What are the benefits of face oils? How do you use them.... and do you need one even if you have oily skin? The answer depends on the quality and specific oils chosen.
Face oils are popular for good reason but know that many products market as 'face oils' are not pure oils. Some also have staggeringly high prices that don't equate to higher quality or effectiveness. Understand the benefits of face oil to pick one that fits your skin's needs and your complexion goals and budget.
What are the 3 main benefits of using a face oil?
A well-made face oil can,
- restore and heal barrier damaged skin,
- provide bountiful antioxidants and vitamins for your skin, and
- quiet redness and irritation.
This translates into healing chapped or irritated skin, reducing skin flaking, fighting skin dehydration, and improving skin crepeiness. Depending on the blend of oils, a face oil can also soothe redness, resist microbial skin overgrowth, support a healthy skin microbiome and provide added antioxidants and vitamins to boost skin vitality.
What are Face Oils?
Products labeled 'Face Oil' can vary widely. The classic dermatologist-approved skin care oil used cosmetically and therapeutically was mineral oil. Mineral oil is a refined petroleum product with limited benefits beyond being an occlusive oil that prevents transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
More recently, botanical oils have replaced mineral oil. My opinion is that this is a hugely beneficial evolution. Products may be made from a blend of botanical oils or be crafted from a single botanical oil. Single oils commonly sold as face oils include:
- jojoba oil
- rosehip oil
- grapeseed oil
- marula oil
- chia seed oil
- argan oil
Each of these oils has benefits, especially when cold pressed and organic. My preference, however is to blend oils to create synergistic therapeutic benefits.
Most face oils are made from a mixture of oils. The nicest oils are usually a combination of carrier oils that lack significant fragrance and are fairly inert relative to skin allergenicity. These are mixed with fragrant plant oils (essential oils, which are concentrated extracts derived from plants). Essential oils are more likely to cause allergic reactions so you want to use them in diluted concentrations.
Both carrier oils and essential oils may impart benefits to the skin based on their content of fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and emollient (moisturizing) characteristics.
Know that there is actually no strict definition for products labeled as 'Facial Oils'. This means that you need to read the ingredient list on the label to see everything that is in a product. - Dr. Bailey
Face oils can also be called Booster Oils and Beard Oils. This means that products marketed with these names can be similar or vary widely. It also means that face oils are not just for the face!
How do you Use Face Oils?
You can apply them directly to your skin or you can mix a few drops into your favorite moisturizer to boost the lipid content and skin barrier replenishing effect of your moisturizer. To do this, apply a dollop of moisturizer to your palm, add a few drops of face oil, blend them together and apply the mixture to your face. This is what I personally like to do.
A man can also use a face oil as a beard oil to condition the hair and skin of his beard and mustache. I provide more information on how to use a beard oil here.
Are Face Oils Right for You?
If your skin suffers from dryness, flaking or a tight feel then face oils may help hydrate, soften and soothe the dryness. If your skin care routine includes products that can dry or irritate your skin, such as acne or age-fighting treatments, a face oil can help to keep your skin barrier strong. People prone to rosacea and facial seborrheic dermatitis often find a face oil helpful to control these conditions.
Which Facial Oils are Best?
This depends on your skin and its needs. Some of the component oils feel better on your unique complexion than others. For example, rosehip oil is considered a “dry oil” meaning it absorbs readily into skin without leaving much residual oily feel. In contrast, oils such as coconut oil or olive oil, will sit with a rich and somewhat heavy oil feel on skin. If your skin is extremely dry these may feel better.
Some oils are also potent allergens and, as a dermatologist, I think these should be avoided. These are often the highly concentrated fragrant essential oils found in many Facial Oils. My preferred Face Oils combine carrier oils into specific formulations with low concentrations of essential oils for anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-oxidant benefits. I also find that most people prefer oils that absorb readily into the skin instead of sitting on the skin and leaving a heavy and oily residue.
I formulated my Omega Enriched Face Booster Oil with borage oil (one of the best sources of the essential fatty acid gamma-linoleic acid, which is proven to have strong anti-inflammatory and barrier repair benefits for skin health).
I blended these therapeutic essential oils with:
- jojoba oil (which mimics skin’s natural sebum to condition skin and hair),
- kakui oil (used in Hawaii for hundreds of years),
- castor seed oil (with unique fatty acid content used as a healing oil in Greece since ancient times),
- sunflower oil (rich in oleic acid, and vitamins and proven to heal skin barrier),
- argan oil (which has been used for centuries in Morocco and shown to have many benefits including helping resolve skin hyperpigmentation problems), and
- rosehip oil and pomegranate seed oil (both with numerous antioxidant, vitamin and anti-inflammatory benefits).
My Omega Enriched Face Booster Oil absorbs quickly into skin and is light weight yet deeply hydrating. The formulation is hypoallergenic and can be used directly applied to skin or you can add a few drops to your moisturizer to boost its emollient benefits.
Additional ways to benefit from a Face Oil such as my Omega Enriched Booster Oil
A really good Face Oil can be used on more than just facial skin:
- Soften and heal dry nails by rubbing a few drops onto your fingernails.
- Enrich your body lotion or cream with a few drops to hydrate arm and leg skin to a satiny flake-free texture.
- Men with facial hair can apply a few drops on their fingertips and rub the oil in upwards fashion onto the skin under their beard to fight beardruff then pat the rest on surface of their beard to condition the hair.
- Dry scalp skin and hair can benefit from lipid replenishment using a few drops of oil warmed between your fingertips and spread onto your scalp and through your hair.
Oils have been used for skin health for thousands of years. After a short romance with mineral oil, we once again have beautiful botanical oil formulations that blend scientific knowledge with botanical natural oils.
Are all face oils safe?
No! Some oils are allergens and others will irritate skin. It is important to be aware of this. I have seen patients with allergic reactions to some face oils. I have also seen face oil products that I would definitely not recommend.
Face Oils to Avoid
As a dermatologist, I recommend avoiding face oils made with the most common essential oil allergens. - Dr. Bailey
For example, many face oil products contain citrus, which is a potent allergen and can cause a UV light reaction (phototoxic reaction) that can burn and damage skin. Other oils with high allergen or irritant potential include tea tree oil, peppermint oil, Ylang-ylang, lemongrass, rosemary oil and sandalwood oil. At low concentrations, some of these oils (such as peppermint, rosemary and tea tree) may be well tolerated. In higher concentrations, they become riskier for causing an allergic or irritant reaction. Applying a full-strength essential oil is called applying it ‘neat’, and in my dermatologic opinion, essential oil should not be applied to skin neat.
Can you benefit from a Face Oil if you have oily skin or acne?
The answer is yes and yes. Even people with oily skin and a tendency for acne or clogged pores may need to heal damaged skin barrier. For example, irritation from acne treatment products, wind chapping and facial seborrhea can all occur on oily complexions. They all indicate damaged skin barrier. A good face oil, like my Omega Enriched Face Oil, can help.
How to use a face oil if you have oily skin or are acne-prone
I recommend that you pick a face oil that is light weight. Avoid heavier oils that lay on the skin such as coconut oil. Apply your face oil to areas of your skin that are prone to dryness. I like to recommend using just a few drops to boost the emollient lipid concentration of your moisturizer. If you have really oily skin, you may prefer doing this at bedtime. You may also want to use the face oil on the peripheral areas of your face where skin is more prone to dryness and not on the oilier 'T-zone' area.
Will a face oil clog your pores?
Typically, no. The term we use is comedogenicity and it indicates an ingredient's ability to cause clumping of dead cells and plugs in pores. The problem is that comedogenicity is an old concept that was defined by applying ingredients to rabbit ears. Human complexions are very different and each human has their own unique triggers for clogged pores. Those triggers also vary over time due to stress, diet, your entire skin care routine etc.
I recommend doing a 'use test' with new products if you are prone to acne; add a new product by applying it to a small area of your face for 2 weeks. If you don't get pimples or blackheads in that area then you can try the product on the rest of your face.
Should you Use Face Oils?
Yes, I think all but the oiliest and acne prone facial complexions benefit from them. They are especially useful to resist seasonal dryness and barrier irritation from strong skin care routines. I use my Omega Enriched Face Oil almost every night either blended with my moisturizer or on top of my Retinol Night Cream. The borage oil and sea buckthorn oil help keep my skin barrier soothed and strong while using products that help to reduce the signs of skin aging. During the day, I add a few drops to my Daily Moisturizing Face Cream.
Many people feel that Face Oils deeply hydrate their skin, soothe dryness and inflammation, and help keep their skin radiant and soft.
The bottom line with Face Oils:
The important point is to choose a Face Oil formulated with carrier oils that have low potential for allergenicity, that absorb well into the skin and are mixed with botanical essential oils in safe amounts that resist allergenicity or irritancy.
I’m a huge fan of Face Oils, and that’s why I made my own! As a dermatologist who has seen the full gambit of dry skin, facial eczema, facial inflammatory conditions AND allergic reactions and phototoxic reactions to allergens – I’ve blended what I think is the perfect therapeutic face oil formulation into my Omega Enriched Face Oil and it is appropriate for all skin types.
Author: Dr. Cynthia Bailey M.D. is a Board Certified dermatologist practicing dermatology since 1987. She has done well over 200,000 skin exams during her career and authors the longest running physician written skin health blog in the world.
“I love empowering people to take good care of their skin by educating them and putting the ‘self-care’ into their skin care so that they love the skin they’re in!” Dr. Bailey
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