Acne occurs when oil (sebum) builds up on your skin, yet some people swear that using oil-based remedies on your skin will get rid of acne. You can find tons of recipes all over the internet for “oil cleansers.”

The basic concept of the oil-cleansing method operates on the “like dissolves like” premise. In other words, rubbing oil on the skin will dissolve the oil that has built up and hardened with dirt and impurities.

Olive oil is one of the most highly recommended oils by proponents of the oil-cleansing method. This is because olive oil is high in vitamins and antioxidants.

Is there any truth to the claims behind the oil-cleansing method? Should you rub olive oil on your skin? Read on to learn more.

How it works

Acne occurs when your pores become clogged with oil (sebum) and dead skin cells.

The logic behind oil cleansing is that you don’t want to strip your skin of all oil because it then goes into overdrive and makes a lot more oil. Oil cleansing achieves a better balance on the skin because it locks in hydration and isn’t overly drying.

Advocates of the oil-cleansing method recommend using olive oil for all skin types due to its high vitamin and antioxidant content. Jojoba, grapeseed, almond, and castor oil are also considered beneficial. Coconut oil isn’t usually recommended, however.

Method

If you want to give oil cleansing with olive oil a try, the method is fairly simple:

  • Have your olive oil ready or mix together olive oil and other oils according to a recipe; you can also just purchase a brand of premixed oil cleanser.
  • Pour the oil into the palm of your hand and then apply it all over your face.
  • Massage the oil or mixture around for a couple of minutes.
  • Allow the oil to sit on the face for another minute.
  • Dip a washcloth in warm water that’s cool enough to use on the face but warm enough to dissolve the oil.
  • Apply the washcloth to your face and hold it there for 15 seconds.
  • Slowly wipe the oil off your face.
  • Repeat until all the oil is wiped off the skin.

You’ll want to do this regularly, but not more than once per day. It may take a week or two before you see results.

Double cleansing

Double cleansing entails washing your face twice in a row: once with the oil cleanser and again with a regular water-based cleanser.

Supporters of this type of cleansing method say that this ensures that you remove both the oil-based dirt and makeup on your face as well as the regular dirt and sweat that builds up throughout the day.

Research

While the oil-cleansing method may sound scientific, there’s very little scientific evidence that it works. There haven’t been any large, randomized clinical trials testing the oil-cleansing method or olive oil on humans.

On the other hand, olive oil has been used on the skin for centuries. There have been small studies in animals and humans that looked at the effect of olive oil or components in olive oil on the skin in general, but results are mixed:

  • One study found that a substance in olive oil called oleic acid caused acne study found that olive oil was a mild irritant for people with eczema (atopic dermatitis), a common skin disorder that causes itchy and inflamed patches of skin.
  • Olive oil has also been shown to boost activity of acne-causing bacteria in another study. The researchers also learned that the oil helped these bacteria attach themselves to the skin follicles.
  • A 2012 study tested the impact of olive oil on the skin of human volunteers. After five weeks of applying two drops of olive oil to the forearm twice a day, the researchers found that the olive oil weakened the skin barrier and caused mild irritation.
  • A small study of 28 university students found that cleansing oil was good for dry and aged skin, but oil-free cleansers were best for people with oily and acne-prone skin.
  • Olive oil has been shown to have direct antioxidant action on the skin and may help prevent UVB-induced skin damage and skin cancer.

The results of these studies don’t support the use of olive oil on the skin, but they haven’t tested the oil-cleansing method in full, so it’s difficult to draw conclusions.

The oil-cleansing method would likely be challenging to study in clinical trials. This is because the cause of acne is often multifactorial, so it can’t always be treated by one product. What may work for one person, might not work for another.

Considerations

Olive oil on the skin is generally safe. But, as with most products, there’s a small risk of having an allergic reaction to the oil.

Speak to your dermatologist before trying olive oil on the skin, as there is the potential for irritation and clogged pores.

You should also do a patch test on a small portion of your skin before applying olive oil to your face. Rub some oil into a dime-sized spot on your inner arm. If there’s no irritation within 24 hours, it should be safe to use.

Be extra careful when wiping off the oil with warm water. There’s a risk of burning the skin if the water you’re using is too hot.

The takeaway

Olive oil cleansing might work for some people, but for others it could make the skin worse. Olive oil likely isn’t dangerous to try, but you may want to avoid oil-based cleansing altogether if you’re prone to breakouts.

Any evidence supporting olive oil cleansing for acne is purely anecdotal and hyped by blog posts and online recipes. Most dermatologists recommend using mild, water-based cleansers.

Soap is an excellent way to remove oils from the skin since it’s specially formulated to mix with both water and oil. Choose a gentle soap or cleanser. Dermatologists suggest using a non-oil-based moisturizer after you cleanse.

If you want to try using olive oil or other oils on the skin, there’s likely no harm. If your skin breaks out or you don’t notice any improvement in a week or two, it’s time to try something else.

If you’re concerned about acne, make an appointment to see a dermatologist. They can find a treatment or a combination of a few different treatments that work for you.