Shopping for the Best Face Oil? What You Must Know Before Buying
Worried about greasy skin and breakouts? Think again! The reason face oils are taking the skincare world by storm is because of their versatility. In fact, if you have oily skin and breakouts, some face oils regulate oil production and bacteria levels, resulting in improvements, healing, and scar reduction.
This face oil guide contains the details you need to know before choosing and using a facial oil.
Facial Oil vs Serum: What's The Difference?
Serums are generally thought of as more powerful and active than simple creams or lotions. However the word serum is a marketing term designed to tell the consumer that the product (a) contains active ingredients and (b) has a more fluid texture.
When dealing with active ingredients, what you want is for active ingredients to penetrate the outer layer. This gets those key ingredients into the deeper structures where cellular actions occur.
Water-based serums are important products. Certain ingredients like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid are extremely difficult or impossible to use in products that don't contain water or solvents.
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 and loves oils.
When it comes to the question about face oil vs serum, think more about ingredient activity levels. A face oil made of only plain carrier oils probably wouldn't get called a serum because activity levels would be low. Whereas a specialized face oil, like one containing active botanicals such as Bakuchiol, would more precisely fit the definition of an oil serum.
Clear as mud?
To be frank, we feel a lot of the time spent naming products just contributes to marketing hype and consumer confusion.
So let’s clear things up and get you started on your way to loving face oils!
Our Guide to Face Oils Will Get You Started
What is Sebum?
The sebaceous glands in our skin produce natural oil called sebum. How much (or how little) you produce is decided by genetics and hormones.
Sebum moisturizes, waterproofs, and protects your skin.
Sebum is composed of about 57% fatty acids, 26% natural waxes, 12% squalene, and 4.5% cholesterol. Clogged pores and congested skin come from a buildup of sebum and dead skin cells, which results in a blackhead or whitehead. If it becomes inflamed or infected, you develop a pimple.
While cleansing and exfoliating the skin removes excess sebum and cells, 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. A damaged skin barrier will make breakouts worse.
Sebum isn’t a bad thing; but keeping it regulated and in balance is important for skin health. Squalane and Jojoba Oil are two oils known to function similarly to your own sebum and can potentially improve acne.
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. This will help give your skin a radiant glow, with as few ingredients needed.
What is a Carrier Oil?
A carrier oil is a mild oil that doesn’t have many of its own outstanding properties such as color or scent. Carrier oils high in antioxidants are especially healthy for skin use.
The term carrier oil originates from the aromatherapy world where the purpose is to dilute essential oils so they can be used for the aroma while doing massage.
Generally, we consider anything that could be used at 100% concentration on your face as a carrier oil and anything else as a specialized oil.
Good examples of specialized oils not used at 100% centration are: broccoli seed oil (which is really stinky), tamanu oil (which is thick and almost black), and sea buckthorn seed oil (which will stain your skin and clothes if used >1% concentration) - we don’t consider those carrier oils. They each have a specialized purpose and are effective in lower quantities.
How Do Different Oil Characteristics Differ?
Oils are extracted from various seeds, nuts, kernels, and vegetables. Each is unique and contains different types and percentages of fatty acids, anti-oxidants, vitamins, phytochemicals, and minerals.
Phytochemical and Antioxidant Composition: Cold pressing is the best method to extract phytonutrients from seeds. It's the least destructive extraction method that protects the delicate phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals 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 seeds), ellagic acid (from pomegranate seeds), anthrocyanins, resveratrol, monolauin, and others.
These chemicals are involved in fighting free radicals and possess potent anti inflammatory properties. Many also have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. The number and types of extractable compounds is infinite, and each carrier oil is unique. As an example, more than 40 active compounds were identified from the Crambe abyssinica seed oil. Abyssinian oil is amazing for sensitive or acne-prone skin.
Do Facial Oils Clog Pores?
Comedogenicity: The degree to which a carrier oil causes clogged pores can be classified according to a scale ranging from 0 (extremely unlikely) to 5 (likely).
Oils with a rating of 0-1 are best 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 feel light and absorb rapidly. The chance of clogging pores is extremely low. Argan oil and rosehip oil are both well known to be good for skin without clogging pores for most people.
Oils in the 2-3 range are best for people with normal, dry, or mature skin. They feel a bit heavier at first but will still absorb without leaving a greasy feel. Clogged pores are still unlikely for most people. Oat oil and plum kernel oil fall into this category.
Anything rated 4 and 5 should usually be avoided in face products. An example is coconut oil, which is great for your hands and body, but best avoided for your face.
Ratio of Omega 6 to 9: Linoleic acid (an Omega 6) is a lightweight, thin, and easily absorbed essential fatty acid. Oleic acid (an Omega 9) is a bit thicker and feels richer. The ratio between the two is a major factor in determining the skin-feel, absorption rate, and whether it is suitable for oily or acne prone skin.
Do Oils Moisturize or Hydrate?
Hydration and moisturization are different.
Hydration is determined by how much water stays within your cells. Dehydration is due to water loss and is caused by low humidity, aging, UV exposure, low water intake, hot showers, air-conditioned environments, etc. Humectants, such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and beta glucan, work by pulling moisture from the air and bringing it to your skin. Even oily skin can become dehydrated.
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 water. Dry skin needs emollients to help re-establish the broken barrier.
Anti aging oils help reduce fine lines and wrinkles due to their abilities to moisturize so well. Oils designed for acne can sometimes be used as spot treatments.
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.
How Do You Use A Face Oil?
Skinimalism: If you’re trying to simplify your routine and get down to a single product or two, facial oils are essential to your routine.
The single-oil approach is as simple as you can get. If your entire daily routine includes only cleansing and a single carrier facial oil, your skin will be healthy, soft and glowing.
If you want just a single oil for your face, try squalane as your first choice.
If you use only carrier oils, the effects on your skin will be less noticeable than if you buy specialized face oils with more active botanicals.
While we love the idea of oils being a single product solution for everyone, most people need a humectant and some treatments beyond just a simple oil alone.
If You Love Complexity: Routines often change based on skin type, condition, and the season of the year. Hormones contribute to skin needs and people who menstruate have cyclic changes. If you’re adding oil to your face care routine, it should be the last product used so that it seals in all the goodness from your serums and moisturizers.
Are Carrier Oils Safe?
Yes! Carrier oils are safe. Some, like sunflower, are extremely unlikely to cause issues and even recommended for newborn babies.
A few points of caution:
- Tea tree oil helps some people with acne. However, it is a strong skin sensitizer and can increase irritation, especially with ongoing use over time.
- Cocoa, coconut, and marula oils are likely to clog pores in the majority of people. They're safe to try, especially with very dry skin, but might not be the best face oil for you.
- If you’re prone to allergy, eczema, or irritation - be careful with essential oils, especially on your face. They may make a product smell amazing, but they are a regular culprit for reactions.
How To Choose The Right Face Oil?
While the amount of information can be overwhelming, there is a great deal that is known and easy to narrow down for consumers.
- There is a lot of overlap. Don’t overthink. While each oil is unique, a lot are comparable.
- Have clear expectations. Carrier oils contain a large number of beneficial compounds and can improve your skin. However, they are not potent chemicals with drastic effects.
- Just try it! Do not spend a fortune. After researching what you would like to try, buy an organic (if available) cold-pressed version and try it.
Winners of the Best Face Oil Awards
Well, there really isn’t an award, but we are proud to have become specialists in oils for the face. There are innumerable options out there and trying new ones is so much fun!
That said, if you’re just getting started, it can be overwhelming. We’ve got an infographic below and here is our quick and dirty list of favorite oils to get you started.
Best for Oily or Acne Prone Skin
Carrier: abyssinian, argan, squalane
Specialized: tamanu, bakuchiol (pure), neem
Best Oils for Dry Skin
Oat, jojoba, plum kernel, apricot kernel, avocado, squalane
Best Face Oils for Aging and Mature Skin
Carrier: rosehip seed, pomegranate seed, squalane, jojoba
Specialized: sea buckthorn, perilla, sacha inchi, buriti, evening primrose
Best Face Oils for Irritable or Sensitive Skin
Keep it simple: squalane, sunflower, grapeseed, meadowfoam
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Downing, D.T., M.E. Stewart, P.W. Wertz, & J.S. Strauss. (1986). Essential fatty acids and acne. Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, Feb 14(2 Pt 1), 221–25.
Comlekcioglu, N., S. Karaman, & A. Holcim. (2008). Oil composition and some morphological characters of Crambe orientalis var. orientalis and Crambe tataria var. tataria from Turkey. Natural Product Research, 22(6), 525–32.
Fulton, James E. (1989). Comedogenicity and irritancy of commonly used ingredients in skin care products. Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists,40, 321–33.
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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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