6 things to know about facial oils
Until fairly recently, the very notion of applying pure oil to your face was considered counterintuitive. If you wanted to hydrate your complexion, you reached for a lavishly complex cream, probably in a clunky tub. Times certainly have changed for the sheenier.
Today, an apothecary’s worth of facial oils have quickly earned a place in our essential skincare edit, disrupting our regimens with their active-ingredient superpowers. With all of these plant-based, glass-vialed tinctures, there is a lot to consider. Thus, in the pursuit of supple, baby skin, we tested the very best (at every price), spoke to the experts, investigated supposed benefits, and learned what to look for when oiling up. Here are the key things you need to glow. —Mosha Lundström Halbert
1. Adapt To An Oil Change
Incorporating oils, or lipids, into your skincare program is a supercharged way to deliver a potent serving of hydration and antioxidants. It’s akin to what an extra shot of espresso does for a latte. “Oils are such an amazing source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids—the list goes on,” says green beauty guru Tata Harper. “Oils help restore the skin barrier to prevent water loss and plump skin, but they also carry other ingredients deeper into the skin for more targeted results.” She mixes her new Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil complex with macerated herbs and flowers harvested from her own certified organic garden in the hills of Vermont. We tried, we radiated. Added bonus: the lavish bouquet scent.
2. Identify Rising Stars
Earthy marula oil, made from a wild South African superfruit, soothes agitated skin. And when combined with retinol, it can treat everything from blemishes to lines. “It really works on the depth of wrinkles and building of healthy collagen profile,” says Julia Noik, the co-founder of African Botanics. The brand’s big-ticket Fleurs D’Afrique Intensive Recovery Oil is a restorative cocktail of active ingredients such as night-blooming baobab flowers to rejuvenate cells, pollutant-neutralizing jasmine, and anti-inflammatory blue marine microalgae. We tested the earthy elixir and and can report super-hydrated, skin-plumping results that were more soothing than stingy retinol serums.
For her part, Harper says retinoids are key to regain or maintain a youthful complexion. Her preferred format? All-natural rosehip, which delivers both retinol and retinoic acid. “It gives skin an immediate dose of trans-retinoic acid followed by a second dose after it converts to retinol.” As pure (and reasonably priced) rosehip goes, The Ordinary’s cold-pressed version is a great buy and does the job well.
3. Blend With Benefits
Labels don’t lie. Carefully read product ingredients and weed out those with inexpensive filler oils. Also avoid any synthetic peptides in favor of plant-based blends. “It’s important to distinguish the quality of oil,” says Noik. “With cheap oils like sunflower oil or almond oil, you aren’t going to get the same benefits.”
And when it comes to essential oils, proceed with utmost caution. Citrus ingredients such as mandarin or herbaceous ginger, eucalyptus, and lemongrass oils can irritate, especially when combined with sun exposure.
In developing the cultish Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum, founder April Gargiulo developed a complex formula of twenty-two nutrient-dense ingredients that can only be described as skincare overachievers. “In each bottle, there are over 60 vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids, and omega-fatty acids,” she rails off on the heady mix, containing grape seed, nettle, dandelion, calendula, lavender and frankincense, which also doubles as aromatherapy. For Gargiulo, a busy mom who has long worked in her family’s Napa Valley winemaking business, the idea of one product being all she needed became an obsession. “I wanted a powerhouse potion made of biomatched nutrition to help skin function properly and restore itself.” And for those seeking an oil that is light enough for every day but rich enough to make a visible difference, Vintner’s Daughter loves the skin truly, madly, deeply.
4. Ask a professional
We rang up Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mount Sinai’s department of dermatology, to get the skinny on these faddish fats. “Oil-based products take advantage of the natural benefits to the skin as opposed to ingredients that are synthetically made in the lab,” he says, noting that just because something is billed as “natural” does not mean it’s one-size fits all. “It really depends on the ingredients. If you have dry skin, avocado oil and olive oil are great, but if you are acne-prone, those types of heavier oils can make you break out. In that case, I’d recommend coconut and lavender. If you have aging skin, there’s argan oil.”
Another ultra-hydrator Dr. Zeichner approves of for those with oily woes: Sea buckthorn, which is a key ingredient in Plant Apothecary’s Superlight Oil Moisturizer. “Dryer skin will show wrinkles more than bumpy skin, but in addition to hydration, we need to make sure that the skin foundation is as strong as possible with healthy collagen and elastin.”
5. Become A Glow Getter
“I have been using Aesop Fabulous Face Oil for a few years,” says Aurora James, the lit-from-within designer behind footwear and accessory label Brother Vellies. “It’s been really great at keeping my skin feeling fresh. It gives me a glow that I love.” Recently, she added Vintner’s Daughter and Dr. Barbara Sturm Glow Drops to the mix to help further improve elasticity and hydration during long-haul flights to her factories in Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, and Ethiopia. “Any way to combat that stress on the skin is the goal. I need the moisture to penetrate when travelling. There is no time for games.” As for application, whether you are on a plane or in front of your vanity, Garguilo champions taking thirty seconds in the AM and PM to practice a “push, press” ritual with slightly cupped fingers versus straight-up slathering. “It activates the skin and the product and allow it to sink in more quickly,” she says. Added bonus: “The suction effect allows for lymphatic drainage.” And a word on dosage: five to six droplets will do you.
6. Save the Best For Last
“I recommend using facial oils as the very last step in your regimen for maximum absorption,” says Harper. “I tell customers to start with lighter products such as essences and serums and move to thicker formulations. Start from your chest and neck and massage in upward motions.” More of a skincare minimalist? Dr. Zeichner says many facial oils can often take the place of serums and creams. “From treating to hydrating skin, they are many that are just packed with benefits.” Turns out, good things do come in small glass bottles.
Photographed by Amelia Howden.