If there's one product type that's guaranteed to cause contention amongst beauty editors, skin experts and product lovers alike, it just might be face oil. Even after years of working in the industry and chatting to dermatologists and brand founders, it's the one product that always manages to be divisive.
As a teenager, I religiously avoided oil-based products for fear of them exacerbating my already oily skin, but once I hit my 20s, the tide turned and suddenly oil products were in. The general consensus seemed to be that oil actually balanced oily complexions rather than amplifying your skin's existing sebum levels.
Fast forward to 2019—I'm now in my 30s, and honestly, I'm confused. Some beauty gurus are swearing off oil for good while others still sing its benefits from the rooftops. So how are we meant to know whether we should actually be using it?
I decided to ask some skincare experts what they really think about face oils to try and get to the bottom of the debate for once and for all. Is it a skincare staple that we should all be including in our daily routines, or should we consider it more of a treatment for use on specific skin types only? Keep scrolling to find out the truth about face oil.
In Defence of Face Oil
"Oil is absolutely the best thing to use for your skin," states Jordan LaFragola, celebrity esthetician and founder of Flora Mirabilis. "Your skin naturally produces oil to moisturise and protect itself, and water-based products will never moisturise the way oil does."
In terms of the science, skincare expert and facialist Lisa Franklin agrees: "Skin is lipophilic, so it needs a balance of oil and water to maintain cellular activity and keep its natural barrier strong," she explained.
So far, so good. In fact, I think I should probably give the face oils I've relegated to the back of my bathroom cabinet a second chance…
The Flipside of Face Oil
However, dig a little deeper and it isn't all good news. "The caveat is that there are many different kinds of natural oils, each with varying compositions and properties, and not all are ideal for skin care," explains LaFragola. "The key is finding the right combination of oils to promote balance and vitality in your skin."
Brand founder and skincare expert Susanne Kaufmann concurs. "Everyone can use oils, but it’s important to select the right oil for your individual needs." Plus, it turns out that they might not actually be as hydrating as I first thought. "Oils work more on the skin surface and penetrate less into the deeper skin layers than [for instance] a serum," explained Kaufmann. "They are therefore more of an 'all-rounder' and should be applied after serum. Instead of replacing one or the other we should use both."
In essence, unless you're using the right type of face oil for your skin and using it in conjunction with other skincare products like serums, then you could be wasting your time with it.
The Skin Benefits
According to these experts, though, assuming you've found the right one for you, there's no doubting that face oils have a multitude of skin benefits. "Facial oils give skin an instant softness and smoothness," said Franklin. "They're packed with essential nutrients, fatty acids and antioxidants and form a protective layer—repairing and maintaining the skin barrier."
"Oil supports healthy skin function, [and] when you find the right face oil, your skin will look radiant," LaFragola told us. "Oil gives your skin a noticeable glow and makes it impossible to go back to using regular moisturisers. [Plus] using face oil religiously will slow down skin ageing. Skin that is lacking in oil will show often show signs of premature ageing, whereas oiled skin stays supple and younger-looking much longer."
Choosing Your Face Oil
So how should you go about choosing a face oil that's going to benefit your skin, and what ingredients should we all be looking out for?
"When choosing a face oil, opt for a 100% natural, minimally processed, minimal-ingredient formula," advised LaFragola. "Research every ingredient on the label and familiarise yourself with each one before using on your skin. Some face oils may be 'all-natural' but contain known skin irritants or oils with poor shelf lives that are prone to rancidity."
In fact, citrus oils like lemon, peppermint oil and jasmine absolute are known to irritate the skin, so one's to avoid if you're sensitive. Also, rose-hip, evening primrose and borage oils all have a short shelf life. "If you have nut allergies, check to make sure your face oil does not contain any nut oils, as these are common face oil ingredients," said LaFragola.
"Avoid heavy oils such as coconut and olive," said Franklin. "These oils take a long time to absorb into the skin, and could cause breakouts and congestion." Similarly, if you're pregnant, you should avoid using certain essential oils entirely so be sure to check the ingredients list. Rosemary, clary sage, jasmine, nutmeg and lavender are all best avoided, but check with your midwife if you're unsure.
Understanding Your Skin Type
From chatting to the experts, it seems that the key to making face oil work for you is to understand your skin type. "All skin types will benefit from using a face oil [but] the key is finding a blend that is rich and balanced in both oleic and linoleic fatty acids to promote balance in your skin," explained Franklin.
Oilier complexions will want to look for formulas with higher concentrations of "thinner, lightweight, toning oils" like safflower, hemp seed, grape-seed or sunflower oils, which are linoleic acid-based. Drier skin types should look for "heavier, deeply moisturising oils" like avocado, apricot kernel, almond and hazelnut oils, which are oleic acid-based.
"Any skin type can benefit from using a facial oil," agrees LaFragola. "Contrary to the belief that acne-prone skins should avoid oil, it has been shown that using a facial oil high in linoleic acid will help to unclog pores and reduce inflammation. Oily skin can also benefit from using a facial oil, as this will reduce the overproduction of sebum and balance the skin's own output."
Looks like me and my acne-prone complexion are ready to get experimenting then.
When to Use Face Oil
Now that you've found your perfect face oil, when exactly should you be using it in your routine? "If you want to incorporate a face oil into your existing routine, you would apply a few drops to clean, dry skin after your toner and before your serum and moisturiser," explained LaFragola. Allow the oil to absorb for a minute before applying the next step.
"Oils can [also] be mixed into your moisturiser," said Franklin. Basically, it seems that face oils are only controversial because we've all been using the wrong ones for our skin type. With the expert advice above, I'm definitely feeling a lot more confident about choosing a new face oil and giving it another go as part of my regular skincare routine.
Keep scrolling to shop some of the best face oils for every skin type.
This oil is 100% natural and brimming with lightweight, linoleic acid–based oils like grape seed and sunflower. This is a great option for oilier skin types.
A great all-rounder oil, this one uses cold-pressed superfood seed oils like blueberry, red raspberry and cranberry for healthy-looking, luminous skin.
Drier, dehydrated skin types will love this deeply nourishing oil. Using avocado oil as its base, it helps to strengthen your skin's natural moisture barrier for improved hydration over time.
A luxurious blend of avocado and shea butter oils that hydrates skin for up to 12 hours.
This is the face oil that I'm going to be buying to restart my personal face oil journey. With a lightweight grapeseed oil base and a healthy dose of antibacterial tea tree oil, it's been specially formulated with breakout-prone skin in mind.
This is a great does-it-all face oil that all skin types will enjoy. Despite its deceptively lightweight texture, 100% of testers reported their skin was supple and immediately nourished after using it.
Rather than being created for a certain skin type, this oil was formulated to combat the stresses of daily life—something we could probably all benefit from. It's immediately calming and hydrating and contains mind-balancing essential oils like lavender, chamomile and patchouli to calm tension and stress at the same time.
Sensitive skin types and complexions prone to redness will love this calming, soothing blend of natural oils.