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Is it ok to use oil on oily skin?

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There’s not a week that goes past it seems, where there isn't a new facial skincare product. Glossy marketing and sexy, smiley faces advertise these new products and we’re told that without them, we’re somehow going to get left behind and have skin regrets for the rest of our lives. Often, these new products or wonder ingredients are oils, extracted from plants, containing botanicals that promise us the skin of a superstar.

But when it comes to oils, what’s best? Is it ok to use oils on oily skin? Will they make oily skin worse, or will they somehow solve the issue that can be oily skin? Will face oil clog our pores or will they help to keep our skin clear?

As ever, we’ve done the research so you don’t have to - here’s our definitive lowdown on using oils on oily skin. First up, what exactly is oily skin?

What causes oily skin?

All skin contains sebaceous glands that are situated in the pores of the skin. These glands naturally produce a substance called sebum, which is a waxy, oily substance that the skin needs in order to stay moisturised, nourished and protected. It also helps to prevent the skin losing too much water.

In people with oily skin, the sebaceous glands produce more sebum than is necessary, causing characteristically oily skin, that is shiny, sometimes greasy and prone to breakouts. The excess sebum production that leads to oily skin can be caused by factors such as a hormone imbalance or genetic influences.

Whatever skin type we have, when we wash or cleanse our faces, the sebum gets stripped away. Which we need it to, otherwise, it can collect in the pores causing blockages, spots and acne breakouts if we have acne prone skin. The skin then produces more sebum and so on. Without sebum, our skin would feel very dry and cracked, and would be prone to damage from the environment and skin irritants.

We have more sebaceous glands on the skin of our face, hence why our faces tend to get oilier than the rest of our body. Some people also produce excess oil from the sebaceous glands on the skin of their back, leading to problems with back acne.

Will face oils clog my pores?

If you have oily skin, then you’re probably aware that you should be careful about what products you use on your skin. Anything too heavy or greasy, and it’s going to overload the skin, and clog your pores, leading to oilier skin and potential breakouts if your skin is also prone to acne.

That said, oily skin still needs to be moisturised, otherwise it will try to make more sebum to compensate for the dryness, and your oily skin will feel worse.

What face oil is good for oily skin?

The problem is with many facial oils, they tend to form a barrier over the skin, rather than sinking into the skin, which can be uncomfortable on oily skin and cause it to look and feel even oiler.

There are three main types of skin moisturiser - humectants, emollients and occlusives.

Humectants work by adding water back into the skin. They attract water molecules from deeper inside the body and bring them into the skin, helping to hydrate it. Glycerin, a common ingredient in some skincare ranges is a common humectant.

Skin oils tend to be either an emollient or an occlusive. Emollients fill the spaces between skin cells helping to hydrate, soften and strengthen the skin, whilst occlusives work by sealing water into the skin, helping to hydrate it, but sitting on top of the skin.

If you have oily skin, the best type of skin oil to use is one that acts as an emollient that penetrates into the deeper layers of skin.

For example, jojoba oil and argan oil are types of emollient that have been proven to help repair the skin’s natural barrier whilst keeping it hydrated without feeling too oily. Jojoba oil and argan oil have a smaller molecular size than other oils such as coconut oil and marula oil. This means that they’re lighter and will sink into the skin more quickly, without forming a barrier over the skin or clogging the pores.

Coconut oil and marula oil are heavier, thicker oils that are more beneficial to drier skin types.

Another good facial oil choice for oily skin is rosehip oil, as it has a lighter molecular weight than coconut oil and is similar in weight to jojoba oil and argan oil. Rosehip oil is also rich in antioxidants which help to reduce inflammation and redness in the skin.

Baby oil, which is often heavily scented with artificial perfumes, is a big no no for the skin on the face, whatever the skin type. It sits on the skin, forming a barrier that can clog the pores and trap dirt, excess sebum and cellular debris, leading to spots and acne breakouts.

A good trick is to apply a facial oil to your skin and rub lightly. If the oil is still sitting on the skin after a few minutes, then it’s probably too heavy for your skin and will lead to excess oiliness. If it gets absorbed into your skin, then it’s much more beneficial.

How to use facial oil on oily skin

The best advice for using facial oils if you have oily skin, is to think about when and how often you use it. Oily skin won’t benefit from applying oil twice a day, so only use it once. It’s also best used at night, when the skin naturally produces less sebum when we’re asleep.

You could also try adding a few drops of your skin oil to your nourishing, gentle night time skin moisturiser, rather than using it neat. This will help the skin absorb the oil and you can adjust the mixture until it’s just right for you.

So by all means use facial oil as part of a healthy skincare regime, just make sure it’s the right one for your skin!


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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