Once upon a time, putting oil on your face was considered a definite skincare no-no, a move akin to taking a bath in Crisco. But then something changed. “The face oil rush began in earnest around 2013 with argan oil — a dry multipurpose oil — leading the way,” explains Linda Thompson, founder of a new line of oils called Biography set to launch in October. “Little by little, word got out that the right facial oil for your skin type can replace a traditional moisturizer entirely and effortlessly,” she explains.
As the demand grew, so did the amount of tiny little bottles boasting big nourishing, plumping, and glow-inducing benefits on the market, and now there’s a slew of oils promising everything from breakout-banishing to gravity-defying effects. How to choose? Here’s what you need to know about incorporating face oil into your regimen.
What Face Oil Can Do For Skin
“It’s good to remember that the best face oils also work as a barrier, sealing in your skin's own hydration in a way that a moisturizer can’t really match,” say Kristy Hunston and Grace O'Sullivan, founders of Avoila. In fact, one of the key points of difference for oils is they’re considered to be moisturizers, not hydrators. “Most brands use these terms to differentiate how your skin gets the moisture it needs, with ‘moisturizers’ referring to occlusives and emollients [which hold hydration in] and hydrators referring to humectants [which draw moisture into the skin],” explains Sejal Shah, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City. “By this definition, oils are moisturizers because they create a seal on the skin's surface.”
While there is a difference between the two, the lines can easily be blurred. “There really isn't a gold standard for what defines a hydrator versus a moisturizer,” she admits. Plus, some oils are formulated as hydrating serums, which makes the whole thing even more confusing. Her advice: Don’t get too caught up in the semantics. Instead, just know that, depending on your skin type, an oil might not do all the moisturizing you need on its own.
But moisture isn’t their only benefit. “Oils can have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, protect the skin, and some even have astringent, cleansing, or oil-regulating properties,” Dr. Shah explains. Plus, they can be carriers for all sorts of anti-agers and nourishers, which ups their potential even more.
How to Use Face Oil
The bottom line is you might need to experiment a bit to find how face oil best fits into your routine. Some folks with oily skin may find that the oil alone is more than enough to keep their skin happy, while others may use it as an assist to their favorite face cream.
As for acne-prone types? The nourishment and protection oils provide can be helpful in restoring balance — but it’s a case by case thing. If you’re nervous to try them, Dr. Shah insists you don’t have to. “While they can be very beneficial, you can get similar benefits from other products,” she notes. For those who are interested, look for the keyword “non-comedogenic” (read: non-pore clogging) on the label, and work the product into your routine slowly — just once or twice a week — to start.
Regardless of the reason you’re using these multifunctional potions, there is one thing to keep in mind: Because they are thicker and heavier than regular moisturizers, they should go next-to-last in your morning skincare routine, just before sunscreen. At night, they can be your final step. When it comes to application, “remember to treat your skin like your favorite silk blouse,” Thompson says. Translation: Press, don’t rub, your face oil in.
How to Choose a Face Oil
“Not all oils are created equal,” Hunston and O’Sullivan caution. Coconut oil, for example, is great for nourishing the body, but it’s comedogenic and may not be the best choice for the face On the flip side, there are plenty of oils that won’t clog pores, absorb quickly, and are packed with nutrients. “These oils are similar in structure to the sebum your skin makes naturally, which means your skin absorbs them easily and fully,” they explain. “Your skin naturally makes sebum to moisturize and protect your skin, and [certain] plant oils do the same, without any residual consequences.”
Their line relies on avocado oil, which is packed with potassium, lecithin, and polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols, to moisturize, soothe, and smooth skin, but there is plenty more where that came from. Below are a few of our favorite face oils for every skin type:
The Luxe Choice: Vintner's Daughter Active Botanical Serum
This cult-favorite serum-oil gets tons of love thanks to its blend of 22 botanicals that deliver a slew of phytonutrients, phytoceramides, and vitamins. $185, thedetoxmarket.com
The Calm Inducer: Muri Lelu Mauvaise Herbe Indica Oil
A relaxing addition to your nighttime ritual, this restorative oil uses the entire cannabis sativa flower — rich in phytocannabinoids, terpenes, chlorophyll, flavonoids, and fatty acids — to balance and brighten the skin by morning. $150, murilelu.com
The Redness Reducer: Monastery Gold Botanical Oil Serum
Puffiness, irritation, and redness are no match for the sandalwood nut oil in this potion. A powerful anti-inflammatory hailed in Australia, it’s like a lullaby for cranky skin. $149, monasterymade.com
The Harmonizer: Marie Veronique x Kristina Holey Barrier Lipid Complex
With ceramides to plump and biomimetic fatty acids to balance the skin’s sebum ratio, this black raspberry seed oil-based serum treats while providing intense moisture. $95, credobeauty.com
The Skin Smoother: Avoila Nourishing Face Oil
Avocado, grapeseed, Kalahari melon, and rosehip oils combine to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, boost moisture levels, and improve skin texture. $72, avoila.com
The Nourisher: Cocokind Chia Facial Oil
A rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, this chia seed oil-based booster supports skin’s natural barrier function to help it stand up to the harsh elements. $16, cocokind.com
The Inflammation Buster: Carter + Jane Everything Oil Angelic Clementine
This prickly pear-based formula is a skin-refining, antimicrobial, and anti-aging wonder that can also help tackle dark spots. $128, hsn.com
The Soother: Biography Long June Everyday Drops
This dreamy concoction features chamomile, calendula, and apricot oils to calm irritation and start your day off on the right foot. $85, biographynyc.com
The Age Defier: Naturopathica Holy Basil & Retinol Ageless Night Oil
Microalgae booster complex and retinol join forces in this overnight treatment to smooth and firm during your body’s natural repair time. $124, dermstore.com
The Acne Fighter: Biossance Squalene + Tea Tree Balancing Oil
A true multi-tasker, this stuff keeps blemishes at bay, refines pores, and moisturizes all at the same time. $49, sephora.com
The Refiner: Elaluz Beauty Oil
This offering from Camila Coehlo’s new line stands out for combining exfoliating papaya fruit extract with moisturizing buriti fruit oil to improve skin tone and texture. $52, net-a-porter.com
The Illuminator: RMS Kakadu Evening Elixir
With rejuvenating kakadu plum, this pre-bed treat will have skin looking luminous and energized by morning. $42, credobeauty.com
The Protector: Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil
A great choice for all skin types, this fast-absorbing formula shields against pollution and environmental damage with polyphenols and vitamin E. $72, sephora.com
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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