If you have oily or acne-prone skin, it’s easy to understand why you’re conflicted about using facial oils or other oil-based skincare products. It seems like every piece of skincare advice talks about how oil will clog your pores and cause breakouts. The truth is, “not all oils are created equally,” says Fatima Fahs, MD (@dermydoctor), a Michigan-based dermatologist. “In general, those with acne-prone skin have the understanding that they should stay away from oil-based products, but there are some that can certainly be helpful. Oils can contain ingredients that are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory or even contain antioxidants,” she says.
“Just because you’re oily, doesn’t mean your goal should be to eliminate oil from your routine. Oftentimes, oily prone individuals over-exfoliate or strip their skin of their natural oils, causing our sebaceous glands to pump up the oil production to compensate for the dryness,” says Fahs. So for the skin to find the moisture that it craves, facial oil can help find balance in your sebum levels so that you won’t break out as often.
This doesn’t mean you have a green light to put any facial oil onto your skin and call it a day. But as long as you’re exfoliating correctly (so that oil, bacteria and dead skin aren’t getting trapped in your pores), there are definitely some oils that will work better for your skin type and can leave your skin looking glowy and healthy.
Here’s what you need to know to do it right:
If you have acne-prone skin, some oils are better than others
Not all oils are created equal. “You want to look for an oil that is lightweight and silky. One that will apply and be absorbed instead of something that feels really greasy sitting on top of your skin, says Fahs. These include:
- Jojoba oil: “This is probably one of the most popular oils for oily skin because it is lightweight and most resemble our skin’s natural sebum,” says Fahs. “Using this if you’re oily/acne-prone can be helpful at balancing your own skin’s natural oil production. My favorite quality about jojoba oil is that it is fast-absorbing on the skin”.
- Grapeseed oil: “It’s a natural astringent (antibacterial) and contains linoleic acid,” she says. Studies have shown that people who experience acne have lower linoleic acid levels in their skin that help promote cell turnover.
- Tea tree oil: “It’s a natural antibacterial and antifungal component, which can be helpful for acne or in those who don’t tolerate traditional acne ingredients like benzoyl peroxide. I prefer this type of oil as a spot treatment, as too much can be irritating on the skin,” says Fahs.
- Argan oil: “It contains oleic acid (an essential fatty acid) to balance skin’s natural sebum. This is one product where you really have to be careful of the quality,” says Fahs.
- Rosehip oil: “It not only features essential fatty acids, but it’s also an antioxidant, fast-absorbing and lightweight,” she says.
Read the ingredient label to avoid comedogenic oils
You often hear about the miracles of using olive or coconut oil everywhere, from your scalp to your feet. “For most people, these can be great for dry/dehydrated hair or even skin on the body, but these oils are highly comedogenic (pore-clogging) and should be avoided, especially if you’re prone to acne,” says Fahs.
Think about what type of beauty product you want to use
If you want to ease into incorporating oils into your routine, an oil-based cleanser is a great segue as cleansers don’t sit on your skin. You can use it as part of your nightly double cleanse by first using an oil cleanser to break up makeup, dirt and debris. Then, follow up with your regular cleanser.
If you’re ready to fully embrace oils, “try a facial oil on top of (or in place of) your moisturizer at night. I prefer to use them in the evening, as they do tend to create a sheen, which you might not want during the day,” says Fahs. Also, remember that a little goes a long way especially when using facial oil. Most often, all you need are one or two pumps of product to get an even amount over your face. Face oils should have a “dry touch” finish, meaning they sink in and disappear.
“Sometimes oil-based products can simply be the hydrating vehicle that carries a more irritating active ingredient. For example, oils that contain acne-fighting salicylic acid can be the perfect way to introduce this product into your routine if traditional salicylic acid-based products are too drying for you,” she says.
Lastly, if you have acne skin you could also try dry oil. “The term ‘dry oils’ sounds a bit like an oxymoron, but it’s used to describe lightweight oils that are absorbed quickly into the skin instead of leaving a greasy residue. This term is really meant to describe the finish of the oil. In contrast, ‘wet oils’ tend to leave more of a sheen and may be slower absorbing. They are preferred for dry, cracked skin instead,” she says. The factor that classifies an oil as ‘dry’ is a high concentration of ingredients including linoleic acid or ethyl linoleate — as we mentioned before, acneic skin responds really well to this type of acid. “That’s why most people with acne-prone skin can benefit from dry oils like rosehip oil, often marketed for this skin type because of its lightweight, fast-absorbing consistency,” she says.
Watch out for oils with fragrances
Patch testing is key when you’re adding any new ingredient or product to your routine. “A lot of oils, including essential oils, with natural or synthetic fragrance can be very irritating to the skin and cause contact dermatitis. It is best to test a new oil on a small area of skin, for example, behind your ear or on your inner arm, and make sure you can tolerate it first,” says Fahs.