For years we’ve been told to avoid putting oils on our skin—that they will clog our pores, make us greasy, and cause us to break out like a teenager. But now, facial oils are everywhere, making us wonder, “Wait, is everything I was told about oil a lie?” The short answer is: yes.
Oils have been used in beauty products for thousands of years (as far back as 4500 BCE). And while it’s true that some oils are comedogenic (a.k.a. pore clogging), many of the ones used in modern skin care can actually help balance and clear up your skin. Because plant oils are packed with vitamins, fatty acids, and antioxidants, they can also lock in moisture, calm redness, and protect your skin from future damage. Pretty great, huh?
Before we dig into all the reasons you should be using one, let’s talk about what a facial oil is. Unlike cleansing oils, which are used to remove makeup and, ahem, cleanse the skin, facial oils go on with or immediately after your moisturizer, which is why you’ll sometimes see them referred to as “oil moisturizers.”
A facial oil can be made up of a singular oil or a blend of oils, which can range from fragrant (better known as an “essential oils”) to non-fragrant (jojoba, sunflower seed) to synthetic (mineral oil). We recommend looking for products that use non-fragrant oils. Despite their recent resurgence, essential oils can be very irritating to skin, which outweighs any benefits (especially when there are so many great non-fragrant oils out there). We also aren’t big fans of mineral oil—while many of its potential risks have been overblown, it’s not nearly as effective as other ingredients and isn’t awesome for the environment.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. Here are all the reasons you should add a facial oil to your skincare routine.
1. Facial oils smooth skin and seal in hydration.
Quick science refresher: Your skin produces its own fats and oils, called lipids. These lipids act as the “mortar” between skin cells (the “bricks”) to make up your outermost layer of skin (the stratum corneum). Together they create a protective barrier between your skin and the environment to keep water in and allergens and other irritants out.
Facial oils work in much the same way: By acting as an occlusive, they form a seal over your skin, locking in moisture and other goodness from your skincare routine. Many plant oils are also emollients, meaning they smooth and soften the skin by filling in all the empty spots between cells.
Because oil repels water, it’s important to dab on your facial oil with or after your moisturizer. That way all the humectants (moisture-attracting ingredients) from your moisturizer actually sink into your skin, with the facial oil acting as a sealant to keep them there.
2. But that’s not all they do.
While the main job of a facial oil is to lock in moisture, a well-formulated blend will also come with loads of other benefits. Many plant oils naturally contain skin-nourishing vitamins. For example, cloudberry oil, derived from an Arctic berry of the same name, is high in vitamin C, which fights off free radicals, brightens skin, and boosts collagen production. Other oils, like cottonseed oil and meadowfoam oil, are packed with vitamin E—a soothing antioxidant that also protects against damage, plus helps strengthen that protective barrier we talked about earlier.
Likewise, a good oil moisturizer will use plant oils that are high in polyphenols (types of antioxidants) and fatty acids. Polyphenols like ellagic acid (found in cloudberry oil) minimize wrinkles and protect against UV damage, while fatty acids like omega-3s and omega-6s calm inflammation, smooth fine lines, and clear up skin.
3. Facial oils work for every skin type.
It probably comes as no surprise that facial oils are excellent for dry, flaky skin. If your moisturizer alone isn’t cutting it, layering on a facial oil can help boost its effects and prevent water from escaping. Drier types should look for rich, fatty acid-containing oils like sweet almond oil, which is super moisturizing but also gentle enough for people struggling with eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis.
In fact, most oil moisturizers are pretty great for sensitive skin in general. If you have picky skin, you’ll want to steer clear of essential oils, which further aggravate skin, and instead seek out non-fragrant oils with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Cottonseed and sunflower oils, for example, contain both linoleic acid and vitamin E, which work together to soothe redness and irritation.
Blessed with easygoing, low-maintenance skin? You can still benefit from a facial oil. Using a few drops daily will keep fine lines and wrinkles at bay, make your skin more resilient, and leave you glowing.
4. Yes, even acne-prone skin.
As a teenager, you were probably told to use astringents and oil-free products to keep pimples at bay. But that’s only part of the story.
Yes, acne is caused by blocked pores. And yes, oil is one of the things that can clog them. But it’s actually an overproduction of your body’s own oil, called sebum, that leads to breakouts. The right facial oil, on the other hand, can actually tell your body to chill out on the sebum production.
Why? Well, for one thing, acne treatments tend to be pretty drying and irritating, which, ironically, causes your skin to produce even more sebum, which leads to—you guessed it—more zits. But by using antibacterial and anti-inflammatory oils to heal your skin, you’ll be stopping the cycle by fighting off acne-causing bacteria and soothing your inflamed skin at the same time. In fact, some oils, like meadowfoam seed oil, are so similar to sebum, they trick your body into thinking it’s made enough.
5. Facial oils are super versatile.
Not only can facial oils treat a ton of different skin issues, but they can also be used in myriad ways. You can use an oil moisturizer as a primer or to touch up makeup (simply pat a tiny bit over your dry spots or under the eyes to swipe away eyeliner smudges).
But you don’t have to restrict it to your face either. A good facial oil can soften cuticles, tame frizz, heal chapped lips, and smooth rough elbows.
6. A little goes a long way.
Oils pack a lot of nutrition, so all you need is a couple drops to reap their powerful benefits. You can even mix your facial oil into your moisturizer for an added boost without an extra step. (Just one caveat: Don’t blend facial oils with SPF moisturizers—they can interfere with the protection.)
By adding a facial oil to your skincare routine, you’ll also need less makeup and fewer skincare products in the long run.