Face Oils 101

As the season’s weather changes – not just outside, but indoors too with all the dry heat we’re exposed to – our complexions changes as well. “Our skin immediately feels the effects as our first line of defense against environmental exposure,” explains Mary Allan, a skincare formulator and founder of her namesake skincare line. “When the skin barrier is compromised, skin begins to show signs of dehydration, redness, and itchiness.” 

But while many of us are turning to face oils – which have dominated the beauty and wellness market for years now – to rescue our skin, you should know they’re not all created equal. In fact, some can be downright harmful. So below, Allan breaks down everything you need to know before reaching for a face oil.

Face oils don’t moisturize on their own.

That’s right: face oils don’t actually hydrate the skin when used solo. “There is this false notion that plant oils hydrate the skin. However, this isn’t possible because there is no water in plant oil,” explains Allan. “Our skin needs both lipids and water for optimal hydration, so a face oil is best when accompanied by a water-based mist or essence – to create a perfectly balanced lipid profile.” 

For proper application: start with the water-based element, like Mary Allan’s Infused Beauty Water. Generously mist all over the face, and follow with a face oil. (We love Mary Allan’s Infusion of Youth Beautifying Oil, Nude Luminosity and Cold Pressed Vitamin C Oil.) While the skin is still slightly damp, place a few drops into the palm of your hand, mix together, and gently massage onto the skin.

What’s the difference between carrier and essential oils?

There are two categories all facial oils fall into essential and carrier. Essentials are aromatic compounds extracted from plants and not to be confused with plant extracts. (These are made with the whole plant, or part of it, and contain more than just the aromatic parts.) 

Carrier oils – hemp seed, argan, and sunflower seed oil are among popular ones – possess a large molecular structure, which helps them channel or “carry” smaller molecules like essential oils.

In short? A good facial needs the right combination of both carrier and essential oils and never apply essential oils directly to the face. And why? “Essential oils are highly concentrated volatile compounds that must be diluted with a carrier oil from 0.025% to 1% before applying to the face,” warns Allan. That’s because higher concentrations can trigger the “breaking down of our epidermis’ protective lipid structure, which helps maintain proper moisture levels and shield against external environmental aggressors.”

Avoid pore-clogging oils

As we’ve discussed, not all-natural ingredients work for all skin types. And if you’ve got sensitive, oily, or acne-prone skin, then you need to be especially cautious about what to use. Allan says the most problematic pore-clogging oils include the following: avocado oil, evening primrose, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, moringa oil, and cocoa butter. If you have a dry complexion, though, these oils could work in a gentle, rinse-off cleanser.