Find out what oil cleansing is and how to use it for acne-prone skin with this one-stop guide.
Dealing with acne-prone skin can be difficult. There are a ton of products you can’t use or have to stay away from. There are skincare steps that are raved about online that you feel you can’t jump into, simply because you’re worried your skin may not agree with it!
You’ve probably heard about all the hype surrounding oil cleansing, but decided to stay away from it because it involves putting oil on your already oily skin. After all, isn’t oily skin the main culprit of your acne troubles?
But what if I told you that you should actually oil cleanse for acne prone skin?
In this article, we’ll be talking about everything you need to know about oil cleansing, and how it can help with acne.
What is Oil Cleansing?
You might think that the words “oil” and “cleansing” don’t mix when it comes to your face—but in fact, they do.
Oil cleansing refers to the process of using oils – be it pure, natural oils or commercial oil cleansers – to rid the face of dirt and impurities. These nourishing oils thoroughly remove oil-based products like sunscreen and makeup, lift excess oil or sebum from the face, and even clear out the oil that clogs the pores.
But how exactly does that work? How can oils be effective in cleaning the face?
Generally, oil cleansing follows the “like dissolves like” philosophy. Because oils are naturally lipophilic, meaning they naturally seek out other oils, they easily adhere to oils (such as sebum) present in the face.
So, as you wipe or rinse off your oil cleanser, you also remove all of the “bad oils” on your face as well. That’s what makes it an effective cleanser especially for oil-based products and oily skin!
Is Oil Cleansing Suitable for Acne Prone Skin?
As mentioned above, oil cleansing is in fact great even for oily skin types.
As someone with oily skin, you’ve probably learned to stay away from products containing oils. After all, your face already produces excess sebum, which is food for acne bacteria, so why introduce more oils, right?
Well, that’s actually untrue!
In fact, solely using oil-free products may harm your skin and cause even more breakouts, because oil-free products tend to be drying to the face.
Normally, traditional cleansers use surfactants, which help water mix with oil (such as sebum) to wash it off from the face. However, cleansers like this can end up stripping even the protective sebum on the face, leading to a dry and tight feeling on the face..
Now, when this happens, your skin reacts by overproducing oil to make up for the lost sebum. This results in an even oilier skin, that becomes more susceptible to acne breakouts!
But this isn’t the case with oil cleansing. In fact, there are a lot of benefits that an oil cleanse can do for your skin.
Benefits of oil cleansing for acne
Oil cleansers don’t change pH of skin
The skin’s surface layer has an acid mantle, which is responsible for helping us keep bacteria, viruses, and other potential contaminants at bay. This acid mantle has a pH level of 4.5 to 6.2 (slightly acidic), which ensures that any foreign material that passes through this protective barrier won’t be able to survive the blood’s alkaline environment.
Now, because this acid mantle is acidic, using alkaline products (or those with more basic pH) can cause changes in its pH, making the skin dry out.
This is exactly the case for most soaps or foam-based cleansers designed to cleanse the skin. Soaps are typically basic, which explains why they leave the skin feeling dry and tight. To avoid this, people have increasingly turned to using low pH cleansers.
Now, where does oil factor in this whole discussion about acidity and basicity?
In chemistry, pH is used to know how acidic or basic an aqueous solution is. But, we all know that oil doesn’t dissolve in water. Well, since oils aren’t water-based or aqueous solutions, they actually don’t have a pH!
Therefore, you can be sure that using an oil cleanser will not disrupt nor change your skin’s pH, simply because it isn’t acidic nor basic to begin with!
Oil cleansers are gentle and leave the skin feeling hydrated
Cleansing oils work through binding to other oils present in the face. This straightforward process ensures that oil cleansing remains gentle to the skin.
Because oil cleansers don’t disrupt the skin’s pH, you can also be sure that it won’t strip your skin’s moisture. As a result, your skin remains hydrated! It also helps that nourishing oils used for oil cleansing are rich in fatty acids, which help keep the skin plump and moisturized.
Usually, we simply rely on water-based cleansers to remove heavy products from our face. However, water-based cleansers actually may not reach deep enough to completely cleanse makeup or SPF off the skin.
But, if these aren’t removed effectively, you’re more likely to get your pores clogged with these products. The result? Even more acne breakouts.
Doing an oil cleanse ensures that you give your face a deeper, more thorough cleansing. It’s a great option for removing makeup and sunscreen from your face—oil-based products that oil cleansers can effectively bind with.
Aside from this, cleansing oils aid in unclogging pores which have been filled with dirt and oil, making it perfect for acne-prone skin.
What Oils are Best for Cleansing?
Now that you know why it’s necessary to do an oil cleanse for acne-prone skin, let’s move on to the oils to use and to avoid for cleansing.
There are many kinds of oils in the market, but not all of them are good for oil cleansing for acne-prone skin.
For beginners, you can never go wrong with using mineral oil. It’s not likely to clog the pores, it won’t react with anything on the skin, and it’s also readily available. However, if you want added benefits from the oil you’ll be using, there are other products you can check out.
For instance, castor oil and tea tree oil have antibacterial properties, so they’re helpful for people with acne. However, tea tree oil is drying and irritating, so it’s important to dilute it prior to use on the face.
You can also go for other oils that aren’t likely to clog the pores, such as sunflower oil. Lighter oils are also an option, like grape seed or olive oil; however, as these have a slight potential to clog the pores, it’s best to be careful before trying them out.
At this point, it’s important to talk about the comedogenic scale. This is a scale that lists down different ingredients, most notably butters and oils used in cosmetic products, and specifies how likely an ingredient is to clog the pores and cause comedones.
“Comedones” is actually a general term used to refer to whiteheads or blackheads—clogged hair follicles that show as raised bumps on the skin. So, when we say an ingredient is comedogenic, it means that you will likely get comedones from that product.
Hence, if you have acne-prone or oily skin that’s susceptible to acne breakouts, you may want to stick with oils that are low on the comedogenic scale, and avoid those that are higher on the list.
A grade of 0 to 2 on the comedogenic scale = a product is non-comedogenic/not that comedogenic. Ingredients at 0-2 should be safe for oily or acne-prone skin. Anything higher than that isn’t recommended for use for oily skin, even as an oil cleanser.
Oils to avoid
Oils with a rating of at least 3 in the comedogenic skin aren’t advisable for oily skin, as this may lead to more comedones and consequently more acne breakouts.
Highly nourishing and moisturizing oils, such as coconut oil, avocado oil, and cocoa butter, are usually used in most DIY skincare routines because of their hydrating properties. However, these oils are actually highly comedogenic, and are thus not suitable for acne-prone skin.
Instead, you may want to switch to oils with lower comedogenic ratings and other benefits such as astringent or non-inflammatory properties.
Oil Cleansers and Balms
If you’re worried you may choose the wrong oil for your skin type, you can check out commercial oil cleansers or balms instead.
Like natural oils, both commercial oil cleansers and balms have oil as their base. However, they have added ingredients such as surfactants, which bind to dirt and remove it from the skin. These surfactants aren’t drying unlike in traditional cleansers, though, as they are only present in little amounts. Normally, they help in emulsifying cleansers, allowing them to be washed off readily with water.
But how are cleansing oils and cleansing balms different?
While both products contain the same ingredients, the difference lies on their texture. Oil cleansers are liquid products that typically come in pump bottles, whereas cleansing balms are solid, more wax-like alternatives that come in a tub.
Both have their pros and cons. For instance, cleansing oils emulsify more quickly, and are more sanitary to use. However, using them can be a bit messy. On the contrary, cleansing balms are more travel friendly since they come in a tub. But, that makes them more unsanitary, since you dip your hand on the tub each time you use the product.
Still, they both deliver the same stellar results of removing dirt and impurities from the skin, all while keeping it smooth and moisturized!
Oil cleansers and balms offer a gentler and more thorough clean than natural oils.
Since natural oils don’t have emulsifying ingredients, they’re much harder to remove. You can’t simply use water to wash them off; rather, you have to use a soft, damp washcloth to clean off the oil. This isn’t only time consuming—you also run the risk of overexfoliating the skin.
You see, if your cloth’s texture is too rough, it can be a physical exfoliant itself. Using a physical exfoliant daily may be too much for your skin—and, if you already do chemical exfoliation on your routine, your risk of over exfoliating is increased even more.
How to Oil Cleanse?
Let’s now talk about how exactly to oil cleanse.
Just a bit of a background—oil cleansing is actually the first step on the acclaimed Korean skincare routine. This is followed by using another cleanser in what is known as a double-cleanse–a method that allows you to thoroughly rid your skin of dirt and oil that accumulated throughout the day.
Since oil cleansing is all about thoroughly removing pollution, dirt, makeup, and SPF from the face, it’s best done at nighttime, after a long day outside. It’s actually not advisable to do it in the morning, as there’s nothing to remove from your face so early in the day. It can even end up drying your skin if done too much!
Here’s what you need to do:
- Apply the oil cleanser. Whether you’re using natural oil, or a commercial oil cleanser or balm, the first step is to get some product and apply it directly on your dry face. Note that you shouldn’t wet your face prior to cleansing, as water and oil don’t mix. The water may simply interfere with your cleanser’s job, so it’s best not to wash your face at all!
- Massage the cleanser on the face. You can let the oil sit on your face for around a minute or two, and then massage it all over your face for a good minute or two to let it do its magic on your face![note yellow]Do not rub your face too long, or too harshly, as this can just tug or irritate your skin. Be as gentle with your skin as possible.[/note]
- Remove the cleanser. Once you’ve massaged your cleanser thoroughly, it’s time to remove it from your face. Depending on what product you use, you can either:
- Wet a soft washcloth (preferably microfiber), and gently wipe the natural oils off your face. Don’t rub this too hard so as not to risk over exfoliation! OR
- Simply wash commercial cleansing oils or balms off with water.
These are all the steps you need to finish oil cleansing!
Now, it’s up to you if you’d like to double cleanse—that is, using a regular foam cleanser after oil cleansing. Some people do this to ensure removal of any remaining oil or dirt on the face.
Some people notice hard bits of oil and/or dead skin on their face as they oil cleanse. These are called “grits”–small lumps of oil that have been removed from the pores. However, this isn’t something that happens to everyone. Not having grits while you oil cleanse certainly isn’t a cause for worry.
Word of Caution
While oil cleansing is certainly a gentler way of cleansing the skin, it can still be overdone.
If you’re using a natural oil as cleanser, it’s important to ensure that you’re using a soft washcloth (preferably microfiber) to minimize tugging and pulling at the skin too much. Using a rough washcloth can lead to overexfoliation, which damages the skin and even causes wrinkles.
In addition, as satisfying as massaging your face with a cleansing oil can be, make sure to limit it to a minute or two. That’s already sufficient time to get rid of all of the impurities on your face, and overdoing it can just lead to more problems.
For instance, the 15-minute oil cleanser challenge on TikTok can be a recipe for disaster. Massaging an oil cleanser on your face for 15 minutes adds an unnecessary risk of pulling and tugging at the skin. In the process, this can even lead to broken capillaries, and contribute to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles on the face.
Oil cleansing poses a lot of benefits for all skin types, including oily skin. In fact, it might be just what you need for a gentler, deeper cleanse that won’t cause your sebaceous glands to go into overdrive. It may initially appear daunting because it uses oils, but we hope we’ve established enough that not all oils are harmful for acne prone skin!
Have more questions about oil cleansing? Want to share your own experience with cleansing oils and balms? Tell us what you think and leave a comment down below!