One of today's most lauded skin-care items — oils — is also one that many people are confused about how to use properly. Although treatment oils (including but not limited to sweet almond oil, evening primrose oil, rosehip oil, and safflower seed oil) can be incredibly effective for most skin types, the way they are used also plays a role when it comes to results. It's important to assess skin type and skin issues in order to select the right oil for optimum success. While oils do have some slight variation (some, such as pomegranate seed oil and cranberry oil have antioxidants, for example), in general, the main benefit — moisturizing — is something they all have in common.
For the most part, I recommend clients use oils in the evening, as this is when the skin is at rest (and the air is usually driest at night) so the oil can work to repair and protect skin during sleep. Read on for the right and wrong ways to use a treatment oil to achieve maximum results for your type of skin.
For Dry Skin
Right: Apply the oil in the evening after cleansing, toning with an alcohol-free toner (left damp on the skin for extra hydration), and applying a serum. Mix 4-6 drops of the oil directly in with your nighttime moisturizer and apply to both the face and neck. You can also use 4-5 drops applied over your moisturizer, which will provide a protective barrier to prevent dry air from pulling moisture out from the skin.
Wrong: Used directly on the skin underneath moisturizer, or in its pure form in place of moisturizer. The reason you shouldn't use it directly on the skin is because our skin requires both oil AND water. All moisturizers are formulated with ingredients that deliver these two ingredients that benefit the skin, whereas skin oils only provide oil.
When you use moisturizer (often containing antioxidants, retinol, or firming peptides) over the oil, the beneficial ingredients will not be able to penetrate the skin effectively because the oil will act as a barrier.
Right: Follow the same steps above for dry skin, but mix in 2-3 drops of treatment oil, as normal skin obviously needs a little less oil.
Wrong: As is stated above, you don't want to use the oil directly on the skin or in place of moisturizer. Although many normal skin types experience the occasional breakout, if you start to notice frequency in breakouts occurring AFTER you've begun using a treatment oil, you might consider dialing down the frequency and only applying the skin oil on very blustery days when your face is exposed to harsh winds and cold temperatures.
For Oily/Combination & Blemish-Prone Skin
Right: Follow the skin-care routine suggested for dry and normal skin types, and then massage just 1-3 drops of oil directly onto the skin. Oily skin already has its own oil built in, and the skin mainly requires water to keep it healthy and hydrated, so you don't want to use too much oil. Generally, when you use a moisturizer for oily skin, it's lightweight and oil-free. You want your moisturizer's ingredients to absorb into the skin first to avoid any potential blocking or clogging of the pores. After you've moisturized as you normally would, you can add a protective layer of oil (sparingly) over your moisturizer to prevent water loss.
Wrong: Mixed in with moisturizer/lotion or used directly on the skin in its pure form in place of moisturizer. Oily skin doesn't require more oil; rather, it requires water. In the case of blemishes, oil breeds bacteria, and bacteria leads to breakouts. If your skin is reacting to the use of a treatment oil by causing bumps or increased breakouts, then discontinue using it.
I want to point out that people with oily skin types can safely use treatment oils, especially if you are located in an extremely dry climate; however, it's important to use them sparingly and only when skin is feeling particularly tight and dry. You don't want to overuse a treatment oil because it will create a layer over the top of the surface, which then creates more heat to be trapped within the skin. Heat will cause more oil production and allow for bacteria to grow more quickly, ultimately resulting in a potential for increased acne.
For Airplane Travel (All Skin Types)
Right: Apply 1-2 drops over moisturizer every hour during a flight to provide a protective barrier to prevent moisture loss from the dry cabin air.
Wrong: Applied only once pre-flight or not at all. The cabin air is extremely dry and the skin needs continual application of a treatment oil to keep it hydrated during and post-flight.
For Daytime Use
Right: Apply oil over daytime sunscreen and before makeup. In the morning after cleansing, toning with an alcohol-free toner (left damp on the skin for extra hydration), and using a vitamin C antioxidant serum followed by a moisturizer with sunscreen, massage a few drops onto the skin. Proceed with makeup (optional). By layering the treatment oil over your sunscreen moisturizer, you are adding a protective barrier, which will prevent moisture evaporation.
Wrong: Mixed in with sunscreen moisturizer. A sunscreen moisturizer is an FDA-approved product and it's thoroughly tested to ensure that the SPF number listed on the bottle or jar is truly giving protection from damaging UV rays. If you alter its original formula by mixing in an oil, you cannot be confident that you're getting adequate benefit to prevent wrinkles, brown spots and skin cancer. Remember that UV light given off from the sun is the number one cause of premature wrinkles, but skin cancer is far worse than a few signs of aging. Use an SPF religiously to help prevent melanoma.
A few others things worth mentioning: I absolutely love skin oils, but not all formulas are equal. The biggest problem that can occur with some oils is that they can go rancid easily (adding a couple of drops of vitamin E can help preserve the oil) and when used topically, free-radical damage will occur — and that's never good for the health of the skin. It's not wise to use a single oil or blend of oils that does not have a good preservative system, so be sure to inquire about it before making a purchase. Vitamin E can act as an effective natural preservative so look for one that uses this ingredient.
Many skin care lines use just one oil in their treatment oils, but I prefer to use a blend of different oils. Think of a treatment oil as bodyguard for your skin's surface — it keeps moisture in the skin where it needs to be — and always be sure to use it correctly so that you get the best results.