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.