Like protein and veg, oils are food for the skin and each has a different nutrient profile. Which one should you cleanse with and which will help your sun damage? Which will calm flareups or provide natural retinol? Oil expert Jane Scrivner has your face oil cheat sheet
Oils for me should be the foundation of every skincare routine. They have the properties to replenish, restore, refresh, revive and replace. Our skin has a natural protective barrier - a combination of oil (lipid) and water that sits below the skin’s surface, preventing accelerated water loss (i.e dehydration) and keeping the skin protected from environmental pollutants. Oil occurs naturally in our skin but when we over-cleanse, use harsh products and starve our diet of oils, this throws the skin out of balance and the basic principles of healthy skin are simply stripped away leaving it unprotected and meaning we are constantly playing catch up. Oils are packed with natural goodness, and different oils can provide different nutrients for the skin. So before I tell you my top 12, to help you choose the right oil for your skin type and condition, let me answer a few of the questions that I'm asked most often.
Should you use oil on oily skin?
Oily skin needs oil just as much as non-oily or dry skin. Overproduction of sebum can actually be balanced with the right facial oil and inflamed, acneic skin can really benefit from omega-rich, calming facial oils. Finding the right oil type is crucial, ideally, you should look for an oil with a low molecular size – jojoba, argan, for example, will allow the skin to absorb more easily, regulate the skins natural sebum production and replenish and restore the barrier function without causing excess oil on the surface.
Should you use oils in hot weather?
This is the question that I am asked most often is “should I use skin oils over the summer, shouldn’t I be using a lighter cream?”. My answer is always the same. Your skin needs feeding throughout the year, it needs nourishment and it needs strength to stay healthy, so yes, you should use oils year-round including in warmer weather and the summer months.
Do I need more facial oil as I get older?
As we age, the skin produces less natural oil, which shows up as wrinkles. With the lipid layer compromised – the part that locks moisture in and prevents trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL, loss of water through the skin) the skin dries out more quickly. Oils are lipophilic, meaning they love fat and can pass through to and help combine with and replenish the skin’s lipid layers, preventing further water loss and so conditioning the skin from within – plumping and smoothing as they go.
What's the difference between hydration and moisturising?
Hydrators attract moisture into the skin and moisturisers prevent accelerated moisture loss from the skin. You need both to maintain healthy, hydrated skin. Skin can become dehydrated if we don’t drink enough water and we can also lose moisture levels if we don’t prevent the accelerated loss of hydration by applying a moisture barrier, such as an oil. Geraldine Howard, co-founder of Aromatherapy Associates summed it up perfectly when she said that oils are the skin’s food and creams are the water – we need both to keep our skin nourished, hydrated and healthy.
Whats's the difference between an oil for cleansing and an oil for moisturising and nourishing?
Oils have particular functions on the nourishing spectrum. Oils that are in ‘leave on’ products are generally more nutrient-rich which is a list of hundreds to choose from. Oils that break down and emulsify easily (Jojoba, squalene) without challenging the acid mantle are more suited to ‘remove’ products. The best use for oils can be determined by its consistency, for example, creams will work best with richer oils like rosehip or apricot.
Why do we need oil on our skin?
All oils (fatty acids) protect the skin in varying levels. EFAs (essential fatty acids) are particularly important for the skin’s health. ‘Essential’ means we cannot manufacture these oils, they need to be taken internally or applied. Omega 6 and 3 oils are particularly important for skin health. Linoleic acid in omega 6 and Linolenic in omega 3 and all their variants are crucial to maintain the barrier and ‘passage’ function – allowing protection from bacteria and dirt while the passage of moisture and nutrients is enabled into the deeper skin layers.
Omega 3 or ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is vital for its anti-inflammatory properties and its promotion of circulation – both very important for the health and condition of our skin.
Oils also contain phyto-chemicals - plant compounds (vitamins, antioxidants, sterols, polyphenols etc). Our skin needs these all year round to maintain condition and keep our skin healthy and fit. Skincare is not seasonal! Vitamins are similar to EFAs in that the body cannot produce them, they have to be taken or applied and so vitamins added to skincare can help us maintain healthy, strong, ‘fight back’ skin.
Jane Scrivner's top 12 facial oils to bring back healthy skin
Jojoba oil: the king of oils and best all-rounder and cleanser
This is my non-oil, oil - by this, I mean that it can be broken down with water. Extracted from the jojoba nut, this is a wax ester that’s the same as is present in human skin, so it is as close to the skin’s natural sebum production as you can get and has the effect of being able to balance our skin’s natural oils. With a smaller molecular size, it’s fabulous for oily skin because it can absorb fully without sitting on the surface and in time will regulate sebum production.
It is also high performing in the collagen and elastin regenerating stakes. Being rich in anti-oxidants means it takes on free radicals (the damaging, skin destroying chemicals) and high in vitamin E and so protects the skin from the effects of ageing. Jojoba is beneficial for any skin type and I use it a lot in my products. In just a momentary application on the skin, jojoba will cleanse, break down makeup (including waterproof) but also maintain and condition the skin. It won’t strip your skin of its natural oils and won’t compromise your acid mantle or barrier function. Applying as an overnight balm allows it to work deeper and stronger leaving skin nourished and moisturised.
Choose for: getting makeup off, balancing oily skin, dry skin conditions, ‘experienced' skin and wrinkles.
Rosehip oil: the vitamin-rich repair oil with natural retinol
Extracted from the hip or fruit, this works wonderfully for all types of damage such as post-operative scars, acne scars, sunburn and skin burns. Rosehip is choc-full of EFAs (essential fatty acids), vitamin C (anti-oxidant) and vitamin A (natural retinol). This mix will protect, repair, regenerate and restore your skin with its ability to increase cell turnover.
Choose for: ‘experienced’ skin, pigmentation, lines and wrinkles or all-round ‘pick me up’.
Argan oil: the anti-irritant oil for flare-ups
Argan oil extracted from the nut or kernel and really comes into its own when working with skin ‘conditions’. This oil contains a high concentration of vitamin E, and all EFAs (essential fatty acids) great for reducing any over-production of sebum or high-colour skin conditions such as acne, acne rosacea, eczema, psoriasis. These will all benefit from the anti-irritant, calming, cooling qualities.
Choose for: skin high-colour conditions such as acne, acne rosacea, eczema, psoriasis
Borage or starflower oil: the hormonal skin hero
Extracted from the seeds of the plant, this is my choice for all things hormonal; premenstrual, perimenopausal, menopausal, post-menopausal and puberty. Borage is regulating and balancing and is more commonly ingested rather than applied topically but benefits are enhanced if you do both.
Applied topically borage has the highest content of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) of any oil and helps to regenerate, firm and rejuvenate the skin’s barrier function, protect against water loss and maintain the skin’s levels of elasticity. These skin functions are all affected by the menopause and perimenopause. Alongside the high level of GLA it also has linoleic acid which works to prevent premature ageing, drying and loss of elasticity, again, all common occurrences during hormonal change.
Choose for: hormonal timing and extremely dehydrated skin.
Apricot oil: the anti-ageing skin barrier supporter with niacinamide
Extracted from the kernel, apricot oil is extremely high in nutrients and natural moisturising factors and mimics the skin’s intercellular lipids (made up of ceramides, fatty acids and lipids) to support the barrier function in the epidermis.
it's full of vitamins - vitamin A conditions and stimulates the dermis, the lower layers below the epidermis – where your collagen, elastin, hyaluronic and blood vessels are. Vitamin A works to reduce wrinkles and increases blood flow to the surface of the skin.
Vitamin B reduces redness, hyperpigmentation. It improves texture, refines pore size by regulating sebum production, reduces fine lines and wrinkles and improves moisture by strengthening the outermost layers (epidermis) of the skin. Vitamin B3 (also known as niacinamide ) is one of the best forms of the B vitamins. Vitamin B3 helps to treat rosacea, acne, eczema, dermatitis, hyperpigmentation, sun-damaged, ageing and dry skin – so it’s a must-have vitamin for skin.
Vitamin E performs as an anti-inflammatory and maybe, more importantly, an anti-oxidant preventing accelerated ageing
Choose for: everything it says on the tin! It's particularly beneficial for slowing down the ageing process or maintaining healthy skin.
Avocado oil: the natural steroid oil and deep moisturiser
Calming and soothing, this oil is extracted from the pulp of the ‘fruit’ and is high in vitamins A to stimulate healthy skin, D for cell growth and metabolism and E for its anti-oxidant properties.
Avocado Oil contains Essential Fatty Acids, sterolin (natural steroids which soothe irritation) antioxidants, lecithin (a protein also found in soya beans and egg yolk) to revitalise, hydrate and soften and potassium (vital mineral for hydration) for forming a layer to retain water in the epidermis.
The potassium/sodium balance in the body is crucial to keep correct hydration levels across the cell membrane. Excess of either can cause imbalance and illness and the western diet is casing excess sodium leading to high blood pressure and other side effects.
Choose for: anything steroids are prescribed for – itchy, eczema, psoriasis etc.
Acai Oil: the elasticity enhancer
Extracted from the whole berry this oil is a rich source of omegas 3, 6 and 9 – all the EFAs required for skin health and maintenance and to support cellular structure and is accelerated by poor diet. Rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3, E and C and full of phytosterols (natural compounds similar to cholesterol, which enhance collagen production) and essential amino acids, which all contribute towards greater elasticity.
Choose for: mature skins or general skin maintenance and conditioning
Sea buckthorn oil: a natural antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and scar healer
This can be extracted from both the berry for topical application and the seed (for internal ingestion). This oil has huge regenerative and healing properties for damaged skin cells and helps to improve fine lines and wrinkles as it is a cicatrisant (accelerates the scar healing process) It’s extremely high in omega 7, so is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and aids the skin in protection and fighting bacterial infection.
Choose for: healing scars and damaged skin.
Pomegranate oil: the vitamin C powerhouse for sun damage repair
Extracted from the seeds, this has anti-microbial (meaning it can work on yeast and fungal infection alongside bacterial) anti-inflammatory firming and healing properties. This oil has potent tightening and firming properties and contains antioxidants, to protect against free radicals. It’s also rich in vitamins A, C, E and K which are vital for fighting wrinkles. Vitamin C boosts collagen.
Its antioxidant efficiency is three times higher that of red wine or green tea and is said to enhance skin protection for sun exposure. Pomegranate oil also contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, Β3, Gallic and Ellagic acids. It’s one of the great oils for elasticity, hydration and moisture.
Choose for: enhancing the elasticity of the skin and repairing sun and weather damage.
Oat oil: the non-greasy skin soother
Derived from the oat kernel, this oil has fabulous absorbency giving it a non-greasy texture and contains naturally occurring antioxidants including vitamin E. Oat oil contains lipids found in the outer layers of skin so absorbs well. It acts as a natural emollient to soften and smooth skin. It is anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant and is anti-allergenic. It penetrates the skin quickly and effectively but still contains over 35 per cent EFAs.
Choose for: calming, soothing irritated skin and on oily skin
Camellia oil or tsubaki oil: the antioxidant-rich fast absorber
This is extracted from the seeds and is historically known as the oil favoured by Geishas to remove makeup while nourishing the skin. Rich in oleic acid (omega 9) it is excellent for dry or ageing skin as it penetrates easily and deeply into the skin’s surface, replenishing lost moisture and stopping additional moisture from evaporating. It contains vitamins A, B, D and E, as well as omegas 3, 6 and 9 – the molecules in camellia, are almost identical size to the sebum molecules in our skin, allowing rapid and thorough absorption. It’s reported to have more naturally occurring antioxidants than any other plant oil
Choose for: inflamed skin, irritated skin and dry skin.
Marula Oil: the natural moisture retainer
Marula oil comes from the same family as the mango and is extracted from the seed kernels. It is having a surge in popularity as a ‘miracle oil’, but we have to remember that there are rarely any plant species being discovered, only new trends, forms or uses on age-old oils. Marula has been the go-to oil for many years in western and southern Africa.
It is particularly good for maintaining moisture levels due to its incredibly high oleic acid (omega 9) content, similar to jojoba oil, moringa oil and plum oil. Marula is fantastic for its phospholipid content. Phospholipids play a crucial role in the cell membrane allowing transfer of the nutrients across the lipid barrier, helping with absorption and emulsification (mixing water-based and oil-based nutrients together).
Choose for: softening, smoothing, moisturising and protecting.