We love a good moisturizer, don’t we? It’s the crown jewel of even the most minimal skin care routine. While creams have been the default choice for decades, facial oils are taking over as the go-to moisturizer, especially in the world of natural skin care – and for good reason!
Most moisturizers are formulated with a mix of water, oil, and wax to hold it all together. Ideally, creams are designed to hydrate and moisturize by adding water back to the skin, while the oil and wax components help to prevent water loss as we go about our day. Ideally.
The trouble is, creams are often formulated with more water than oil, which does little to truly nourish skin in a way that will give you increasing benefits long-term. Ever have the experience of applying your facial cream, feeling all dewy and radiant at first, only to notice that dryness or tightness creeping back after 20 or 30 minutes? That’s a result of too much water and too little oil to lock in all that hydration.
On the flip side, some creams are too heavy on the wax, which can create a filmy barrier that sits on top of the skin. While this barrier can work well to prevent water loss, there are a few disadvantages. First, some waxes can contribute to clogged pores, especially when you get build-up from daily use. Second, waxes can actually prevent your skin from absorbing the beneficial oils by “holding” them on the surface as part of that filmy barrier. Third, some waxes don’t mix well with other products like liquid foundation, resulting in uneven distribution, or worse, creating little tacky “bits” that mess with your flawless finish.
Another disadvantage of creams, depending on your priorities, is that they require a preservative to protect the water component from bacterial invasion that will spoil the product, not to mention pose serious risks to your health. If you’re intent on choosing truly natural skin care, rest assured, there are some high quality natural preservatives that work well for cream formulas – the challenge will be finding them, since most natural skin care products rely on synthetic preservatives with problems all their own.
Again, whether these stabilizing ingredients are a concern for you depends on your priorities, but consider this: even the tiniest amount of preservative or wax emulsifier means less room in the formula for ingredients that actually nourish and replenish your skin. They dilute the real stuff, making your moisturizer less potent.
FACIAL OILS TO THE RESCUE
Facial oils are super-potent alternatives to traditional moisturizing creams, and they don’t require preservatives, wax emulsifiers, or other stabilizers. Without a wax component to potentially block absorption, facial oils can deliver serious long-lasting benefits to the deeper layers of the skin, while replenishing the top layer (the lipid barrier) that’s so important for protecting your skin from environmental damage.
As we age, our skin produces less of the natural oils (sebum) that keep it vibrant and healthy, so we need to replenish it on a regular basis with nourishing oils that prevent moisture loss, encourage crucial functions like healthy cell turnover, and support the underlying matrix of collagen and elastin that keeps skin firm and smooth.
This is why a few good drops of a quality facial oil can often do more for the vitality of your skin than a quarter-sized amount of cream. It’s all about potency.
BUT WHAT ABOUT OILY SKIN?
It seems counter-intuitive, I know, but moisturizing with oil is actually the best long-term option for oily (a.k.a. unbalanced) skin types. It’s all about choosing the right combination of ingredients. Many products designed for oily skin only serve to exacerbate the problem by either stripping away your natural oils, or not supplying enough oil to adequately replenish the lipid barrier that works so hard to protect your complexion from drying or damaging elements. Either way, your skin is caught in a cycle of trying to compensate by overproducing natural oils, resulting in clogged pores and that persistent shine.
Think of this way: moisturizing with a super-nourishing, fast-absorbing facial oil says to your skin “Hey there. Calm down. You don’t need to work so hard. You’ll get what you need from now on. It’s all good…” It may take a little time for your stressed-out skin to get the message, but within a few days (or weeks, depending) you’ll notice a steady decrease in extra shine as your skin recovers it’s natural balance.
HOW TO GET THE BEST RESULTS FROM FACIAL OILS
You’ll know your facial oil is right for you when it absorbs quickly and your skin feels smooth, plump, and slightly dewy. If the oil doesn’t absorb well, or your skin stays shiny after several minutes, these are signs that something isn’t quite right. Luckily, some simple adjustments to your skin care routine can help you get the best results from oil-based moisturizers.
First, a build-up of dead skin cells can block the oil from fully penetrating your skin – not to mention contribute to a dry, flaky, or dull complexion. Regular exfoliation with a gentle scrub will go a long way towards managing dryness, deep cleansing pores, and allowing your facial oil to replenish the lipid barrier that keeps your skin smooth and vibrant.
Second, you can get around the need for a water-based cream by ensuring that your skin is hydrated before applying your oil. This can be as simple as leaving your skin slightly damp after cleansing, but a gentle toner or mist can make all the difference by prepping your skin to absorb all the restorative benefits of your facial oil. Toners do an amazing job of clearing away the last traces of dirt, makeup, and cleanser residue, with the added bonus of boosting hydration and delivering skin-conditioning benefits all their own. Simple, water-based plant extracts like rose water (a.k.a. hydrosols) make excellent toners!
THE SECRET TO CHOOSING FACIAL OILS THAT WORK FOR YOU
Here it is, the most important factor: your facial oil must have the right balance of fatty acids for your skin. Most oils offer benefits like moisturizing, antioxidant value, and the ability to protect skin from harsh environmental factors, but the fatty acid profile can help you determine which oil will work best for your unique needs. Overall, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) work wonders for combination, sensitive, and especially dry skin. Oils high in MUFAs carry all sorts of conditioning benefits, and support the health of your skin’s underlying structure to keep it firm and smooth. MUFAs tend to make an oil relatively thick and rich, which is especially helpful for locking in moisture. Oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are comparatively lighter, and tend to absorb even more quickly than MUFAs. Oily or congested skin may really benefit from PUFAs since they can help balance complexion, but they may not provide enough moisturizing benefits for dry skin types.
This is where things get a bit technical (and controversial). Your best bet is to choose a blend of oils with a total of no more than 30% PUFA. With a few exceptions, the higher the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in an oil, the less stable it is, meaning it is extremely sensitive to degradation from exposure to heat, light, and oxygen. It will go rancid very quickly. Heat and light accelerate the process of oxidation, which destroys antioxidants and creates cell-damaging free radicals – not good for your lovely skin. It’s important to note that for the vast majority oils, it is nearly impossible to know when they’ve gone rancid. If it gets to the point that it actually smells off, it is far, far too late.
To get a sense of which oils would be best for your skin care needs, here’s a quick review of some of the most common facial oils and their (generally estimated) fatty acid profiles:
FATTY ACID PROFILE
SKIN TYPE + NOTES
*** Beware high-oleic sunflower oil. The seeds are irradiated (exposed to radiation) in order to force the production of more oleic acid than they would naturally produce. If you’re intent on choosing truly natural skin care, there are plenty of naturally high-oleic oils with far greater benefits for your skin.
TIPS FOR USING PUFAs
If you’ve had great results from some of the high-PUFA oils like rose hip, evening primrose, grapeseed, hemp, or flax, here are a few tips for choosing quality oils and storing them in ideal conditions:
- While cold-expeller-pressed is ideal for most facial oils, it’s absolutely crucial for high-PUFA oils. Any heat processing whatsoever practically guarantees that the oil is already rancid before it even hits the shelf.
- Choose high-PUFA oils that are packaged in dark glass bottles to protect them from light exposure, or at the very least, opaque plastic bottles preferably made from relatively non-reactive plastics like PP or HDPE.
- Keep high-PUFA oils in the fridge at all times. If the label doesn’t specify a press-date, write an estimated expiry date of 3 or 4 months after purchase, as a reminder.
- Choose high-PUFA oils that are blended with more stable oils like jojoba, argan, or coconut, which can help to extend the shelf life by offering some protection against rancidity. Better yet, find an oil blend that contains added antioxidants like vitamin E or rosemary CO2 extract.
The right facial oil can be a game-changer for your skin care routine. Focusing on fatty acid profiles (and their stability) is the most straightforward way of ensuring that your facial oil is fresh, well balanced, and can effectively deliver the best long-term results.