Anti Sebum -- Top 5 Herbs and Creams
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May 7, 2013, last updated June 11, 2015
By A. Lee, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Sebum, that oily secretion from the sebaceous glands on your skin, has
been linked as a possible cause of
acne and Fordyce spots.  If you're
trying to decide which anti-sebum creams to try, you probably have
been bombarded with a host of marketing claims.  The truth is, anti
sebum products can be based on a number of extracts, some herbal,
some clay-based, some made from other plant extracts and
compounds, some even made from steroids. You have to be careful.  
Before you apply any of them to your family jewels, we thought we
would try to sort through the claims and identify the anti-sebum
creams which at least have extracts that have been proven from a
scientific standpoint to work.

In a sense, you've got to become an ingredients detective. You have to
read the labels to determine if any of these effective active ingredients
are listed there. Usually, the ingredients on a cream are listed in
declining order based on the percentage they represent in the total
product by weight, so expect to see the active ingredient near the start
of the list on your cream.

Here are the Top 5  active ingredients we have found to be effective,
based on medical or university studies, and listed in no particular order
of importance:

Sea buckthorn. A lotion containing sea buckthorn (H.rhamnoides)
fruit extract was found to have anti sebum qualities in a 2010 study
from Pakistan (Faculty of Pharmacy and Alternative Medicine, The
Islamia University of Bahawalpur).  The lotion contained a concentrated
extract of 1% sea buckthorn and lemon oil.

The formula was used for 4 weeks in the study, which we take to be
the minimum period you should apply the cream before you can expect

L-carnitine.  In 2012, a German study found that applying L-carnitine
has significant anti sebum effects. The study was conducted by a team
of 7 scientists from Beiersdorf AG, Research & Development, Skin
Research in Hamburg, Germany.

L-carnitine is a naturally-occurring amino acid. The study, entitled
"Topically applied L-carnitine effectively reduces sebum secretion in
human skin" discovered that applying a solution of 2% L-carnitine for 3
weeks to human skin significantly reduced sebum secretion.

Your body produces L-carnitine on its own using two other amino acids
,lysine and methionine. You also get plenty of L-carnitine if you eat red
meat and of course L-carnitine is available as a supplement used in
body building.  So far, there have been no studies that have established
whether taking L-carnitine orally can work as an anti sebum. Only
topical solutions applied directly to the skin have been proven effective
so far.

The National Institutes of Health caution that overusing L-carnitine can
produce side effects that include nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea,   
vomiting and a fishy-smelling body odor.

The upper threshold maximum for L-carnitine supplements is 3 grams
per day.

Also, if you suffer from seizures, L-carnitine can trigger more seizures.
More rare side effects include muscle weakness in uremic patients and
seizures in those with seizure disorders. And if you have kidney
problems (uremic disorder), using L-carnitine can cause muscle

The L-carnitine dosage that causes problems is 3 grams a day or more.

Spironolactone Cream. A cream using 5% concentration of
spironolactone  reduced sebum secretions after 8 weeks of use,
according to a 1996 study from Niigata University School of Medicine in
Japan. Spironolactone is a steroid used to treat
high blood pressure.

The cream was used in the study for 8 weeks but the improvements in
sebum secretion showed up 4 weeks later, 12 weeks after the
participants started using the cream.

Orthosiphon stamineus leaf extract. Orthosiphon stamieus is a plant  
that grows in the tropics.  A 2011 study from BASF Beauty Care
Solutions in France disovered that an extract from this plant is effective
at reducing sebum secretion and the size of facial pores.

The study noted that this plant extract worked even better than zinc
gluconate, which is an ingredient often used in oily skin products.

Saw Palmetto.  A solution made of saw palmettto herb, sesame
seeds and argan oil was found to be effective in reducing sebum
secretion.  This 2007 study was from the Department of Dermatology,
Medical University in  Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

After 4 weeks of treatment with the solution, sebum was reduced by
20% and oily skin by 42%.


Certain plant extracts, "Hippophae rhamnoides" and "Cassia fistula",
were tested on patients with acne vulgaris and found to significantly
reduce sebum, according to a 2014 study led by Dr. Khan of Islamia
University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan. The solution was applied for 12
weeks. A word of caution is in order. These same plant extracts were
found in other studies by the same team to have skin whitening


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Extracts of the saw palmetto herb
have anti sebum properties.