How to Choose the Best Oil for Your Skin
It's no longer a secret that oil and skincare go well together, but it can be overwhelming to choose the best facial oil for your skin when there are so many options. Let's take a look at components to consider, and explore some favorite oils.
linoleic vs. oleic acid
First things first, we have to talk about fatty acids. Fatty acids are basic building blocks of all oils (including sebum - the naturally occurring oil of our skin), and linoleic and oleic acids are two important ones to consider when talking about skincare. Studies have found that individuals with acne-prone skin generally have lower levels of linoleic versus oleic acid in their sebum, and that topical application of linoleic acids can help to manage acne. As a result, oils with higher percentages of linoleic acid are excellent options for those battling acne.
With that said, most of us don't have the luxury of a single skin concern, but may also want to treat dryness, signs of aging, or hyperpigmentation. Oleic acid adds richness and heaviness to oils, making oils high in oleic acid excellent deep moisturizers (especially luxurious as night treatments).
It's also important to note that like people, plants are different, and the origin of the oil can impact the ratio of oleic vs. linoleic acid. Try to buy from a reputable supplier that states the origin and percentages of the oil. You'll likely find percentage ranges because of the variability of plant supply. (For example, check out the fatty acids analysis on the Mountain Rose Herbs Argan Oil page)
Okay, fellow strugglers of acne, now that we're excited about finding oils high in linoleic acid, a buzzkill: Just because it's high in linoleic acid does not mean it won't irritate your skin. I know, I'm sorry.
The second component to consider is comedogenicity, or the likelihood that a given oil will clog your pores. Though good to consider, comedogenicity is not a foolproof system for many reasons:
- Everyone is different! Comedogenicity is a good place to start, but it's not the gold standard. What works for one person may be pore clogging for another.
- Comedogenicity ratings vary, meaning that every oil really is a try-it-and-see situation. This is not helped by the fact that the ratings were created from lab, and not real-world, tests. When it comes down to it, the ratings are most helpful for whittling down the options.
- "The dose makes the poison": Don't go throwing out products with high-ranking oils in them! Maybe an oil that doesn't work for you at 100% concentration is benign at 25%.
- Product quality matters. Choose high-quality, expeller-pressed, or cold-pressed (never solvent extracted!) oils that are stored properly in a dark glass bottles to keep contamination, rancidity, or other negative properties to a minimum. Quality oils will perform better than their cheaper counterparts.
With so many oils and characteristics to consider, we've whittled this list to a handful of favorites. Please note that the list includes high oleic, balanced, and high linoleic oils. All oils rank low on comedogenicity lists (0 to 2 on a scale of 5).
Regardless of the oil you choose, always patch test to make sure it's a good fit for you.
NOTES FOR FINDING YOUR BEST OIL
- SIMPLIFY the rest of your beauty routine and keep it consistent for a few weeks prior to testing a new oil. This will isolate the oil so you know that any results - good or bad - are most likely the result of the newcomer. You may notice an improvement in your skin when you do less to it; irritation from overdoing it is a common acne trigger.
- START SMALL by patch testing and by massaging only a few drops into your skin.
- Avoid oils with essential oils, which are medicinal and can cause irritation and photosensitivity depending on the essential oil. Essential oils are not bad, and some have face-friendly therapeutic properties, but it's best to keep it simple when starting out.
- This breakdown addresses oils for use as topical facial moisturizers only (not for internal use).
Woohoo! Let's find out which oils are best for your skin.
Balanced, but certain varieties can be high in oleic acid depending on the origin.
Technically, Jojoba oil isn't an oil at all, but a wax ester. Regardless, let's keep calling it an "oil" for the sake of brevity.
Jojoba oil is a great example of report cards not telling the whole story. Jojoba gets a comedogenicity rating of somewhere from 0 to a 2, and is balanced, rather than high in linoleic acid. While I wouldn't usually go for a 2 or a balanced oil, jojoba is my personal favorite.
The jojoba oil molecule very closely resembles that of human sebum, or the oil produced by the skin. This is one of the reasons that jojoba may be an ideal option for addressing acne problems. In addition to adhering to the "like dissolves like" principle of high school chemistry by dissolving the sebum that clogs our pores, as a sebum-similar molecule, the skin (theoretically) recognizes jojoba oil at its own. The result is that the skin (theoretically) reduces natural oil production because the jojoba oil adequately moisturizes and replenishes the skin. This decrease in oil production should help to fight acne (and frequent trips to the bathroom to blot excess oil. Pro-tip: Toilet seat covers are excellent oil blotters!).
Jojoba is a great multi-tasker. It moisturizes the skin, unclogs pores and hair follicles (clog-free follicles may help hair (re)growth), and has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, making it a good option for treating skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Finally, Jojoba is a very stable oil, and therefore has a much longer shelf-life than other oils and may retain its benefits for longer.
Jojoba oil is my go-to oil for skin cleansing and moisturizing. Plus, it's one of the more affordable options. Heck yes!
GOOD FOR: People who are new to oil, and dry, normal, and oily skin, as it balances sebum production.
Shopping Tip: Try this certified organic option from Kate Blanc Cosmetics
High in linoleic acid (unless it's specifically marked as high-oleic for cooking)
Sunflower oil is rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin E. It deeply hydrates the skin, supports the skin barrier, reduces transdermal water loss, reduces inflammation, and promotes healing. The oil is popular for healing wounds, and for treating psoriasis and arthritis.
Sunflower is also a great oil for those with acne prone skin due to the fact that it is high in linoleic acid. One theory of acne is that people with acne-prone skin have higher levels of oleic acid in the skin's sebum (natural oil), which contributes to breakouts. Another study found that directly applying linoleic acid to affected areas was effective at reduced small breakouts. Oils high in linoleic acid are also generally less thick, which is great for people with oily skin concerns. These oils are also effective at reducing the appearance of sunspots, or UV-induced hyperpigmentation.
GOOD FOR: People who are new to oil; dry, combination, mature, irritated, and/or acne-prone skin; for reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
Shopping Tip: Try this organic, cold-pressed option from Renewalize. (While this oil is not Certified USDA Organic, the company has many oils that are USDA certified, and claims that the reason this one is not is to keep the price affordable. Though it'd be awesome for it to be certified, it's the best option on Amazon.)
High in oleic acid
Nicknamed "Liquid Gold," Argan Oil is produced by hand from the nut of the Argan tree, which grows in Southwestern Morocco. Rich in antioxidants (vitamin E), essential fatty acids, and triterpenoids, argan oil helps to keep the skin moisturized and soft, battles signs of aging and loss of elasticity, reduces inflammation, and helps to heal skin and fade scars. Argan oil is a considered a dry oil, which means it will absorb easily into the skin without leaving an oily residue. It should have a mild nutty scent.
As this oil is produced by hand, it should be a bit pricey! If the price tag seems too good to be true, it probably is. On the flip-side, you can find argan oil for more affordable prices by avoiding big name cosmetics brands who bottle it and slap their own names on it.
On a cautionary note: Argan oil is high in oleic acid and tends to be polarizing - some people love it and can't live without it, and others develop reactions (including acne) to it, despite is non-comedogenicity. You may want to avoid this oil if you have acne-prone skin. As always, please, please, please small patch test!
GOOD FOR: Dry and normal skin, preventing signs of aging.
Shopping Tip: Try this raw, cold-pressed, certified organic oil from Morocco by Rain Lillie
HEMP SEED OIL
High in linoleic acid
First, hemp seed oil is great for enjoying sunshine. Not only does hemp seed oil naturally have an SPF of about 6,* but it also aids Vitamin D absorption, an important reason to soak up the sun in the first place.
Second, hemp oil is fabulous for skin care. It can help reduce pore size, blackheads, acne, and ease other skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis with its anti-inflammatory and redness-reducing benefits. Hemp seed oil is high in Omega-6 and Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (the oil actually has a uniquely great balance of the two), which helps to rebuild the epidermal lipids and prevent moisture loss, thereby battling wrinkles and maintaining skin elasticity. Hemp seed oil is also high in anti-oxidants, adding to its anti-aging benefits.
This is a dry oil (high in linoleic acid, after all!), so you may need to mix it with an oilier oil if you have dry skin. Hemp seed oil is a great choice for battling acne, and can be used as a cleanser and a moisturizer.
CON: **Must Keep Hemp Seed Oil in the fridge**
GOOD FOR: Acne, oily skin.
Shopping Tip: Try this non-GMO, certified organic, cold-pressed hemp seed oil from Renewalize
High in linoleic acid
Unlike rose essential oil, which comes from the rose flower itself, rosehip seed oil is produced from the small fruits behind the rose flower. This (should be cold-pressed!) oil is rich in essential fatty acids, Vitamin C (an anti-aging antioxidant), and - most notably - a natural retinol, Vitamin A (superstar in preventing signs of aging). It encourages cell turnover and helps cells to produce more collagen and elastin, protects and moisturizes the skin, reduces the appearance of wrinkles (and other signs of sun damage), and fades scars, stretch marks, and hyper-pigmentation.
Though rosehip seed oil does have anti-inflammatory properties and is high in linoleic acid, it can be too stimulating for acne prone skin. If you patch test and it goes okay, try using the oil every other day to make sure your skin continues to do well with it.
CON: Rosehip seed oil is more sensitive to oxygen, light, and temperature fluctuations than other oils, and therefore should be kept in the fridge.
GOOD FOR: Combating signs of aging, scarring, hyperpigmentation.
Shopping Tip: Try this certified organic, cold-pressed Rosehip Oil from Radha Beauty (I know it shouldn't matter, but I love that cobalt bottle)
PASSION FRUIT/MARACUJA OIL
High in linoleic acid
Like Jojoba Oil, Maracuja Oil is one that did not earn a solid 0 in comedogenicity, but is still an oil I'll vouch for, especially because of the high linoleic acid content.
A noteworthy component of Maracuja is that it's an anti-inflammatory and soothing oil – so much so that it's often used in massages and to make folks sleepy. It's also an excellent moisturizer, and is high in the potent reparative and restorative antioxidant lycopene, which gently lightens skin (as for hyperpigmentation or melasma), battles sun damage, and prevents the breakdown of collagen.
GOOD FOR: Most everyone! Its balanced composition and calming effects make it a good choice for most.
Shopping Tip: Try the Passion Fruit Seed Oil from Leven Rose
High in oleic acid
Tamanu Oil is a favorite in topical first aid due to its proven anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, but it's also a good choice for skincare either on its own or in combination with other favorite oils.
While Tamanu oil soothes burns, bites, and abrasions, it's also healing for other irritation-based skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. For those suffering from acne, the antimicrobial properties can help to keep acne-causing bacteria at bay.
Tamanu oil has also been found to absorb UV rays and to protect cells from damage*, as well as to improve the appearance of scars.
Tamanu is a precious oil, so be prepared to spend a decent amount of money on it.
GOOD FOR: Fighting acne, healing scarring.
Shopping Tip: Try certified organic, cold-pressed Tamanu Oil from Vanuatu by Pur360
Miscellaneous Things to Consider…
Many oils have similar powers, and one isn't necessarily better than the other. It all comes down to what works best for you. Whichever you choose, look for your oils to be organic, cold-pressed, and 100% purely that oil. Keep oils in dark-colored glass bottles, as light can break down their healing and restorative properties (oxygen and temperature fluctuations can also be factors). You can usually guess that an oil packaged in a plastic and/or clear bottle is not very high quality.
Oils also generally have a scent of some kind (jojoba's is very, very mild), and an oil that has no smell whatsoever has likely been cut with something else, or was heated during processing. With that said, price is an important factor for many of us, and the higher quality the oil, the more expensive it will be. You'll have to experiment to find your preferences.
Remember, be sure to keep your skin care routine super simple while you identify best oil choices so that you can isolate what works and what doesn't. You might also experiment with mixing oils once you find some you like.
A Final Thought
Makeup Matters: Think about what oils are in your makeup, too. If you have your moisturizer oil down pat, but are using makeup that have oils that don't work with your skin, you may not see the results you want. The whole Axiology makeup line is formulated with gentle, skin-nourishing oils, so you can treat yourself and your skin. Try one of the zero-waste Balmies for all-over skin health and radiance. (Not an ad! I just loooove them.)
Enjoy the journey with your new facial oils!
*This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not meant to advocate hemp seed oil as a suitable option for sunscreen/sunblock.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is general in nature and for informational purposes. It is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. None of the statements on this site are a recommendation as to how to treat any particular disease or health-related condition. If you suspect you have a disease or health-related condition of any kind, you should contact your health care professional immediately. Please read all product packaging carefully and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise, supplementation or medication program. Cosmetic products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.