Natural oils, such as coconut oil, shea butter oil, and olive oil, have been used for skincare and hair care for centuries. Despite the popularity of face oils, I realize that there are still plenty of people who are as intimidated as I was. Here’s the key: You have to figure out which face oil is right for your skin, and start slowly with just a drop or two. Counter-intuitive as it sounds, oils can be your savior when you suffer from breakouts or acne. Like traditional anti-acne products, many oils contain anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and soothing compounds.
If the word oil throws you off, we get it. Maybe it’s because the idea of putting oil on, say, your acne-prone face seems certifiably insane (it isn’t), or maybe your skin is so sensitive you think you can’t use an oil (you can), or maybe you just think the whole concept of face oils is too confusing for your low-maintenance needs (it definitely is not). These days, though, we know that not all oils are created equal, and while some might break us out, the right elixirs can transform even the most blemish-prone complexions.
The right oil can actually help balance out oil production and help kick acne to the curb. Acne isn’t caused by oils. Most people with acne have dry skin secondary to washes and medications, like Differin, RetinA, or benzoyl peroxide. But unlike some popular spot-fighters, oils are also packed with vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants to heal, protect and hydrate sore, put-upon skin. And no, they won’t clog your pores and make you go even oilier. But which oils should you use, and how? What’s the difference between them.
Certain face oils are high in linoleic acid, helping to bring balance back to blemish-prone skin.
Studies have found that the sebum of acne-prone individuals tends to be deficient in a certain type of fatty acid called linoleic acid, and that topical application of linoleic acid can help reduce breakouts.
Antioxidant-rich face oils prevent sebum oxidation, a key player in blemishes and acne.
Topical antioxidants have been found to help prevent sebum oxidation and as a result decrease the frequency and severity of breakouts. Several studies have shown that acne patients experience more oxidative stress than people with clear skin. This oxidative stress causes sebum oxidation or the oxidation of the skin’s oil. Many researchers believe this sebum oxidation is the trigger that kicks starts acne since oxidized sebum is incredibly comedogenic (pore-clogging) and causes inflammation in the skin.
Face oils help to break up the gunk trapped in pores.
When it comes down to it, a zit or blackhead is nothing more than a sticky mess of oil and dead skin cells. And since like-dissolves-like (in other words, oil and water don’t mix but water and water do mix as do oil and oil), applying oil to the skin can help to break up this sticky mess and clear it from the pore.
Oils help regulate the skin’s oil production.
Applying oil to the skin can actually “trick” it into producing less sebum (its oil). Not to mention that often, the skin will produce more sebum to counteract harsh, drying skincare products, and face oils help bring balance by deeply nourishing the skin.
Many people try and combat congested skin by using harsh, stripping products that remove all oils from the skin. This causes the skin to over-compensate for the reduction of oils by producing even more, which in turn worsens the congestion. And let’s get the whole texture issue out of the way: because of their different molecular weights, many oils feel more like a serum or essence so you’re not stuck feeling sebum-ridden.
A factor to consider before using natural oils is how soon you intend to be in the sun after applying them. If you are using them on the face, I would be very careful. Because they are oils, it’s an intensified effect of using radiation on facial skin. One way to avoid sun damage when using natural oils is to apply them differently at different times of the day. In the morning, consider applying a thin layer to your skin (it should absorb in about 15 minutes). At night, when you aren’t exposed to the sun, feel free to apply oil liberally. You’ll know you’ve applied too much if your skin isn’t absorbing it.
Dermalogist suggests sealing in moisture and using the oil as the last step, after moisturizing. When you use a moisturizer for oily skin, it’s generally lightweight and oil-free so you want these ingredients to absorb into the skin first to avoid any potential blocking or clogging of the pores. Then, you can add a protective layer of oil over your moisturizer to prevent water loss.
But don’t run off and douse your face in olive oil; some oils are better for spot-prone skin than others.
When you’re applying natural oils, you have to make a distinction between the face and the body. Dermatoligst don’t tend to recommend these types of oils for acne, just because these oils could clog your pores and make acne worse. But for that same woman who has acne on her face, coconut oil would be a great moisturizer for her body.
Finding out how much oil suits your needs may require a little trial and error. While there is no research regarding the amount of oil that should be used as a moisturizer, your skin will tell you when enough is enough. If it feels too greasy, that means it hasn’t all been absorbed.
We asked top skincare and aromatherapy experts to pick their faves.
1. Jojoba Oil
Not only is jojoba an incredibly lightweight and breathable oil (making it great for combination skin that still needs some moisture), but, because jojoba breaks down and dissolves sebum, it’ll also help control your shine. It mimics the skin’s sebum, tricking it to produce less oil, which is why it’s especially helpful for individuals with oily skin. Active essential oils cannot penetrate the deeper layers of the skin so should always be contained in a carrier oil like jojoba.
2. Grapeseed Oil
Grapeseed oil contains high levels of linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that can help control acne by decreasing clogged pores. Acne-prone skin is deficient in linoleic acid, making the sebum (oil) thick and sticky, leading to clogged pores. It’s also anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, making it an ideal sidekick in your fight against breakouts, and can be used as a carrier oil for tea tree oil, another potential acne fighter.
3. Tamanu Oil
Tamanuoil has high antibacterial and wound-healing activity against bacterial strains involved in acne. Tamanu oil has been used in traditional medicine for ages, specifically for its ability to speed the healing of wounds by fighting bacteria and increasing cellular regeneration. It also has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibiotic, and antioxidant properties, making it ideal for acne sufferers.
4. Marula Oil
This oil manages to absorb into skin within a few minutes of massaging it on, yet it’s still rich enough to moisturize and calm your dry skin all day—or night—long (thanks to a heavy dose of fatty acids). Marula oil is high in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and amino acids. It’s widely used as an ingredient in skin care products, and appears to be beneficial for oily,acne-prone, dry, and aging skin. It’s also effective at keeping hair soft, supple, and moisturized.
5. Pomegranate Oil
Not only is it naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory (so it’ll help fight zit-causing bacteria in your pores while also calming the rest of your inflamed, broken-out skin), but it’s also incredibly lightweight, so it won’t feel like a greasy mask. One of the significant benefits of the pomegranate seed oil is that it is incredibly hydrating. It’s perfect for applying to your skin during the winter when you can start to get a dull, flaky texture from the cold air outside.
6. Rosehip Seed Oil
Rosehip seed oil is a dry oil that penetrates to the deepest layers of the skin where it regenerates cells, increasing collagen production. It is rich in vitamin C and the essential fatty acids, all of which are known to help heal scar tissue. It is also high in retinoic acid, which studies show reduces the appearance of wrinkles and brightens skin. When you want to treat irritated, angry, red, zit-riddled skin, you bring in the big guns—i.e. rosehip oil. The innocuous oil deeply hydrates skin (without suffocating your pores) with fatty acids that also fade acne scars and reduce redness.
7. Argan Oil
Meet the only face oil you’ll ever need for your perfectly chill face. It’s rich and soothing, it sinks in quickly, and it’s incredibly high in vitamin E—an antioxidant that helps prevent skin damage, dark spots, and fine lines by blocking environmental damage. Argan oil has anti-sebum effects, which can effectively regulate amounts of sebum on the skin. This can help to treat several different types of acne and promote a smoother, calmer complexion. Apply argan oil — or face creams containing argan oil— directly to your skin at least twice a day.
8. Moringa Oil
This overachieving oil is packed with antioxidants (to protect your skin from irritating free radicals), fatty acids (to help repair a dry, damaged skin barrier), and anti-inflammatories (to calm irritated skin). It’s also lightweight, yet still moisturizing enough for dry skin, so you can easily layer it under makeup without creating a gunky mess.
9. Aloe Vera Oil
Just like moringa oil, aloe oil is filled with anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, but it also has the added bonus of being a natural antibacterial and astringent, making it a powerhouse for sensitive skin that’s also oily or acne-prone.
Perhaps the ultimate skin secret, face oil has been used by indigenous people all over the world in various forms for millennia; nothing lasts that long unless it works.