Face Oil: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Using the Best Face Oil for Your Skin
by Heather Smith on Jan 21, 2022
Looking for face oil? Worried about greasy skin and breakouts? Think again! Face oils are taking the skincare world by storm because of their versatility.
This is the most comprehensive guide you will find about face oils. We will tell you everything you need to know to get started choosing and using the best face oil for your skin type.
Don't start shopping until you've read this face oil guide!
What is Face Oil
A face oil is an anhydrous (contains no water) mixture of oils that may also contain oil-soluble, active ingredients, such as herbal extracts.
By not adding water or water-soluble ingredients, there is no need to add emulsifiers, solubilizers, surfactants, or preservatives. This helps give your skin a radiant glow with the fewest ingredients. This is appealing to many people because pure, natural face oils are as close to nature as possible.
What is a Carrier Oil?
A carrier oil is a mild oil that doesn't have many of its own dramatic properties, such as colour 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.
When developing bareLUXE specialized facial oils, we consider anything that could be used at 100% concentration on your face as a carrier oil and anything else as a specialized oil.
Examples of specialized oils not used at 100% concentration are broccoli seed oil (which has a strong odour), tamanu oil (which is thick and almost black), and sea buckthorn oil (which will stain your skin and clothes if used at high concentration). They each have a specialized purpose and are effective in lower concentrations.
Understanding the Role of Face Oil in Skin Care
Oils are extracted from various seeds, nuts, kernels, and vegetables. Each is unique and contains different types and percentages of fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, phytochemicals, and minerals.
Cold pressing is the best method to extract phytonutrients from seeds. It's the least destructive extraction method that protects the delicate phytochemicals. Generally, the best face oils are cold-pressed.
But do they all possess such different compositions that they are each uniquely able to target individual skin concerns?
Yes and no.
This is a big question that took me down the rabbit hole in learning about the difference between carrier oils and oil serums.
The short answer is yes, carrier oils are all unique. For example, pomegranate is one of the only sources of punicic acid; meadowfoam oil is high in eicosenoic acid, while borage and evening primrose oil are highest in GLA. Each unique carrier oil can be the star player in different products for different skin types and concerns.
However (big, however), carrier oils for the face are passive in the quest for dramatic, results-based skincare. They are nourishing, protective, soothing, and lovely, but if you're looking for an active approach, you need to look at oil serums and other products with more bioactivity and functional ingredients to target specific skincare concerns.
The Science Behind Face Oils
How Does Face Oil Work?
Several key concepts stand out when delving into the science of using oils for the face: fatty acid composition, phytochemical profile, and anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
Let's break things down.
Fatty Acid Composition
Face oils are primarily made up of fatty acids, the proportion of which can greatly influence their properties and benefits. There are three types of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, each with different effects on the skin.
Linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated fatty acid) is beneficial for oily and acne-prone skin, as it regulates sebum production and can unclog pores. Oleic acid (an Omega 9) is a bit thicker and feels richer, so it's much more moisturizing and better for dry skin. 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.
Other common fatty acids found in most carrier oils include palmitic acid, stearic acid, and lauric acid. Palmitic and stearic acids, both saturated fats, help improve skin texture and appearance. Lauric acid has antimicrobial properties.
Not all oils fit into these typical carrier oil compositions. For instance, jojoba oil is technically a wax ester, not an oil, and it's uniquely composed mainly of eicosenoic acid, which closely resembles human sebum. Pomegranate oil contains a rare Omega-5 fatty acid called punicic acid, with potent anti-inflammatory properties. Tamanu oil is another unique carrier oil, as it contains a rare lipid called calophyllic acid, known for its wound-healing properties.
These unique oils underscore the diversity and potential benefits of carrier oils in skincare.
Carrier oils are rich in bioactive compounds like polyphenols, flavonoids, and sterols, each providing a range of skincare benefits.
Estimating the total number of phytochemicals in plant oils is challenging due to the immense diversity of plant species and the complexity of their chemical make-up. However, it's safe to say that there are thousands of different phytochemicals present in the wide range of plant oils used in skincare and other industries.
Polyphenols such as resveratrol in grape seed oil have potent antioxidant properties that protect skin from free radical damage.
Flavonoids like silymarin in milk thistle oil offer additional antioxidant protection and help soothe inflammation.
Additionally, sterols, or plant steroids, support the skin barrier. One example is beta-sitosterol, a phytosterol found in oils like soybean and avocado, that helps retain moisture in the skin and reduce inflammation.
These bioactive compounds contribute significantly to the therapeutic properties of carrier oils in face care, aiding skin protection, hydration, and soothing inflammation.
Regulation of Sebum Production
The sebaceous glands in our skin produce a 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 57% fatty acids, 26% natural waxes, 12% squalene, and 4.5% cholesterol. Clogged pores come from a buildup of sebum and dead cells.
The skin's sebum production is largely controlled by hormonal signals, particularly androgens, and is not directly controlled by the application of oils. However, the application of oil influences the skin's perceived need for additional sebum.
By applying face oil, you are moisturizing the skin and creating a protective barrier that prevents water loss. This signals to your skin that there's no need to produce excess sebum, thereby reducing oiliness.
Some oils, such as jojoba, closely mimic the structure of human sebum, which tricks the skin into believing it's produced enough oil, thereby reducing sebum production.
While cleansing and exfoliating the skin removes excess sebum and cells, it's essential 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.
Moisturizing and TEWL Prevention
The skin's outermost layer, the stratum corneum, functions as a natural barrier that protects underlying tissue from infection, dehydration, chemicals and mechanical stress. This barrier also regulates transepidermal water loss (TEWL), the process of water evaporation from the skin's surface.
Face oils support the skin barrier and help prevent TEWL in several ways. The lipids in face oils closely resemble those in the skin's own lipid matrix, which consists of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. By replenishing these lipids, face oils maintain the integrity of the skin barrier.
Applying face oil forms a light, occlusive layer on the skin's surface, reducing evaporation and thus decreasing TEWL.
Face oils also act as emollients, filling in gaps between skin cells in the stratum corneum. This results in a smoother, more hydrated skin surface.
Essential fatty acids (that the body cannot produce on its own) are crucial for the production of ceramides, a type of lipid that plays a key role in maintaining the skin barrier and preventing TEWL. Oils high in linoleic acid directly support the production of your own natural ceramides. PLUS, some oils even contain natural ceramides, so it's a win-win situation.
In addition to these mechanisms, the antioxidants found in face oils protect the skin barrier from damage caused by environmental stressors, such as UV radiation and pollution.
Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Effects
Face oils each possess potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties due to their bioactive compounds. Inflammation is a common issue that causes redness and irritation and worsens conditions such as acne and rosacea. Certain oils, like rosehip and argan, are rich in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. Gamma-linolenic acid in borage and evening primrose oil also reduces inflammation. These fatty acids work by lowering the production of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines.
Antioxidants are crucial in protecting the skin against oxidative stress caused by environmental factors like UV radiation and pollution. Oxidative stress causes premature aging, skin damage, and various skin conditions. Oils like pomegranate and sea buckthorn are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E, carotenoids, and polyphenols. These antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals, preventing them from damaging skin cells and collagen, thus helping to maintain skin health and reduce signs of aging.
Antibacterial and Antifungal Effects
Face oils showcase potent antibacterial and antifungal properties, which can be advantageous for individuals with acne-prone skin. For instance, neem oil is renowned for its extensive antimicrobial properties. It is rich in compounds like Nimbin and azadirachtin, which have been shown to effectively combat a variety of bacteria and fungi, including Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria primarily responsible for acne.
Likewise, thyme oil, particularly thymol, one of its main active constituents, has been studied extensively for its antibacterial properties. Thymol disrupts the integrity of bacterial cell membranes, inhibiting their growth and eventually leading to their destruction.
Jojoba oil regulates the skin's natural oils and prevents the overgrowth of Malassezia, a type of yeast implicated in conditions such as dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Additionally, some essential oils are recognized for their robust antifungal properties.
Benefits of Using Face Oil
Key Benefits of Integrating Face Oil into Your Routine
The skin health benefits from using face oils are numerous, and all stem from the long list of physiologic properties discussed above.
Phytochemicals are involved in fighting free radicals and possess potent anti-inflammatory properties. Many also have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Fatty acids (oleic acid, linoleic acid, stearic), tocopherols, vitamins (i.e., Vitamin A and E), and active substances, such as bakuchiol, ellagic acid, and anthocyanins work to produce visible benefits to your appearance. This makes them essential in your skincare routine.
These are only a few of the many skin benefits of facial oils:
- Locks in moisture and prevents water loss
- Strengthens and repairs the skin barrier (which improves hydration)
- Antioxidants protect from free radicals and environmental damage
- Evens out skin tone and reduces discoloration
- Eliminates dull skin and brightens for a radiant glow
- It enhances collagen production and improves elasticity which reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles
- It creates a dewy finish when used before foundation and make-up
- Regulates your natural sebum production
- Reduces acne breakouts and blemishes (anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties)
- Soothes sensitive skin
Face Oil: A Game-Changer for Skin Hydration
Hydration and moisturization are different.
Technically speaking, when something is marketed as a hydrating face oil, the wording used is incorrect. This is because oils do not directly hydrate the skin. That really is a semantic debate, however, because using face oils will result in skin that's more hydrated.
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, pull moisture from the air and bring it to your skin. Even oily skin can become dehydrated.
Skin dryness is determined by the amount of oil 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.
Face oils work as emollients and moisturize your skin. However, they still improve your overall hydration by locking it in and preventing water loss.
This is why face oils are so beneficial for all skin types.
Can Using Oils for the Face Replace Moisturizer?
Occasionally. For some people, using face oils alone without other products is enough to keep the skin both fully hydrated and moisturized.
However, even with the simplest skinimalism routines, you often need to add a product with humectants. When layering products with face oils, use the oil last so you seal in all the water-containing products.
Do Facial Oils Clog Pores
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 are light and penetrate quickly. The chance of clogging pores is extremely low.
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.
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.
Comedogenic ratings are controversial for several reasons. First, these ratings often rely on tests performed on rabbit ears, which are more sensitive than human skin, potentially leading to an overestimation of comedogenicity. Second, the concentration of an ingredient, which can significantly influence its comedogenicity, is not taken into account. Individual skin differences also come into play, as what may clog pores in one person might not in another.
Therefore, while comedogenic ratings can be a useful guideline, they should not be the sole determinant when selecting skincare products.
Debunking 10 Face Oil Myths
When it comes to face oils, misconceptions abound. From fear of making oily skin worse to believing they're an unnecessary addition to a beauty routine, these myths often steer people away from the benefits of face oils.
Myth 1: Face Oils Cause Breakouts
The Truth: Not all face oils are comedogenic (pore-clogging). In fact, many face oils are non-comedogenic and can actually improve acne-prone skin. Oils high in linoleic acid, such as grapeseed and hemp seed oil, can help to regulate sebum production and prevent breakouts. Cocoa, coconut, and marula oils are more likely to clog pores. They're safe to try, especially with very dry skin, but might not be the best face oil for you.
Myth 2: Face Oils Are Only for Dry Skin
The Truth: While face oils indeed provide deep hydration for dry skin, they're beneficial for all skin types. Oils balance sebum production in oily skin, soothe inflammation in sensitive skin, and provide antioxidant protection for all skin types.
Myth 3: Face Oil Can Replace Moisturizers
The Truth: Face oils and moisturizers perform different functions. Moisturizers contain water and humectants to directly hydrate the skin, while oils provide a lipid barrier to seal in that moisture. For optimal hydration, it's often recommended to use a moisturizer first, followed by a face oil.
Myth 4: More Face Oil Means More Hydration
The Truth: When it comes to face oil, less is more. A few drops are usually enough to cover the entire face. Using too much can lead to a greasy feel. No need to overdo it.
Myth 5: Facial Oils Are Unnecessary in a Skincare Routine
The Truth: Face oils can provide unique benefits that other skincare products can't, such as providing a protective barrier against environmental stressors and offering concentrated doses of beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants.
Myth 6: Face Oils are Unsafe During Pregnancy
The Truth: Too much marketing is aimed at playing on the fears of expectant mothers. Carrier oils are gentle, soothing, and very safe for all users. Remember, these are topical and (unless you're eating them) very little would ever be absorbed into your bloodstream. It's always reasonable to talk to your doctor if you're worried.
It's possible that regular use on your body could help reduce the appearance of stretch marks too!
Myth 7: All Face Oils are 100% Safe
The Truth: Carrier oils are safe. Some, like sunflower, are extremely unlikely to cause issues and are even studied in the hospital population for newborn babies.
However, there is always a "but"... as products get more and more complex and contain higher numbers of ingredients, risks may increase for things like irritation.
Some people may have allergies to certain oils, particularly those derived from nuts. Additionally, overuse of certain essential oils can lead to skin sensitization, causing redness, irritation, or allergic reactions.
Always perform a patch test when trying a new oil, and stop using it if you notice any adverse reactions.
Though not a carrier oil, tea tree oil helps some people with acne. However, it is a strong skin sensitizer and can increase irritation, especially with use over time. 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. Another example is babchi seed carrier oil which contains psoralen, a skin irritant, so if you're looking to use the amazing ingredient bakuchiol, best to find products containing the pure version and skip the babchi carrier oil.
Discuss new products with your dermatologist if you have known allergies or an underlying medical skin disorder.
Myth 8: Face Oils Are a Cure-All for Skin Conditions Like Eczema
The Truth: Face oils can help soothe dry, flaky skin and reduce inflammation associated with eczema, but they are not a cure-all.
Oils, particularly those high in gamma-linolenic acid like borage and evening primrose oil, can help strengthen the skin's barrier function and reduce eczema symptoms. However, everyone's skin reacts differently, and what works for one person may not work for another. Additionally, some oils may exacerbate certain skin conditions, so it's always best to consult with a healthcare provider or dermatologist before introducing new products into your routine.
Myth 9: Face Oils Are All Vegan and Cruelty-Free
The Truth: Most are, but watch the ingredient lists! Emu oil, lanolin, and beeswax might make their way into your oil-based face products. There are vegan alternatives to emu oil that are just as effective.
Myth 10: Face Oils Are All Natural and Eco-Friendly
The Truth: This is another category to watch the ingredient list. A variety of synthetically derived oils and oil-soluble emollients, some of which originate from petroleum, include PEG compounds, or have the potential for bioaccumulation, are used in facial oils.
These include mineral oil and petrolatum, both of which are derived from crude oil. PEG (polyethylene glycol) compounds, often used as emulsifiers or penetration enhancers, are also synthetically derived.
Some synthetic oils, such as silicone-based oils like dimethicone, while providing a smooth application and barrier protection, have been scrutinized for their potential to bioaccumulate in the environment.
There is also a dark side to the plant-based skincare industry that stems from the rampant consumerism and push to rapidly produce the latest 'skin superfood' ingredient.
It's crucial to recognize these components when choosing skincare products, especially for individuals aiming for a pure and natural skincare routine or those who are environmentally conscious.
How to Use Face Oil: 5 Steps and 7 Tips
If you're trying to simplify your routine and get down to a single product or two, facial oils are essential to your routine.
Beauty 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. You may find you need a more occlusive or heavier oil at certain times of the year. However, even in the summer months, light facial oils are important to help prevent water loss from your tissues.
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 carrier oil alone.
This means layering is important. When you add a face oil to your routine, be sure to put it on after your water-based serums. Face oils are often the last step in your regimen.
Step-by-Step Guide: How to Apply Face Oil
Face oils can be a fantastic addition to your skincare regimen when applied correctly. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to use them:
Cleanse: Always start with a clean face. Remove any make-up and cleanse your skin with a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser.
Tone: After cleansing, apply a toner to balance your skin's pH levels and prep your skin for the face oil.
Serums and Moisturizers: If you use a serum, apply it next. Serums are often water-based and must penetrate the skin before applying oil. Moisturizers and lotions are often a mix of oil and water-based ingredients, but still best to apply before your oil.
Face Oil: Now it's time for the face oil. Place a few drops (typically 2-3) onto your fingertips. Warm the oil by gently rubbing your fingers together. Gently press the oil into your skin, starting from the cheeks and moving to the forehead, nose, and then chin. Don't forget your neck and décolletage. Use a light patting motion rather than rubbing.
Sunscreen: If you're applying face oil in the morning, finish off with a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin from UV damage.
Tips and Tricks for Maximizing the Benefits of Face Oil
Less is More: When it comes to face oils, a few drops are usually enough to cover the entire face. Applying too much can leave your skin feeling greasy. Oilier skin types should start with 2 drops at night. Dry skin types can start with 3-4 drops twice a day.
Choose the Best Face Oil for Your Skin Type: Different oils suit different skin types. For example, if you have oily skin, opt for lightweight oils like jojoba or grapeseed oil. If you have dry skin, richer oils like avocado or marula oil can be beneficial.
Use at Night: While you can use face oils both morning and night, many people prefer to use them at night. This gives the oil plenty of time to sink into the skin without interference from make-up or other daytime products. Most won't leave a greasy feel, but some people prefer to avoid daytime use.
Protection During Skin Cycling: If your routine contains chemical or physical exfoliants or irritants like retinol, be sure to use nourishing oils on both your "active" and rest/healing days.
Mix with Your Moisturizer: If your face oil isn't absorbing as well as you'd like, try mixing a few drops with your moisturizer.
Store Correctly: Keep your face oil out of direct sunlight and in a cool, dry place to maintain its efficacy. Most face oils have a shelf life of 6-12 months once opened.
Patch Test: Always perform a patch test when trying a new oil to ensure it doesn't irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction.
Best Face Oils for Different Skin Types and Purposes
The single-carrier-oil approach is as simple as you can get. If your entire daily beauty ritual includes only cleansing and a single carrier facial oil, your skin will be healthy, soft and glowing.
If you just want to jump in for a quick start, the best face oils for all skin types are:
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 and functional ingredients. So if you're looking for specific results like skin brightening or anti-aging, consider looking into oil serums to boost results.
Here are links to our detailed articles that each discuss the benefits of specific oils and which are best for each different skin type and concern.
Oily or Acne Prone Skin
Aging and Mature Skin
Sensitive or Irritable Skin
Best Facial Oil for Different Purposes
It's usually fine to stick with the same oil for whatever purpose you need it for. Oils are transferrable, and there wouldn't be a specific oil that is better or worse if you were looking for a particular purpose. For example, your favourite oil would be fine for different purposes like guasha, or face rolling or massage. These same principles also apply to men's skin and beard care as well as hair and scalp oils. The oil cleansing method is another great purpose for oils, so consider this article when choosing the best oil for cleansing.
Using Oil with Other Skin Care Products
For most people, facial oils are an addition to their existing regimen. There are no direct issues with compatibility, so feel free to use face oil with your other products and actives. Some ingredients are oil soluble, so if you're shopping for an oil serum from your favourite brand, you might find ingredients like retinol included.
DIY Face Oil Recipes
How to Make Your Own Face Oil at Home
While the amount of information can be overwhelming, there is a great deal that is known and easy to narrow down for consumers. Sometimes the best face oil for you is one that you craft yourself.
There is a lot of overlap. Don't overthink. While each oil is unique, a lot are comparable.
Have realistic 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.
If you have combination skin, you can experience all the benefits of using oils. Your dry areas will be moisturized, and your oily areas will have sebum levels regulated - a perfect combo!
Simple DIY Face Oil Recipes
First, think in terms of percentages, not volumes. That way, you can scale a recipe to whatever size you need. A kitchen scale makes this much easier. Choosing to start with 100g also makes this a lot easier, and you'll have somewhere around 90 ml/3 oz of finished oil to try. You also won't spend a fortune because most natural ingredient stores will sell sample sizes in the 1-2 oz (30-60ml) range.
Sensitive Skin: 40g Squalane, 30g Sunflower Seed Oil, 30g Meadowfoam Oil
Aging Skin: Rosehip Seed Oil 35g, Pomegranate Seed Oil 30g, Squalane 30g, 5g Evening Primrose Oil
Dry Skin: 40g Squalane, 30g Argan Oil, 20g Oat Oil, 10g Jojoba Oil
Adding in essential oils for a bit of scent is usually safe, but there is a lot more to know. If you're making one of the oils above, you could add 1-2 drops of your favourite essential oil. However, be warned that this is much more likely to be the cause of any irritation or skin reaction you could have, so starting without fragrance or essential oils is the best first step.
Conclusion: Is Face Oil Right for You?
bareLUXE is proud to be a specialist in face oils. There are innumerable options out there, and trying new ones is so much fun!
If you're brand-new to using face oils or are worried about your complexion, remember this:
- Keep it simple: start with 100% squalane
- Less is more: start with 2-3 drops at bedtime
After that, the world becomes really exciting and trying different oils (either from your favourite brand or DIY making them at home) is both enjoyable and super-beneficial for your skin. Most skin types tolerate oils beautifully, and natural face oils are an amazing addition to your skincare routine to help restore your natural glow.
Oils are key ingredients in many important skincare products, so eliminate the middleman and add pure oils to your beauty ritual!
bareLUXE Skincare merges traditional wisdom with modern data to create specialized face oils for every skin type and concern. Our unique oil serums functionally target specific skin issues using high-performance botanicals and oil-soluble active ingredients.
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