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Oils in skincare is a vast subject, from medium, ingredient to a form of fragrance, there’s a lot to cover. Yet so much of it holds negative connotation. We know that essential oils are irritants to our skin, so even if we don’t suffer from sensitivity, over time with frequent use, it can cause discomfort. Then there’s the controversial mineral oil found in luxury skincare. Some articles even claim that your regular vegetable oil is ‘just as good’ as a shop bought product or those containing it. If you’re wondering about that one, it’s not. But oil as a formula stabilises active ingredients or makes them more accessible – take Vitamin C and CBD for example. Let’s start with some truths on which facial oils benefit skin – starting with the most common occurring ingredients on our shelves.
If you like to think you’re a skincare junkie, you’ll know that one of the most expensive face creams in the world, Creme de La Mer largely contains mineral oil. Its purpose is an emollient, which accounts for the skin softening effect. Don’t rely on this oil for long term effects. As soon as you stop using it, you’ll notice a difference (I can account for this in my first skincare routine video, when I had no idea!), which many consumers take as a sign that it’s ‘working’. Skincare experts Lion/ne say, “mineral oil isn’t able to hydrate anything other than the top layer of dead skin cells because of its large molecule size. And because it sits on the skin, it can cause congestion.” This begs the question, why do brands continue to use this when it produces limited results? Lion/ne tells us that it isn’t a volatile ingredient, making it useful. Plus, it could be beneficial for those with dry and sensitive skin.
Mineral oil creates a protective film on your skin that shields it from harsh environmental factors. It also makes sure that TEWL doesn’t occur (water evaporating from your skin). Generally, it has soothing properties and it’s considered non-sensitising. Associated with the distilling process of petroleum, it’s earned itself infamy but actually, it’s not all that bad. To put it plainly, it’s just cheap.
Contrary to its name, vegetable oil in skincare is pricier than mineral and absolutely not the same as the sunflower variety in your pantry. Iris Mangaloc, facialist at Sunday Riley explains that when it comes to production volume, vegetable oil is made at low to medium rates because of high cost. It’s either cold pressed or heated (volatile), and is easily oxidised. When hydrogenated, it’s used to thicken a product – it’s important to know the difference because the same element can be used for varying reasons (like the presence of alcohol). In terms of its efficacy, Iris tells us that it’ll vary, depending on the active ingredients in a product. Vegetable oil can be found in many of Dr Jart’s range.
If you’ve ever had serious skin concerns, you’ll actively avoid essential oils. Yet, it’s not as easy as spotting ‘eucalyptus’ or ‘peppermint’ oil on the packaging. Other terms include limonene, geraniol, citronellol and linalool. While its advocates claim that it contains antioxidants and its antibacterial – moot as we know bacteria cannot grow in any oil – it’s mainly used to perfume that serum or moisturiser. And as for the argument that it’s rich in fatty acids, again all oils are comprised of this. While it’s passable in a cleanser, sensitive skin types will not fare well with any of these. If you need proof of its potential to harm, take a look at the results of a skincare trial we did here.
The oils that you associate with troublesome breakouts are heavy on the lipids, have larger molecules and block your pores. An example of this is coconut oil, which is safe to use as a makeup remover but not a moisturiser. Then there’s tea tree oil, which as a teenager with terrible acne, I was no stranger to and thought it could fight pimples. I was wrong. Its astringency causes flare ups rather than shrinking that zit.
When it comes to which facial oils benefit skin there are many like jojoba, hemp, grapeseed, evening primrose or sweet almond. It’s time their reputations were set straight. If you have sensitive skin, oil is a stabiliser in itself, so doesn’t require preservatives. Yay. As for oily skin, well mine is so shiny I don’t even need to use highlighter. I still adore facial oils, especially at night as they replenish the skin and can protect the epidermal barrier. My favourite, CBD is often found in an oil format (they are mutually exclusive) and significantly brings down inflammation. It’s also one of the few ingredients that skin cells actively respond to because our bodies have its own endocannabinoid system. What’s not to love once you know what to look for?
Shop recommended oils here