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Oils, especially those from plants, are nothing new to the cosmetic industry—they’re commonplace in products like moisturizers, serums and even makeup. But you’ve likely noticed that more and more brands are launching pure oils like argan, jojoba, coconut, or blends of oils with claims to treat everything from acne to rosacea and wrinkles. Are these worth exploring, and if so, how do you know which one is right for you?
We’ll take a look at what you can really expect from incorporating oils into your routine—but these oils aren’t right for everyone, so read on for the scoop.
First, let’s define the term “face oil”. Any non-fragrant plant oil or synthetic oil may be used anywhere on the face or body—there are no oils that are better for any certain area over others. However, “face oil” or the lesser used “facial oil” certainly sounds better than just “oil”, and we’ll admit it does sound more special!
For example, a $45 bottle of argan oil sold at Sephora isn’t of higher quality or somehow more special than the bottle of argan oil you can buy from your local health food store or Amazon.com for a fraction of the cost, but label it “face oil” and it automatically seems more special.
If you have dry skin and find that your moisturizer isn’t quite doing the job (especially during the colder months of the year), mixing in a little non-fragrant plant oil may be just the thing your skin needs—and any non-fragrant plant oil may be used around the eyes. FYI: Those with oily or combination skin likely won’t find face oils necessary given the amount of moisture they add. Those with combination skin whose dry areas are very dry can benefit, but the trick is to keep the oil away from your oil-prone areas, which isn’t easy because oils are slick and will move on skin.
Plant or synthetic oils are helpful for boosting moisture to skin, but they are rather “one note” on their own; that is, they lack the complete picture of antioxidants, skin-repairing, and cell-communicating ingredients necessary to keep skin younger-looking and healthy—that’s why we don’t recommend replacing your well-formulated moisturizer with a face oil.
Granted, all plant oils contain antioxidants and some, like safflower, contain some very good fatty acids—but skin needs more than any single oil or blend of oils can provide. Think of face oils as supporting players rather than the centerpiece of a skin-care routine.
Concerns such as sun damage and wrinkles, rosacea, and acne are all complex issues that require a combination of products to treat. Skin itself is a complex organ that can never have all of its needs satisfied by a single ingredient (even with anti-aging powerhouses like retinol or vitamin C) or a single product.
All non-fragrant plant oils add moisture to skin and will have some antioxidant benefit. Despite what you may read in beauty magazines, on blogs, or on skin-care discussion boards, there is no best face oil. For example, many beauty “experts” herald argan oil as being loaded with fatty acids, but it’s actually low in fatty acids when compared to more common oils like hemp, corn or castor oil. But argan oil sounds more alluring than corn oil, doesn’t it?
Don’t get us wrong, argan oil is wonderful ingredient for skin, but much of its pull has to do with the “story” attached by clever marketing campaigns, anecdotal information, or supermodel spokespeople.
Whether you opt for grapeseed, coconut, jojoba, argan or almond and on and on, each is just as generally beneficial as the other but will have varying textures/weight. You may find that aesthetically, certain oils work better for you than others, so experiment to see what you prefer. Generally, the higher the saturated fat content of the oil’s source (like coconut) the heavier the oil is likely to feel. Grapeseed oil is much lower in saturated fat, so it feels considerably lighter than coconut oil.
If you’re considering adding a face oil to your routine, look for products that combine multiple beneficial plant oils instead of relying on only one—consider Paula’s Choice Resist Moisture Renewal Oil Booster!
If you’re considering adding a plant oil to your routine, avoid essential/fragrant oils (like lavender, eucalyptus, or any type of citrus). These fragrant oils do not have the same benefits as the non-fragrant variety, and they contain compounds that have significant potential to irritate skin. For example, many citrus oils can be phototoxic to skin when exposed to UV light (leaving skin discolored). A surprising number of face oils contain non-fragrant and fragrant oils, so choose carefully and opt for fragrance-free.
If you’re not sure which oils to avoid due to their potential to irritate skin, check the Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary on PaulasChoice.com for help.
If you have dry skin, mixing a bit of non-fragrant plant oil into your non-SPF moisturizer or serum is a great way to boost the moisture and repair benefits of your routine. You can also apply a few drops straight on to skin (after cleansing, toning, and applying an exfoliant) and then follow with your moisturizer or serum.
There isn’t a single best way to apply a face oil—and they can be used with any serum, treatment, AHA/BHA or other product. However, you don’t want to mix your face oil into your daytime moisturizer with SPF—doing so dilutes the sunscreen’s effectiveness.
A face oil can be a great way to supplement your moisturizer or serum if you find you need a little extra moisture or have stubborn dry, flaky patches your moisturizer isn’t quite improving— just don’t rely on any face oil to solve more significant concerns like wrinkles, rosacea or acne—and think twice about using one if you have oily skin, as adding more oil isn’t likely to make your skin happy.
The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! Learn more at Shop Paula's Choice.
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.
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