What is face oil?
Face oil’s primary function is to trap moisture in your skin, in order to prevent dryness.Face oils shouldn’t replace moisturizers, which themselves bolster and attract moisture levels in the skin. Typically, face oils are used to protect these moisture levels and prevent loss. Instead, oils are well paired with oil-free moisturizers—and should always be the last step on one’s skincare regimen, since they are the outermost defensive layer.
Different types of oils have different functions, and so a face oil’s overall formula might serve multiple purposes. Many of these oils are also key ingredients in everyday moisturizers (and even cleansers) since they have so many benefits for the skin. It’s just that a pure-oil formula (as in, a face oil) creates an occlusive or emollient that shields the skin as opposed to being fully absorbed.
Jojoba oil: a nourishing oil that mimics the function of sebum—and can in turn help mitigate excessive sebum production.
Argan oil: Rich with omega fatty acids, argan oil is nourishing and promotes healing and softness in the skin.
Tea tree oil: Antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti inflammatory, tea tree oil helps prevent breakouts and calms irritation—in small doses. (It must be paired with a “carrier oil” like argan or jojoba.)
Moringa oil: One of the best anti-aging oils, thanks to its antioxidant and antimicrobial abilities.
Squalane: Restores moisture levels and prevents further loss. Also has anti-inflammatory powers.
Rosehip oil: Thanks to fatty acids (like linoleic acid and linolenic acid), rosehip oil calms dry, irritated, or itchy skin, and it helps defend against skin-aging pollutants.
Marula oil: Antioxidant-rich marula oil also helps defend against skin-aging toxins, while also protecting the integrity of skin-firming collagen and elastin (its high concentration of amino acids and fatty acids keeps skin firm and nourished).
It’s our theory that coconut oil should be avoided for skin. It’s terrific for hair nourishment, but it’s one of the more comedogenic and occlusive oils (along with sweet almond oil), and while drier/non-acne-prone types might be fine, it can wreak havoc on many other skin types. (Even ingesting coconut oil can lead to severe breakouts for acne-prone skin.)
Who needs face oil?
While many of us experience excessive sebum production (and have oily, acne-prone, or combination skin), face oils are best suited for dry skin types whose body struggles to naturally nourish cells. However, face oils can be used by all skin types; it merely depends on the oils used and their respective functions.
In theory, there is a face oil suited for all skin types—even oily or acne-prone skin. It all comes down to the formula at play. However, if you have oily or acne-prone skin, you want to prioritize formulas that promise to be lightweight, non-comedogenic (non-clogging), and don’t build up on the skin. (Typically their molecules are small enough to be absorbed into the skin, whereas denser oils rest atop the skin and act more occlusively to block pores.) Jojoba, marula, rosehip, and squalane are the best lightweight bets for oily and acne-prone skin types, while a balanced formula with tea tree oil will also help to control bacteria and breakouts.
When do you use face oil?
You can use face oils in the morning and evening, after cleansing and hydrating (along with any other steps you add to your regimen). It’s important to use oils as the last step in your skincare regimen since their application would hinder any additional products from being absorbed. Just as they trap moisture in, they block the absorption of other nourishing ingredients once applied. Typically, they absorb quickly into your skin, and even if they rest atop the face, they won’t make drier skin types “feel oily”. You should be OK to lay your head on your pillow without waking with a stained pillowcase.
As for seasonality: Some people may not want face oils at the height of summer when the humidity and heat keep their skin naturally nourished, but those same individuals may enjoy a face oil in colder, drier months, or in heavily air-conditioned spaces. Perennially dry skin types will benefit from use year round, since they are prone to moisture loss.
The Best Face Oils
Wonder Valley Face Oil
Wonder Valley's lightweight olive oil-based formula works to heal, hydrate and protect the skin.
"To create our olive oil, we harvest and press our olives when they’re still green, so there’s a higher concentration of polyphenols and antioxidants (more than if you were to harvest the olives later),” co-founder Alison Carroll told us. “This means you’re applying a higher concentration of these actives when you apply them topically... Olive oil is also rich in vitamin A and E and palmitic acid, so it’s really hydrating and skin softening,” Alison adds. “Olive oil has a high concentration of the ultimately hydrating oleic acid, and linoleic acid and squalene, which both help strengthen and fortify the skin.”
Intrigued? Learn more about olive oil's potential as a skincare product.
Augustinus Bader The Face Oil
If you want some top-shelf, blue-ribbon face-oil benefits, then Augustinus Bader's oil is your winner. It’s a precious blend of antioxidant- and fatty-acid-rich oils including argan, hazelnut, babassu, and karanja. However, the real magic swirls around the brand’s proprietary “TFC8” complex, which combines a medley of amino acids, vitamins, and “synthesized molecules” (which mimic those in your own skin), which in turn magnifies the impact of all other ingredients in this formula (not to mention those that you obtain through other skincare products in your regimen).
The Ordinary 100% Cold Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
The Ordinary keeps it simple; they rely less on unique formulas and instead sell straightforward benefits. In the case of this excellent rosehip oil, it’s a simple addition to your skincare regimen, providing a lightweight, nourishing, and defensive outermost layer (minus any gloss). As a rule of thumb, applying standalone oils to your skin isn’t a good practice, unless it’s from a reputable brand that promises a carefully prepared product like this. (In other words, the home-brewed knockoff oil brands on Amazon should be avoided!)
Clark’s Botanicals Jasmine Vital Oil
Glowing is the name of the game here—though it’s not the only benefit. A roster of anti-aging, antioxidant, and skin-firming oils also delivers a radiant aura to the skin–and not the glossy film that you feel from having greasy, grimey skin.
Caudalie VineActiv Overnight Detox Oil
A potent overnight oil that helps resuscitate tired, dry, and pollution-damaged skin. It uses a “dry oil” formula, in that you won’t feel any excess or see any glossy film on your face (your pillowcases are safe, in other words). It’s a terrific way to lock in moisture in an air-conditioned room, or at peak bone-dry winter, when you’re essentially a sitting (err, sleeping) duck.