Whether it’s moisturizer or a daily face wash, when looking into purchasing any kind of skincare or makeup product, most people almost always look for two words on the label: oil-free. If it has any oil in it, it’s not getting anywhere near my face. The conventional wisdom is that acne and pimples are caused by an excess of oil, which clog pores. Oil makes your skin greasy and shiny, and nobody wants that. So why would oil ever be included in face washes, or any other skincare product, let alone be used entirely on its own as a solution for acne?
Something most people don’t know is that natural oils can actually feed, protect, and support our skin tissue while keeping it hydrated, pimple-free, and balanced. Though it’s not as simple as applying the first kind of oil you see to your skin (no, the vegetable oil in your kitchen cabinet will not work), it’s pretty straightforward once you find the right kind for your skin. Facial oils are usually made up of several different botanical oils, which are oils that are based around a single plant-based extract. Simply put: they’re completely natural. Botanical oils provide your skin with the kind of nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins inherent in nature!
Here are a few specific oils that provide solutions to certain skin problems:
Clogged Pores: Clogged pores caused by dehydrated skin. When our skin is dry, its natural oil cannot secrete easily to lubricate its surface. So instead, our oil becomes thick and hardened, getting lodged in our pores and creating plugs out of dried out sebum.
- Oil Suggested: Using a plant-derived oil like Jojoba mixed with a high linoleic oil such as grapeseed, which helps to restore moisture and prevent clogged pores. Jojoba oil is very similar to our own sebum.
Dehydrated Skin: Easily damaged skin that is prone to bacterial penetration, which may lead to acne. This problem can sometimes be caused by dehydrated skin.
- Oil Suggested: Oils such as primrose, which are rich in fatty acids that nourish the skin, can strengthen its immunity and keep skin from easily breaking out.
Oily Skin: The skin’s overproduction of oil. The more we wash our face, the more sebum is produced as our skin attempts to maintain proper protection and moisture. This is how acne sufferers can actually cause their own excess oil secretion— by using skincare products that dry out and strip nutrients from the skin.
- Oil Suggested: Replenishing the skin with oils such as jojoba, which actually has a similar consistency to our own sebum, may stop the cycle. Instead of using a harsh cleanser, or over-washing, the jojoba can be used with a gentle cleanser or the Oil Cleansing Method.
Breakouts: Inflammation of breakouts. Red and blistering pimples need to be calmed and cooled down.
- Oil Suggested: Oils like coconut and camellia can protect and soothe irritation, as well as ease the redness of pimples.
Many of the oils we see at the grocery store or in the ingredients of our skincare products may cause clogged pores and inflamed faces. So when searching for a skincare oil, the kind of oils you’ll want to be on the lookout for should be of the non-comedogenic variety. Because comedogenic means likely to cause comedones, or clogged pores, you’ll want to choose oils that are non-comedogenic and are less likely to cause clogged pores. The less likely it is to cause pores, the less likely it is to cause acne.
Coconut oil is an example of an oil that some people swear by for skin care, while others swear when it makes them break out! It has a higher level of comedogency but that higher level has been questioned by some. If you want to try coconut oil on your skin, caution is advised initially, try a small test spot and see how your skin reacts to it.
Simply selecting any natural oil from a wide list of non-comedogenic oils may not necessarily be enough if you have acne-prone skin.
With so many different oils, and so many equally different skin types out there to treat, not every non-comedogenic oil will be completely effective. To narrow down such a large list, we need to look the chemical composition of natural oils. One key factor that can make certain oils work for some and not for others is the ratio of linoleic acid and oleic acid in each of their compositions.
Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid and also an omega-9 fatty acid, whereas linoleic acid is an unsaturated fatty acid as well as an omega-6 fatty acid. Because oily, congested, and acne-prone skin’s sebum is predominantly composed of oleic acid, it’s been shown that acne sufferers have low levels of linoleic acid in their skin. Deficiencies in linoleic acid can cause our skin’s natural sebum to become thick and sticky, and thick sebum leads to clogged pores. It’s recommended for those who have acne-prone skin to create a balance of linoleic and oleic acids by applying oils high in linoleic acid directly to their skin and to avoid oils higher in oleic acid. When our skin’s natural sebum is primarily composed of lipids high in linoleic acid, we have little to no break outs.
Reading the chart:
Oil level of comedogency are rated between 1 and 5. The first column rates their comedogenecy. The higher the number, the more likely it is to be high comedogenic (clog pores). Levels of linoleic acid are rated between high and low. Somewhat high/low mean that the levels (linoleic and oleic) are somewhat balanced but still contain higher concentrations of one acid over the other.