How to Get the Maximum Benefit from Skin Oils

Argan oil is one of the oils that are acceptable for dry skin.

Oils are extremely popular on the market right now.  From cult favorite mixtures like Rodin Olio Lusso Skin Oil to 100% pure argan oil, large-scale and boutique beauty companies alike are each premiering their own natural or organic oil concoctions.

However, as with synthetic beauty products, not all natural oils are created equal.  Keep the following in mind:

1.)  Avoid Almond, Avocado, Olive, Sesame, Castor, and Apricot Oils if You Have Dry Skin.

A 1-liter glass bottle and bowl Bertolli brand...
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.

2.)  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.

3.)  Don’t Try Mixing Oils at Home.

Oil tasting, BAIA October 2006 Wine Tasting, C...
Mixing oils at home can lead to comedogenicity (clogged pores) and irritation.

Over recent years, the oil cleansing method has become very popular on the internet.  Those with oily skin are advised to use 60-75% castor oil mixed with 25-40% extra virgin olive oil, but those with very dry skin are suggested to use 25-40% castor oil to 60-75% extra virgin olive oil.  [Read more:  Does the Oil Cleansing Method Work?]

There is admittedly some valid science here.  Castor oil has been shown to alleviate acne (Phytotherapy Research, 2002), while olive oil has protective antioxidant properties (Toxicology, 2003).  But you should NOT mix these oils yourself.

Just like doctors go through rigorous training to treat your body, cosmetic chemists undergo years of schooling to concoct formulas for your skin.  Many hold Ph.D’s and are doctors in their own right, while others learn the ropes through years of laboratory training.  But the point here is, just like you wouldn’t mix your own drugs, you should not mix your own skin care at home.  There are numerous reports of contact dermatitis and chelitis from castor oil exposure (Archives of Dermatology, 1961; Contact Dermatitis2000, to cite a few), as well as olive oil (Contact Dermatitis, 2006).

What’s more, a 2007 article in The New Yorker reported less than 40% of olive oil sold in U.S. stores contained the proper constituents.  So do yourself (and your skin) a favor, and trust the chemists/professionals.  For oil-based cleansers formulated by experts, I like Olivella Cleansing Wipes, the Amore Pacific Cleansing System, Eve Lom Cleanser, and the cleansing formulas from Love Renaissance.

4.)  Unless You Have Oily/Acne-Prone Skin, Apply Immediately After Showering.

To get the maximum benefit from skin oils, apply right after showering. This can also help all types of oils work better for those with dry skin.

As I said before, even emollient oils can become occlusive when you apply too much, so dry skin isn’t really benefiting very much.  (Trapping zero moisture under the skin leaves you with, well, zero moisture!)  On the other hand, applying oils after showering helps to seal the moisture into the skin.  It may be annoying if you shower in the morning – putting clothes on a still-wet self is not a vision you see in Vogue – but if you bathe in the evening, it is wonderful to apply oils after, especially if you put on a 100% cotton robe afterwards.

5.)  If You Have Oily/Acne-Prone Skin, Use Oils Only to Cleanse – Never to Treat.

Sammy washing face
Oil dissolves oil, so oily/acne-prone skin can benefit from small amounts of oil-based cleansers occasionally. Truth be told, cleansers with salicyclic acid are better. (Photo credit: danielcraig)

Oil-based cleansers are great because like dissolves like in chemistry.  So a oil-based cleanser can dissolve oils within your skin.  Tremendous.

But oil-based treatment products are not great for those with oily/acne prone skin because they only contribute to pores that are already filled with sebum, overproducing oil.  So do yourself a favor and nix this trend altogether if you have oily/acne-prone skin.

Bottom Line

A few take-home points:

  • Those with dry skin will not benefit much, if at all, from oils like almond, apricot, avocado, castor, and olive.  These oils are occlusive agents that trap existing moisture into the skin.  But if you don’t have much moisture in your skin to begin with, these won’t help much.
  • Those with dry skin are better suited to oils like palm, coconut, pequi, and argan.  These oils contain fatty acids with more medium-to-long chain hydrocarbons.  As a result, they function as emollients, which increase the amount of moisture skin is capable of holding while binding to water and oils within the skin.  Keep in mind, however, that applying too much of these oils makes them solely occlusive – so you’re just trapping moisture in, not allowing your skin to add any, even with its increased capacity to hold moisture.
  • Never mix your own skin care oil products at home.  The risk for comedogenicity and irritation is simply too high.
  • Apply oils immediately after showering.
  • If you have oily or acne-prone skin, skip oils altogether.

Hope this helps,



Enhanced by Zemanta

Check our bestsellers!

Recent Posts