Everything You Need to Know About Face Oils, According to Experts

Oil coming out of the tip of a dropper.

Liz DeSousa / Byrdie

There are legitimate benefits to using face oils, with a significant caveat: Not all of them are created equal, and choosing the right one for your skin type is essential to reap the best results. Still, it doesn't erase the fact that oils can be intimidating, especially depending on your particular skin concern. To help sift through all the noise, we asked board-certified dermatologists Marie Hayag, MD, and Hadley King, MD, to give us the lowdown on using face oils.

Meet the Expert

  • Marie Hayag, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics.
  • Hadley King, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

What Are Face Oils?

According to Hayag, face or skincare oils can be categorized into several groups. "Single or pure oils come directly from the source, consisting of one ingredient only, such as coconut oil, argan oil, or tea tree oil." Combined oils consist of several oils blended to create a multipurpose product suited to address several different needs. In contrast, oils combined with non-oil ingredients, such as retinol, address skin concerns that can't be otherwise treated with oils alone," she explains. All that's to say that, as far as your skincare routine goes, you will find either straight-up oil, oil blends, or oil/non-oil hybrid products.

What Are the Benefits of Face Oils?

This largely depends on the specific type of face oil in question, though a few overarching benefits apply across the board. "Most oils have emollient and occlusive properties, so they're able to support the skin barrier and lock in moisture," says King. (For this reason, they're most often considered an option for dry skin, though other skin types can benefit, too.) They leave the skin feeling softer and smoother. Plus, many botanical oils are naturally rich in antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory properties, and some are antimicrobial, King adds. But let's get into some more specifics:

Jojoba Oil

Both derms we spoke with are big fans of jojoba oil. "It's technically a wax ester, rather than a triglyceride like most oils, which means it's lighter and less greasy—as well as non-comedogenic—and has a composition similar to that of human sebum," says King. It's for this reason that Hayag considers it a great option for those with acne-prone skin; it helps regulate sebum production, which can reduce oiliness and clogged pores that contribute to breakouts, she says. King notes that it's also been shown to help soothe eczema (thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties) and is rich in antioxidants, making it a universal pick for all skin types.

Marula Oil

"I like marula oil for those with dry skin because it's rich in fatty acids that can improve hydration and contains vitamin E," says Hayag. "Additionally, it's been shown to reduce redness."

Argan Oil

King says argan oil is another one of her favorites to recommend, citing some solid scientific data backing its benefits. Namely, research shows that topical application improves skin elasticity and may help prevent and diminish dark spots thanks to its high antioxidant properties (making it a nice choice for more mature skin). Like jojoba oil, it too is non-comedogenic, she adds.

Rosehip Oil

Thanks to its high concentration of vitamin A, rosehip oil is sometimes referred to as an alternative to retinol. Add in high amounts of linoleic acid (an important fatty acid), and rosehip oil is a good anti-aging choice, says Hayag.

Who Should and Should Not Use Face Oils?

According to King, face oils can be a good option for all skin types depending on the formula and oil in question. The biggest sticking point here is understanding the different properties of the oil(s) you're considering and ensuring they suit your skin type. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, look specifically for combination oils formulated for this type of skin or ones labeled as non-comedogenic, suggests Hayag.

It also mentions that oils can trigger allergic reactions; if you're highly allergic, Hayag recommends doing a patch test first and avoiding any products containing essential oils or fragrances. And finally, pregnant women should avoid basil and rosemary oils because they can cause uterine contractions, she points out.

How to Incorporate Face Oils Into Your Routine

Oils are moisturizing, but an important distinction to remember is that they generally don't have any humectant properties, notes King. (Humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid bind water to the skin.) Ideally, to get the most moisture into your skin, you want to apply a serum that contains humectants, then follow that with an oil to help seal everything in, she suggests.

If oil is part of your daytime routine, apply it as your second to last step, right before sunscreen. If you're using it at night, make it the last thing you put on your skin, advises Hayag. (Although if you're extra dry, King says you can even layer a moisturizer on top.)

Here's proof positive that you can use an oil, even if you have acneic skin. Hayag recommends this: "The tea tree oil and black cumin seed oil help combat acne, while the salicylic acid is helpful in unclogging pores."

If you want to try the highly-recommended jojoba oil, consider this pick. "It's one of my favorites," says King. Jojoba is the show's star. She says it also contains argan, baobab, marula, macadamia, and olive oils to support the skin barrier, plus coenzyme Q10 for antioxidant protection from free radicals.

King lauds this one for containing a high-quality rosehip seed oil rich in antioxidants, including that youth-boosting vitamin A. It also absorbs quickly, she says.

Reach for this if you have super dry skin. Another one of King's picks, it combines safflower, argan, coconut, and jojoba oils to deeply moisturize and smooth, she says. Just FYI: Since it does contain coconut oil, steer clear if you're oily or acne-prone.

Article Sources
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  1. Villareal MO, Kume S, Bourhim T, et al. Activation of mitf by argan oil leads to the inhibition of the tyrosinase and dopachrome tautomerase expressions in b16 murine melanoma cellsEvid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:340107.

  2. Qiraouani Boucetta K, Charrouf Z, Aguenaou H, Derouiche A, Bensouda Y. The effect of dietary and/or cosmetic argan oil on postmenopausal skin elasticityClin Interv Aging. 2015;10:339-349.

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