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When it comes to effective skin care, oil cleansing may sound like a major misstep. After all, you’ve probably come across plenty of warnings about avoiding oil on your face, and it might stand to reason that only oil-free products lead to clear, gorgeous skin.
But researchers are starting to highlight the benefits of oils for skin. Soothing, healing ingredients that have a long history of use around the world are enjoying a resurgence in popularity as oil cleansing for the face goes mainstream.
Plenty of well-known brands now include oil cleansers in their product lineups, and many people have turned to oil cleansing as a way to gently remove makeup, soothe sensitive skin, and reduce breakouts.
Below, explore the benefits of oil cleansing, plus find tips on adding this step to your skin care routine.
For many people, “cleansing” brings to mind foamy lather.
Oil cleansing can include products that lather, but it often simply involves pure oils, rinsed away with a damp washcloth.
Some people, particularly those who follow a K-beauty skin care routine, might follow the oil cleanse step with a gentle, water-based face wash to remove any oil residue.
K-beauty is short for Korean beauty, an umbrella term for Korean skin care products and techniques that have become popular in the United States.
Benefits of oil cleansing
The reasoning behind slathering your face in oils in the name of cleansing stems from the idea that “like dissolves like.”
In other words, putting clean, nourishing oils on your skin aims to help:
- lift excess sebum, the oily substance produced by glands on your skin
- clean out clogged pores, like blackheads and whiteheads
- remove dead skin, pollutants, and makeup
That’s why many makeup removers include oil. Oil can lift oil-free, oil-based, and waterproof formulas off your skin and lashes.
Traditional cleansers can irritate your skin, cause excessive dryness,
Using oils instead of traditional soap or detergent cleansers can also help protect the natural lipid layer of the skin and the “good” bacteria that live there.
Oils used for cleansing may also have other skin benefits, though research specifically exploring oil cleansing remains limited. For instance:
- A 2010 study of 28 university students found evidence to suggest cleansing oil could have benefit for dry or mature-looking skin.
2017 studyof 60 adults and children found that bath oil, used every other day for a month, seemed to promote better skin barrier function and relieve dry skin more effectively than oil-free cleansers.
Now that so many brands have come out with oil cleansers, you can easily find oil cleansers online and in most drugstores and beauty stores.
That means you can buy a premixed version formulated for your skin type — or try making your own.
Tip: If you have acne-prone skin, opt for noncomedogenic products. This means they’re less likely to clog your pores.
Oil cleansing ingredients
- For dry skin. Use moisturizing olive oil, which is rich in vitamins and antioxidants and can promote hydration. You can also add coconut or avocado oil for extra moisture.
- For sensitive skin. Steer clear of castor oil. This oil, which has antibacterial properties, acts as an astringent cleaner and can cause skin drying. Try jojoba oil or rosehip oil instead.
- For oily or acne-prone skin. Jojoba oil could be a good option for oily or acne-prone skin, since it may help reduce acne and balance oil production. Argan oil may also help regulate sebum production and promote clearer skin. Another good option is the non-greasy marula oil.
Regardless of what oils you choose, it’s important to buy high quality oils and cleansers without added scents or dyes.
When possible, avoid food-grade oils, and choose cold-pressed, unrefined, virgin oils designed for use on the skin.
Pro tip: Do a patch test
A patch test can help you check for any potential unwanted reactions before you use a product on a large part of your skin. It’s always recommended to do a patch test before trying any new skin care product.
- Apply a small amount of oil to a less-visible section of your face, such as your jawline or just under your ear.
- Leave the area alone for 24 hours.
- Check for any signs of irritation, including itching, swelling, inflammation, or changes in skin color.
- If you don’t notice any changes, you can try using the oil or cleansing product on the rest of your face.
There are two ways to oil cleanse.
Basic oil cleanse
A basic oil cleanse involves applying the oil, then removing it with warm water or a wet washcloth.
- Put 1 to 2 teaspoons of oil in the palm of your hand. For dry skin, start with a 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of castor oil. For acne-prone or oily skin, start with a 1/2 teaspoon of jojoba and a 1/2 teaspoon of castor oil.
- Apply the oil before wetting your face. Use your fingertips to gently massage the oil into your skin for several seconds to a minute to remove impurities like makeup and dead skin cells and allow the oil to penetrate.
- Use a damp, warm washcloth to gently wipe away the oil. Be careful not to press too hard or scrub at your skin, as this can lead to irritation and breakouts. You can also rinse with warm water instead of a cloth if you want some oil to stay on your skin. Your face should be hydrated when you finish, but not greasy or overly irritated from wiping it down.
- Pat dry with a towel and apply moisturizer, if needed.
K-beauty double cleanse
For this way of cleansing, you’ll follow the oil cleanser with a gentle water-based cleanser to remove any lingering residue.
If you’re prone to acne or oily skin, it may help to give this method a try. You’ll still get the cleaning and hydrating benefits of the oil cleanse, but you won’t have to worry about left-behind oil clogging your pores.
- Follow the first three steps above for a basic oil cleanse.
- Wash with a gentle, water-based face wash that won’t strip your skin of its new hydration (like Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser or Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser).
- Pat dry with a towel, and apply moisturizer.
Some cleansing oils, like Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Cleaning Oil, include surfactants in the formula. Once you add water, the mixture foams slightly, which helps it rinse off cleanly.
It’s best to oil cleanse only once a day, instead of every time you wash your face. You can also do it less frequently as a special treatment.
Wondering about the best time of day for this skin care step? Aim to oil cleanse at night to help clean and hydrate your skin before bed.
After oil cleansing, your skin will likely feel supple and free of makeup and other products. Depending on your skin type and the oil you choose, you may not need to moisturize afterward.
For some people, oil cleansing can cause an allergic reaction, irritation, or clogged pores, which is why it’s always a good idea to do a patch test before applying an oil cleanser on your face.
Just know a patch test typically won’t reveal how your pores respond to oil cleansing — it may take some time to determine how your skin tolerates certain types of oil.
What about purging?
Very few studies exist on oil cleansing, but anecdotal reports suggest it may take a week or two for your skin to adjust. In the meantime, you might notice some purging, or an increase in pimples or dry and peeling skin.
Purging refers to breakouts caused by new products that bring bacteria to the surface of your skin. You’ll generally notice a mix of different kinds of pimples, in the places where you tend to break out.
On the other hand, you could also notice itchy, raw, or inflamed patches of skin, especially in new areas where you usually don’t notice breakouts.
This typically suggests a negative reaction to the oil or cleansing product, not a purge, so you may want to check with a dermatologist before using it again.
Want to change up the way you wash your face? The oil cleansing method might be worth a try. Just know that this method might not work for everyone, so pay attention to how your skin responds.
If you notice an increase in breakouts, especially after oil cleansing for a few weeks, you may need to gently cleanse afterward, use a different oil, or stop oil cleansing altogether.