum plugs, sebum pimples, or sebum rashes. But these refer to a range of slightly different skin plugs.

Excess sebum combined with dead skin cells can form a plug inside the pore. This results in blackheads and pimples. This plug also traps excess bacteria in the pore, which can lead to inflammation and breakouts.


4 steps to stop excessive sebum

People can often control oily skin and excessive sebum production by using products containing ingredients like beta-hydroxy acids, benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid.

If you find that you have an overproduction of sebum, there are lots of different NIVEA skincare products that can help. 

1) Find the best cleanser for your skin

Make sure to cleanse your face with a product designed to remove dirt and sebum without stripping too many oils. If a product is too drying, it can actually lead to an increase in sebum production.

Our NIVEA Micellar Cleansing Water range works great as facial cleansers and makeup removers, gently removing the bad stuff so your skin can really breathe. 

2) Find the best moisturiser for your skin

Remember, if you dry your skin out too much it will produce extra sebum to compensate. That means it’s still important to moisturise. Choose a product like our NIVEA 24H Mattifying Day Cream, which uses minerals and antioxidant formulations to reduce your skin’s oil levels, while offering a burst of hydration that lasts all day. 

3) Dial up your diet

Focusing on a fresh and varied diet can work wonders. Foods containing sulphur such as fish, vegetables, legumes, eggs and nuts can help reduce excess levels of sebum.

4) Consider your haircare products

Did you know your shampoo and conditioner can have an impact on your skin? It makes sense. If you’re using a particularly drying shampoo, you might experience dandruff. And to counteract the drying effect, your skin might start to overproduce sebum. A good way to counteract this is to find a shampoo and conditioner combination that’s sulphate free. 

But wait. What if I have dry skin?

woman touching her face

Dry skin can be caused by too little sebum. But this is easy enough to remedy. 

Try drinking more water, eating more healthy fats, and avoiding excessively hot showers (those can really dry out your skin!).


A gentle exfoliant can also help remove flaking skin.


If it’s a problem that keeps cropping up, try to soothe the problem area by adopting a few sensitive skin care tips, gentle products, and – of course – a hydrating moisturiser. 

Keeping your skin in check

Too much or too little sebum can cause skin issues. So it’s important to strike the perfect balance. 

NIVEA offer a range of products suited to different skin types, so you can find the ideal match for your specific needs.

However, if you find your skin doesn’t improve, you should consider consulting your doctor or a qualified skincare professional for more tailored advice.