For years, we've been taught that oil is the enemy. As a teenager, a shiny forehead was the worst beauty faux pas! And skin marketing companies haven't helped. They want us to believe that in order to obtain a clear, radiant complexion, we must rid the skin of oil completely.
But dermatologists disagree. While they don't recommend applying a cotton ball with olive oil directly to your face, many are increasingly recommending cleansers packed with lipids, especially if you have dry skin. Read on to discover the risks and rewards of washing your face with an oil-based cleansing method—and whether the practice is right for you.
How oil cleansing works
Think back to your high school chemistry class and you may recall the lesson: "like dissolves like." This means that materials with a similar chemical structure can dissolve each other. Given this principle, it makes sense that an oil-based cleanser can actually help fight oil on your face.
"Oil-based cleansers work differently than foaming cleansers, which contain detergent-like surfactants that dissolve oil and dirt and pull lipids from the skin cells," says Leslie Baumann, a Miami-based dermatologist. Oils, on the other hand, leave your skin's natural oils intact. And that's a good thing since oil actually helps keep your skin healthy—it protects, heals, and moisturizes your skin, keeping it clear and glowing.
The upsides of oil cleansing
Although all skin types can benefit from using an oil-based cleanser, "oily skinned individuals are often reluctant to use it," says Francesca Fusco, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai School in New York City. Indeed, people with dry skin often benefit the most from oil-based cleansers because face washes with oil help the skin retain moisture. "An oil-based cleanser deposits lipids on the skin, which help hold on to water," explains Baumann. "As an added bonus, some oils—especially safflower oil—are rich in linoleic acid that the skin needs to make ceramides, which naturally help prevent dehydration." Oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed oil, and those rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, such as olive oil, are also beneficial because they have anti-inflammatory properties.
Another upside to using oil-based cleansers? You'll no longer need to use makeup remover in addition to your regular face-washing regimen. Since makeup is often made of oil (and lipids dissolve lipids), an oil-based cleanser will easily remove stubborn makeup and sunscreen.
The downsides of oil cleansing
Oil-based cleansers do not leave skin with that squeaky-clean feeling that many people are accustomed to. Instead, skin will feel smooth and hydrated. "You may even be able to skip moisturizer," says Baumann. However, if your face still feels greasy, you may be tempted to re-wash your face with a standard cleanser.
And while olive oil is considered noncomedogenic (meaning it won't clog pores), some people may still experience breakouts. If you already have oily skin or are prone to pimples, washing your face with an oil-based cleanser may not be the best method for you. Though oil-based cleansers can remove oil from the surface, they can't control hormones, which can also contribute to oil production.
How to cleanse your face with oil
"Although olive oil used on its own can be effective as a cleanser, it's best to look for a facial oil formulated to be used as a cleanser," says Fusco. Many brands such as Shu Uemura and Philosophy now offer oil-based cleansers.
Use about a pump's worth of the formula and with your fingers, massage it onto skin that's dry (no need to rinse your face first) for about a minute. Feel free to rub it softly on your eyes to remove makeup—oil is gentle enough that it won't cause stinging, and it can even condition eyelashes, making them thicker and stronger. To remove, rinse a few times with warm water or use a damp cloth or cotton ball to get rid of any residue. "Unless you're super dry, you can skip the moisturizer after cleansing with oil," says Baumann. "Just don't forget the sunscreen, especially first thing in the morning."
Learn more about olive oil in "The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil: Stronger Bones, Cancer Prevention, Higher Brain Function, and Other Medical Miracles of the Green Nectar" by Alice Alech and Cécile Le Galliard. HowStuffWorks picks related titles based on books we think you'll like. Should you choose to buy one, we'll receive a portion of the sale.