Facial oils are widely popular for their ability to moisturize and lock in hydration. Yet many brands will say you can skip your moisturizer, all you need is their oil to keep your skin balanced! Not only do oils lack hydrating properties of many moisturizers, the biggest problem is that plant oils are composed of fatty acids, and your skin contains other lipids as well. Over time only using oil will cause damaging low-level inflammation. And inflammation is bad, mmkay?
To understand how oils can negatively affect your skin we need to back up and understand the role lipids play in skin health.
When you think of healthy skin the words plump, well hydrated, and moisturized come to mind, for good reason. One of the main details in keeping our skin healthy is ensuring its structure remains in its best possible state. Ingredients aiding in this are referred as Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF), or components that mimic the structure and functions of healthy skin. Within our skin lipids prevent water evaporation, provide lubrication, and contribute to the outer texture of the stratum corneum (SC) remaining smooth.
Lipids account for about 15% of the stratum corneum weight composed of 50% ceramides, approximately 15% fatty acids, and approximately 25% cholesterol.
Our lipids within the SC are affected by age, genetics, seasonal and climate changes, and diet. When your skin is deficient in lipids it’s predisposed to being dry, as lipids aid in keeping NMF inside our cells. These lipids go into our cells where they’re needed to keep cells hydrated and aqueous enzymes stable so they function well. This is how lipids keep our barrier hydrated, allowing our skin to self-repair and function accurately. The major players in retaining water in our barrier are ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.
When the barrier is healthy, skin appears smooth, soft, and plump.
When the barrier is unhealthy, skin appears dry, rough, dull, and dehydrated.
It’s important to keep a healthy balance of all 3 lipids in the skin, otherwise, barrier recovery is delayed. No single lipid is more important than another, but skin lacking in lipids can create a weakened barrier. Most facial oils don’t contain each lipid, focusing on fatty acids, causing damage to your skin in the long run. Long-term barrier dysfunction causes inflammation, dehydration, and aging because the barrier can no longer repair its self.
And here’s the thing, you guys: just because you don’t see aging, inflammation, or signs of a compromised barrier it’s happening. It won’t be noticeable overnight, it might not be noticeable in a few months, but you will definitely notice once it’s too late and it’s already taken a toll on your skin.
With the rise in popularity of oils, I see inflamed skin present in new clients frequently. Whether it’s using a straight oil as a moisturizer or a moisturizer heavy with oils blended in, these clients are showing signs of inflammation including heat in their skin, acne, irritation, or worst case premature aging.
Occlusive agents increase moisture levels in skin by providing a physical barrier to epidermal water loss.
Humectants attract water from the environment and pull it into your skin.
Emollients provide some occlusivity and smooth flaky skin cells.
Another consideration is that facial oils are occlusives. If you’re applying oil as your moisturizer your skin is missing out on other moisturizing ingredients. Doing so means your skin may never truly be hydrated as it’s missing the benefits of humectants and emollients. Again, when skin isn’t well hydrated the barrier cannot function properly.
Oils should be considered supplemental hydration to balance your skin, not your sole source of moisture. Always, always use a moisturizer. Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore is a great option to use under your oil as it contains the perfect ratio of ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol to balance skin. Cerave Renewing Gel Oil is a fantastic budget option with a full spectrum of lipids.
In addition to the trifecta look for phospholipids and sphingolipids on your labels! Together these will keep your lipid structure balanced, too.
If you’re using a product similar to these, your barrier will remain intact and you can get away with using your favorite oil blend more often. The rule should be moderation, similar to exfoliation.