Facial oils are all the rage now in the world of holistic skincare and green beauty. They got their start as a traditional herbal remedy. Herbalists have been using gorgeous plant-based oils to nourish, soothe, and protect the skin either in blends of different fixed (AKA carrier) oils, pressed from nuts or seeds–or infused with the oil soluble therapeutic properties of herbs. They then expanded as exclusive boutique skincare products, handcrafted in small batches by artisans or herbalists, and sold in small spas, Etsy shops, and local health food stores. Now you can find facial oils just about everywhere, from drug stores to department stores, to cosmetic chain stores, to spas and wellness centers–and of course from a multitude of online suppliers. While facial oils offer a ton of skin benefits, they might not be enough to give you the moisture your skin needs–especially if you tend to run dry, or if the weather is harsh.
Why are facial oils so popular?
Facial oils make a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. First, they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids–all nutrients the skin needs for a healthy barrier function and happy microbiome.
Second, the nutrients in facial oils are more bioavailable than in creams and lotions, or water-based serums. The skin is a semi-permeable barrier. It’s meant to keep certain things out, and allow certain things in. The skin’s barrier is comprised of a mixture of dead skin cells, and a lipid matrix (a combination of fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol). An article from the International Dermal Institute uses the analogy of bricks and mortar to describe the skin’s barrier system. The dead cells are the bricks and the lipids are the mortar.
This barrier is hydrophobic–which means it repels water, bit lipophilic (oil loving) which means it will attract other lipids. Therefore lipids and oil-soluble nutrients are more likely to absorb into the deeper layers of the skin, where they can nourish and protect the delicate cells below the surface. And it does this so easily, in a super-concentrated dose! Unlike water soluble nutrients or active ingredients which have to be synthesized into a lipophilic delivery system in order to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, facial oils are already naturally able to do that. No human involvement necessary.
The biggest reason facial oils are so popular now is that from a formulation perspective, they are easier to work with because they generally do not require a preservative. This makes people who buy based on “free from” claims (not that I’m recommending that–read THIS) happy, and requires less labor and resources from a formulation perspective. That doesn’t mean that oils don’t require special handling–some of the are very fragile and can oxidize and degrade quickly–but they don’t support microbial growth (though contamination from improper storage, usage, and handling are possible).
Do facial oils work for everyone?
The short answer is yes…but.
The but has to do with the fact that there are several variables that if, and how well an oil will work for someone. Factors include the overall level of skin hydration, compatibility of the essential fatty acids in the oil with the lipid matrix of the person using it, level of saturated fats in the oil; whether the oil has been processed, stored, and used correctly, etc.
To answer this question, let’s focus on the “but” that has to do with the overall level of skin hydration. To be fully moisturized, and to be able to take in nutrients, the skin has to be hydrated. While it is important to drink lots of water and eat hydrating foods throughout the day, the water (and nutrients) that we consume internally first nourish and hydrate the internal vital organs. By the time they reach the skin, there’s only about 10% left. This is why it is important to hydrate the skin on the outside with water-containing ingredients (but not water itself–check out my interview on The Healthy Me to learn why).
Why your facial oil might not work
Oils do not hydrate the skin on their own. While they definitely help seal in existing moisture, they cannot bring water into the skin because they do not contain water or any other aqueous substance.
Read more about that HERE.
There are different dry skin types–alipidic skin, or “oil dry” skin is a lack of oils or slow sebum production, in which case, a facial oil might be the solution, in addition to more healthy fats in the diet. However, the biggest reason for dry skin is dehydration.
If you are relying on your facial oil to hydrate your skin–especially if it’s dry, and especially if it’s cold out or you have dry interior air–I hate to tell you this, but you’ll likely find yourself disappointed. If you are relying on an anhydrous (not water-containing) skincare regimen consisting of oils, butters, balms, and salves, you also might find yourself disappointed.
I often see well intended skincare advice on blogs and social media recommending that if your facial oil absorbs too quickly, or “dries” too quickly, that all you need to do is use a heavier, thicker, more saturated oil. I still recommend that you do that–because if your skin is soaking up your oils to the point where you feel like you have to use a ton to feel moisturized, then you clearly need different oils in your blend. There are THOUSANDS of oils, and billions of people–there is no perfect oil or perfect blend that is right for everyone. But even the most carefully selected facial oil blend will not provide complete skin moisture, because the skin also needs hydration–from water or a water containing ingredient.
In my next post, I will give you suggestions on how to provide your skin with BALANCED moisture, with both water and oil–whether you’re a purist or you like a big, elaborate regimen. I’ll also share what happened when my OWN skin freaked out at the beginning of this season, and what I had to do to calm it down.
In terms of facial oils, I can tell you that the first thing you need to do is choose the right ones for your unique skin type. I teach you to do that FREE in my online mini-course, Boutique Skincare Basics.
Click HERE to sign up for that!
*Dry skin photo by Ser Amantio di Nicolao – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?