Facial oils have been all of the rage for the past 3-4 years or so. Given their continued popularity, they are unlikely to go anywhere, and many consider them to be a safe alternative to creams or serums.
However, facial oils aren’t without their concerns. Here are 5 little-known things about facial oils:
1.) Some facial oils may increase the penetration of other ingredients into the skin.
It’s super important to make sure that skin care ingredients penetrate your skin. Even the most ingredient-rich skin care product does little to nothing if it doesn’t have the right delivery system! In fact, the effectiveness of topical skin care is dependent upon just two things: 1.) how much of the ingredient is retained in the skin, and 2.) how much is absorbed into the skin (University of California at Urvine).
Ingredient absorption is particularly important if you have a resistant skin type, or on certain areas of the skin. We all know that our knees and elbows can get rough and resistant, but so can sun-exposed areas of the face: upper cheeks, nose, and forehead. These areas tend to be more resistant to skin care, particularly after the summer months and with aging, so it’s important to use formulations that will actually penetrate the skin and be absorbed.
But of all of the skin care oils I have reviewed, emu goes towards the top: Emu oil has been found to have better skin penetrating abilities than mineral oil (Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 2007). This means that emu oil may help to increase the penetration of other key ingredients into the skin, as when it is used with retinoids, antioxidants, AHAs, or even other oils.
Other oils that have been proven in studies to increase the absorption of other ingredients into the skin include jojoba oil, castor oil, olive oil, and many essential oils. For better or worse, essential oils have been shown to increase the penetration of other ingredients in the skin up to 30-fold (International Journal of Pharmaceutics, 1989; Drug Discovery Today, 2007). I’ve written an opinion article on essential oils here.
2.) Avoid Almond, Avocado, Olive, Sesame, Castor, and Apricot Oils if You Have Dry Skin
If you have dry skin, keep the olive oil on your plate – not on your face. Olive oil will trap moisture into your skin as an occlusive agent, but if you don’t have much skin moisture to begin with, this doesn’t help. Of course, olive oil makes a great moisturizer for normal skin types.
There are two kinds of oils: Occlusive agents and emollients.
It may sound counterintuitive, but some skin oils will not help dry skin. This is because certain oils act as occlusive agents, which trap existing moisture into the skin, not adding moisture. Dr. David E. Bank, M.D., the Director of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, New York, explains it best:
“Dry skin is actually low in water, not in oil. That’s why most moisturizers list water as the first ingredient in the label. You need to realize that water, not oil, is the first ingredient you need to add moisture back into the skin.”
Oils that are occlusive agents and not great for dry skin include almond, apricot, avocado, sesame, and olive. So if you’ve been using these alone on your dry skin, expecting hydrated skin, think again.
3.) Use Argan, Coconut, Palm, and Pequi Instead for Dry Skin.
Emollients help to hold onto moisture as well, but they go one step further, increasing skin’s permeability (and therefore the amount of water skin can hold) (Skin Therapy Letters, 2001).
However, not all emollients are created equal. For the really scientifically-minded, the best emollients have medium-to-long-chain hydrocarbons (Dermatitis, 1992), which include linoleic, linolenic, oleic, and lauric, which can be found in palm oil, coconut oil (Skin Therapy Letters, 2001), argan oil, and pequi oil.
Keep in mind that many oils have emollient and occlusive properties. In fact, most emollients will have occlusive properties if you apply too much (Skin Therapy Letters, 2001). However, when we analyze which are emollient and which are occlusive, we decide on the basis of a typical dose.
4.) The Order In Which to Apply a Skincare Oil Depends on the Thickness of the Oil. Follow this Guide.
There is a rule in skin care: Apply the lightest formulation first. This applies not only to serums and moisturizers, but also to skincare oils.
This is against what you may have heard elsewhere about applying oils “over the top” of other skincare products. While applying oils last may give your skin a “glow,” it also traps other ingredients into the skin, and the oil’s beneficial ingredients will not reach the skin very much at all if the underlying products are thicker than the oil itself.
From lightest to heaviest, here are my ranking of oils:
- Tea tree oil (lightest, apply first)
- Sweet almond oil
- Argan oil
- Jojoba oil
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Grape seed oil
- Castor oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil (heaviest, apply last)
By applying oils from lightest to heaviest, you ensure that the beneficial ingredients are able to reach the skin. You also ensure you’re not trapping a thicker oil with comedogenic potential against the skin, under the helm of a lighter oil.
5.) Be careful with ‘boosters’ and skincare oils.
Because certain oils increase the penetration and absorption of beneficial ingredients into the skin, the newfangled skin care “boosters” do, in fact, work on most people.
The only caveat here is to make sure that you use boosters exactly as recommended. If you add just a drop or two more, you can end up with a product that has 20-30% actives, which may sound great, but it can also set you up for irritation, particularly in conjunction with penetration-enhancing skin care oils.
Even worse, if you let skin care boosters be exposed to air for too long, they will tend to dry out and become more concentrated. You see this a lot with glycolic acid-based products — leave them out in the air and they water-based ingredients dissolve, leaving you with a really concentrated treatment! So make sure you use them within a month or two of opening, and keep them tightly sealed.
Skincare oils can be a godsend for those with dry and aging skin if they are well-formulated, as they will increase the penetration of key ingredients deeper into the skin than many creams or serums. However, as with all forms of skincare, it needs to be applied lightest to heaviest in terms of consistency, and you want to be extra careful with boosters and other concentrated skincare applied with oils (since oils will increase the penetration of any ingredients in the oil and any ingredients applied after).