Face oils really started to break into the skincare market about 10 years ago, when consumers realized not all face oils make you break out or promote greasiness. Although they might provide some of the same benefits, face oils are unlike toners, serums and moisturizers — they are usually more naturally derived and contain cleaner ingredients than, say, a thick moisturizer loaded with parabens, fragrance and more. Face oils typically have less ingredients on their list, too, which could make them safer for the skin.
But face oils should not be confused for a heavy-duty moisturizer. “Face oils and moisturizers have different molecular weights and thus serve different purposes,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., board-certified celebrity dermatologist in New York City. “The main purpose of an oil is to penetrate the skin barrier so the ingredients can be as effective as possible, while a moisturizer is meant to create a barrier for the skin, locking in moisture and any products used before it.”
And while facial oils may not be as hydrating as a heavy moisturizer, they still offer some pretty powerful skin benefits. Plant- and seed-based oils “are a natural source of fatty acids, antioxidants, and essential vitamins that help to increase skin hydration, increase elasticity and improve skin barrier function,” says Lily Talakoub, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in McLean, Va. Opting for “cold-pressed” oils is preferred, since they are extracted in a way that retains natural antioxidants, vitamins and nutritional benefit. Cold-pressed oils are made when the seeds or nuts are ground into a paste and mixed together. Then, pressure is applied to the mixture and forces oil to be removed.
When choosing a facial oil to add to your skincare routine, one oil type does not fit all. Since each oil has its own benefits, one might be better for drier skin, while another could be more suited for aging skin. Find out which oil will best benefit your skin type below.
Best for Glow: Turmeric Oil
Extracted from the roots of Curcuma longa, turmeric — orally and topically — has been proven to benefit the skin. Studies testing the efficacy of turmeric oil on skin diseases like acne, atopic dermatitis and facial photoaging showed significant improvement compared to the control groups. Apply turmeric oil to help fade acne scarring or promote an overall glow.
Best for Oily Skin: Argan Oil
Since it has a smaller molecular size and is generally more lightweight, argan oil works wonder for those with oily skin. “Argan oil helps balance out the skin’s natural oil production, and won’t leave skin feeling greasy,” says Marisa Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
Best for Dry Skin: Marula Oil
If you suffer from dry, flaky skin, marula oil is your go-to. “Marula oil is rich in fatty acids and can penetrate the outer layers of the skin to help hydrate without leaving skin feeling too greasy,” says Garshick, M.D. “It can also help reduce redness and inflammation that can often go along with dry skin.” For drier skin types, Garshick recommends applying marula oil right before using your moisturizer to help lock in moisture.
Best for Aging Skin: Jojoba & Blackberry Seed Oil
“Jojoba oil helps protect from environmental aggressors, like pollution and free radical damage, as well as improve skin hydration,” says Engelman. Additionally, blackberry seed oil is rich in antioxidants, and “can be helpful in fighting signs of aging,” says Garshick.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Chia Seed Oil & Blue Tansy Oil
Not only is chia seed oil a great hydrator (thanks to its fatty acids), but it also helps strengthen the skin barrier. “Chia seed oil is especially helpful for those with dry, itchy or sensitive skin, as studies have shown,” says Garshick. “It also can help to bring down inflammation, too.” Blue tansy oil is another oil that contains azulene to help calm redness and fight against skin irritation, thanks to its soothing properties.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Moringa Oil & Tea Tree Oil
Some oils are highly comedogenic and might cause a breakout, but not moringa and tea tree oil. “Tea tree oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities and is great for acne-prone skin,” says Talakoub. The same goes for moringa oil: It will not clog pores, and it also has antiseptic properties to help clear acne.
Best for Discoloration: Grapeseed Oil & Avocado Oil
Grapeseed oil contains antioxidants, like proanthocyanidin, that can help with brightening discolored skin. “When taken orally, grapeseed oil was thought to help a type of skin discoloration called melasma,” Garshick explains. Avocado oil works similarly in that it contains vitamins C and E, which both work as antioxidants to fight against premature aging.
As for when to add facial oil into your skincare regimen, follow the “thinnest to thickest” rule. “If your oil is on the thinner side of the products you’re using, it should be applied earlier (like after your toner or serum), and then sealed in with a thicker cream on top,” says Garschick. That said, because some oils do provide a moisturizing benefit, oilier skin types can probably go without a moisturizer, and a facial oil can be swapped in as the last step in your routine, both morning and night. If you are looking to get the benefits of multiple facial oils, try “applying one in the morning, like an antioxidant-rich oil, and one at night, such as a hydrating oil,” suggests Garshick. Your skin will thank you.