Monsoons might sound romantic on paper but can often spell disaster for skin. The wavering temperatures and excessive humidity make the skin prone to infections. But the most common offender on the list are the hyperactive sebaceous glands.
“Most people find more oil production on their skin during the summer season. Sebaceous glands start producing more oil during hot weather, even if it’s monsoons when the heat is still on,” explains Kiran Sethi, owner and founder, Isya Aesthetics. The reason this gets problematic is that it does not just make the skin appear more greasy but the excess sebum if not taken care of, or if you have a sedentary lifestyle, leads to several other conditions such as acne, whiteheads, enlarged pores, heat rash, dandruff and folliculitis (inflamed follicles) on face or scalp, she adds.
This can be tackled by using the right skincare ingredients that don’t just reduce oil secretion but also act as anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory agents. “The humid air during monsoons prevents your sweat from evaporating which makes the skin feel sticky. Excessive sebum also serves as a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria and yeast, leading to clogged pores, blackheads as well as acne breakouts,” says Niketa Sonavane, dermatologist and founder of Ambrosia Aesthetics, Mumbai.
Here's what you can do address the problem: “The first step to sebum control in any season is a good cleansing and moisturising routine. The next step is using an active serum that can reduce sebum production from the oil glands in your skin,” says Dr Sonavane. On the scalp, excessive greasiness may cause inflammation, boils and greasy flakes owing to yeast overgrowth, adds Dr Sonavane. Similar flaking may also occur at the corners of the nose, and eyebrows, a skin condition known as seborrheic dermatitis.
“You can use retinol or retinoids (in a percentage as per your dermatologist’s prescription) to clear pores and hair follicles, and reduce oil, which can help reduce and prevent acne,” says Dr Sethi. If you have acne, they work well in combination with salicylic acid, another ingredient widely found in cleansers. Use retinoids only if you are sincere with your sunscreen application, as it makes the skin sun-sensitive and powerful UV rays are present even on gloomy, no-sun cloudy days. If retinoids don’t suit your skin, you can either try using them in combination with hyaluronic acid or try bakuchiol, which is fast emerging as a less aggressive retinol alternative.
Rather than using abrasive scrubs on your face, rely on beta hydroxy acids (BHA, such as salicylic acid) to gently cleanse and exfoliate your face. “While choosing a face cleanser, look for active ingredients such as salicylic acid that reduces the activity of oil glands and also exfoliates dead cells. This can prevent the formation of blackheads and acne,” says Dr Sonavane. Another ingredient that both experts swear by is niacinamide. “You can safely use it in the daytime to curb oiliness, shrink open pores and brighten your skin. Apply three to four drops of a niacinamide serum before you apply your SPF,” recommends Dr Sonavane. Niacinamide is a great anti-ageing ingredient that regulates oil production, maintains the skin barrier, and reduces inflammation, pigmentation and fine lines. If you feel you can skip your moisturiser because your skin is already an oil spill, you couldn’t be more wrong. You must keep your skin well hydrated with a light moisturizer (ones that contain hyaluronic acid, HA, should be your best bet) to prevent reactive oiliness. “Reactive oiliness is when your skin overproduces sebum because it is dehydrated. In the nighttime, layer your HA moisturizer with a retinol serum. Retinol, along with its anti-ageing and acne clearing benefits, also effectively controls oiliness of the skin,” says Dr Sonavane. Sebum on the skin oxidizes on contact with air and makes the skin appear dark (which is also why blackheads are black) and it can also cause your makeup to oxidize and change colour. So an oil-controlling cleanser and a gel moisturiser should be your first (if not your only) beauty buys for the season.
Dr Sonavane says that excessive sebum secretion on the scalp has also been linked to hair loss. “This is thought to be due to the presence of DHT hormone in the sebum and chronic scalp inflammation,” she says.
Two other ingredients which reduce oil and are anti-bacterial are tea tree oil and green tea. “A green tea toner can be spritzed on the face throughout the day to gently hydrate and care for your skin,” says Dr Sethi. All you need to do, she adds, is brew a cup of green tea in water and then store it in a spray bottle in the fridge. Another DIY that works against excessive oiliness are clay masks which decongest the skin. “Apply a clay mask after cleansing your skin once or twice a week. Just make sure not to overdo clay masks as they can trigger reactive oiliness,” warns Dr Sonavane. It’s common for sweat glands to get infected this season and cause folliculitis and heat rashes. To target this particular excess oil-aftermath, Dr Sethi recommends benzoyl peroxide washes to reduce bacteria on the skin.
Regardless of the number of skincare products you use, it’s all a waste if you are feeding your body wrong. Dairy products, sugar-rich and salty foods, refined carbohydrates and fried items can trigger excess oil production and even ruin your gut health, which also leads to acne. Include water- and antioxidant-rich food items such as citrus fruits and seasonal leafy greens.