While I love the holiday season, I don’t particularly enjoy cold weather. I don’t know about you, but dehydrated, flaking skin can put a damper on my holiday festivities.
The skin typically becomes much drier in the winter as it’s exposed to cold, wind, indoor heating, and dry climates. All of these things can wreak havoc on our skin’s moisture barrier, causing it to become dry, dehydrated, and unbalanced.
Oils are an incredible way to help balance, hydrate, and restore the skin. There are a million different kinds of oils on the market, ensuring there’s a type for every skin need.
In order to really understand how oils work, it’s important to understand one of the most crucial elements of our skin: the moisture barrier.
The Moisture Barrier: Our epidermis (the part of our skin that’s visible) consists of multiple layers. The outermost layer is our skin’s protective layer, called the stratum corneum (or as we often call it, the moisture barrier or lipid barrier). It’s mostly made up of cells called keratinocytes, which are constantly shed and renewed (this is what most exfoliants are marketed for – boosting this cell turnover!) The cells are held together by ceramides, fatty acids, and other lipids. These elements are so important as they are what help create a waterproof barrier that keeps water in the skin, but also protects the skin from external aggressors.
When our moisture barrier is unbalanced or compromised, it leaves our skin unprotected and vulnerable to dehydration, sensitivity, and skin conditions. This can cause redness, flaking, dryness, oiliness, acne, and more. For eczema sufferers like myself, the skin is severely dehydrated often as a result of the moisture barrier being compromised.
This may sound scary, and while each person’s moisture barrier may depend on genetics and environment, we can actually help it externally. Our skin can absorb and utilize topical fatty acids, moisture, and oils!
Which is where our trusty oils come in.
There’s a lot of controversy around oils – the most common of which “but if I’m oily, won’t putting oil on my skin make that worse??”
The short answer? No.
For Oily skins: Adding oils to the skin (if they are natural oils) will not make the skin more oily. When the proper oil is applied to oily skins, they actually help to balance, normalize, and restore the skins moisture barrier and hydration levels. Oily skin is often dehydrated, causing the sebaceous glands to try to compensate by over-producing oil as an attempt to restore a damaged or compromised moisture barrier. So when you add a natural oil to the skin, it tricks the skin into thinking that it’s getting enough hydration, helping to balance and slow down oil secretions. Natural oils can be absorbed by our skin to help strengthen our moisture barrier. Our skin actually utilizes it! Also, oil cuts oil – meaning an oil-based cleanser will be incredibly effective for cleaning the skin!
Many oily skin types who suffer from acne think that any sort of moisturizer or oil will make matters worse. It’s a common misconception, but unfortunately one that is worsening your skin condition. When you don’t hydrate an oily or acne prone skin, all it does is further weaken the moisture barrier and cause the skin to produce even more oil to compensate. This usually results in more clogged pores and acne!
Some oils that are great for oily skin: Niaouli, tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender, and patchouli oils.
For Dry Skins: With dry skin, one of the main causes is a lack of moisture of sebum. While an excess of oil isn’t ideal, a healthy balance is needed in order to sustain a healthy moisture barrier. Because oils are so amazing for balancing the skin, adding a nourishing oil to dry skin will help to strengthen the moisture barrier, and deeply hydrate the skin. It provides an external source of hydration and lipids that our skin may be lacking. Oils provide hydration, comfort, suppleness, and also help smooth the texture of skin and protect the skin.
Some oils that are great for dry skin: chamomile, rose, argan, coconut, and jojoba oils.
Another common question regarding oils is: when and how do you use them?
- Remove makeup, & cleanse. If you wear makeup, you may want to use a pre-cleanser such as a micellar water to remove makeup before cleansing, to ensure a thorough clean! Follow with your toner, if you use toner.
- Serum – if you use a serum, you would apply it to clean, dry skin after cleansing. The molecules of a serum are smaller, meaning they absorb deeper into the skin. The serum should be geared towards your primary skin concern.
- Oil – because your oil has a thicker consistency and larger molecules, it would be applied after a serum. Apply the oil by gently pouring 2-4 drops into your hands, warm the product up by lightly rubbing your hands together, and then press your hands to your skin. You want to be very gentle and use soft pressure, using your hands to press the oil into the skin.
- If you are normal to dry, you may want to apply a moisturizer after your oil has been absorbed into the skin.
I don’t personally like to use oils every night – I use them a couple of times a week. You can also mix a drop or two of your oil into your moisturizer for an extra boost! (Take a tab of moisturizer in your hands, and then mix the oil with that. Do not pour the oil into your moisturizer container.)
Things to keep in mind:
- Many oils, especially very natural oils or anti-aging oils, can actually increase the skin’s photosensitivity – meaning your skin will become more sensitive to sun damage. It’s very important to use sun protection, whether it’s in your moisturizer, a sunscreen, or makeup. Ideally, an SPF of 20 or higher should be used for incidental/everyday sun exposure. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time outdoors with direct sun exposure, or in a very warm and sunny climate, use at least SPF 30.
- Oil and makeup typically do not mix – oil tends to break down makeup, which makes it a great makeup remover. However, that’s not really ideal if you want to apply makeup over oil. Some oils can be mixed with foundation (as a general rule, oil-based foundations will mix safer with oil than water-based foundation) A sign that your makeup is not working well with your facial oil is if you see your makeup looking patchy, sliding, or breaking up.
- For the above reasons, I usually only recommend oils at night time!
- With so many different types of oil, it’s important to understand what different oils do, and what your skin really needs. With a professional with skincare training for a skin analysis or consultation is a great way to find out your personal skin needs.
- Applying too much oil can contribute to the feeling of oiliness or heaviness – which is what most people fear. Only a couple drops are needed for the entire face, and make sure to warm the oil in your hands before gently pressing into the skin.
- As with any skincare product, it’s important to know what may cause sensitivities. Some oils may not be as naturally based as others, and may contain synthetic sources of fragrance that can cause a reaction. Even with natural oils, like anything they can cause a reaction if they contain something you are allergic to. For example, some oils that contain natural nut oils may be an issue for anyone with a nut allergy.
Some of my favourite oils are:
- Physician’s Formula Argan Oil
- Olay Regenerist Oil
- The Body Shop Oils of Life Intensely Revitalizing Facial Oil
(I know these aren’t that inexpensive – with natural oils, they are rarely less than 20 dollars. This is because of the quality of ingredients as well as the fact that natural oil extracts cost more to extract and harvest.)