Does the Oil Cleansing Method Work?

Skin Care

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 ResearchCastor 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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