Does the Oil Cleansing Method Work?

Nicki -

Hello! Let me first just say that I love your blog, so informative and well-researched (I have my PhD and am a researcher myself so I especially appreciate the scientific quality of it and I am always interested in reading about new products that come out :)

…What do you think of the “oil cleansing method” for cleaning the face? From what I have read, it involves combining olive or safflower oil with castor oil (altering the ratio depending on how oily your skin is) – apparently this helps produce clearer skin. Is there any truth to this? Or should one just stick with salicylic acid and benzoyl cleansers to help with breakouts?  I have fairly oily and breakout prone skin and was wondering if there was evidence that these ingredients might actually help with my skin issues – thanks in advance!

Sincerely, 
Curious Cleanser

Dear Curious Cleanser,

There are a lot of beliefs out there about cleanser.   While it is true harsh cleansers can strip away some of the natural oils on the skin, leaving it dry and irritated, most dermatologists say the vast majority of traditional cleansers are fine for the skin.  I have most often heard excellent reviews from dermatologists about Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser at the drugstore, and from aestheticians about Eve Lom Facial Cleanser in department stores.

Even if there is nothing wrong with traditional cleansing methods, The Oil Cleansing Method is quickly emerging as one of the fastest-growing natural beauty trends in the country.  The method is based on the chemical concept that “like dissolves like,” meaning that the oil on your skin would dissolve in an oil-based formula, rather than the traditionally water-based formulas used today.  There are four components commonly mixed in The Oil Cleansing Method:

  • Extra virgin olive oil (50%)
  • Castor oil (50%)
  • Jojoba oil (a drop or two)
  • Grapeseed oil (a drop or two)

Although the above formula works for most types of skin, those with oily skin may want to try 60-75% castor oil to 25-40% extra virgin olive oil.  Conversely, those with very dry skin may want to try 25-40% castor oil to 60-75% extra virgin olive oil, as a chemist cleverly suggested at Acne.org.

Does the Oil Cleansing Method Work For Acne?

Castor oil is 90% ricinoleic acid, which has skin smoothing and moisturizing properties.  It is also treat rough skin and mild to moderate acne, according to a 2002 study in Phytotherapy Research.  Castor oil has also been used by Chinese medicine doctors for centuries to treat acne and inflammation.  Although it has never been proven castor oil can eliminate acne, its main chemical component (ricinoleic acid) can undergo a chemical process (ozonolysis) to form azelaic acid, a drug proven to treat mild to moderate acne.   Much of the oil naturally produced on the skin will also dissolve in castor oil, though keep in mind this is treating an undesirable effect of acne, not the cause (bacteria).

Some patients suffering from acne note decreased amounts of oil on their skin after they use The Oil Cleansing Method.   However, I must warn that any patient should see a dermatologist before trying this method, especially patients with cystic acne.  Personally, I would not try it if I had any form of acne unless I saw a physician first.

What Does Olive Oil Do For the Skin?

Olive oil will forever be one of my favorite skin care ingredients, as my Italian grandmother often used it to make homemade pizza, and her hands were as smooth as silk throughout her 70′s.  Science loves olive oil too:  it is a known antioxidant; protects against UV damage (Toxicology, 2003); defends against tumor formation in mice (The Lancet, 2000);  and even contains that other trendy antioxidant, resveratrol (Nature, 2003).  With continued use over time, it is known to soften and smooth the skin.

Warnings about The Oil Cleansing Method

The bottom line is that this method is not for everybody, despite what you might read online elsewhere.  The potential for allergy is significant in those with sensitive skin, as there are numerous reports of contact dermatitis and chelitis from castor oil exposure (Archives of Dermatology, 1961; Contact Dermatitis2000, to cite a few).

Furthermore, even though olive oil has a relatively low irritant potential, it still may cause contact allergy in patients with eczema and large-scale exposure (think industrial workers) (Contact Dermatitis, 2006).   Keep in mind also that not all versions of olive oil are the same.  A 2007 article in The New Yorker reported less than 40% of olive oil sold in U.S. stores contained the proper constituents.  So while you’re trying to get antioxidants and fatty acids restored to your skin, you may just be clogging your pores!

Bottom Line

If you must try The Oil Cleansing Method, I have three suggestions:  One, patch test on a small portion of your skin – the smaller the better, and preferably a portion that is well-hidden by your hair.

Two, try a version of oil cleansing that is purified and manufactured for this purpose.  Two years ago, I tried Love Renaissance Skin Care, using the traditional two-part Japanese oil cleansing method.  One step was oil to remove dirt and debris; the next was a gentle foamy cleanser to remove impurities.  It’s priced at roughly $35 per bottle.  I received a lot of compliments, though I’ve never purchased it again, mainly due to the fact that it’s harder to re-buy than other products, as it is not available online.  In the U.S., it is only available in Honolulu, Hawaii; you can call (808) 923-0991 to order.

Three, if I was going to try The Oil Cleansing Method, I would speak to my dermatologist first, as there is a lot of potential for skin irritation, allergic reaction, and clogged pores.

With that said, thank you to my reader for bringing this to my attention!  And I’d love to hear about your experiences with The Oil Cleansing Method!  Have you tried it?  Has it worked for you?  How long have you used it?   And if you haven’t tried it, what are your specific concerns?  Please feel free to share below in Comments, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter!

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21 thoughts on “Does the Oil Cleansing Method Work?

  1. Rae says:

    I tried this for a week on half of my face to see if there will be a difference. That side of my face got congested with a lot of comedones. This didn’t happen on some though… Nothing is really for everyone.

  2. futurederm says:

    @Rae – I couldn’t agree with you more, there are only a few remedies (i.e., retinoids, sunscreen) that are virtually universal, and even then there are always the rare case studies of allergic reactions or whatnot. I think too far many people have sensitive skin to recommend The Oil Cleansing Method on a universal basis.

  3. Erin says:

    I tried it 3 years ago. I have slightly oily skin that is acne prone. It was nice at first (VERY time consuming) but then it broke me out…..bad! I had really bad cystic acne all over my cheeks. I stopped as soon as that happened. 3 years later I’m still having to deal with the severe scarring.

  4. Sharon says:

    I just tried the oil cleansing method. I have done it twice and it is definately loosening up my blocked pores. My skin feels very soft and no breakouts so far! I used a mixture of castor oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, and a few drops of geranium, lemon, grapefruit, and rosemary essential oils.

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  8. gobo says:

    I use a mixture of castor and almond oils wih a few drops of ylang ylang. I also add pure salicylic acid in powder form. I rub it in for five minutes, then remove with a very hot cloth then roughly dry with a towel. My nose looks much clearer (greyish pores due to constant clogging) and my chin has cleared up almost completely (white heads and blocked pores). I’ve been using this for a few months now and it does leave my skin feeling amazingly soft.

  9. Zee says:

    I tried this out a couple of weeks ago. I have oily skin and no major acne problems, but I had just developed a small (1cm) patch of blackheads on my cheek and was trying to find a way to treat them. After using the OCM for two days, my skin felt so soft and smooth, blackhead free, then I broke out..badly. I’ve never had this kind of breakout before in my life, its like my face is covered in sandpaper, blackheads and tiny whiteheads, and its all red and splotchy. 5 weeks later, stopped all soap facial cleansers because they made it worse, and my face is still sandpaper-ey and flakey and horrible. Going to a dermatologist the minute my exams are over :(

  10. Nicki says:

    @Zoe – Ohmigosh I’m SO sorry to hear that this happened to you. Although I understand why many people are in favor of “natural” products, the lack of regulation troubles me somewhat, because things like this can happen. Usually (though not always), because cosmetic companies feel they would be held responsible if a consumer has a bad reaction like yours, they are careful to extremely careful to make sure their products will not aggravate the skin. I’m so sorry to hear this happened to you – please follow up with what your dermatologist says/recommends and if it worked for you, in case this happens to anyone else.

  11. Hope says:

    I have been doing the OCM for about a month. I use EVOO and Castor Oil. I’ve gotten pretty fast with the process (no more time consuming that a normal face wash and moisturizer) and My skin has done really well. Before, I had a problem with small white heads on m chin and blackheads on my nose and chin. After only a few days the black heads were significantly better, and the white heads much more controlled. The only new breakouts I have had since starting this have occurred when I have fallen asleep and not washed my face (usually more than one day in a row or after working out) I must also add that the oil does a great job of removing my water-proof mascara which even my Este Lauder eye-makeup remover couldn’t do without irritating my eyes and pulling out a few lashes.

    My question is … Can I still use my dermatologist prescribed retinoid on my chin with the occasional breakouts if I am doing this method?

  12. Kellee | FreeTime Ltd. says:

    I have been using OCM for longer than I can remember, and my skin is amazing! I use 2 parts olive oil to 1 part castor oil. I’ve had no reaction to the castor oil despite having a problem with contact dermatitis caused by lots of other things (foods, mostly). I don’t find it at all time consuming. I do it in the shower, and I don’t have to do anything else to my skin – no toner, no moisturizer, etc – so it actually saves me time. I learned about the method from a friend who tried it after years of battling acne. It cleared her skin up completely! My entire circle of friends uses it, and no one has had any issues with it at all.

    I was about to write a post on it on my own blog, singing its praises so I’m glad I’ve now learned that it causes some major problems for some people.

  13. Hyspin says:

    I have done the OCM even though I suffer from eczema and contact dermatitis especially caused by sunscreen. I have combination skin and I found OCM to be far better then any cleanser I have tried, skin is clearer and smoother. If I stop my skin goes back and I suffer from more acne. Also I decided to try salcylic acid blend (by neutrogena), without oil cleansing and it broke me out bad and cause a reaction to my lower lip. So I going OCM and trying one other salcylic acid cleanser this time by Murad. It seems better to do the two process together than the acid cleanser by itself for me. If doesn’t work I will go back to OCM without cleanser. Do note, I also add tea tree oil with this method for it antibacterial qualities which it seems many negate to do.

  14. nikki says:

    I’ve been using coconut oil only for ocm. At first i’d mix it with sweet almond oil and vegetable glycerine but I had better results with coconut I massage it in and remove after shower. I sometimes add honey. My skin is very clear and I love that I can use one product for several things. For the record I’m dry sensitive and have a hx of ecxema

  15. VME says:

    THANK YOU! Finally a well balanced post about OCM backed up with research. I commend you for encouraging people to think twice before trying this method if they are prone to cystic acne and also to speak with their doctor first. I tried OCM a few years ago out of desperation (too bad I didn’t see this post). It only accelerated my acne into a full blown cystic nightmare.

  16. Eileen says:

    I’ve been doing OCM for two months and am finally throwing in the towel. It makes my face feel so soft and smooth when I first wash it off, but my acne has gotten worse instead of better. When I tried increasing the castor oil in my mixture, it dried out my cheeks too much (I have combination skin). I’m going back to cetaphil!

  17. melinda says:

    I have used OCM for going 9 years now. I have oily sensitive skin and used to be prone to acne, sometimes developing cysts along the jawline. No cysts at all since I began using OCM.

    I do things a little differently than what is described in these posts. I use only Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). In the summer I might mix 75% olive oil and 25% grapeseed oil if my skin is being a little oilier than usual. Most of the time I just use EVOO though. As with ANY product you have never used on your skin before, it is wise to do a patch test to make sure you have no allergic reactions before proceeding.

    At night I remove my makeup with the oil and tissues. Then using a clean washcloth wrung out in hot tap water wipe any further residue off my face. I wait a few minutes and apply night time treatments. In the morning I rub a small amount of oil into my skin and then rinse in the shower. Blot dry, use some sort of antioxidant (to help the sunscreen work better) and then zinc oxide based sunscreen spf 30.

    That is pretty much it. Not complicated or time consuming at all. It does work for me and has for quite a long time.

  18. Ashley says:

    Thank you for this post! I have been trying OCM for 2 months now and have NEVER had my skin this bad. My chin, jawline, and above my lip have been going haywire. Everything I read said “give it time for it is detoxing your skin” or “you will see results after a few weeks”. Well…I am STILL waiting to see results. I do not know if this is because I had an allergic reaction to a spray I was using on my face about 6 weeks prior to starting OCM (thus forming many small whiteheads ALL over my face) and therefore it is purging all that out or what. I am at a loss. I want this to work, but I do not want to look like a teenager going through puberty when I am 27 years old. I have been to a dermatologist when I was a teen and all they wanted to do is fill my body with unnatural products so I am a bit leering about seeking out their help.

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