Is the following statement TRUE or FALSE?
Oils are good for any skin type, including oily skin.
The answer is definitely TRUE!
But there is quite a bit of confusion and misinformation when it comes to oils in skincare. For example, I sometimes hear this: “Don’t use an oil if you have oily skin.”
Intuitively, you might think that adding oil to oily skin makes it more oily. But the opposite is true. Oils can actually help oily skin! In fact, some oils regulate oil production and help tame over-active sebaceous glands.
So today’s post is all about face oils – a detailed look at why your skin likes oil, the different ways you can nourish it, what face oils can do for skin, the best oils for each skin type, and tips for applying oil.
The Health of Your Skin Depends On Lipids
Before I dive into oils, it’s important for me to explain something fundamental about skin.
Skin is partially made of lipids (a type of fatty substance). The outer layer of skin (epidermis) is composed of skin cells surrounded by lipids.
Healthy skin is like a strong brick wall. It doesn’t have cracks or holes. If there are any cracks in that brick wall, guess what happens? Leakage. Same thing with skin. Water is lost more easily, and chemicals, allergens, or bacteria are more likely to penetrate skin, causing irritation and inflammation. In other words, the beginning of many skin issues. Acne and sensitized skin are big ones.
What makes that brick wall solid and secure? The lipids mostly. The lipids are responsible for holding that brick wall together, keeping it strong, and trapping water. When you lack lipids, your skin loses strength and softness. Your barrier becomes more susceptible to damage and irritation. And it loses water faster.
Lipids also make up 50% of cell membranes, and they are involved in cell-to-cell signaling. So they are VERY important to skin!
How Does Skin Get Nourished?
Now that you know lipids are a vital component of skin, it’s important you feed them. Lipids are continually lost through cleansing, exfoliation, product usage, dry air, heat, sun, and pollution.
How do the lipids in skin get nourished? In three ways:
- Sebum – your skin naturally produces a type of oil, called sebum. That oil is produced by the sebaceous glands, which are attached to pores (the technical term for a pore is follicle).
- Diet – eating foods that are rich in fatty acids or taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements
- Skincare Products – applying oils or oil-rich (emollient) products to skin
Sometimes, diet alone isn’t sufficient to nourish skin. Especially when the weather is harsh or with increasing age, when sebum production slows down. This is when applying a face oil can help a lot.
Lipids are composed of fatty acids. So if you want more lipids, you give it more fatty acids!
Oils are a rich source of fatty acids, which makes them highly nourishing for skin.
The Benefits of Using A Face Oil
Because oils are composed of fatty acids (just like the lipids in the epidermis), they penetrate skin easily. This characteristic makes oil an excellent moisturizer.
Oils also do an excellent job of repairing damaged skin. If your skin barrier has been compromised (has micro cracks), an oil quickly repairs the damage by filling in those cracks.
Oils also lubricate skin and lock in moisture by creating an occlusive barrier over skin. (Occlusive means to block.)
An occlusive barrier does two things:
- Prevents things on the outside from entering skin
- Delays internal water from evaporating into air.
The net effect is skin that stays moist longer.
Many face oils today are made of plant oils, which offer extra benefits for skin, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. So in addition to strengthening your skin barrier, an oil can do much more.
Who Is Oil Good For?
- dry skin
- damaged skin/compromised barrier – due to physical or chemical trauma to skin, excessive sun exposure, poor habits, and other assaults to skin
- inflamed skin
- acneic skin – especially if dried out from drying acne treatments
- oily skin – especially if dried out from over-cleansing or aggressive oil-control products
In theory, anyone can use an oil. In practice, it’s a bit more complicated to figure out which oil is suitable for your skin, which brings me to my next point..
What Matters In An Oil
Not all oils are created equal.
You have to find a good quality oil – by quality, I mean the source of the ingredients in the oil and the method of production. Those two factors can create very different oils.
Plant oils, in particular, are tricky due to their potential to cause allergic reactions or clog pores. The way the oil is extracted and purified matters, especially when it comes to essential oils. Impure, adulterated oils may contain elements that are sensitizing to skin.
Some people break out from oils. This is not necessarily because the oil is comedogenic (pore-clogging). If you are allergic or sensitive to a particular plant ingredient, an oil that contains that ingredient can make you break out too (due to inflammation).
So, it’s important to choose a high quality oil. Highly refined oils are less likely to be irritating and comedogenic. Plus they absorb faster.
What Kinds of Oils Are Good For Skin?
Oils are hot now. Today, you can find a range of oils – from single source oils to blends of 10-15 different oils. There’s always a new flavor of the month – argan, marula, moringa, wild carrot, you name it!
And now the latest trend is oils that contain additional anti-aging ingredients, such as antioxidants or peptides. Oils are no longer just for nourishing skin. They are skin multi-taskers!
The best oils for skin are the ones with rich sources of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
Omega 3 and Omega 6 are two major groups of fatty acids in skin:
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
- ALA – Alpha Linolenic Acid – this is an Essential Fatty Acid*
- EPA – Eicosapentaenoic Acid
- DHA – Docosahexaenoic Acid
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
- LA – Linoleic Acid – this is an Essential Fatty Acid*
- GLA – Gamma Linolenic Acid
- and 9 others
*An Essential Fatty Acid is called ‘essential’ because it cannot be synthesized by the human body. The fatty acid must be obtained from dietary sources.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are potent anti-inflammatory agents.
Gamma Linolenic acid (GLA), which is synthesized from Linoleic acid, also has potent calming action.
Acne and Oily Skin Need Essential Fatty Acids
By now you know that fatty acids are essential structural components of skin.
There’s something else you should know – Essential Fatty Acids are a component of human sebum.
An oil applied topically to acneic or oily skin can address a potential lack of essential fatty acids, and thereby control excess oil production.
Many acne treatments tend to be drying too. So an oil helps to restore any surface oil that has been stripped.
The same goes for oily skin that has been over-cleansed. Over-cleansing oily skin will actually lead to more production of sebum!
The important thing for oily or acneic skin is your choice of oil, how you apply it, and how frequently you use it. Too much oil at one time or applying oil too frequently can lead to clogged pores, even if the oil is perfectly fine.
Good Oils For Each Skin Type
There are many plant oils used in skincare products today. Way too many to cover. But I’d like to point out a few particularly good ones that are easy to find and won’t break the bank.
The following oils are all compatible for human skin and contain a high amount of essential fatty acids. They also offer antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, or anti-bacterial benefits.
Acne-Prone or Oily Skin
Jojoba oil – closely resembles human sebum and is therefore easily absorbed by skin. As a result, less sebum is produced, and oil levels are more balanced. Not comedogenic either, so an excellent choice for acne-prone skin.
Borage Seed oil – excellent source of omega-6 fatty acids, in particular GLA (gamma linolenic acid), which provides anti-inflammatory relief to inflamed skin
Grape Seed oil – helps balance oil levels and acts as an astringent, so good for acne-prone skin, also rich in polyphenols and proanthocyanidins
Apricot Kernel oil – absorbs easily, ideal for oily and sensitive skin
Sea Buckthorn oil – rich in Vitamin E (a crucial ingredient that protects lipids from free radical oxidation) and beta carotene
Tea Tree oil – has anti-bacterial properties
Squalane oil – a skin-identical ingredient that combats over-active sebaceous glands
Sensitive or Damaged Skin
All of the oils above (for Oily/Acneic Skin)
Evening Primrose oil – rich in linoleic acid and GLA (gamma linoleic acid), high in antioxidants
Sunflower oil – very high in Vitamin E, which protects the lipids in cell membranes from free radicals (lipid peroxidation)
Normal or Dry Skin
Guess what? You’re a lucky one. You can use any kind of oil! You have a world of options, provided that you’re not allergic to any of the plant ingredients.
Blends of plant oils will offer the most benefits. There are so many phytochemicals in plant oils that all of them will confer some useful protective or reparative benefits.
Let your own preferences be your guide, which is the next point..
Oil Preferences – Scent, Weight, and Viscosity
For me, three things matter the most when it comes to picking an oil – scent, weight, and viscosity.
Face oils made with plant oils are concentrated and therefore smell more strongly than any other facial product.
You have to like how your product smells or you won’t use it. Don’t choose an oil just because it happens to be the most popular one promoted in the media or by beauty bloggers.
Skin chemistry is different for each person.
Try it on yourself, and you be the judge!
Weight is how it feels on your skin. Is it light, medium, or heavy? Some are super light and almost weightless, you barely notice there’s anything on your skin. And some are quite heavy. You can feel the weight of the oil on your face. Generally, when they’re heavy, you can also see it (an oil slick).
What do you like? There’s no right or wrong type. This is a matter of personal preference.
How to Apply A Face Oil
Oils are concentrated and extremely emollient, so you need only a few drops for the face.
It is best to apply oils at night. During the day, an oil may make your face look shiny. If you wear makeup, the makeup might not spread, absorb, or set properly. Or worse, it might slide later.
There are different ways to apply oil. Some brands have their own recommended methods of applying an oil. For example, rubbing it in the hands to warm it up first.
But I personally do not think it really matters as long as you don’t apply too much.
If you have oily skin, you’ll want to be light-handed in your application and follow Method 1 below.
Method 1 – Patting
Best for oily or combo skin.
- Put 1-2 drops of oil on a finger
- With another finger from your other hand, spread the oil over both fingers
- Pat your two fingers into skin over the areas you want to treat – either the areas that are dry or dehydrated, or over the whole face
- If you run out of oil, add another drop and repeat
Method 2 – Rubbing
Best for dry skin.
- Put a drop of oil onto a finger
- Apply the oil to your skin and quickly rub it over an area of skin
- Repeat Steps 1-2 one drop at a time until your face is fully moisturized
- If you choose to apply oil around the eyes, press the oil into skin, traveling around the eye. Don’t rub your finger under the eyes where the tissue is extremely thin and delicate. And don’t go too close to the eye. The oil will migrate toward the eye. More here on How to Apply Eye Cream for Optimal Results.
This method uses more oil than Method 1. That’s fine since dry skin needs more oil.
Mixing Oil With Moisturizer
But don’t mix a batch of oil with moisturizer and save it for later use. Only mix each time you’re ready to moisturize – enough for just one use.
Why? Oil oxidizes easily, which means it gets degraded quickly. Know what rancid cooking oil or fat smells like? Face oils can go rancid too.
Light and oxygen are the biggest triggers of oxidation. But ingredients in skincare products can cause oxidation too. So keep your oils away from light, keep them tightly sealed, and don’t mix them with anything else until you need to.
How Often Should You Use A Face Oil?
A face oil is versatile. It’s a product that can be used every day, or just whenever you need it.
I am a cream person, so oils are not a part of my daily routine. I tend to use oils only in the winter when the climate is dry and my skin craves oil. This is not because I don’t like oils. I just really enjoy creamy textures and will always choose a cream over oil if my skin is normal.
I also use an oil whenever my skin feels raw. It’s a signal to me that my skin barrier is damaged.
If You Have Acne or Oily Skin
If you have acne or oily skin, applying oil every day could potentially lead to clogged pores. It depends on the oil.
I would recommend that you use an oil at most every other day or every few days. You can increase the frequency gradually if the oil doesn’t clog your pores. Also, treat only the areas where you need the oil.
My Favorite Oils
These are my favorite oils right now. As I mentioned earlier, my favorites are primarily driven by scent, and then by weight. I prefer medium-weight oils and am not a fan of heavy oils or super light oils.
- NUDE Progenius Treatment Oil
- Jurlique Skin Balancing Face Oil
- Fresh Seaberry Oil
- Darphin Jasmine Aromatic Care Oil
- Goldfaden MD Fleuressence Oil
- Rodin Face Oil