What Happens When Your Facial Oil Harms Your Skin?

YouGlowGal You Glow Gal Esthetician Sarah Payne Spa Dallas Denver SkinBlog Beauty Blogger Sarah Nicole Skincare Glowing face facial oil inflammation aging irritation sensitive aging wrinkles rose hip jojoba coconut

Facial oils are widely popular for their ability to moisturize and lock in hydration, and many brands will say you can skip your moisturizer. All you need is their oil to keep your skin balanced!

I’m in the camp of oils not being a sufficient source of moisturizing on their own. I see them as being supplemental, an addition to your repertoire to keep skin soft and supple.

Not only do oils lack hydrating properties of many moisturizers, the bigger problem is that plant oils are composed of fatty acids, and your skin contains other lipids as well. Due to causing a lipid imbalance in your skin, heavy oil usage may cause damaging low-level inflammation over time. Think acne, rosacea, aging, and other inflammatory responses.

to understand how oils can negatively affect your skin we need a mini-science lesson to know the role lipids play in skin health


When you think of healthy skin the words plump, well hydrated, and moisturized come to mind, and for good reason. One detail in keeping our skin healthy is ensuring its structure remains in its healthiest possible state, and hydration is a key factor.

Ingredients that keep our skin hydrated are called Natural Moisturizing Factors (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.

Your skin’s barrier is comprised of lipids. When it’s balanced, skin is healthy. If there’s a lack of lipids we can experience sensitivity, irritation, dehydration, or dry skin. A good example of a compromised barrier is what happens when we over-exfoliate.


lipids account for about 15% of the stratum corneum weight

it’s composed of approximately 50% ceramides, 15% fatty acids, and 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. 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 properly.

The major players in retaining water in our barrier are ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. Keeping these three balanced will work toward your goals of glowy supple skin.


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 and deep hydration can’t be achieved. No single lipid is more important than another, but skin lacking in lipids can create a weakened barrier, creating the potential for irritation. Most facial oils do not contain each lipid, focusing on fatty acids, potentially 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, maybe even longer, but you will definitely notice once it begins taking a toll on your skin.

Before leaving the treatment room I saw inflamed skin present in new clients frequently from overusing oils. 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 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. I always, always suggest using a moisturizer in lieu of an oil.  I personally like using oils layered over my moisturizer to act as a sealant, or giving myself a facial massage and removing with a warm washcloth.

In addition to ceramides and cholesterol, look for phospholipids and sphingolipids on your labels! Moisturizers like Sarah Nicole Skincare Nourishing Cream utilize these ingredients to keep your lipids balanced, too.

If you’re using a similar product containing these ingredients, your barrier will remain intact and you can get away with using your favorite oil blend more often. My general rule is moderation, similar to exfoliation.



References herehere, here, and here.



About Sarah Nicole

Sarah is a Denver based expert esthetician, known for returning abused sensitive skin back to a glowing state without harsh products while boosting her client's skin confidence and self-worth. Sarah’s work has been featured in Allure, New Beauty, Greatist, NBC News, and D Magazine among others. You can follow her on Instagram @sarahnpayne.

19 thoughts on “What Happens When Your Facial Oil Harms Your Skin?

  1. I wish I had read this post years ago! I tried a fancy $70 facial oil–and promptly experienced a breakout that took a year to undo! My skin also showed dry patches, which is oh so very weird on an oil-slicked complexion. Oils might work for some, but not for me. Luckily, an esthetician did diagnose my problem and help me out.

  2. Hey Sarah

    I recently came across Rationale skincare Hydravitale emulsion. This contains ceramide, fatty acid, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide. Could be a good one to check out. Let me know what you think 🙂

    1. I wish they had their ingredient list in order! It looks solid though, just missing cholesterol…but I’m still intrigued by this brand. Thanks for sharing!! 😀

  3. Sarah I would love to know if Josie Maran’s Argan Milk and Argan Oil have the right lipids? I use them both together?

      1. Hi Sarah, Thank you for responding to my question. I just purchased Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore and I would like to use it with my Argan Milk and Oil would I apply the Triple Lipid Restore before being the Argan Milk and Oil? Thank you.

        1. Argan Milk is a serum, so that will go first. Then you can apply a few drops or your Argan Oil directly to your skin or mix a few drops into Triple Lipid. Triple Lipid is a moisturizer so it will go last. Enjoy!!

  4. I always learn amazing things from your site, Sarah. This is one’s a first — I never knew that about oils. Thankfully I’m not a big oil person. I’ve never seen cholesterol as an ingredient in a moisturizer — is it listed as something else?

    1. Cholesterol will be marked as either cholesterol or c10-30 Cholesterol/Lanosterol. It’s not as common in skincare but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ingredients that can inhibit production in the skin. This is on my research to do list! I’ll write about it next 🙂

  5. Have you heard of Epionce formulated by Dr. Carl Thornfeldt ? He holds the original patent on the perfect lipid ratio, it’s an amazing line !

  6. I’ve been using the B Complex Cream from Platinum Skincare. How can I tell what the lipid ratio is in it? Thanks again!

    1. You would have to reach out to the manufacturer. I found an affordable serum claiming the 3:1:1 ratio but the actives were at the very bottom of the list, I don’t trust their claim is factual. Your B Complex Cream is loaded with great ingredients for hydration! The ratio wouldn’t be of concern here because the cream doesn’t contain cholesterol, ceramides, or fatty acids per say but Niacinamide increases ceramide & fatty acid production in the skin.

      1. Thank you! I am learning so much from your website. How do you feel about emu oil as a moisturizer or to use over other products to help them penetrate deeper?

        1. Most oils molecule size are smaller than those in a moisturizer, so they would work best underneath. I would apply to damp skin, massage in, and apply moisturizer on top.

  7. Thank you for the informative post! Do you know of any moisturizers that contain the right lipids but at a lower price point? Thank you!

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