If there is one thing that the I can thank the wonderful Instagram community for, it is the introduction of face oils into my routine. I will admit, I used to be so fearful of face oils - I feared the potential 'greasy' feeling on my skin, I feared that my combination skin would become clogged and breakout from the oil itself and I had always been skeptical of the effects of oils on the skin (I often thought...and please don't be offended that facial oils were for hippies). Fast forward to today, I look at face oils at a completely different light - I can freely admit that my perceptions about face oils were completely wrong and I also love incorporating facial oils into my every day routines. I can now say that I have quite a little collection going on of some of the most beautiful oils, ranging from budget friendly rosehip seed oil to the highly acclaimed but also luxuriously priced Vintner's Daughter Active Botanical Serum.
Despite my own personal 'light bulb' moment about the effects and potential benefits of using facial oils on the skin, I know there are still much confusion, myths and misconceptions about face oils in skincare. In this facial oils mega post, which is split into three parts - I hope to debunk some common misconceptions and misunderstanding about face oils, explain how they work and how they may benefit some skin types and finally discuss why some of the facial oils we buy are more expensive than others (Part 2...stay tuned!) and also a brief overview of some the benefits of some types of oils that we commonly see in skincare (Part 3...coming a bit after Part 2!).
What are Facial Oils?
Face Oils are oils are basically plant oils or synthetically derived oils that can be used on the face to keep the skin hydrated and moisturised. Face oils can be made with a carrier/base oil with an array of different essential oils (products such as May Lindstrom Skin's The Honey Dew is an example of this) or can be just made with a singular carrier oil (ie. rosehip seed oil or argan oil). When face oils are applied to the skin, they work to help improve the skin's lipid barrier function. The skin's lipid barrier function is important for healthy skin as as they prevent water loss, thus keeping the skin hydrated and protected.
Our human skin has what is called stratum corneum - which is the skin's most outer layer which can be thought of as a brick wall. The 'bricks' are the skin cells and the 'mortar' is the lipid layer. The skin's lipid barrier is mainly made up of ceramides, sterols and fatty acids. When there is an imbalance of any of these structures in the lipid layer can cause an increase in the loss of water in the skin (trans-epidermal water loss or TEWL) which leads to skin dryness and irritation. When oils are applied to the skin, they are absorbed into the stratum corneum where they can help improve the skin's barrier function as oils contain these skin nourishing fatty acids, ceramides and sterols. Replenishing the skin of these factors which are so important to healthy skin enables the skin to protect the body from the elements and also to retain water.
As mentioned earlier, synthetically derived oils do exist and are called esters which are created by a reaction of fatty acids with alcohols. Common fatty acids include caprylic, lauric, palmitic, stearic and oleic acid and common alcohols which these acids often react with are isopropyl, butyl and ethylhexyl alcohols. There is a long list of synthetic oils available to the cosmetic industry but I have mainly seen these types of oils used in makeup removers/cleansing balms. Another example of a synthetic oil is mineral oil or liquid paraffin. Again, this ingredient I have mainly seen used in cleansing oils, moisturisers and cleansing balms/creams.
Many of us however, are most likely used to seeing facial oils that have been formulated using an array of different plant derived ingredients. A facial oil normally will consist of a carrier oil, mixed or infused with a variety of other carrier oils and essential oils. Carrier oils are oils that are generally derived from a nut or seed and are generally odourless and serve as the foundation or the base of a facial oil. They can be used by themselves, as each carrier oil has its own special characteristics or can be used mixed with other essential oils. Carrier oils are perfect to be used with essential oils (in comparison to say a mineral oil) as they not only dilute the essential oil but they also help the essential oil to be 'carried' and absorbed into our skin. Examples of carrier oils that we often see are grapeseed oil, rosehip seed oil, jojoba oil, marula oil or sunflower seed oil.
Essential oils are oils generally derived from the actual plant and it is important to note that generally essential oils are NOT to be applied on the skin by themselves due to the fact that their chemistry can irritate the skin and are quite potent. Essential oils generally do generally have a scent and thus are also used a lot in aromatherapy. Like the carrier oils, all essential oils will have their own special characteristics that will help our skin and address certain skin concerns. Examples of essential oils include lavender oil (which has calming properties), blue tansy (which is a potent anti inflammatory due to it being high in azulene) and tea tree oil (an anti-bacterial).
As you can see, many of the facial oils we use are a combination of a carrier oil (or few) mixed in with a concoction of beautiful essential oils which have been carefully picked by its creator to treat certain skin conditions or address certain skin concerns (such as brightening, balancing or calming the skin to name a few). These combination of ingredients have been picked to address different skin types as some oils, especially carrier oils are more suitable for particular skin types than others.
Do Facial Oils Cause Breakouts and Acne?
Facial oils have the potential to both help those with blemish prone skin and also to create havoc on these skin types - this is where it is quite important to have a good understanding of what oils might work and not work for particular skins. It is a common myth that those who suffer from acne or have blemish prone skin should avoid all face oils altogether as due to the fact it is an oil it can clog pore and make symptoms worse. This however is not the case and in actual fact, using the right face oils may help those with acne or skin that is blemish prone. Acne is often characterised as a chronic inflammatory skin disorder which is caused by a combination of different factors such as excessive sebum production, inflammation and the presence of a bacteria called propionibacterium acnes.
Oils in general can be great for those who suffer from acne but what is most important for those with acne is to consider what TYPE of carrier/base oil is used in the formulation. Oils that are comedogenic/have a high potential to block or clog pores include coconut oil and shea butter and thus these ingredients should be avoided in a facial oil blend (due to the fact that they are a high acne trigger, most companies avoid using these oils in a face oil blend anyway). However, there are certain oils that benefit those who suffer from blemish prone skin more than others as they have certain characteristics like a particular fatty acid profile that can actually help the skin.
One characteristic that has been discussed in scientific literature is high levels of linoleic acid in topical skincare. Linoleic acid is a type of unsaturated fatty acid that is found in the skin's lipid layer. Linoleic acid helps to retain water in the skin and therefore helps to keep the skin hydrated and plump. The reason why linoleic acid in particular is of such significance is that scientific studies have shown those who suffer from acne generally are shown to have abnormally low levels of the essential fatty acid of linoleic acid in their skin's surface lipids and high levels of oleic acid. In other words, the lipid layer of the skin has an imbalance of fatty acids - it is low in one acid and higher in the other. Studies have shown that in assessing sebum (the skin's natural oil production) from those who suffer from acne, their sebum not only appears to be harder and stickier (which is more likely to clog pores) but is also low in linoleic acid. The clogging of the skin's pores leads to blemishes and even chronic acne. It is these relationships that have suggested that the imbalance of fatty acids available on the skin surface could be one theory to help explain the complexity of acne.
Where face oils or the benefits of face oils come into play for those who have blemish prone skin is that many base/carrier oils have a profile that is high in linoleic acid. Some of these oils include grapeseed oil, rosehip seed oil and hempseed oil. The use of these oils could be a potential option for those who suffer from acne or are prone to blemishes as it may act to help balance out the skin's natural fatty acid composition and therefore help overtime to rid the skin of acne or developing further blemishes on the skin.
The other way that oils can perhaps help those with blemish prone skin is some essential oils such as tee tree oil have known antibacterial or anti microbial properties. As mentioned earlier, those who suffer from acne may have presence of a bacteria called propionibacterium acnes in which oils such as tea tree oil come in to play. In a review that looks at the effects of tea tree oil in treating acne published in 2015, tea tree oil has been shown to be beneficial for those who suffer from mild to moderate acne. It's treatment of acne can be comparable to 5% benzyl peroxide and 2% topical erythromyacin (other common treatments for acne) and many scientists have come to the conclusion that it is due to its antibacterial and antimicrobial effects on the bacteria associated with acne. Tea tree oil has also shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on studies on both mice and humans.
So to answer the question as to whether or not facial oils contribute to acne further - well it does depend on the type of oil used to maintain the skin. If using an oil that is comedogenic such as coconut oil or shea butter, then this might further irritate the acne and further clog the skin, causing more acne lesions. However, if incorporating a blend of lightweight oils that have a good balance of linoleic acid and oleic acid (such as hempseed or rosehip seed oil) and other essential oils such as tea tree or blue tansy oil which are an antibacterial, science says that it can potentially help the balance the skin.
In no way are facial oils the end all and be all of acne treatments (they would be used under the supervision of your dermatologist) but they are most definitely be a valid option. The myth that facial oils cause more acne or breakouts are certainly not true up to a certain point, if anything facial oils can be great for those with acne or blemish prone skin due to the fatty acid profile of some carrier oils and also the antibacterial and anti inflammatory properties of essential oils. Facial oils can help to balance the skin (and thus prevent future blemishes) and also can help treat some current blemishes and reduce the redness in the area. However, with all skin problems it is always best to consult with a medical professional first as everyone's skin is unique and different.
What If I Have Oily Skin, Will Face Oils Make My Skin Worse?
Another myth that I often hear (and believed this at one stage myself) is that those with oily skin should avoid face oils. It doesn't quite make sense that if you have oily skin, you should just put more oil on the face does it? Well, in actual fact I can personally say that in the horrible 40 degree (celcius) heat and humidity in Shanghai, my skincare routine was basically a cleanse, a facial oil and a lightweight moisturiser. To emphasise, I used an OIL for my combination oily skin in the height of Shanghai humidity and heat and my skin was forever thankful for it. It caused me no breakouts and actually helped me to keep my skin balanced and I had no issues of congested skin. My worries of using an oil were pretty much diminished from that point onwards and have since been happily playing around with a different array of lightweight oils for me skin and I will admit that facial oils are a new found love for me.
Like with those who have acne prone skin, choosing the right oil is extremely important. Those who have oily skin most likely suit more lightweight oils such as grapeseed oil, jojoba oil and marula oil as these oils feel lighter on and sink so effortlessly in to the skin. The way in oils like the lightweight ones mentioned earlier work is that our skin naturally produces oil (sebum) to help balance, maintain and regulate the skin. It is common for us oily skin ladies and gentlemen to feel that we need to remove the feeling of oil on our skin and this is often done by using harsh cleaning agents or products that strip our skin of its natural oils. When our skin is stripped of these oils, our sebaceous glands (the glands that produce sebum/oil) go into overdrive and start to compensate by producing even more oil for the skin. Over time, the aggravation and overproduction of oil from the sebaceous glands can clog the pores, create further breakouts and even oilier skin. Using an oil can actually help to regulate and balance the skin as the skin's sebaceous glands do not feel the need to produce more oil on the skin as it can feel that something is already there and is balanced. Oils will help to hydrate the areas that are dry and also regulate areas that are already prone to developing more sebum and therefore less oil is produced by the skin naturally - your skin will eventually balance out over time.
Whilst oils might not be for everyone, most people with oily/combination skin could benefit from using a facial oil on their skin as it will help to balance out the sebum production. Again, if you do have concerns with your skin and are unsure on whether or not to incorporate a face oil into your routine, ask a professional or get a sample of a product and patch test on your skin.
Will Using Essential Oils Irritate My Skin?
This is another common myth that I have often seen, most commonly by a popular skincare resource (which don't get me wrong...I also use but also carefully take into the account the advice given, like you should with anything you read, including my own blog posts!). Essential oils are commonly used in facial oils as they are like the targeted treatment and the carrier oil is like the vessel. As mentioned earlier, essential oils all have their own special characteristics as to how they can benefit the skin. Lavender has been touted to help calm the skin, chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties as does blue tansy, tea tree oil and sandalwood oil are also known to help with antibacterial properties as well.
Essential Oils DO have the potential to irritate the skin and that is with ANY skincare ingredient out there on the market, whether it be man made OR natural. Just because an essential oil is natural or organic doesn't mean it will work for your skin type. Skin is highly personal and there are people out there who can most definitely react to ingredients such as tea tree oil or lavender as their skin just simply is not suited to it. Essential oils also do have the potential to be irritating to the skin if they are not formulated correctly. It is important to remember that with essential oils, a little does go a long way as they are generally quite potent in small amounts. I remember in my oils workshop that I did in Shanghai, the amount of essential oils in a formulation should be be no more than about 5% of the actual oil itself. The rest of the formulation should be made up of safer carrier oils such as grapeseed, sweet almond oil and argan oils.
In saying that however, essential oils also have the potential to be incredibly beneficial and healing to the skin. I love anything with blue tansy essential oil as it seems to calm down any of my eczema flare up and soothe the skin. Whilst scientific studies for that particular ingredient are not widely available or proven, I have noticed that when I do use something with Blue Tansy in the formulation on an eczema patch, my skin does heal a lot faster. There are also plenty of scientific studies that can also prove that many common essential oils such as tea tree oil does have some benefits for those who do have skin issues such as acne. In a review of botanical extracts written in 2010, scientific studies have also shown that chamomile plants such as German Chamomile have certain benefits for soothing skin conditions such as eczema. Lavender was also another plant that is found to have anti bacterial properties in this review and has been a plant that has been used by the Ancient Greeks an Romans to help heal and soothe wounds (on the flip side, studies have also shown that lavender can also be a skin irritant as well). Essential oils are not all bad if they are formulated correctly and if you have no known skin allergies to that particular oil. It is obvious that having some essential oils in facial oil blends can potentially have many benefits to the skin and in skin healing.
Overall, I won't lie but I love using face oils. Since incorporating face oils into my routine, my skin has been extremely happy and overall quite balanced. There are many misunderstandings with facial oils in which I hope I have cleared up or at least shed some light on for those who are curious in dabbling with oils or concerned that they might not work for them. For those who are well versed in facial oils or have enjoyed using them as much I do, I hope that in this post you have discovered something new about the products that you love and use.
For me, I think that the key in picking the right oil for you is understanding what oils are best for your skin and skin type and overall what you hope to achieve with the oil for your skin (ie. hydrating, brightening etc). It is also extremely important to note that in purchasing facial oils, not all are made equal and that the processes of growing, sourcing and extracting the different oils can have also an effect on the quality, potency and chemical profile of the oils we use as well, this is a topic that I hope to delve a little deeper into in Part 2 of Understanding Face Oils...so watch this space!
Do you use face oils? What has your experiences been with using these facial oils? Do you have a favourite? I would love to hear what you think and know what your experiences have been, so please share in the comments sections below!