Why Your Mattifying Primer Might Actually Make Your Skin Oilier

by Jessica DeFino

Ask any casual skincare enthusiast about summer skin, and chances are, they’ll spout off a few seasonal rules: SPF is a non-negotiable. Switch up your foundation shade to account for your sun-kissed skin tone. And don’t forget to load up on mattifying products, because things are about to get oily. But is that last one actually true? It turns out that the cause of oily skin in the summer might not have anything to do with summer itself, and more to do with that long-prevailing myth.

“Our bodies react to warm weather — both humid as well as dry — with natural air-conditioning: increased sweat production that cools the skin by evaporation of sweat, as it’s composed mostly of water,” Dr. Tanuj Nakra, a board-certified doctor and founder of AVYA Skincare, tells The Zoe Report. He explains that there are two types of sweat glands: “Eccrine or ‘regular’ sweat glands produce watery sweat, while sebaceous sweat glands secrete an oily product that slows the evaporation of regular sweat, extending the ‘air-conditioning’ effect.” In reality, summer skin isn’t that much oilier than usual — but thanks to increased sweat and the body’s (brilliant) self-cooling mechanism, looks can be deceiving.

“Sweat and oil don’t mix well, so it’ll give the appearance of little droplets on the skin, making your skin look even sweatier than it really is,” Dr. Aanand Geria, a dermatologist with Geria Dermatology in New Jersey, tells TZR. (For a visual, think of pouring oil into a pot of water — the oil droplets will sit on the surface, giving the illusion that the pot is full of oil.) In reality, it’s the way you attempt to combat this “glow” that leads to a more noticeable increase in oil production.


“Most commonly, people make the mistake of using harsh foaming cleansers (i.e., ‘for oily skin’), which will strip the skin entirely of oil, and then skip the moisturizer,” Dr. Geria explains. “This can make problems worse, because the skin will compensate by producing even more oil.” Put simply: When you strip the skin of its natural oils by over-cleansing, skipping your moisturizers and face oils, or piling on the matte-finish products, it produces even more oil to make up for what you’ve taken away… so you keep stripping, and your oil glands keep producing, ad infinitum. The result of this truly vicious cycle? That overly-oily skin you associate with summer.

“The more products we pile up on our skin to counteract the hot and humid weather, the more detrimental it is,” Josee Leduc, the founder of Odièle, tells The Zoe Report. “During the summertime, it is essential that our skin is being fed the necessary ingredients to maintain hydration.” When you think about it, it makes sense: Excessive sweating dehydrates the inner layers of your skin, since all that moisture is being drawn to the surface. As counterintuitive as it seems, the solution may lie in tossing the mattifying products aside and fighting oil with, well, more oil.

“It is a myth that increased sebaceous gland production means that moisturizers can take a summer break,” Dr. Nakra says. “Moisturizing is just as important in summer as any other season.” He suggests a skin-appropriate moisturizer morning and night — one with hyaluronic acid is great for hydration — and says a nightly face oil could help level out your skin’s natural sebum production, too. “Be aware of 'oil-combatting' and 'matte' products,” Leduc warns. “Whilst their results are almost instant, the [long-term] negatives outweigh the positives.”


Managing oil production doesn’t stop and start with skincare, though — makeup is a factor, as well. “It is also super important to acknowledge that in humid climates our skin tends to develop a thicker water layer,” Leduc, a former makeup artist, says. “When we have makeup on, this water mixes in with our makeup and at times can make our skin more prone to breakouts and other skin irritations.” Instead of a heavy layer of matte foundation, the founder recommends a “less is more” approach. “For summer, I suggest you let your skin breathe and let go of your foundation,” she says. “For warm and humid summer days, opt for cream blush! A lot of us tend to think that we must stick to powder for humidity, however, powders tend to patch up in these climates.”

The moral of the debunked myth: Lean into the summer glow. Embrace the sheen, revel in your radiance, do the dew. The skin wants what it wants — and really, that mattifying moisturizer is no match for Mother Nature.