What in the world is sebum, and how can it be a good thing for your skin?
Sebum is oil made by sebaceous glands. It collects around hair follicles and spreads to the surrounding skin. Sebum works together with skin lipids and sweat to create what is referred to as an acid mantle. An insufficient amount of sebum makes skin susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections; while too much of it can result in acne. The proper balance both protects the skin and keeps it well hydrated. Sebum is made up of triglycerides, free fatty acids, wax esters, squalene, cholesterol esters, and cholesterol. That breakdown, almost sounds like anything you take in, is going to come out through sebum, but let’s take a further look.
Sebaceous glands can be found almost everywhere on the body, except on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. There is a greater concentration of sebaceous glands in the middle of the back, the genital area, and the face, particularly the forehead and the chin. Most sebaceous glands are connected to a hair follicle.
Before sebum makes its way to the surface of the skin, it combines with cells that are in the process of being sloughed off inside the hair follicle. When the follicle fills up, sebum spreads over the surface of the skin, making it moisturized and healthy. When this process works too well, it results in oily skin and hair, a condition that is known medically as seborrhea. Seborrhea is the medical term for too much sebum. The condition isn't typically associated with other health problems, but it can make your face overly oily and shiny.
What Makes Sebum Important?
Sebum has many purposes. Once this oily substance makes its way to the surface of your skin, it keeps your skin waterproof. It's a barrier in two ways: It keeps too much water from getting into your body, and it prevents you from losing too much water through your skin. Keep in mind that, beyond keeping the hair and skin moisturized, sebum serves other important purposes also, including maintaining the skin's flexibility and acting as a barrier to protect the skin from bacterial and fungal infections.
Eating nutritious foods that are believed to help sebum production, would include apricots, foods with antioxidants, beta-carotene, brewer’s yeast, legumes, liver, natural fruit and vegetable juices, nuts, papaya, persimmons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, wheat and whole grain products.
However, free-flowing sebum pulls out dead skin cells, dirt and bacteria from the pores on its way out from the sebaceous glands. This is the major reason why people with normal skin who don’t even use cleansers don’t end up with clogged up pores filled with dirt! This natural process is disrupted if the pore is clogged by an accumulation of dead skin cells, which causes the oil to be trapped inside, resulting in comedones formation, inflammation, and acne.