I love oil. I want to be oily everywhere, all the time, especially on my face. That’s why, when I stumbled across the oil cleansing method about a year ago, I gave up face wash forever.
I discovered it while googling “dandruff.” I had a flake problem that I couldn’t cure, and scouring the internet for possible remedies led me to this 13,000-word blog post on Simple Skincare Science that just so happens to have a subchapter (7.3) on “oils and oil cleansers.” I was intrigued for obvious reasons, tracked back to this page in the “skincare addiction” subreddit, went down a washing-with-oil wormhole, and never looked back.
Cleansing is the first step in many a skincare routine, and there are many potential routes to take. You can mask on and slough off; use any manner of soap, splash or astringent; scrub your pores out with little aluminum oxide crystals and lactic acid because you’re not at home and therefore don’t have your standard cleanser (as was my case last night). So how does one decide? You could mull over all the options, read reviews and ask for recommendations based on your skin type while trying not to get overwhelmed by all of the factors you should consider. Or you could skip all that and just wash your face with fat.
That’s what I did, and my face has never felt happier — or looked better (I owe that to MCT oil specifically, but more on that later). I spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessica Weiser of New York Dermatology Group about why that might be.
“Oil cleanses the skin by combining with the excess oils and debris on the skin surface, whether natural oils like sebum or oils found in skincare products and makeup,” she tells me, describing it as the “like-dissolves-like” scientific property. When cleansing oil is rinsed off, it takes the skin/makeup oils and dirt along with it. Oil cleansing is a treat for my face because it doesn’t strip away my skin’s natural oils or leave my face imbalanced and feeling like a thirsty sponge, like some soap-based cleansers are wont to do.
Dr. Weiser says the best way to use oil as a cleanser is by gently massaging the oil into the skin surface for two to three minutes and then rinsing thoroughly with warm water, which I can confirm. Water temperature is important here: If the water isn’t warm enough, you risk not washing away all of the impurities on your skin’s surface. When I’m feeling really extravagant I use a washcloth soaked in warm water to remove the cleansing oil instead of just my hands. The warm washcloth — always kind of steamy — makes me feel like I’m giving myself a high end beauty treatment; this is a life hack.
As for oil that won’t clog your pores: “Lighter or more ‘watery’ consistency oils are preferable,” Dr. Weiser says, “because they are not occlusive.” I avoid waxy consistency oils for this reason. Botanical oils like sunflower, safflower and avocado (a.k.a. those extracted from the root, stem/bark, leaves, flowers, seeds or fruits of a particular plant) are generally among the best options, Dr. Weiser tells me, because they’re naturally hydrating and contain vitamins and antioxidants which impart additional benefits to the skin. She does warn that certain sensitive skin types may become more easily irritated by them, though.
Quick oil run down for the curious: She tells me that camellia oil is both cleansing and hydrating with anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties, making it a good choice for dry or mature skin types. Coconut oil can be beneficial for very dry skin, but it should be used with caution in acne-prone or oily skin types because it’s consistency (waxy!) is more inclined to congest pores. Castor oil — my former go-to — is a natural astringent that readily pulls away oil and impurities. It should never be used undiluted, Dr. Weiser warns, but can be added to other cleansing oils to better clean oily skin. It is, however, somewhat controversial because it produces a toxic byproduct during manufacturing (the final oil itself is non-toxic).
Although the market’s been flooded with oil cleansers in the past few years, no need to spend $50 when most natural oils work fine — including olive oil. My current go-to is MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides oil), the dietary supplement of Bulletproof coffee fame. If ingested, it’s said to help people lose weight and boost energy. It’s big in the biohacking world because apparently it can be used by the brain for energy instead of glucose or sugar. But I’m not in it for the brain-boosting properties so much as I am for the physical properties: It’s similar to coconut oil but lacks the lauric fatty acid component, which allows it to remain liquid at room temperature.
I get the coconut oil moisture boost and its antiviral/antibacterial properties without any of the waxiness that Dr. Weiser warned about (thank you, science). Because it’s food-grade — unlike fractionated coconut oil, which is also liquid at room temperature — I can squirt a bit of it into my matcha if I so choose (which is part of the reason why I keep a 32 oz. bottle of it on my desk at work), but mostly I just rub it all over my face. And body. And hair. What can I say? I started using it because that intense skincare blogger wrote about it and now I’m a woman obsessed.
I missed the soft feeling of MCT oil last night as I scrubbed my face with what felt like liquid pumice thanks to an impromptu sleepover, and promised myself that I would always keep a small vial of oil with me in case of emergency. Maybe this small vial will live around my neck, a la the Cruel Intentions stash necklace. TBD. So, what do you think? Does the oil cleansing method appeal to you? Yes? No? Come fight me in the comments. (Just kidding, no fighting please. My impossibly smooth and hydrated face isn’t the scrappy type.)
Collage by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. Photos provided by Emma Bracy.