Throughout the course of the last few years, I’ve gotten more questions from friends, clients, and other industry educators about facial oils than ever before. You can still see some remnants of the previous “fear the oils” period in time where it seemed like the number one claim on every moisturizer and serum was “oil-free.” It extended beyond just products and lines intended for oily skin types. I had people of every age group and every skin type, even the driest of dry, asking me to help them find products free of oil for every step of their routine from foundations, night creams, and even face wash.
Maybe it was due to the ’90s/early ’00s and then again in the early 2010s being about super matte skin—and the latter with extreme levels of super full cover coverage to boot—but there was almost a fear of using oils in products, let alone applying them directly to your face. What I heard discussed often in regards to this desire for oil-free everything was a belief that facial oils would inherently clog your pores, break you out, and leave you with enough “grease” on your face to fry an egg. As someone who has combination-oily skin that was once home to moderate to severe cystic acne, I felt the apprehension towards oils, too. Deeply.
The truth of the matter is that being free of oils doesn’t inherently make a skin care product good or bad, and it containing oils doesn’t make it good or bad either. It all depends on how the product itself is made—the formulation process is what truly makes or breaks a product in most people’s eyes, regardless of their level of expertise or experience with skin care. If you don’t like the way it feels on your skin, the way it smells, or anything about the user experience of any given product, chances are you’re not gonna use it.
What I’ve come to understand is that not all facial oils are made equal, and they all can excel in different areas of skin care. Putting every major facial oil into one category and writing them all off is almost equivalent to saying a strawberry and watermelon are the same thing because they’re both fruits. We have a wide range of different oils available to us from both indie and major brands, and while the prospect of choosing between all that’s out there can be overwhelming, it can be hugely advantageous to us as well.
Not all facial oils are made equal, and they all can excel in different areas of skin care.
The 2 Types of Leave-on Oil-containing Products
Just to be clear, when you’re looking at leave-on products containing oils, they’re largely in two categories. One category is facial oils that are still in their oil form, usually housed in a dropper bottle to dispense drop by drop, like the Caudalie Overnight Detox Oil.
The other category is oils that are emulsified (i.e. oil and water blended together and, hopefully, stabilized so they don’t separate) into a product like a lotion or cream. One example is the Philosophy Renewed Hope In a Jar.
Oils just on their own usually are more expensive, but they also typically last longer than a cream since a little goes a long way.
Oleic vs. Linoleic Acids
The biggest revelation for me along my facial oil journey was that all oils are definitely not created equal. Their feel and function on the skin can vary quite a lot depending on what type of oil you use. Different oils are better suited for different skin types and/or desired effect on the skin, and one of the primary dividing factors among oils is the content of oleic acid versus linoleic acid in any given oil.
There are people who have far more scientific expertise (I have BA in psychology, lol) who can dive into the specifics of these two types of acids (which, by the way, aren’t like the acids that exfoliate your skin). By paying attention to the balance of these two components in a given oil can tell you a lot about the type of experience you’re likely to have with said oil and help you determine if it’s something that’s worth a shot.
Oleic Acid Oils
The basic rule of thumb that I play by is that if a facial oil is higher in oleic acid content than linoleic content, you’re looking at an oil that’s likely to have a richer texture and provide a heavy hit of moisture on the skin. This can be helpful if you find that your skin is always feeling a little dry or tight and could use an extra layer of protection to keep it feeling more supple and comfortable. These oleic-rich oils have been catapulted into stardom in recent years and include marula oil, argan oil, sweet almond oil, sea buckthorn oil, avocado oil, and olive oil.
Linoleic Acid Oils
If the facial oil in question has a higher linoleic acid content than oleic acid content, it’s going to have a much lighter feel on the skin and is likely to feel like it’s absorbing more quickly into the skin rather than sitting on top of it. If you’re combination, oily, and/or acne-prone like I am, oils like this are a good place to start your experimenting as they’re less likely to leave you feeling super greasy. They can also actually help your skin break out less, as counterintuitive as it may seem.
Some of the standouts in this category that see a lot of love from brands include the ever popular evening primrose oil and rosehip seed oil, the new rising star hemp oil, as well as safflower oil and grapeseed oil.
I know it’s a lot of information, but I think taking the time to learn a little bit about the stuff you’re putting on your face on a daily basis is something I’ve grown to really love and enjoy because I know I can make a more informed decision when it comes to selecting products I’d like to try and (hopefully) get good results from.
In the next portion of this two-parter I’m doing on oils, I’ll get more into how to actually incorporate them into your skincare routine and the “right” way to incorporate them. But until then, I’m wishing you all a great week of healthy skin and sunscreen.