Choosing the Best Face Oil for Sensitive Skin
by Heather Smith on Jan 10, 2023
For those of you with sensitive skin, atopy, allergies, eczema, and rosacea, reading ingredient labels can become a full-time job. When you pop the search "best face oil for sensitive skin" into google, you end up with a whole list of websites, each offering you a list of products to buy.
Are the products actually designed for sensitive or irritated skin?
To prove my point, I did a search for the best sensitive skin face oils and received multiple "top 10" type lists to peruse. Each article gave a list of commercially available face oils from many different brands.
Looking more in-depth, I found many of the recommended products contained ingredients like water/emulsifiers (so, they were actually NOT a face oil), potentially irritating active ingredients like niacinamide and retinol, fragrance and essential oils (known causes of skin inflammation), and salicylic acid (known irritant).
Bottom line: if you're shopping for a face oil specifically designed for irritated or sensitive skin, fragrance, acids, retinoids, should not be in it!
Brands and formulators should know this.
While I'm sure these are luxurious and lovely products that work great for many people, if you're an unsuspecting consumer, you could end up with more damage and irritation or a flare-up of your underlying skin condition.
That's why learning about face oils, and carrier oils and how to read ingredient labels is so important.
This article is meant as a guide for people with irritated or sensitive skin. While not a substitute for medical advice, if you're looking to try adding face oils to your routine, these are some key details you need to know. However, if you have an underlying condition like eczema or rosacea, always discuss product changes with your board-certified dermatologist.
When trying out a new product, select a small area, like the inside of your elbow or behind your ear. It's best to use the same location to test the product daily.
One day of testing is not enough if your skin is reactive because it takes time to show sensitization. 72h of testing is a reasonable timeframe depending on how worried you are about a reaction. With that said, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends 7-10 days of patch testing, which would be important to follow, especially if you are highly allergic to many things.
Start with a Single Carrier Oil
Perhaps ultra-conservative, but if you need to heal your skin barrier or protect your skin from a flare-up, starting with a single carrier oil is the best approach.
This is like an elimination diet - you know exactly what you've tried and whether you tolerated it or not. You also experience all the benefits of using face oils without wasting a bunch of money.
There are many soothing, nourishing carrier oils that are suitable for sensitive skin. Given their gentle nature and unlikeliness to clog pores, these options are also going to be suited for all other skin types.
Best Face Oils for Sensitive Skin
Here are some of our favourites and the reasons why:
Hands down, squalane is our favourite oil to recommend for anyone starting out with any skin type, but it's particularly well-suited for sensitive skin.
It's fantastic for anyone, but especially one of the best face oils for eczema and damaged skin. You have squalene (with an e) in your skin already. Squalane is a pure hydrocarbon that is isolated and removed from other plant oils like olive or amaranth.
When it comes to purity, squalane will be 100% and will not contain any other phytochemicals that could potentially be triggering.
Sunflower Seed Oil
Sunflower seed oil is a non-greasy and lightweight oil that people with sensitive skin tolerate well. The high levels of linoleic acid help maintain the skin's barrier function and reduces redness and irritation.
Sunflower seed oil is also used in the neonatal setting. Newborns have sensitive and delicate skin that requires extra care. Sunflower oil is an ingredient that is considered safe for newborns and is used in many baby skincare products including massage oils. Sunflower oil is often recommended by pediatricians due to its hypoallergenic and non-irritant properties.
Grapeseed oil also has a high content of linoleic acid, roughly around 70%. Grapeseed oil is rich in antioxidants, specifically proanthocyanidins. This compound helps in protecting the skin from environmental stressors such as UV rays and pollution. Like the other oils on this list, Vitamin E levels are high as well.
Meadowfoam seed oil is a clear or light golden oil that is composed of almost 98% long-chain fatty acids. This gives it excellent stability and oxidation resistance helps to extend the shelf life of other oils it's mixed with.
Specifically, meadowfoam contains high levels of eicosenoic acid, which is not found in many other oils. Eicosenoic acid is known to help balance sebum production in the skin, which can help prevent excessive oil and acne. Its composition is also quite similar to the oils produced by our own skin, which is why it is well tolerated by sensitive skin.
Camellia oil, also known as tea seed oil, is an ancient beauty secret that is derived from the fruit seeds of the Camellia oleifera or Camellia japonica plant. Camellia oil is particularly well suited for people with sensitive skin because of its rich phytonutrient and fatty acid profile.
Camellia oil is known for its moisturizing properties as it is rich in nourishing fatty acids, including oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and linoleic acid. These fatty acids are known to help improve skin hydration, protect the skin barrier, and improve skin elasticity. These compounds have been found to help reduce redness, itching, and other signs of irritation, which can be especially beneficial for people with sensitive skin.
Using hemp seed oil on your skin can provide several benefits. One of the most notable is its ability to reduce inflammation. Additionally, its rich fatty acid content helps skin barrier function, increase moisture retention, and relieve dryness, itchiness, and redness. This leaves skin feeling softer and smoother and with a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles.
Like the other carrier oils that are known to be excellent for sensitive skin, Safflower oil is high in linoleic acid and vitamin E. If you're looking to try a soothing, emollient facial oil that won't clog pores or trigger reactive skin issues, safflower should be near the top of your list.
Shopping for a Sensitive Skin Face Oil
If you have graduated beyond trying a single carrier oil or making a DIY mixture at home, you could consider buying a face oil that has calming active ingredients.
Unlike my example at the beginning, there are many skincare brands that design products specifically for irritated skin.
Some oil-soluble extracts you could look for include bisabolol, calendula, chamomile, and aloe. Getting even more exotic, you could look at trying face oils containing comfrey, turmeric, ginger, green tea, and licorice extracts, as all have traditional medicinal uses for skin that's irritated.
As the oil you choose gets more complicated, so too will the chance that your sensitive skin could react to it. This makes patch testing all the more important.
Additionally, unless you know you tolerate them, it's best to avoid face oils that contain any artificial fragrance and most essential oils, especially tea tree. Some people with sensitive skin tolerate essential oils like lavender or chamomile, but caution is recommended.
bareLUXE Skincare has designed an award-winning facial oil that functions as a skin barrier serum, specifically designed for people with sensitive skin.
Danby SG, AlEnezi T, Sultan A, Lavender T, Chittock J, Brown K, Cork MJ. Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: implications for neonatal skin care. Pediatr Dermatol. 2013 Jan-Feb;30(1):42-50.
Vishwajeet Kumar, Aarti Kumar, Shambhavi Mishra, Peiyi Kan, Sana Ashraf, Shambhavi Singh, Keona J H Blanks, Michael Baiocchi, Mika Limcaoco, Amit K Ghosh, Alok Kumar, Raghav Krishna, David K Stevenson, Lu Tian, Gary L Darmstadt, For the Shivgarh Emollient Research Group, Effects of emollient therapy with sunflower seed oil on neonatal growth and morbidity in Uttar Pradesh, India: a cluster-randomized, open-label, controlled trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 115, Issue 4, April 2022, Pages 1092–1104
Lin, Tzu-Kai, Lily Zhong, and Juan Luis Santiago. 2018. "Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils" International Journal of Molecular Sciences 19, no. 1: 70.