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Skin care for the oily, acne-prone

Without exception all my cleansers are from Japan, my various essences, serums and ampoules from South Korea, and my make up from the USA. So no, I am not a terribly huge fan of German beauty. Nor does the market so far seem in any way inclined to change this. Because would you rather make do with basic and utterly boring formulations, or go the so-called “natural” path loaded with alcohol and fragrance? Ideally, you should content yourself with neither. So looking for greener pastures overseas it is!

One product hailing directly from our pragmatic, no frills Germany, however, does have a firm place in my skin care routine and will maybe forever: the Sebamed Clear Face Care Gel, or Sebamed  Unreine Haut Pflege Gel in German.

How the gel improved my skin

I started using the Sebamed Clear Face Care Gel at the height of summer. It glides on easily, dries down quickly, and does not feel greasy in the slightest. It is absolutely perfect for the hot months, during which it supplied my oily, acne-prone skin with all the moisture needed by its own. Whereas now that it has gotten colder I can comfortably layer it without risking clogged pores. But anyway, right off the bat, the gel turned my skin from dehydrated oily to permanently normal and surprisingly clear within just a few days!

Before using the gel, I used to have regular outbreaks along my jaw line, my forehead, the lower cheeks and around my lips. But now the only blemishes to speak of are strictly hormonal, and limited to once a month. Clogged pores are not an issue for me any longer, and because my acne has decreased, so have my post-acne scars. My skin these days is even both in tone as well as texture. It is the best it has ever been throughout my teen and adult years!

What makes the gel so good?

The Sebamed gel’s formulation is exceptionally basic, but exactly that makes it stand out.

Aqua, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, propylene glycol, glycerin, sorbitol, panthenol, sodium hyaluronate, allantoin, sodium carbomer, sodium citrate, phenoxyethanol, sorbic acid.

Various humectants attract and bind water, while a few select emollients make sure it also stays. They soften and condition the skin, while aloe barbadensis leaf juice calms and soothes it. The rest are stabilizer, film-forming agent, preservative, and pH-balancers. That’s it! Above all note what the gel does not contain, though: Any sort of skin irritants! It is also completely non-comedogenic, and furthermore has a pH of 5.5 which is similar to our skin’s.

Why is any of that important?

The link between irritations and acne

Oily skin types oftentimes assume reducing oil and sebum is the key to clear skin. But the first and worst mistake is using harsh and drying anti-acne products intended to cut sebum and “tighten” pores. The truth is that pores do not actually “open” nor “close,” nor can they in any way be minimized. Instead, astringents or cleansers which give you “that squeaky clean feeling” will inevitably irritate your skin and actually perpetuate the problem. Your skin may appear to tolerate it for a lack of visible reaction such as redness. But irritation nevertheless triggers a hormonal response which eventually leads to an increase of sebum production. This way, it encourages oiliness and worsens acne.

But irritants can not only be found in harsh anti-acne products.

Scientifically proven irritants such as fragrance, various essential oils or plant extracts, certain surfactants [German], and alcohol, if listed as

  • Alcohol,
  • Benzyl alcohol,
  • Alcohol denat./denatured,
  • Isopropyl alcohol,
  • SD alcohol,
  • Ethanol, or
  • Methanol,

are common ingredients even in “natural” or sensitive skin type products! Starting with the gel, I began to avoid all of them as much as possible. My skin clearly thanks me for it!

Oily skin lacks water, dry skin lacks oil

Ingredients are always listed in order of highest to lowest concentrations. That means the Sebamed gel consists mostly of humectants attracting water, and contains much less emollients/occlusives to lock it in. So similar to this product, it therefore is ideal for oily skin as it is hydrating yet lightweight and non-comedogenic. In simple terms this means it does not clog pores!

Oily skin types lack water, and thus benefit most from moisturizers rich in humectants such as

  • Glycerin,
  • Sea weed or algae,
  • Sodium hyaluronate/Hyaluronic acid,
  • Propylene glycol,
  • Butylene glycol,
  • Sorbitol,
  • Hexylene glycol,
  • Sodium PCA,
  • Urea,
  • Panthenol,
  • Alpha hydroxy acid,
  • etc.

Dry skin types, on the other hand, lack oil and need a higher concentration of emollients/occlusives such as

  • Plant oils,
  • Mineral oil/paraffinum liquidum,
  • Silicones (anything ending with “-cones”)
  • Caprylic/Capric triglyceride,
  • Allantoin, and
  • Panthenol.

Emollients and occlusive serve slightly different purposes. But at the bottom line they both guard against water loss of the skin through evaporation, so oily skin does benefit from emollients/occlusives too. The problem here is just that some, such as coconut oil or olive oil, also heavily clog pores. So as an oily skin type, always look for products with a larger amount of humectants than emollients/occlusives, and check the comedogenic rating of skin care ingredients online where you can.

And no, you cannot just trust the front label. Not all products which claim to be non-comedogenic actually are.

PH-balance and the skin’s acidic lipid barrier

Our skin is fortified against water, germs and other external contaminants by a protective layer, commonly known as moisture or lipid barrier. When healthy, it has a naturally acidic pH-level of around 4 – 6, which effectively keeps acne bacteria at bay. But if compromised by factors such as sun damage, harsh cleansers, over-exfoliation or a wrong pH, a damaged lipid barrier can leave our skin susceptible to dryness, redness, irritation, which in turn leads to an increase in sebum and eventually acne outbreaks. 

For these exact reasons a great number of Asian beauty fans on the Internet religiously maintain a low-pH cleanser routine. I, however, personally stand with Sample Hime on this issue and consider it more important that my cleanser should be mild and non-irritating. Even better if it is both, of course. But those are hard to come by. I rather reset my skin’s pH immediately after cleansing.

The Missha essence, for instance, has a pH-level of about 5.5 – 6. Meanwhile, Sebamed’s entire range of products has one of 5.5. This has definitely been the key to my skin’s marked improvements.

Why I might use the gel always and forever!

I have tried many things over time to clear up my skin. But it was not until I tried the Sebamed Clear Face Care Gel that it finally did. It effectively circumvents and prevents three of the four deciding factors which contribute to acne: Irritation, pore clogging, and bacterial growth due to damages in the lipid mantle. In an indirect way, it even prevents the fourth and last reason of acne: hormonal imbalances, at least those caused by skin irritation.

That is far from saying the gel is perfect, apparently. I do wish it contained more antioxidants, for instance, and it is definitely not a dry winter skin solution. However, the gel single-handedly solved close to all of my oily, acne-prone skin issues in one single strike. I am more than willing to overlook its minor short-comings, and level them out by way of layering skin care.

Still, I can and definitely will not promise you similarly positive results for your skin by using specifically the Sebamed gel. But the bottom line? Avoid skin irritants, avoid comedogenic ingredients and protect your protective acid mantle! That is what oily, acne-prone skin really needs!

What skin care product has changed your skin for the better lately? Share with us in the comments!

1 Comment

  1. M. Brantome says

    Really good article, and I second your view on the Sebamed products – they are immensely overlooked! Such great ingredients, few but excellent things in them, I am using their self foaming facial wash at 5.5 ph, and it is perfect even for my mature skin with a (still) oily T zone. It doesn’t dry out at all, and therefore prevents even more oil from being produced, liquorice root is calming and I am using some of their products along with a mainly Korean skin care regimen, and some things by the Ordinary and Deciem… they work so well together and I bear in mind to respect my skin’s ph level.


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