How Facial Oils Work and How to Use Them

In this blog post, we deep-dive into the topic of Facial Oils to give you more information about the science behind oils, how to choose the correct oils for your skin type and skin goals- and where to find bulk oils, including sourcing important information like their unique fatty acid profiles.

Although we covered lots of information about the skin barrier (and understanding your skin) in this blog post, we thought we’d revisit the topic to give you more information about how facial oils work, specifically.

This blog post will explain the basics of how a facial oil functions when it interacts with your skin, and will ALSO cover a few different ways to use your oil- whether you make one yourself, already have a tried and true favourite- or are looking to invest in one of our customized formulations

If you don’t have time to read this full blog post, feel free to take our FORMULA FINDER quiz and get matched to your unique formulation (without needing to grasp the science).

1. Why does our skin need Oils?

First, you're probably wondering WHY our skin likes oils. Putting oil on your face may seem counterintuitive (especially to those with oily skin), but as it turns out, oils aren’t there to make your face “oily”. Oils make your face moisturized. This is because in many cases, oils help our skin retain its natural moisture. So- how does our skin lose moisture?!

Your skin can dry out for a number of reasons: after using harsh products, using too many products, or just through environmental exposure (such as being outside on a windy and cold winter day). Your skin becomes dry and flakey when it loses too much moisture.

The process of your skin losing moisture throughout the day is called Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL). As you age, this natural process tends to happen a bit quicker, meaning you lose more moisture throughout the day. 

In order for your skin to feel moisturized- and to achieve that natural “glow”- you need to maintain your skin's natural moisture barrier. Having a healthy skin barrier function means your skin is well equipped to fight Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL).

So- how can you help your skin's barrier function, and ensure your skin RETAINS as much moisture as possible?

The short answer is, OILS!

This is what is comes down to: Your skin naturally has a layer of oil on it [aka epidermal lipids] which create a barrier against water loss! When you lose the natural layer of oils on your skin- (in other words, when your skin barrier function gets disrupted through loss of your epidermal lipids), then you are more likely to lose moisture and end up with dry, dull, flakey and dehydrated skin.

2. How does a Facial Oil work and what do they do?

This is a question we receive a lot, as Facial Oils are a relatively new product in the skincare market. From misinformation to greenwashing- both large conglomerates and small indie skincare brands have played a role in creating confusion around these relatively straightforward products.

The best way to answer the question “How does a Facial Oil work?” is to compare them to a product you already have experience with: moisturizers!

Essentially, your skin needs to retain water in order to keep its natural “glow”. Both moisturizers and Facial Oils are formulated to help your skin gain and retain moisture. They just do this using slightly different mechanisms.

Moisturizers work to “moisturize” the skin by delivering two “missing” ingredients: water and oil. Since "dry" or "dehydrated" skin is missing water, and requires oil to help it keep moisture in- “moisturizers” are formulated to deliver BOTH hydration (water) and protection against water loss (oils).

BUT, as we all know from science class- oil and water don’t mix. This is why moisturizer formulations can be quite complicated, as many of the ingredients on that list will be dedicated to ensuring a good emulsion is formed, a nice texture is created, and that the oil and water mix on a molecular level. In other words, many of the ingredients in a moisturizer have less to do with your skin, and a lot more to do with achieving the perfect "cream" consistency.

This is where Facial Oils enter the picture. With so many consumers looking closely at labels now, and asking what each ingredient is doing for their skin- they are discovering that not all ingredients included in products are even beneficial for the skin.

So, facial oils do just ONE of the jobs that the moisturizer does. It delivers missing lipids to the surface of your skin, in order to help your skin protect itself from moisture loss! Without all the other ingredients required to form an emulsion between oil and water, because Facial Oils have no water in the formulas!

This is why we describe our Facial Oils as a “lightweight moisturizer”. They do not technically DELIVER moisture (like your night cream does), but they DO help your skin RETAIN moisture.

3. What is the benefit of using a Facial Oil?

You may now be thinking- "okay, so why don't I just slap olive oil on my face and call it a day? Why do I need a blend of different oils to do a relatively simple job?"

Or you may be thinking: "I don't even have dry skin, I have oily skin- should I still use Facial Oils?"

This is where things get really interesting- and where custom formulations become important. 

So far we have covered the fact that Facial Oils work to replace some of the missing lipids on your face. But what we haven't covered yet is: Facial Oils ALSO deliver some key ingredients to your skin, that your skin can’t make itself. 

Think about why it's so important to eat a healthy meals, full of vitamins and minerals: it's because your body isn’t able to create those vitamins and minerals for itself that a healthy diet is so important. Without a healthy diet, your body isn’t able to function! When you have a specific vitamin deficiency, it can show up in your health.

Although we firmly believe your skin can function without the use of products, we also acknowledge that many of us have skin goals that can be aided by cosmetics.

This is the where Facial Oils become so valuable: you can create them using oils that have natural constituents (such as Vitamin E, C, Beta-carotenes, certain fatty acids etc) which are super beneficial for your skin! You can improve the deficiencies in your skin's natural oils.

So not only do oils help your skin maintain natural moisture levels, they also deliver key ingredients that can benefit your skin in other ways.

Each oil- in each of its forms whether refined or unrefined- have their own unique benefits. So, we won’t be able to cover the specific benefits of oils in this blog post. But below, we will chat about specific examples which illustrate the “benefits” of oils to ALL skin types!

4. The benefits of oils: how to pick oils for your specific skin goals

Let’s take a look at one example to clarify exactly what the benefits of oils are, beyond simply acting as a moisture barrier. First, we need to explain what an oil actually is. 

All oils are made of molecules called “ triglycerides”. Triglycerides are essentially three fatty acids bound to a glycerine atom.

TRIGLYCERIDE

[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triglyceride]

There are MANY types of “fatty acids”, all of which create different environments on your skin (like how eating different vitamins and minerals can effect different parts of your health). Different oils could have different FFA’s (free fatty acids) present within them. The “free fatty acids”- or fatty acid profile- of each oil, is what gives the oil it’s unique benefits! 

When picking the oils within your products, you want to choose oils that have specific beneficial FFA’s suited to your skin type.

Let's look at the Fatty Acid profile of a familiar "healing" oil, Rosehip Oil:

ROSEHIP OIL FATTY ACID PROFILE

[Source:https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Bioactive-lipids-%2C-antiradical-activity-and-of-seed-Turana-Solaka/c3c728c205e5e54e3a2f2bacdccc54bd471b3d81]

As you can see, Rosehip oil is very high in Linoleic and Linolenic Acid- both types of fatty acids.

Now, It has been shown that Linoleic acid is very effective at reducing sebum production (whereas oleic acid promotes sebum production)! It has also been shown that people with acne have a Linoleic Acid deficiency in their sebum. To quote our favorite skin scientist: 

In one study, rubbing 2.5% linoleic acid on the faces of people with mild acne made their microcomedones (baby pimples) smaller – fantastic news for people looking for acne relief! - Lab Muffin Beauty Science

Thats why, in the case of acneic or oily skin, you’ll want to find oils (such as Rosehip) which are rich in Linoleic acid! Whereas for dry and aging skin, you’d want to find oils rich in Oleic Acid.

In summary: when you start to see your "skin condition" as an imbalance of the natural fatty acids found in your skins sebum, then facial oils start to make a whole lot more sense. Facial Oils are work to replace and augment the existing fatty acid profile found in your skins sebum! In other words, if you have acne, try using Rosehip oil (or any other oil high in Linoleic acid).

5. How to use your Facial Oil

Now that we’ve (hopefully) given you enough information to start your journey to understanding natural oils and the benefits they hold for your skin- it’s time to talk about how to use your oil!

There are MANY ways to use your oil, including following your intuition and using it however you see fit, in a way that feels right for you. Below are some examples of ways to use your Facial Oil.

As an Oil Cleanser 

Harsh cleansers strip your skin’s natural oils. Based on the principle of “like dissolves like”, the Oil Cleansing Method (OCM) works for removing makeup and dirt, without leaving your skin dry.

How To Oil Cleanse:

Apply a few drops of oil onto wet palms. Apply the oil to your face, gently working it in for a minute. Using a microfiber cloth and warm water, gently wipe residual oil off your face. Follow with a moisturizer if your skin is dry or dehydrated.

If you don't want to try the OCM method, go for a more traditional use of the oils by following the instructions below:

As a Lightweight Moisturizer 

Your skin naturally loses moisture throughout the day, which can contribute to signs of aging as well as dryness or dehydration. A Facial Oil acts as a moisture barrier, locking water within the cells of your skin for a dewy, fresh look.

How to Apply a Facial Oil:

After cleansing, apply a few drops of oil directly onto your face.Gently massage in the oil in circular motions until it has been absorbed. Follow with a moisturizer to lock in the oil and improve absorption of it’s healing elements.

 

6. Summary of How Facial Oils Work 

In summary: Your “skin type” is a skin condition.  “Skin types” imply that your skin is not flexible or resilient to damage. Oiliness, dryness or dehydration are signs of your skin’s current condition. This condition can be augmented with the use of oils.

Your skin may be damaged. Harsh cleansers, hot showers, strong actives and over-exfoliation can all contribute to reinforcing your skin condition. By restoring your natural lipids with a facial oil, you can help your skin maintain its functionality – including healing itself, by enabling it to retain more moisture.

Damage can be healed with fatty acids. Dry, dehydrated, oily or combination skin is a sign that you’re missing certain beneficial fatty acids. Your skin naturally produces oils called epidermal lipids, which are made up of different fatty acids. Depending on your skin condition, you may benefit from re-introducing missing fatty acids with an oil.

Oils are made of fatty acids. Botanical oils are made of triglycerides, which are made of fatty acids. Each oil we use has a different percentage of each fatty acid, making certain oils more suitable for repairing your specific skin condition. 

Facial oils repair your skin.  With our unique customization process, we match the fatty acid profile of the oil to the fatty acid deficiency in your skin. This creates a product that delivers results tailored to you.

We hope this blog post helped today! Let us know in the comments below if this changed your opinion of oils, and which oil you’re excited to work with!

7. Further Reading

To find an oils unique fatty acid profile, you can always visit your local cosmetic suppliers website, as many suppliers have fact sheets on each oil with the breakdown of the oils fatty acid profile. It’s then up to you to inform yourself of the known and assumed benefits of each particular fatty acid!

Of course, this is A LOT of work- to familiarize yourself with not only each oil, but also each oils fatty acid profile- and then the benefits of each fatty acid.

This is what inspired us to simplify the process for you- we have already done the hard work of understanding some of our favorite oils and their unique benefits- and then we have simplified it to a few, easy to understand benefits, which you can find on our Custom Facial Oil page.

Further reading below:

“The Science of Dry and Dehydrated Skin, by Dr. Anjali Mahto”

https://www.theecowell.com/blog/skincare-physiology-for-dry-and-dehydrated-skin-by-dr-anjali-mahto

“A brief overview of skin biology related to cosmetics”

https://www.theecowell.com/blog/skinbio?rq=skin

‘Skincare Oils and Free Fatty Acids: The Science | Lab Muffin Beauty Science

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7xZIBGr_sM

“WHY LINOLEIC ACID AND ROSEHIP OIL MIGHT FIX YOUR SKIN”

https://labmuffin.com/why-linoleic-acid-and-rosehip-oil-might-fix-your-skin/

Anti-Oxidants Vs. Preservatives:

https://www.theecowell.com/blog/preservatives1

More Info on Oils, including fatty acid profiles & rundown of benefits on Susan Parker Blog:

https://susanmparker.com/

“Power of The Seed: Your Guide to Oils for Health And Beauty” by Susan Parker

https://susanmparker.com/book/

How to find Fatty Acid Profiles of oils:

https://www.newdirectionsaromatics.ca/ (look at the “technical documents” tab of your chosen oil, and then click on “certificate of analysis” to see the percentage breakdown of composition of fatty acids)

Where to find bulk oils:

US:

https://www.makingcosmetics.com/

Canada:

https://www.newdirectionsaromatics.ca/

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