When it comes to putting together a skin-care routine, cleansing is an essential first step. After all, it helps get rid of the dirt and grime that has accumulated on your skin throughout the day.
Traditional facial cleansers contain soaps and detergents that break down oil and dirt so they can then be rinsed off your skin. However, these facial cleansers can often be a bit harsh and leave you with a dry, tight complexion—not really what you want!
While it may seem counterintuitive, cleansing your face with oil can be a gentler option—and may actually have some major skin benefits. (And yes, you can even try it if you have oily or acne-prone skin.)
If you’re curious about oil cleansing, keep reading to learn more about how it works, the main benefits, and how to choose the right cleansing oil for your skin type.
What Is Oil Cleansing—And How Does It Work?
Allow us to break things down for you: “Oil cleansing is a method in which oil-based products are used to clean the skin,” says Ayurveda practitioner Tracy Adkins, founder of Jivana. (ICYMI, Ayurveda is the ancient medical system of India.)
Though this might be the first you’re hearing about it, oil cleansing is a practice that’s actually been around for centuries. “There seem to be many different origins of oil cleansing, from the Ancient Greeks to Eastern Asia,” says Krupa Koestline, clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants. “Oil cleansing has also been a part of Ayurvedic traditions for thousands of years.”
Oil cleansing is based on the basic chemistry principle that “like is attracted to like,” says Adkins. So, in the case of oil cleansing, the theory is that oil is attracted to oil. “This is also referred to as lipophilic, meaning one oily substance will dissolve in another oily substance,” Adkins explains.
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Here’s how it all works: Your skin naturally produces its own oil (called sebum) to create a barrier that provides lubrication and moisture, and protects your skin from chafing, infection, and tissue breakdown, explains Adkins.
The downside of this sebum: “Over the course of the day, it tends to collect dirt and grime, environmental pollution, sweat, and bacteria,” Adkins says. Which, naturally, is where oil cleansing comes in. “Oil-based cleansers latch onto the sebum, which now also holds onto a day’s worth of toxins, and wash it all away.”
The Benefits of Oil Cleansing
Oil cleansing suddenly sounds pretty interesting, doesn’t it? The biggest reason to try it is that it won’t strip your skin of much-needed moisture or compromise your natural skin barrier the way traditional facial cleansers could, according to Adkins. Those with dry or sensitive skin will particularly appreciate that oil cleansing leaves their skin feeling soft, hydrated, and supple as opposed to tight, irritated, and dry.
“I personally stopped using harsh surfactants on my skin when I was pregnant and my skin became really dry,” adds Koestline. “Oil cleansing helped balance my dry, sensitive skin while keeping it nourished.”
Pregnant or not, oil cleansing is a gentler way to cleanse your skin without risking any irritation, notes Koestline. “It’s also effective in removing long-wearing makeup without having to tug the skin too much,” she adds.
The best part? Oil cleansing is suitable for all skin types and is extremely safe, effective, and gentle, according to the experts.
Oil Cleansing for Different Skin Types
“All skin types, from oily and acne-prone to dry, eczema-prone skin can benefit from oil cleansing,” says Koestline. It’s important, however, to choose an oil that’s appropriate for your skin type and any concerns you’re looking to address, says Adkins.
Those with dry skin should seek oils high in oleic acid, which helps strengthen the skin barrier, while those with oily, more acne-prone skin can benefit from linoleic acid and omega-6 fatty acids, since they help balance sebum production, she explains.
Here’s a deeper look at the best oils to use for cleansing based on your skin type:
For Dry Or Aging Skin
When it comes to dry skin, the heavier the cleansing oil the better. “Avocado, argan, castor, and sesame oils are heavy and dense—as determined by their molecular weight—and best suited for dry, mature, aging skin,” says Adkins. “They are rich in fatty acids and help plump, nourish, and moisturize skin in addition to cleansing it.”
If you have sensitive skin, try oils such as jojoba, meadowfoam, and moringa, suggests Adkins. These all have strong balancing properties, meaning they can help soothe your easily irritated skin, she explains.
Oily or Blemish-Prone Skin
Those with blemish-prone skin tend to have a lower concentration of linoleic acid on their skin to begin with, which is why they should look for oils that are high in linoleic acid to cleanse with, Adkins says. These include oils like hemp seed, rose hip, tamanu, and grapeseed.
“Additionally, oils with a higher concentration of linoleic acid are lower on the comedogenic scale than oils with higher oleic acid,” she adds. Translation: They’re less likely to clog your pores and cause breakouts.
Adkins also likes neem oil for blemish-prone skin. “It’s cooling, soothing, and an extremely gentle antimicrobial,” she says. It’s a go-to herb and oil in Ayurveda for good reason: it works.”
Should Anyone Avoid Oil Cleansing?
While oil cleansing is typically safe and effective for most people, there are some caveats you should be aware of. “Anyone who has a known nut allergy should be cautious using pure nut oils,” says Adkins. “Most refined nut oils tend to be tolerated on the skin, but always do a small patch test before applying over a large surface area.”
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And if you have any open wounds, sores, or an active infection, consult with a healthcare professional before using oil or avoid it until the skin condition has cleared, she adds.
How to Oil Cleanse Like a Pro
It’s time to get oil cleansing! Follow these tips from the pros to get the most out of this practice.
Look For an Oil Cleanser
Before you go slathering whatever oil you have in your pantry on your face, consider looking for an oil-based cleanser: “Oil cleansers have emulsifiers in them to make it easier to remove and rinse off,” says Koestline. “Plain oils can melt off your makeup but won’t effectively lift the excess grime off the skin.”
Emulsifiers are ingredients that mix with water to trap oil and everything attracted to it so it can all be rinsed off the skin. “Emulsifiers have one side that’s attracted to oils (lipophilic) and another side that’s attracted to water (lipophobic),” explains Koestline. “As oil does not dissolve in water, emulsifiers help them mix, and in the case of cleansing oils, allow the cleanser to be rinsed off the skin.” Emulsifiers have very science-y names, like cetearyl glucoside and potassium cetyl posphate.
Choose the Best Oil Cleanser for Your Skin Type
Remember: Different skin types have different needs. “Dry skin types need heavier, more nourishing oils, while oily skin requires lighter oils with skin-clearing properties,” says Adkins. “Sensitive skin, meanwhile, benefits most from oils that have balancing properties and moderate hydrating features.”
Province Apothecary Moisturizing Oil Cleanser + Makeup Remover is a great option for all skin types. It contains nourishing and soothing ingredients, including avocado oil and jojoba oil that help thoroughly remove all traces of dirt and impurities without stripping skin. It’s non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores, so it’s suitable even if you have acne-prone skin.
Mad Hippie Cleansing Oil, meanwhile, contains a blend of organic pumpkin seed oil, organic safflower seed oil, and organic rosehip oil to moisturize and soften skin while gently removing dirt and makeup. It’s also non-comedogenic, meaning oily and acne-prone skin types can use it.
Start with a Patch Test
As with any skin-care product you’re adding to your routine, it’s a good idea to start with a patch test to make sure you’re not sensitive to any of the ingredients, says Adkins. “Watch for signs of redness, inflammation, itching, hives, or irritation,” she advises.
Apply and Remove Oil Cleanser the Right Way
According to Koestline, application and removal are very important when it comes to oil cleansing.
First things first: Make sure to apply your oil cleanser with dry hands onto dry skin. “Water and oil do not mix, so applying it to wet skin means the oil won’t actually touch the skin,” explains Koestline.
Once you’ve massaged the cleanser thoroughly into your skin, then wet your hands with warm water and massage your skin again. “This helps emulsify the cleanser, and it’ll turn milky,” Koestline says.
Finally, use a warm, soft washcloth, muslin towel, or microfiber towel to gently remove the cleanser and continue on with the rest of your skin-care routine, she advises.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a gentle yet effective way to remove makeup, dirt, and excess oil from your skin, then give oil cleansing a shot. Not only do oil cleansers do an excellent job of getting rid of grime that builds up on the surface of your skin, but they also help moisturize and protect your skin from irritation. Quite the win-win!