For a long time, oil was a dirty word in the skincare world, something meant to be removed from your skin, not added. My, how time has changed. A better understanding of how oils work and an influx of different oil types on the market has led to a long, long list of all kinds of oil-base beauty products on store shelves. But there are still many misconceptions surrounding skincare oils. “Facial oils are often thought to cause breakouts, but on the contrary, the right oil can help balance moisture in your skin and decrease inflammation,” explains Jennifer T. Haley, M.D., a dermatologist in Scottsdale, Arizona. Not to mention that many are loaded with antioxidants and vitamins, offering hydration and nourishment in one easy step.
The trick to face-oil success? Choosing the right one—both for your skin type and purpose—because not all oils are created equal. Still, “with the proper picks you can certainly nourish skin to a wonderful place,” says New York City dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali, M.D., of Hudson Dermatology and Laser Surgery. Here's a cheat sheet to determine which are best for what skin types and what needs, plus helpful product picks.
One of the more popular formats out there are cleansing oils. Despite the fact that "cleansing oil" may sound like an oxymoron, they really do work. How? Oil attracts oil, so the oils in the cleanser attract and breakdown not only excess oil from your skin but also the oils in makeup and sunscreen. (This makes them a great pick for removing a full face of makeup.) They’re also ideal for people with sensitive or dry skin: “Oil cleansers typically don’t contain surfactants, which can be harsh and overstrip the skin of its natural oils,” explains New York City dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum, M.D. She suggests looking for oil cleansers with calming oils such as chamomile, rosemary, and camellia seed.
Buy It: DHC Deep Cleansing Oil ($26.50, Amazon). A cult classic, one of these is sold every 10 seconds worldwide. Credit a blend of organic olive oil, which not only removes even waterproof makeup but also softens skin, and rosemary leaf oil.
For Makeup Application
Any makeup artist will tell you that smooth, hydrated skin is essential for flawless-looking makeup application; oils are a great way to help you achieve that. Try mixing a drop or two into any foundation to up the moisture factor for a dewy, radiant finish. One to seek out? Jojoba. It mimics the oil our skin produces and is lightweight, making it ideal for mixing with makeup. Not to mention that it’s loaded with antioxidant-rich vitamin E, anti-inflammatory zinc, and hydrating essential fatty acids, Haley says. (Try her tip and apply pure jojoba oil to your lips overnight to knock out dryness and leave them perfectly prepped for your morning lipstick.)
Buy It: Lilah B. Aglow Priming Oil ($68, Lilah Beauty). This combines jojoba oil with two other good-for-your-skin oils (tamanu and sweet almond) in a three-in-one moisturizer-serum-primer. Worn alone, it leaves skin smooth and glowy, but it also ups the staying power of any makeup you want to layer over it.
For Dry Skin
A few important things to keep in mind when you’re using oils for moisturization purposes. One, “they can be an adjunct for moisturizer, but not a replacement,” cautions dermatologist Michelle Farber, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. Rather than using one in lieu of your daily moisturizer, add a few drops to your moisturizer for a hydration boost. Keywords being "a few drops." Less is often more and people tend to over-apply facial oils when they really only need a little bit to get the job done, Nussbaum says. People with dry skin should seek out richer, heavier oils. One good option: marula oil. “It has a high concentration of oleic acid, which has a heavier molecular weight, making it super hydrating and better for dry skin,” Nussbaum explains.
Buy It: Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Antioxidant Face Oil ($72, Sephora). Just a few drops of this fan-favorite get the hydrating job done. Also nice: It uses a virgin, unrefined form of the oil. “It’s important to always choose the highest quality and purest oils that don’t use any chemicals or solvents in the process,” Haley points out.
For Acne-Prone or Oily Skin
While it’s true that some oils can clog pores, choosing judiciously can keep your skin hydrated and acne-free, Farber says. Whereas those with dry skin should look for heavier oils, anyone with oily skin or who is prone to breakouts should seek out lighter, noncomedogenic (AKA pore-clogging) oils. Jojoba oil is a good option, as is grapeseed oil; Bhanusali also recommends argan oil, which is thought to lower oil production, he says. Another good pick? Squalane. This is a version of a fatty acid our body produces and an essential component of the oil in our skin. Not only is it noncomedogenic so won’t clog pores, it also has anti-inflammatory benefits, a great choice for anyone battling blemishes.
Buy It: The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane ($8, Sephora). True to its name, this contains only squalane, helping to smooth and soften your complexion without increasing the likelihood of breakouts. And can we talk about the ultra-affordable price, please?
For Anti-Aging Benefits
Thanks to the high levels of antioxidants and vitamins found in many oils, they can be a great add-on to your existing anti-aging plan. A few to look for: rosehip seed oil, which is loaded with antioxidants, in particular vitamin C. “The high levels of vitamin C help lighten brown spots and give the skin an overall brighter appearance. This oil can also improve the look of wrinkles by boosting collagen production and increasing skin elasticity,” Haley says. Yes, please. She also recommends pomegranate seed oil, which also has anti-aging properties and is great for acne-prone skin, a boon for anyone dealing the double trouble of breakouts and wrinkles.
Buy It: The Inkey List Rosehip Nourishing Night Oil ($11, Sephora). A drop or two boosts your night cream. Also worth noting: Whenever you’re trying new skincare products, incorporate only one at a time into your routine. That way if any issues do arise, you can pinpoint what’s causing them, Bhanusali says.
For Your Body
Who couldn’t benefit from a little extra moisture to combat dry arms and legs? For the skin below your chin, opt for coconut oil. Arguably one of the buzziest oils, it gets a lot of hype as an all-over skin savior because, yes, it does offer plenty of benefits. But all of the derms we spoke with agree that it’s best to avoid using it on your face. “It has larger molecules that sit on the surface of the skin and can clog pores,” Farber says. “Dermatologists see lots of a breakouts as a result of coconut oil,” Bhanusali says. That’s not something you need to worry about when you’re trying to knock out dryness on your body. In fact, because it’s heavier and richer, it’s perfect for on super dry and rough spots like elbows and needs. You can even mix it with brown sugar or salt for a scrub that’s both exfoliating and hydrating.
Buy It: Palmer’s Coconut Oil Body Oil ($6, Target). Sustainably sourced coconut oil combines with monoi oil in this heavy-hitting hydrator that leaves skin moisturized for up to 24 hours. Bonus points for the easy-to-use pump applicator.