11 01 2016
It turns out the skin care ingredient we've all feared the most is actually good for our skin.
Face oils have taken on celebrity status in magazines, blogs, and websites. But are they just another cosmetic fad or an essential component of anti-aging skincare? This guide covers common questions and science-based answers to help you decide.
Let’s start with the most obvious question:
1. Aren’t oils bad for my skin?
It turns out the skin care ingredient we've all feared the most is actually good for our skin. That’s because when you look at the science behind aging skin you’ll learn three important facts: 1) oils, also known as lipids or essential fatty acids, occur naturally in your skin, giving young skin that “healthy glow,” 2) lipids create a protective barrier to hold moisture in and keep the elements, like sun and wind, out, and 3) as you age you produce fewer lipids, dehydrating your skin and making it far more prone to wrinkles.
2. How do face oils work?
When oils are applied to the skin, without the interference of waxes (more about that below), they are absorbed directly into the top layers of the epidermis, where they instantly go to work to improve the lipid barrier function. By replenishing the oils you’ve lost due to natural attrition (aging) and exposure, you enable your skin to do what it does naturally—retain moisture and repel assaults from sun and wind.
3. How do face oils compare to creams or lotions?
Creams and lotions are mostly waxes and water, with a few oils thrown in. Waxes form an occlusive layer on the skin, which helps to hold moisture in. That’s good, but there are two major downsides: wax build up may lead to clogged pores, and the wax barrier may prevent the oil component of the cream (the part of the product that actually benefits skin) from penetrating.
Natural oils, on the other hand, deliver all of the benefits without any downsides. What’s more, the small lipid particles in oils penetrate past the epidermal barrier to deliver nutrients to deeper layers of the skin. This means that a very high concentration of therapeutic ingredients can reach the dermal layer where skin renewal takes place.
4. Why are face oils so much more expensive than creams?
Creams are composed principally of wax, water, fillers, and preservatives, with a small dash of an oil du jour thrown in to make it sound like you’re getting something for your money. Oil blends, on the other hand, are made up of only therapeutic ingredients—nothing else. The oils are, understandably, more expensive than wax and water. But when you compare the quantity of beneficial ingredients you’re getting in an oil blend vs. a cream, the oil blend works out to be a much better value.
5. Are all face oils basically the same?
All face oils are not created equal, so it’s important to shop wisely.
Some, but not all, oils deliver important micronutrients. The best oil blends deliver an array of vitamins, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids, becoming a kind of topical supplementation to benefit your skin. Read the label to make sure you are getting a range of antioxidant and EFA-rich oils.
Choose essential oils not fragrances: Artificial fragrance oils should be avoided and essential oils should be chosen with care. Essential oils from the citrus family smell wonderful but they can photosensitize the skin, ultimately causing more harm than good.
Expeller pressed, steam distilled, or CO2-extracted oils are preferable to solvent-extracted oils because contaminants from solvent extractions are a leading cause of allergic reactions.
Select skin care oils based on their therapeutic properties. Some oils, like carrot seed and helichrysum, have known anti-aging, skin-rejuvenating benefits, while others, like cypress oil, have more antiseptic properties.
6. Are there specific ingredients I should look for in face oils?
Reading the tiny print on an ingredient label is no easy task. But it will be worth the effort if your face oil ingredient list includes oils rich in essential fatty acids, especially the Omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. Here’s why:
Essential fatty acids
Oils rich in essential fatty acids work in multiple ways to improve various skin conditions:
- They combine with the oils on the skin’s surface to maintain the integrity of the environmental barrier, thus protecting skin from UV and pollution assault.
- Thanks to superior penetrability, they deliver micronutrients to deeper layers of the skin where they work to repair free radical damage and reduce inflammation.
- They dissolve hardened oil deposits that occur well below the skin’s surface, improving skin quality of all types, from acne prone to aging.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular the DHA and EPA types found in some algae, modulate inflammatory processes, which are the major cause of aging.
Antioxidants prevent free radicals from damaging cells and DNA, which leads ultimately to an acceleration of the aging process. And, as an added bonus, EFAs and antioxidants work better together when it comes to maintaining a youthful appearance. The key is teamwork.
7. Are face oils good for all types of skin?
It almost goes without saying that face oils are ideal for aging skin. They not only hydrate the skin, but also make it more resilient and able to combat wrinkle formation. While it may seem counter intuitive to apply oil to blemish-prone skin, it turns out that the oils are far more effective than scrubs, harsh soaps, and other treatments that strip your skin. Topical applications of oils alleviate breakouts by re-stabilizing the lipid barrier, thus restoring anti-microbial activity on the skin’s surface. What’s more, because lipids dissolve lipids, oils actually break up congestion at the source.