The concept of facial oils has always appealed to me in theory. I mean, seeing those gleaming dropper bottles of crystalline oils catching light on Instagram’s shop page; or when they feature in charming ‘lil indie skincare routines…I can’t be the only one enamoured by their aesthetic value. Although I’ll admit that the actual practice of using facial oils once felt quite counter-productive. With all the talk about skin equilibrium, controlling breakouts and regulating sebum, adding more oils to a skincare routine seemed highly unwise. Well, except that it’s not.
The short answer is: facial oils are likely game-changers.
The longer answer is: it’s a little bit more complicated than that. But one thing’s for sure, facial oils will likely benefit your skincare routine if you use them right. From what are facial oils exactly (and what they are not), their benefits and how to get the most out of them — here’s everything you need to know.
Yes, Your Skin Needs Oils
It’s safe to say that oily skin is a near universal enemy. The culprit? Sebum, probably the type of oil we are most familiar with and averse towards. Sebum is secreted by the skin’s sebaceous glands and is what’s responsible for visibly “greasy faces’. However, they are not the only form of oil produced by our skin.
The skin also produces other lipids (fats and oils) that help to maintain the stratum corneum. Which basically, is the protective layer of our skin that functions as the primary barrier between the body and external environment. The stratum corneum is our main defense against water loss. Hence, this makes natural skin oils paramount in maintaining the skin lipid barrier and retaining moisture that is essential for healthy, supple skin.
Herein lies the reason for our common skin woes. If you struggle with dry, flaky skin, your skin is probably not producing enough oil to properly maintain the stratum corneum (leading to the loss of excess moisture). On the other hand, if you have very oily skin, you’re likely producing too much sebum — which is itself caused by improper skin hydration (More on this below!). Regardless of where you fall on the equilibrium, facial oils can still enhance your skincare routine.
What Are Facial Oils?
For starters: no, facial oils are not the same as sebum!
Instead, using a facial oil will help to supplement the natural oils your skin produces. This in turn helps to repair, protect, as well as maintain the lipid barrier that preserves skin moisture. In fact, the fountain of youth may very well be an oily one; it is the production of natural oils that help keep our skin looking youthful, supple and healthy. With age, our skin produces less natural oils which leaves our visage more susceptible to signs of aging (e.g. fine lines, wrinkles, dullness, saggier skin etc.).
So YES. Facial oils can benefit all skin types. You just need to make sure you’ve picked the right one for your skin’s needs and use it correctly.
The Oily Debate: Are Facial Oils Moisturisers?
The primary benefit of using facial oils is — unequivocally — their moisturising benefits. Which to reiterate, is complementing the natural oils produced by your skin to help fortify the skin’s lipid barrier. However, it’s important to remember that while facial oils help to retain moisture, they are not inherently moisturising i.e. they do not draw water molecules back into the skin.
Facial oils generally land in the categories of emollient and occlusive moisturisers. In gist, emollient moisturisers help to restore and strengthen the outer layer of skin (recall: your stratum corneum) by filling in the spaces between skin cells (i.e. preventing their separation and the loss of moisture). While occlusive moisturisers function as sealants, they form a layer atop of the skin (instead of penetrating it) that prevents water loss.
Whether a facial oil is emollient or occlusive depends on the size of fatty molecules that make up the oil. Simply put, if the molecules are too large to penetrate the skin barrier, they act as occlusives. Conversely, if the molecules are tiny enough to enter the deeper layers of skin and repair your stratum corneum, they act as emollients. This differentiation is crucial when it comes to choosing and using your facial oils right.
Quick Tips: How To Use Facial Oils
A critical step to getting the most out of your facial oils is using them right. There is plenty of great advice and how-tos when it comes to incorporating facial oils, but consider these tips a good place to start:
1. Moderation is key, a few drops is all it takes.
One of the best things about facial oils is that they’re enriched with a far higher concentration of nutrients. This means less is usually more — one to three drops is typically all your skin requires.
2. Apply as the last-step of your skincare routine, after water-based products but before sunscreen.
The general rule of thumb is that skincare is typically applied in order of thickness (from thin to thick) and facial oils are the thickest of all (only second to face balms). So more often than not, facial oils should be the last step of your skincare regime, where they help to seal everything in. You should also avoid applying water-based products e.g. water-based serum after a facial oil, because this may inhibit their absorption. That said, sunscreen as the final-final step of your routine still applies to facial oils. Always make sure you apply SPF after your facial oil.
3. Mix it into your moisturiser.
Add a drop or two into your moisturiser for a boost, or if you want to use facial oils but don’t want to apply it directly to your skin.
4. Mix it into your foundation.
If you’re facing dry skin and crusty, flaky foundation, this is a great tip for smoother, more natural and glowy application.
5. Pat, pat, pat the oil in.
Instead of rubbing in your facial oil (as you might a moisturiser), warm the oil up between your palms and pat it into the skin for enhanced absorption.
Pick Your Elixir: Choosing The Right Facial Oil
You’ve probably gotten the hint by now: facial oils are a tad complicated. I personally wouldn’t recommend playing around with random oils without first looking into their composition — it’s never a good idea. The first step to reaping all the benefits of your facial oil is selecting the right one.
1. Opt for lighter, emollient oils.
Probably the better way to go in Singapore’s humid weather. Choose emollient type oils with a smaller molecular size; these lighter, more emollient oils will be able to penetrate the deeper layers of your skin (and strengthen the stratum corneum) without clogging pores. Examples of such oils include Argan, Squalene and Jojoba.
2. Avoid fragrant & essential oils.
It’s a longstanding debate over whether essential oils actually benefit or harm your skin more. While fragrant and essential oils (some popular ones include Lavender, Rose, Neroli) may possess similar benefits for the skin as non-fragrant ones (e.g. Rosehip, Argan), non-fragrant oils are always going to be the safer choice. Fragrant oils often contain compounds that are likely to irritate skin, particularly in the long-run. Most of which are to do with fragrance ingredients such as Limonene (e.g. citrus oils), Citronellol (e.g. geranium, rose oil), Eugenol (e.g. clove oil) and Linalool (e.g. lavender oil). Considering that the positives of using fragrant oils do not outweigh their potential negatives and non-fragrant oils offer equivalent (or more) skincare benefits, the better choice is clear!
For a more in-depth read on the risks of essential oils in skincare, hop onto this article here.
3. Pick the right oil for your skin type.
Dry & dehydrated skin:
The skin type that stands to benefit most from using facial oils. Try fast-absorbing and nutrient-rich oils (e.g. Marula, Argan) to deeply moisturise, as well as repair your skin’s lipid barrier. Or if your skin is feeling exceptionally parched (e.g. when you’re travelling in a cold, dry climate), you can even try heavier oils like Coconut or Almond.
Oily, acne-prone skin:
One of the most common causes of oily skin is over-stripping/harsh cleansing/excessive exfoliating that strips your skin of its natural oils, triggering an over-production of oil to compensate. Light-weight, acne-safe oils can be key to rebalancing the skin’s natural oil production; try naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory oils like Pomegranate and Rosehip!
The in-between we all want to be! If you have perfectly ordinary skin — congrats! You can probably use most basic facial oils (that are not too heavy) without a hitch. Given all your options, I’ll recommend trying popular holy-grail oils like Argan and Jojoba.
You’ll want to be a bit more careful with ensuring that your facial oils are as cleanly formulated as possible; meaning fragrant and essential oils are completely off the charts. Some powerhouse oils for sensitive skin include Moringa and Aloe Vera oil, which are both loaded with anti-inflammatory as well as antioxidant properties. Regardless, always be sure to do a patch test first!
Our Facial Oil Recommendations
Ready to take the plunge?
1. Milani Prep + Brighten Rose Face Oil (S$30)
What’s good: Milani’s Rose Face Oil is a lightweight, multi-purpose and hydrating facial oil featuring a blend of Vitamin C, Sunflower, Apricot Kernel and Sweet Almond oils.Boasting rebalancing, brightening and rejuvenating properties, use on your hair, face and body to instantly nourish and illuminate. Psst, we love how affordable this is too!
2. Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Facial Oil (S$102)
What’s good: Drunk Elephant’s Marula Facial Oil is derived from a raw, cold-press extraction and tedious filtration process for ultimate purity. The incredibly high concentration of antioxidants and fatty acids makes this oil a powerful guard against environmental pollution and aggressors, while nourishing your skin to restore a youthful, glowy suppleness.
3. Chantecaille Rose de Mai Face Oil (S$290)
What’s good: The pinnacle of luxury facial oils, the Rose de Mai facial oil is a 100% natural blend supercharged with ultra-nourishing plant oils including Rosehip, Evening Primrose and Rose Geranium. An elixir that boosts radiance, firmness and overall skin health.
4. Clarins Plant Gold Nutri-Revitalising Oil-Emulsion (S$110)
What’s good: If you’re still on the fence about plunging headfirst into facial oils, this innovative 2-in-1 oil emulsion moisturiser may be a good prelude. The Plant Gold Oil-Emulsion synthesises Clarins’ iconic Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil with a melting lotion into a weightless, non-greasy moisturiser that comforts, revitalises and nourishes skin.
Whew, now that was quite a ride. Not going to lie — facial oils can be slightly intimidating at first glance. But with a deeper understanding of what they are, their plethora of benefits and how to get the best use, facial oils seem like promising contenders for your next great skincare find. There’s good reason why they’ve been all the rage in the beauty community, so you’ll probably want to give them a chance if you haven’t already.