At some point, you’ve probably heard about the oil-cleansing method, i.e., using an oil to remove dirt and, well, oil from your face. You’ve also probably been a little nervous about the idea, given that “oil” and “skin” seem like a bad combination. But cleansing oils are growing in popularity and regularly appear on drugstore shelves, even though they seem like a counterintuitive way to wash your face.
Solange Knowles’ stylist Shiona Turini gets the apprehension. In a new interview with The Cut, she discussed how nervous she was to use a cleansing oil for the first time. “My skin is combination and acne-prone, so the thought of using an oil flat-out terrified me,” she says.
However, she now uses Antonia Burrell’s Cleansing Oil, which she alternates with Cetaphil in the mornings. “I wash my face twice with this oil—first over dry skin, then with water, which turns the oil to a light, milky consistency,” she says. “Since using this oil, I definitely have less acne and brighter skin.”
It’s a glowing review from a former oil cleansing-phobe, and she’s apparently not the only one who likes this method. Cleansing oils can be more hydrating than traditional face washes because they don’t contain many surfactants (or any, depending on the product in question), New York City dermatologist Doris Day, M.D., author of the upcoming book Skinfluence, tells SELF. Surfactants are typically used as detergents or foaming agents, and they can be a little harsh on your skin.
“Cleansing oils contain hydrating and soothing ingredients that may actually be more effective and less irritating than some traditional cleansers,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells SELF. Contrary to what you may think, Zeichner says cleansing oils won’t leave your skin greasy or heavy. “Oil absorbs oil, which means that these products can effectively remove dirt from and leave the skin clean,” he says.
But as Zeichner points out, all oils aren’t created equally: “There’s a big difference between applying a cosmetically-formulated cleansing oil versus rubbing canola from your kitchen onto your skin.” And board-certified dermatologist Marie Leger, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine, tells SELF that cleansing oils don’t work for everyone. “They can cause clogged pores, breakouts, and milia, those little hard white [bumps] that can form on your face,” she says.
That’s why it’s so important to pick the right cleanser, Day says. She recommends reading the label carefully and selecting a cleansing oil that’s designed for your skin type. If you have oily skin or are acne-prone, Zeichner says it’s a good idea to look for cleansers that contain grapeseed, argan, lavender, or coconut oils, which are lighter and more likely to work well with your skin. “Heavier oils such as avocado, on the other hand, should probably be avoided if you already are oily,” he says.
If you have dry skin, look for products with avocado, jojoba, or sunflower oil, Zeichner says. And for those with normal to sensitive skin, he recommends opting for cleansers with calming oils, such as rosemary and camellia seed oil. (It’s also a good idea to avoid cleansers with fragrances if you have sensitive skin, Day says.)
You can also use the oil straight up, like actress Chloë Grace Moretz does. To do that, apply a warm, damp washcloth to your face for about 20 seconds. Then, wash your hands if necessary and massage the oil into your skin to help dissolve the grit and grime. After that, gently wipe the oil off with a warm, wet washcloth (either a new one or the clean back of the one you used before).
If you’re tempted to try the oil-cleansing method but are nervous about how your skin will tolerate it, Leger recommends simply adding it to your skincare routine without changing anything else for a month or two. “If you are breaking out more, it’s likely the oil,” she says. But, if not, experts say cleansing oils can be a new, more moisturizing way to clean your face.
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