In today’s skin care market, there is a product for everything. Acids, masks, serums and toners are just several of the skincare essentials you can find lining the shelves of your local health and beauty shop. When faced with so many products, it’s easy to overlook one of the core elements that should be included in your skincare regime: facial oils. This mini-guide will walk you through everything you need to know about face oils: what they do, how they work and how to choose one.
Why are facial oils good for the skin?
The skin naturally produces oils and substances which keep it moisturised and hydrated. You’re probably familiar with one of these oils: sebum. This is produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands.
But there’s also lipids (oils and fats) which make up the skin’s protective barrier (the outermost layer of skin). This barrier keeps the skin hydrated by preventing water loss and by blocking environmental threats which can strip the skin of moisture. A strong, healthy skin barrier is essential for keeping the skin looking smooth, radiant and free of irritations like eczema and acne.
Sometimes, though, the skin’s natural oil production doesn’t work as it should. It can be too low - resulting in dry skin - or it can be too high - resulting in excessively oily skin. Enter: facial oils. Oils can help to balance and regulate the skin’s natural oil and can also strengthen its barrier function, but I’ll talk about this more later.
Lots of facial oils are also brimming with antioxidants which ward off and neutralise free radicals. This is great for preventing premature ageing, keeping wrinkles away and maintaining the skin’s elasticity and plumpness.
So, oils are pretty nifty products and if they’re not already part of your skincare routine, you might want to rethink.
How do facial oils work?
Oils technically don’t provide hydration. Yes, you read that correctly. Despite their rich, velvety texture, face oils do little in the way of moisturising. Their job is, though, perhaps more important. To fully understand the role of facial oils, let’s have a super speedy science lesson about how facial oils work (it’s not as boring as it sounds - I promise!).
Oils work by prolonging the moisture in the skin and they do this in two ways: by acting as emollients and occlusives. Emollients play a simple, yet important, role in skin care: they help to soften and smooth the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis). Occlusives, however, work in a more interesting way. Sitting on the skin’s surface, the occlusive properties of facial oils form a protective seal on the epidermis to prevent transepidermal water loss (a fancy-sounding term which means they stop water escaping through the skin’s top layer). Occlusives also strengthen the skin’s barrier - the outermost layer of the epidermis called the stratum corneum. I know, there’s a lot of terminology! But, we’re almost there. Essentially, facial oils keep moisture in and keep environmental aggressors out. They ‘lock in’ your skin’s natural moisture as well as the hydration provided by your other skincare products, extending their moisturising effects.
So, whilst oils don’t necessarily provide intense moisturisation, they do help your moisturising products work more effectively and create a barrier to pollutants trying to get in - making them integral to good skin care.
Who can use facial oils?
It might seem like a no-brainer that facial oils can give dry skin a much needed pick-me-up and sebum-lacking mature skin a shot of suppleness. But, facial oils can make a great addition to your skin care, no matter what your skin type is. If you have naturally oily skin, it’s understandable that hearing the words facial oil might make you cringe. Adding oil to oil is only going to make things worse, right? But, trust me when I say that oily skin can benefit from the right facial oil just as much as dry skin can. Oils can both trap moisture in the skin (perfect for naturally dry or flaky skin) and, in some cases (like with squalane and jojoba oil), they can ‘trick’ oily skin into thinking it doesn’t need to produce more oil - like some kind of skin care sorcery.
Choosing a face oil with the right ingredients: linoleic and oleic acid
Facial oils are packed with ingredients that your skin will thank you for, including antioxidants, vitamins and fatty acids. Two of these key ingredients are oleic and linoleic acid. Both acids are present in facial oils, but their ratios and benefits differ.
Oleic acid (a.k.a. omega-9) is a naturally-occurring fatty acid found in the skin’s tissue and sebum. Particularly effective for dry and mature skin, this acid is rich and thick in consistency, sinking deeply into the epidermis to provide intense hydration. Linoleic acid, or omega-6, is an essential fatty acid, but is not naturally produced in the body. So, getting it from your facial oils is a good source. Oily and acne-prone skin is often deficient in linoleic acid and has too much of the oleic kind. So, a linoleic acid-rich facial oil will counteract this, leaving the skin re-balanced, less oily, and with reduced acne. Oils with more linoleic acid are also more lightweight and non-greasy - another bonus for oily skin!
So, in sum: the best facial oils for dry skin are the ones with lots of oleic acid and the best oils for oily skin are those which are rich in linoleic acid. Simple!
Can facial oils clog pores?
Yes, but don’t be put off just yet.
When you’re looking for facial oils for oily skin, make sure they’re non-comedogenic - this means they will be less likely to block pores. Whilst non-comedogenic oils won’t 100% guarantee you’ll stay spot-free, it does mean you’re less likely to see a pimple pop up. Comedogenic, oppositely, means that a product is more likely to block pores - stay clear oily skin types! So, avoid known comedogenic oils like coconut and moringa oil and opt for ones like jojoba, hemp seed and maracuja oil.
If your skin type is normal and you don’t often suffer with breakouts, you’ve not got much to worry about. But, for oily, combination and acne-prone skin types, this is valuable info when choosing a face oil.
If you’ve made it this far - congrats! It’s been an intense one. But, now you should be feeling confident to dive into all things face oils and, if this is not your first foray into the world of oils, hopefully you’re feeling even more facial oil savvy. If you want to find out about 8 of the best facial oils for glowing skin, we’ve compiled a handy list for you to have a browse through. And you can read our 10 top tips for using facial oils here.