In today's world, we're constantly bombarded with information about the latest skincare trends and miracle products. It's easy to get lost in all the hype, but one thing is for sure: oil cleansing has stood the test of time as an effective method for maintaining healthy skin.
Are you trying to figure out what oil to use for oil cleansing? With so many options available, how do you know which oil is right for your unique needs? That's where we come in - we've done extensive research on various oils and their properties to help you find the perfect match.
Oil cleansing works by dissolving excess sebum (the natural oil our skin produces) along with dirt, stubborn makeup, and other impurities that can clog pores and cause breakouts. This process allows for a deep cleanse without stripping away essential moisture from your skin - something that traditional cleansers may not be able to offer.
In this article, we'll discuss different types of oils based on their scientific properties and benefits, allowing you to make an informed decision on which one will work best for your specific skin type and concerns. So let's dive in!
What is the Oil Cleansing Method?
The oil cleansing method is a popular skincare routine that involves using cleansing oils to remove dirt, makeup, and impurities from the skin.
This method relies on the principle of 'like dissolves like,' meaning that oil can effectively dissolve excess sebum, makeup, and other debris present on the skin's surface without stripping it of its natural moisture barrier.
Oil cleansing has gained popularity in recent years due to its gentleness on the skin compared to traditional cleansers, which may contain harsh surfactants. It's also especially effective at removing oil-soluble material like sunscreen and makeup, so it's a great approach.
Cleansing oils are typically formulated with a blend of plant-based oils such as olive, jojoba, castor or sunflower.
These oils have emollient properties that help soften and nourish the skin while simultaneously breaking down unwanted, oil-soluble substances.
To use a facial cleansing oil, simply massages a small amount onto dry skin for about 30 seconds to a minute before gently wiping off with a warm damp cloth or rinsing with water.
This process helps ensure the thorough removal of all traces of makeup and grime while leaving the skin feeling smooth and hydrated.
Benefits of Oil Cleansing
The oil cleansing technique not only removes dirt, makeup, and impurities but also helps to balance natural oil production and protect the skin's moisture barrier - both of which can help promote a clear complexion.
The major advantage of facial cleansing oils is their ability to dissolve excess sebum and other pore-clogging debris without stripping away essential lipids responsible for maintaining your moisture barrier and preventing water loss. This makes them particularly suitable for all skin types - even those with oily or acne-prone complexions. For some people using oils seems counterintuitive, but it really is one way to help unclog pores.
Since most makeup is oil-soluble and waterproof makeup like waterproof mascara is so hard to remove, choosing to clean your face with oil is a healthy alternative to harsh soaps.
Risks of Oil Cleansing
The 'like dissolves like' concept makes oil cleansing tricky for some people. The fact you're using an oil means that water will not simply wash it away. If you use a face cloth with warm water, the majority of the excess oil will be removed. For most people, this will leave their skin feeling soft, moisturized, and supple.
However, for some people, the skin will feel too oily or just not clean enough. This is especially true for people who have skin that already tends to be oily. This could result in more pore-clogging for some people - or just a less enjoyable experience for those who like their face to feel more "washed" at the end.
The simple solution to this problem is to do a 2-step cleanse. Add in a traditional cleanser after the first oil cleansing step. This will rinse away more of the cleansing oil and leave you with that cleaner, more "washed" feeling.
But be careful!
If you use too harsh a cleanser, you will lose the main benefit of oil cleansing by stripping your face of all the important lipids. It's still best to stick with a gentle or lotion-based cleanser so that you have the right balance. Cleansers that are designed for sensitive or dry skin often strike the right balance in removing oil but not being harsh or damaging to your skin barrier.
Top 10 Best Oils for Cleansing
Years ago, when I embarked on my natural skincare journey, I never expected there'd be so much to learn and know about something as simple as carrier oils.
Through my journey of reading, testing, and learning about face oils, I've come to be an expert in this class of skincare ingredients. It can be very simple for sure, but the nuances make it possible to fine-tune your options so they're best suited to your own skin type and concerns.
While you can use any oil for the oil cleansing method, we've developed the bareLUXE Top 10 list. Each of these oils has its own claim-to-fame for cleansing, whether it be cost-effectiveness or luxurious and astringent or protective properties.
With no further fanfare, here's our list of best cleansing oils:
Castor Oil: Castor oil is a powerful cleansing agent thanks to its high ricinoleic acid content (85-95%). This unique monounsaturated fatty acid enables the oil to penetrate deeply into the pores, effectively dissolving and removing impurities. In addition, castor oil exhibits mild astringent properties, helping to tighten the skin and remove excess oils. This makes it particularly beneficial for oily and combination skin types as a deep cleansing oil. This is a very cost-effective oil to use.
Grapeseed Oil: Grapeseed oil is a popular light cleansing oil, particularly well-suited for oily and acne-prone skin types. Its high linoleic acid content (70-76%) helps to balance the skin's natural oils without clogging pores. Moreover, grapeseed oil acts as a mild astringent and toner due to its polyphenol content, contributing to tighter, toned skin.
Sunflower Seed Oil: Sunflower seed oil is rich in linoleic acid (59%), oleic acid (30%), and stearic acid (6%). Its fatty acid composition helps balance sebum production while maintaining the skin's barrier function. Although sunflower seed oil does not have notable astringent or toning properties, its cleansing abilities and cost-effectiveness make it a suitable choice. This is another very gentle cleansing oil option for people with sensitive or irritable skin.
Sweet Almond Oil: Sweet almond oil, with its high oleic acid (62-86%) and linoleic acid (20-30%) content, is beneficial for skin health. This mild oil is suitable for sensitive skin types and effectively dissolves excess sebum and impurities. While not specifically astringent or toning, sweet almond oil's gentle cleansing properties make it an excellent choice for the oil cleansing method. It also adds to the luxury of your cleansing product because of its delicate aroma.
Sour Cherry Oil: Sour cherry oil is rich in oleic acid, linoleic acid, and antioxidants. Its fatty acid profile aids in the dissolution of excess sebum and impurities, providing effective cleansing. While not particularly astringent or toning, sour cherry oil's antioxidants contribute to overall skin health and brightness. This is another oil that is reasonably priced to use and also smells great.
Baobab Oil: Baobab oil contains high levels of oleic acid (30-40%), linoleic acid (24-34%), and palmitic acid (18-30%). Its fatty acid composition helps to cleanse the face by dissolving impurities and excess sebum. Although baobab oil does not have significant astringent or toning properties, its moisturizing and cleansing abilities make it very useful. It has a light and nutty aroma and a very luxurious skin feel.
Hibiscus Oil: While hibiscus oil is not commonly used for its cleansing properties, it is rich in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, which can help protect and nourish the skin. Its unique composition may provide some toning benefits, but it is not considered one of the astringent oils. This is a luxury addition often chosen for its subtle aroma and delicate texture. The aroma is why I love it because adding fragrance has so many potential downsides.
Passionfruit Oil: Passionfruit oil, also known as maracuja oil, is high in linoleic acid (77%), making it an effective cleanser for oily and acne-prone skin types. This light oil helps to dissolve impurities and balance sebum production. Passionfruit oil does not possess notable astringent or toning properties but is valued for its cleansing abilities. This is another one of my favourites due to it's aroma!
Hazelnut Oil: Hazelnut oil is a versatile option for the oil cleansing method, thanks to its high concentration of tannins, which impart strong astringent properties. These properties help to tighten the skin, reduce pore size, and balance oil production. Hazelnut oil also contains oleic acid (75-85%) and linoleic acid (9-13%), which contribute to its cleansing properties.
Jojoba Oil: Jojoba oil, which is technically a liquid wax ester and not a true oil, is often praised for its compatibility with the skin's natural sebum. Its molecular structure and composition are similar to human sebum, primarily composed of triglycerides and wax monoesters. Regarding cleansing, jojoba oil's unique structure offers some notable benefits. Its waxy nature effectively dissolves sebum and impurities that have hardened and lodged within pores. As a result, it can unclog pores and remove dirt and makeup, making it an excellent choice for an affordable cleansing oil.
Why Not Coconut Oil for Cleansing?
This oil has some potential; there's no reason not to continue using it if it's been working for you. However, it's not one of our favourite cleansing oils.
Coconut oil has a high percentage of lauric acid (45-53%), a medium-chain fatty acid known for its antimicrobial properties, which may help manage acne-causing bacteria on the skin. However, coconut oil is also relatively high on the comedogenic scale, meaning it can clog pores and cause breakouts in some individuals. Its thick texture may not be preferred by everyone, but it effectively removes makeup and impurities.
Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT) or Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides (CCT) oil is derived from coconut oil, but it's composed of different fatty acids. MCT/CCT oil is primarily composed of caprylic acid and capric acid, which are less likely to clog pores than lauric acid, the primary fatty acid in coconut oil. This makes MCT/CCT oil a better choice for those who are prone to clogged pores or breakouts.
Simple Way To Choose The Best Cleansing Oil
To be completely frank, you do not need a fancy oil cleanser. Any lightweight, nourishing oil will do. You might even have something right now in your kitchen that you could try!
Financial Impact of Oil Cleansing
All cleansers, whether they be oil or otherwise, get washed down the drain.
If you were to use any of the ones listed above, you'll have great results, and it will cost mere pennies per wash.
But, like with all skincare products, you can significantly amp up the costs and the luxury factor. A quick Google search and I was able to find oil cleansing products that were over $110/3 oz. Many were 100% oil-based and included multiple exotic or scented essential oils. Some contained additional ingredients like emulsifiers, fragrances, colourants, or non-oil ingredients to create a layered bi-phasic look. Some were more or less focused on vegan and organic oils. Others were very fancy looking based on the luxury status of the brand.
The financial impact of oil cleansing can vary greatly depending on the type of oil and brand chosen. As more people become invested in their cleansing routine, there is a growing market for various oils catered to different skin types and concerns. It's crucial to consider both your budget and desired outcome when choosing the best oil for cleansing.
Adding Plant Extracts and Essential Oils
When a beauty brand develops a natural or botanical cleansing oil, they work on a careful formulation that removes it from the realm of a DIY facial oil. Various additives will add to the effectiveness and luxury of these types of products.
Cleansing Essential Oils
Citrus essential oils, such as lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot, are often used in minimal quantities to enhance oil blends for their astringent and toning properties. However, they are photosensitizing and should be used cautiously, especially when the skin is exposed to sunlight. While not traditional cleansing agents, they can enhance the oil cleansing method's overall effectiveness when used appropriately. The photosensitization risks are much lower since the cleansing oil gets washed away and isn't left on the skin. This is why adding essential oils to cleansing products is less of an issue than for leave-on products.
Terpenes and terpenoids are the primary constituents of essential oils, and they can have a variety of effects on the skin, including cleansing. For instance, limonene, found in high concentrations in citrus essential oils, has antimicrobial properties that can help to cleanse the skin.
Phenols are another group of compounds found in essential oils, such as thymol in thyme oil or eugenol in clove oil. Phenols are known for their antiseptic and antibacterial properties, making them useful for cleansing.
Cleansing and Toning Plant Extracts
Willow Bark Extract: Willow bark extract is often used in skincare due to its salicylic acid content, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). Salicylic acid is oil-soluble and can penetrate into the pores to exfoliate from within, making it effective at unclogging pores and reducing acne. However, the concentration of salicylic acid in willow bark extract can vary and is generally much lower than in products that contain pure salicylic acid. This is actually why we like it - less is more!
Green Tea Extract: While green tea itself is water-soluble, the beneficial polyphenols (including the well-studied epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG) can be extracted into oil. Green tea extract can provide antioxidant benefits, protect the skin from damage, and has shown the potential to reduce sebum production.
Enzymes: Proteolytic enzymes such as bromelain from pineapples and papaya are not specifically oil-soluble but can be incorporated into an oil cleanser if the formulation processes are correct.
Natural Oils vs Synthetic Oils for Cleansing
Plant-based oils are the major winners in the oil-cleansing world.
Silicones are synthetic polymers widely used in cosmetic formulations. However, silicones are not traditionally used in the oil cleansing method. While they don't penetrate the skin or clog pores due to their large molecular size, they don't offer the same nourishing benefits as plant oils. There are also concerns about environmental bioaccumulation, so silicones are best avoided in oil cleansers.
Mineral oils derived from petroleum can effectively dissolve and remove sebum and makeup. Mineral oil isn't an antioxidant cleanser or particularly nourishing, but the main concern we have is the impact that the petroleum industry has on the environment, so mineral oil gets a hard pass from us. With all the amazing phytochemicals found in a natural cleansing oil, why even consider petrol?
What is an Emulsifying Oil Cleanser?
Emulsifiers are additives that help mix oil and water, leading to a product that can more easily be rinsed off with water.
They are found in some oil-based cleansers to help wash away the excess oil. Emulsifiers can make oil cleansing more convenient and accessible, especially for those who don't like the feel of pure oils on their skin.
These types of self-emulsifying oil cleansers are a middle step between a pure oil cleanse, and a formal 2-step cleanse with a separate cleanser (see below). If you find oil cleansing leaves a greasy residue, but is easily dried out and don't need a full-on 2-step to cleanse with a surfactant, then try a gentle, self-emulsifying oil cleanser to see if it's the right balance for your skin.
Is Double Cleansing Necessary?
In a one-step oil cleanse, you simply massage an appropriate cleansing oil onto dry skin and remove it by using a soft cloth and warm water. This method effectively removes makeup, dirt, and sebum from the surface of your skin.
Since oil isn't soluble in water and there are no emulsifiers in a pure oil cleanser, the mechanical force of the cloth and the heat of the water are responsible for removing the oil and debris. This will leave some oil behind (which is actually the whole point).
In contrast, a two-step oil cleanse involves first using a dedicated cleansing oil or balm followed by a traditional, water-based cleanser. This approach is particularly suitable for those who wear very heavy makeup or have oily skin as it ensures a more thorough removal of the excess oil.
The risk of a 2-step cleanse is the same as general cleansing with water-based products - overwashing, over-exfoliating, stripping your natural oils, and leaving the skin too depleted. Once skin barrier damage occurs, the pH balance of your acid mantle becomes disrupted, and the healing phase can take a while.
To determine which method best suits your needs, consider factors such as your skin type, daily routine, and personal preferences before committing to either one- or two-step processes.
As we just discussed above, some people find the hybrid approach (using a self-emulsifying oil cleanser) as the right balance between too oily and too squeaky clean.
Is Oil Cleansing Suitable for Acne-Prone Skin?
Scientifically speaking, oil cleansing can be beneficial for acne-prone skin as it helps dissolve excess sebum and impurities without stripping the skin of its natural oils. This balance assists in preventing the overproduction of sebum, which can result in less acne overall.
When selecting an oil cleanser for acne-prone skin, opt for non-comedogenic oils such as sunflower seed oil or hemp seed oil that won't clog pores or exacerbate existing breakouts. If your skin is quite oily, you will likely benefit most from a gentle, 2-step process.
What About Sensitive Skin?
If you suffer from a medical skin condition, it's always a good idea to discuss changes with your dermatologist. With that said, the oil cleansing approach is one of the most gentle and protective ways to remove impurities while leaving the skin protected. It results in easy makeup removal and soft skin. If you're building a beauty routine for sensitive skin, including oil cleansing is key. The gentleness and lack of stripping makes oil cleansing important for natural anti-aging routines as well.
Definitely stay away from fragrance, most essential oils, and other potentially irritating additives if your skin is sensitive.
DIY Homemade Oil Cleanser Recipe
It's best to use a kitchen scale and measure your ingredients in grams rather than millilitres or ounces. That way, you can scale a recipe easily if needed. Targeting a 100g batch for your test run is easy because it all adds up to 100% - plus, you can usually buy sample sizes of oils in the 30-60ml range from your local natural ingredient supplier.
Here is a cost-effective as well as actually effective DIY recipe for an at-home oil cleanser:
10g Hazelnut oil
You can add 1-2 drops of your favourite essential oil if you know you aren't prone to skin reactions. Combined with the passionfruit, this will make your cleansing oil smell lovely.
If you want to experiment with adding natural emulsifiers that might help the oil rinse away a bit easier, just decrease the grapeseed oil by 5-10 grams and replace it with a plant-based, liquid, oil-soluble emulsifier. While this goes beyond the scope of this article into the world of formulation, a good place to start would be to experiment with Di-PPG-2 Myreth-10 Adipate, Polyglyceryl-4 Oleate, and lecithin. All 3 are plant-derived and should integrate with liquid oils.
Oil cleansing is a gentle, natural, and effective way to remove makeup and impurities without stripping your skin of its natural protective lipid barrier. Just make sure you're choosing the right oil for your skin type and following proper moisturizing steps.
Remember that everyone's skin is different, so it may take some trial and error to find what works best for you. Performing a 2-step cleanse is great for many people, but don't choose too harsh a soap; otherwise, you'll lose the benefits of the oil cleansing portion.
Give this method a try and see if it makes a positive impact on your complexion!
By combining a natural face scrub with a self-emulsifying oil cleansing balm, bareLUXE elevates your beauty ritual to the next level.
Check our our award-winning Crystal Infused LUXE Polishing Balm now.
Chen W, He M, Xie L, Li L. The optimal cleansing method for the removal of sunscreen:Water, cleanser or cleansing oil? J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020 Jan;19(1):180-184. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12995. Epub 2019 Jun 3. PMID: 31157512.
Walters RM, Mao G, Gunn ET, Hornby S. Cleansing formulations that respect skin barrier integrity. Dermatol Res Pract. 2012;2012:495917. doi: 10.1155/2012/495917. Epub 2012 Aug 13. PMID: 22927835; PMCID: PMC3425021.
Mukhopadhyay P. Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian J Dermatol. 2011 Jan;56(1):2-6. doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.77542. PMID: 21572782; PMCID: PMC3088928.
Hosokawa K, Taima H, Kikuchi M, Tsuda H, Numano K, Takagi Y. Rubbing the skin when removing makeup cosmetics is a major factor that worsens skin conditions in atopic dermatitis patients. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021 Jun;20(6):1915-1922. doi: 10.1111/jocd.13777. Epub 2020 Oct 26. PMID: 33040474.
Dr. Heather Smith developed her love for skinimalism and clean beauty years ago when she began making home remedies for her newborn's eczema. She is an expert in natural ingredients and active botanicals and has now launched bareLUXE Skincare - a full line of effective oil serums. She dedicates this blog to consumers who are researching ingredients and working to make their beauty ritual more natural and sustainable.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Smith nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content should consult their physicians about their skincare concerns and routines.