Beginner’s Guide to Face Oils: Answers to 6 Important Questions

Think face oils are a passing fad? Worried about greasy skin and breakouts? Think again! The reason face oils are taking the skincare world by storm is because of their versatility. There absolutely is a face oil, or blend of oils, out there for everyone. In fact, if you have oily skin and breakouts, some face oils can regulate sebum production and bacteria levels, resulting in improvements, healing, and scar reduction.

Water-based, oil-free serums are great in their own right. Certain ingredients like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid are extremely difficult (or impossible) to use in systems that do not contain water or other solvents. However, when it comes to water-based serums, that feeling of "absorbing" into your skin is often caused by evaporation, rather than true penetration into the deeper layers. 

When it comes to "absorbing" into the skin, what we actually want is for ingredients to penetrate. To go beyond the other layers into the deeper structures where cellular actions occur. While things like the size of the molecule do matter, oils and fatty acids have an easier time penetrating (and delivering their active ingredients) because the skin is naturally designed to repel water. 

This is why we love face oils as a primary method for delivering active and effective Performance Botanicals to the deeper layer of your skin. The oils chosen sink in and leave behind skin that is soft, silky, smooth, and not sticky.

Our Guide to Face Oils will get you started:
 

1. What is Sebum?

The sebaceous glands in our skin produce natural oil called sebum. How much (or how little) you produce is mostly affected by genetics and hormones. Sebum moisturizes, waterproofs, and protects your skin. It is composed of about 57% fatty acids, 26% natural waxes, 12% squalene, and 4.5% cholesterol. When pores get plugged by sebum and sloughed cells, you end up with a blackhead or whitehead. If this becomes inflamed or infected, you develop a pimple. While cleansing and exfoliating the skin removes excess sebum and cell buildup, it is important to know that over-washing, over-scrubbing, or using harsh cleansers can strip and dry out your skin enough that it starts producing even more sebum. Sebum isn’t a bad thing; but keeping it regulated and in balance is important for skin health. Squalane and Jojoba Oil are two face oils known to function similarly to your own sebum and can help regulate the levels.
 

2. What is a Face Oil?

A face oil is an anhydrous (contains no water) mixture of oils that may also contain oil-soluble ingredients, such as herbal extracts. While being water-free limits the ingredients that can be used, it also allows the final product to remain as natural and closest to nature as possible. Why you ask? Because by not adding water or water-soluble ingredients, there is no need to add emulsifiers, solubilizers, surfactants, or preservatives. If you have a combination of organic, cold-pressed oils and oil-soluble herbal extracts, you can have a product close to its natural state, without any added chemicals. While some oils may undergo refining, bleaching, and deodorization, most oils that are used for face oils are unrefined and/or cold pressed - leaving all the beneficial components – and nothing else.
 

3. How do Oil Characteristics Differ:

Oils are extracted from various seeds, nuts, kernels, and vegetables. Each are unique and contain different types and percentages of fatty acids, vitamins, phytochemicals, and minerals. The type, ratio, and chemical properties of each is what gives the oil its beneficial or, in some cases, non-beneficial properties.
 

  • Comedogenicity: The degree to which an oil causes clogged pores can be classified according to a scale ranging from 0 (extremely unlikely) to 5 (will clog pores).
In general, oils with a rating of 0-1 are great for all skin types and should be the oils of choice if you have oily skin or are prone to acne. They are often referred to as “dry oils” because they are light and absorb rapidly. The chance of them clogging pores is extremely low. Argan oil and rosehip oil are both well known to be good for skin. Camellia oil and Abyssinian oil are less known but also good for your face. In fact, Crambe Abyssinica oil is rated 0 and should not clog pores at all!
Oils in the 2-3 range are best for people with normal, dry, or mature skin. They may feel a bit heavier at first but will still absorb without leaving a greasy feel and clogged pores are still unlikely for most people. Plum Kernel oil and Avocado oil are good for skin and fall into this category.
Anything rated 4 and 5 should be avoided in face products unless they are needed for a specific purpose or used in a low percentage. This is unfortunately why the answer to the question 'is coconut oil good for my face' is usually no for most people. Coconut oil is good for skin on your body, especially dry skin, but avoid it for your face.

  • Ratio of Omega 6 to 9: Linoleic acid (an Omega 6 that must be obtained from diet) is a lightweight, thin, and easily absorbed essential fatty acid. Oleic acid (an Omega 9) is a bit thicker and feels richer. The ratio, or balance, between the two is a major factor in determining the skin-feel, absorption rate, and whether it is suitable for acne prone skin.
  • Phytochemical and Antioxidant Composition: Cold pressing is the ultimate method of extracting phytonutrients from seeds. These are compounds such as fatty acids (oleic acid, linoleic acid, stearic, palmitic, and myristic), tocopherols, vitamins (i.e., Vitamin A and C), and active substances, such as bakuchiol (from babchi seed oil), ellagic acid (from pomegranate oil), anthrocyanins, resveratrol, sesamin, monolauin, and others. Many of the chemicals extracted have antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory effects. The number and types of extractable compounds is infinite, and each oil is unique. As an example, more than 40 active compounds were identified from the Crambe Abyssinica plant. Over 30 000 compounds have been recognized (categorized as triterpenes) that all originate from the precursor squalene.
 

 

4. Do Face Oils Moisturize?

Skin hydration is determined by how much water stays within your cells. Dehydration is due to water loss and is caused by low humidity, ageing, UV light exposure, low water intake, hot showers, air-conditioned environments, etc. Humectants, such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, work by pulling moisture from the air and bringing it to your skin. If you live in a non-humid area, the humectants will pull water from deeper tissues upwards. This may result in worsening dehydration over time if used alone. Even oily skin can become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration may include: skin sensitivity, more visible lines/wrinkles, and skin tone dullness.

Skin dryness is determined by the amount of oil and lipids present. Dry skin may feel rough and look flaky. Moisturization traps and seals moisture while building the skin’s protective barrier to prevent water loss. Skin that is damaged and irritated will lose more water, but this is not a problem that will be easily fixed by a humectant. Dry skin needs emollients to help reestablish the broken barrier. Severely dry/damaged skin also needs occlusives.

Face oils made with light, absorbable oils will function primarily as emollients. This is why they should be the final step in your skincare routine. That way, humectants will be locked underneath. Some oils like olive and soy can act as occlusives. However, most occlusives are structurally different (i.e., waxes, lanolin, petroleum jelly) and they create a barrier like a sealant that traps moisture. They can be thicker and often are more prone to clogging pores, so your best bet is to start with emollients for your face.

5. If the Combinations are Infinite, How Do You Choose an Oil Right for You?

While the amount of information can be overwhelming and new discoveries are on the horizon, there is a great deal that is known and easy to narrow down for consumers.

  • Know that there is a lot of overlap. Don’t overthink the science. While each oil is unique, a lot of benefits may be comparable. As an example: Rosehip oil is 44% linoleic acid and 13.9% oleic acid. Hemp seed oil is 52% linoleic acid and 10% oleic acid. Both are rated 0-1 on the comedogenic scale. Both are great to try for first-time face oil users of all skin types. Both have different colors and are associated with different results, but experimenting is a lot of fun! You really can’t go wrong trying either (or both!).
  • Have clear expectations. Cold-pressed oils contain a large number of beneficial compounds and can improve your skin. However, they are not potent chemicals. Many are used for the purposes of diluting or carrying other, more active substances. When the oil extraction process occurs, you receive it as nature created it. If you’re looking for drastic clinical effects, then you still need to use more active and concentrated products designed to target a specific skin concern.
  • Just try it! You can absolutely start with a single oil. Do not spend a fortune. After researching what you would like to try, buy an organic (if available) cold-pressed version and try it. When you’re ready to move on to more elaborate oil blends, with or without active ingredients, there is no shortage of well designed, effective, science-based, and safe products on the market.
 

 

6. How and When to Use Face Oils:

Whether your daily routine is 2 steps or 10, face oils are a must-have product for everyone.
 
Skinimalism: If you’re trying to simplify your routine and get down to a single product or two, face oils will still give you a tremendous number of good options. The single-oil approach is as simple as you can get. Slightly more complex, oil blends work by mixing oils to create a more developed and comprehensive product. If your entire daily routine includes only cleansing and a single carrier face oil, your skin will be healthy, soft and glowing. However, if you use only carrier oils, the effects on your skin will be less noticeable than if you use treatment face oils with more active botanicals like Bakuchiol.

While we love the idea of face-oils being a single product solution for everyone, most people need to up their complexity a bit because more benefits come from taking a targeted approach to your skin. Most people need water/humectant containing products and some treatments beyond just a simple oil regimen.
 
If You Love Complexity: Many people have AM and PM routines that change based on their skin type, condition, and the season of the year. Hormones contribute to skin needs and people who menstruate will have cyclic changes. If you’re adding a face oil to your routine, it should be the last product on your face because it seals in all the goodness from your treatment serums and moisturizers.
 
A couple points of caution:

  • Tea tree oil works well for some people with acne. However, it is a skin sensitizer and can increase irritation, especially with ongoing use over time. While tea tree oil is good for acne, the sensitization that occurs for many cause it to be classified as a significant irritant. There are better options.
  • Cocoa, coconut, and marula oils are quite comedogenic. This does not mean that they aren’t great for some, but you should know before starting out with face oils that some are best avoided at first. Coconut oil is amazing for your body, but for most people coconut oil for the face is not a great idea. 
  • If you’re prone to allergy, eczema, or irritation - be careful with essential oils. They may make a product smell amazing and are natural, but they are a regular culprit when someone develops an intolerance or reaction. Some essential oils are good for your face, but many should be avoided especially if you have sensitive skin.

Whether you choose a single oil, an oil blend, or an elevated blend that contains active ingredients - there is a face oil for you!


 bareluxe skincare favourite face oils
 
 


References:

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Rokosik, E., D. Krzysztof & A. Siger. (2020). Nutritional quality and phytochemical contents of cold pressed oil obtained from chia, milk thistle, nigella, and white and black poppy seeds. Grasas y Aceites, 71, 368.
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