What The Heck Are Face Oils, And Why Are They Important To Skin Care?

Growing in popularity, face oils are one of hottest beauty products right now, but what are they? Should you use one? How do you know if the face oil you are using is working?

Recently I reached out to skin care expert Naila Malik, MD for a Q & A session to gain a better understanding of how face oils can benefit all skin types. Enjoy a very pointed interview aimed at demystifying this highly sought after, yet misunderstood, beauty item.

What is a face oil and why would anyone want to use it? (Especially if they have oily skin.)

“Face oils” are natural skin formulations consisting of fatty acids along with high concentrations of vitamins, antioxidants, nutrients and other beneficial ingredients that offer several advantages for all skin types.

For oily, acne skin prone skin, the fatty acids in the face oils act as a far more effective skin exfoliator than some of the other commonly used chemical exfoliants such as the AHAs and BHAs; which can strip your skin of essential skin surface oils. For many people with oily, acne prone skin harsh scrubs, drying cleansers, toners and soaps disrupt the outer most lipid barrier of the skin which in fact frequently leads to skin irritation and aggravation of acne due to the damaged protective lipid barrier and starts a cycle of acne-irritation-excess oil to combat irritation-acne

Topical application of facial oil repairs your skin lipid barrier and reduces breakouts by reducing irritation and establishing a healthy, natural anti-microbial activity on the skin’s surface. Finally, nothing dissolves fat like fat itself, which actually break down the pore clogging lipid plugs in your skin after regular use.

What are the benefits of face oils for dry, oily, sensitive, aging and combination skin types?

Face oils have several advantages for all skin types IF you choose the correct product for your skin type.

Dry Skin:

Your skin’s topmost layer is the stratum corneum, which consists of dead and old skin cells held together by lipids. This is called the lipid barrier and it protects your skin from harsh environmental factors. Dry skin has a faulty lipid barrier. Creams for dry skin are made primarily of wax and water with a small amount of oils. Upon application, the wax forms an occlusive film which holds in skin moisture but repeated application of creams leads to wax build up which prevents further absorption of any oils in the cream, thus making your cream ineffective over time.

For dry skin daily application of face oils is the best remedy for lasting protection. The fatty acids in the oils rapidly get absorbed into the skin keeping the lipid barrier intact without leaving any occlusive residue.

Sensitive Skin:

Face oils can prevent the irritation caused by many other skincare products, some anti-aging ingredients, anti-acne treatments, exfoliants by keeping the skin’s protective lipid barrier intact.Some plant oils such as Argan oil, borage-seed oil, lavender oil have anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce inflammation.

Aging Skin:

Face oils can help aging skin in several ways.

Retain Moisture: As we age, our skin produces less oils that we need to keep the stratum cornea intact and we lose our healthy glow. Face oils add effectively replenish the fatty acids need to repair the lipid barrier required to hold in skin moisture giving our skin a healthy youthful glow.

Free-Radical Protection: Several plant based face oils are abundant in anti-oxidants which fight free radical damage, one of the major causes of wrinkles, pigmentation and loss of elasticity. Argan, passion fruit, and African marula oils, contain potent antioxidants.

Plumping Skin: As we age, starting somewhere in our 30’s fine lines and wrinkles appear deeper. This is because of loss of our skin’s natural oils, the moisture barrier breaks down, and the skin loses moisture. Skin creams may provide temporary moisture but are not very effective in preventing major water loss. Skin oils are lipophilic, (easily absorbed through fat), they penetrate the lipid barrier of our skin effortlessly and prevent loss of skin’s moisture content. Which plumps our skin very effectively. Pure olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil are my favorites for skin hydration and plumping.

What should men and women look for in a face oil?

Look for products that are organic and unrefined, made from pure plant-based oils, with preferable method of oil extraction being expeller- pressed, or steam- distilled instead of solvent-extraction of the oils . Your face oils should be be free of any fillers, alcohol, preservatives and artificial fragrance found in common skin moisturizers and lotions.

How are consumers able to tell if the face oil they are using is working for them?

When you start regular application of the right face oil to your skin, the fatty acids from the oil are immediately absorbed into the stratum corneum or the topmost layers of your skin, and effectively repair your lipid barrier for optimum retention of your skin moisture. Most people see improvement in skin surface texture and tone immediately after their first application. Like any topical skin product, the results continue to be better with each week and with continued use you will notice improvement in complexion, more radiant, plumper and glowing skin.

Are there any drawbacks to using face oils?

Beware of any agents that can potentially cause irritation. For example, regular use of Vitamin C in face oils can cause increased sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity) and an increased risk of sunburn and sun damage. Also be aware of possible allergic reaction which is impossible to predict unless you use the product.
Below are a few face oils that I like to use. Find one that you love!

Face Oils

Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery ConcentrateCAUDALIE Polyphenol C15 Overnight Detox Oil / Colbert MD illumino Face Oil / Fresh Seaberry Moistirizing Face Oil / Tarte Maracuja Oil
About Naila Malik, MD:
Naila Malik, MD is board certified in Family Medicine but practices cosmetic dermatology, antiaging skincare, weight loss and cosmetic PRP treatments. Visit her website for more information on her services.

Product images in the collage correspond with the links below the collage. Image of Kiehl’s via Kiehl’s website. Image of Colbert MD via Colbeet MD website. Images of Caudalie, Fresh & Tarte via Sephora. 


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