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How Facial Oils Help Skin

10/20/2016

You may have noticed more and more brands are launching pure oils like argan, jojoba, coconut, or blends of oils with all manner of tempting claims. But do these facial oils live up to their potential?

The research-supported facts about what plant oils can do for skin is rather fascinating. They're not miracles, but the right plant oil (or, even better, a blend of beneficial oils) can make a remarkable difference for dry, flaky, or dehydrated skin. Facial oils are for anyone whose skin could use a boost of nourishing, smoothing renewal, especially when seasonal cold or drier climates disturb your skin.

What are Facial Oils?

Facial oils can include any fragrant plant oils (often called essential oils, but they are anything but essential—more on that in a moment), non-fragrant plant oils (your skin will love these) or synthetic oils (such as mineral oil—which gets a bad rap in the world of skincare but for the record, the research doesn't support the negative information you find on the Internet).

Despite the name, these oils can be used anywhere on the face or body—there's no research showing that certain oils are better for one part of your skin or another. Such a notion is without logic or science.

Interesting, money-saving fact: Skincare products that contain single oils, like argan, jojoba, or evening primrose can be found in all price ranges at the cosmetic counters, but the plainly-packaged single oils you'll find health food stores for a fraction of the price are just as effective.

Are Facial Oils Right for You?

Facial oils are right for you if you struggle with occasional (think seasonal or climate-related dryness) or persistent dry, flaky, or dehydrated skin and your moisturizer just isn't doing enough no matter how enriched and emollient it is.

Rather than continually searching for a new moisturizer, you can easily add a facial oil to your routine and see a beautiful difference. Your skin will feel smoother, softer, and more resilient, not to mention taking on a natural-looking glow.

You would use the facial oil under your moisturizer or on its own. This is a great way to use facial oils, but it's important to know that despite the claims you'll encounter, no single facial oil is the best one for your skin regardless of your skincare concerns, whether it's acne to wrinkles!

Facial oils are helpful for keeping skin's vital hydration locked in and they have incredible, instantaneous skin-smoothing properties. But as wonderful as facial oils are, they don't replace many other essential ingredients for skin. Think of a plant oil or a blend of plant oils as a booster to supplement your skincare routine.

Plant oils are a rich source of antioxidants and replenishing emollients but they're not good sources of skin-restoring ingredients (such as niacinamide, retinol, or peptides) or hydration-boosting ingredients (such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid). Nor do they give dry skin the rich mix of emollients it needs for lasting improvement. That's why we don't recommend replacing your moisturizer with a face oil.

Your skin is a complex organ that can never have all of its needs satisfied by a single product or single brilliant ingredient. Think of facial oils as supporting players rather than the leading role in a complete skincare routine.

Which Facial Oils are Best?

All non-fragrant plant oils keep moisture in skin and provide some amount of antioxidant and replenishing benefit, but there's no best facial oil. Take argan oil as an example. Many companies and beauty experts carry on about this oil being loaded with fatty acids, but it's actually low in fatty acids when compared to oils like olive, corn or castor oil. But argan oil sounds more exotic than boring old olive oil, doesn't it?

Don't get us wrong, argan oil is a wonderful ingredient for skin, but much of its allure has to do with the “story” attached by clever marketing campaigns, anecdotal information, or beautiful spokespeople. Plus, used by itself, argan oil has limitations unless it's accompanied by other remarkable non-fragrant plant oils.

You may find that aesthetically, certain oils work better for you than others, so experiment to see which oils you prefer. Generally, the higher the saturated fat content of the oil (like coconut) the heavier the oil is likely to feel. Grapeseed oil is much lower in saturated fat, so it feels considerably lighter and even looks more “fluid” than coconut oil—but both can be wonderful for alleviating signs of dry, flaky skin.

At Paula's Choice Skincare, we always follow our cocktail approach to formulating skincare products, including our facial oil blend. We never settle for the benefits of one single oil when your skin needs the enhanced benefits from a carefully calibrated blend. That thinking led to our amazing RESIST Moisture Renewal Oil Booster! This sophisticated mix blends a variety of research-proven, non-fragrant plant oils into a luxuriously silky texture your dry, dehydrated skin will drink in. And you won't see or feel “oily”, just a smooth, hydrated, and supple-feeling, healthy-looking glow!

Facial Oils to Avoid

As we mentioned, there are dozens of great non-fragrant plant oils to consider. The best products also take our cocktail approach to heart so as to give your skin a greater mix of beneficial substances. But there are some oils—often paired with the good oils—that are absolutely critical for you to avoid!

Watch out for fragrant oils, sometimes referred to as “essential oils”, even though they're anything but essential for skin. While these fragrant oils do share many of the same benefits for skin as their non-fragrant counterparts, they also come along with compounds that have a strong potential to sensitize and aggravate skin, especially when skin is exposed to air (which, of course, is all the time).

As an example, many citrus oils can be problematic when exposed is to UV light, possibly changing skin's color. Other fragrant oils contain compounds that can oxidize on skin and cause problems. This remains true even if you can't see any changes right now, because skin's surface is good at hiding when it's being aggravated.

If you're not sure which oils to avoid due to their potential to aggravate skin, check our Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary for help—but the list below covers the most common fragrant oils you're likely to see in facial oil products:

  • Lavender oil
  • Rose oil (Rosehip oil is non-fragrant)
  • Rosemary oil
  • Neroli oil
  • Sandalwood oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Lime oil
  • Lemon oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Jasmine oil
  • Geranium oil
  • Orange oil
  • Orange blossom oil
  • Bitter orange oil
  • Grapefruit oil
  • Bergamot oil
  • Ylang ylang oil

Summing it Up

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 replenishing 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.

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.

References for this information:

  • Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, July 2016, page 51
  • Clinical Interventions in Aging, January 2015, pages 339-349
  • Journal of Chemistry, August 2014, pages 1-8
  • Skin Research and Technology, August 2012, pages 364-369
  • Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, July 2012, ePublication
  • Planta Medica, March 2006, pages 311-316
  • Biofizika, March-April 2004, pages 322-338

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About the Experts

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:

View Media Highlights

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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