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.

Faceoils Interior

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.

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    • Rose Inc.

      So glad you’ve found a gentle combination of oils to help soothe your skin. Couldn’t agree with you more about Katie. “Lovely” is exactly the word we’d use, too.

  2. MijaXOXO

    Perfect article. After reading this, I incorporated a 100% Marula Facial oil into skincare routine. I started mixing it with my moisturizer under makeup during the work week, on the weekends, I cleanse, tone and put on facial oil and I am completely satisfied with the results of a natural soft hydrated glow for the day. I was amazed, no out breaks and my skin feels truly re-cooperated from winter.

  3. Shannen

    Loved this article! I love facial oils, made my skin so plumped and radiant.
    Loved all the products mentioned in this article .
    Looking forward to see what else ROSE INC. has in store for us in the next weeks!!
    Thank you Rosie and staff.

  4. Maya

    Would love to try facial oils but also so concerned it will make my skin too oily or cause spots! Does that happen, is there a way to avoid this?

    • Rose Inc.

      Hello Maya! Great question. So, a few thoughts. First, if your skin is prone to breakouts, try rosehip or squalane oil; they will not clog pores and they don’t feel heavy. For application, you need just a few drops, and you can always apply only where your skin is balanced or dry if you’re concerned about getting too oily. Finally, try them at night! That way, you get the benefits, but at 3 in the morning, who cares about a little shine? —Team Rose Inc.

  5. Jessica

    Would love to know more about Rosie’s skin care regime!

    • Rose Inc.

      You’re in luck, Jessica… we have something coming up next week that will give you a truly deep dive into RHW’s skin-care regimen! —Team Rose Inc.

    • Rose Inc.

      Thanks, Kathy—let us know what you want us to cover next! —Team Rose Inc.

  6. Louise

    This is a wonderful article! Thank you for writing something that is backed up by dermatologists. I used pure marula oil in the evenings, and a light moisturiser with lavender in it in the morning to help with my 33 year old skin. Moisturizing at night, calming in the morning. Perfect combo, and more importantly, keeping as true to natural ingredients as possible.

    • Rose Inc.

      Louise, thank you for reading! Dr. Zeichner is one of our go-to guys for all things skin. Your morning/evening routine sounds absolutely luxurious and indeed calming… we’re feeling more relaxed just thinking of that lavender. —Team Rose Inc.

    • Rose Inc.

      We love love love your feedback! Thanks for reading. Let us know what you want to see in the future, too! —Team Rose Inc.

  7. Emily Talbot

    Unrelated to this article but I would love to see something about RHW’s fashion style, it’s iconic! XX

  8. Hillary

    I’ve been wanting to work in a retinol into my skin care routine. I heard they can be harsh. I am 31. Any recommendations as to which I can try? When should I do it in my routine and how often a week? I have normal to dry skin that is a little sensitive. Thanks!

    • Rose Inc.

      Hi Hillary! Thanks for the comment. Retinols can be harsh, but they don’t have to be. We recommend easing into them—try a lower percentage of retinol to start. Use it once every other night, or even every third night, to give your skin time to adjust. You should use retinol at night only, and then you must, must, must use sunscreen during the day. We have a story for you tomorrow that should be useful, too! —Team Rose Inc.

  9. Kate Schatzky

    I’ve just started playing with facial oils in my skincare routine so this article is very helpful! Thank you. Would love to see more from Mosha.

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