OILS: When, Where, an Why We Should Use Them

From coconut to jojoba, many of us are familiar with the benefits of oils in penetrating our skin and leaving it feeling smooth and soft—not to mention the amazing scent and gleaming skin that comes with it. While it may be tempting to combine oils for a quick and easy DIY moisturizer, keep in mind that not all oils are the same!


While some may be suitable for certain parts of our body, such as the arms and the legs, others may lead to breakouts and clogged pores. Knowing which oils work best in different areas of your body will help you make the most informed choice when selecting the products that are best-suited for your skin type.


How do oils work?

Oils may act as an emollient by softening the skin and an occlusive by protecting the skin. Most oils act as a protective barrier on the surface of the skin, working to retain moisture. Rather than penetrating the skin with hydration, oils seal the top layer of the skin to keep that hydration in. Therefore, it’s best to apply oils after humectants (i.e. lotions) to keep moisture from leaving your skin.


Unlike the elbows and knees, the skin on the face and chest is thinner and often needs more attention and TLC. The skin on our face produces sebum, which may make the face appear greasy. The amount of sebum produced may change throughout an individual’s lifespan, but is often much higher during puberty and will eventually decrease, on average, at about age 60. Although oily skin is not often sought after, the sebaceous glands in our face play a vital role in the skin’s well-being and should be protected.


But My Skin Is Already Oily?

The concept of putting oil on already “oily” skin may sound counterintuitive for many people, but there are many oils both natural and formulated that have shown promise in treating the skin.


Oils such as marula and argan are less likely to irritate your skin and can provide a moisturizing effect by preventing the loss of water in your skin. The benefits of oils also extend to protection and repair through vitamins, particularly vitamins A, C, and E. These vitamins are found in sunflower, marula, rosehip, and argan oils and can function in preventing UV-induced damage, smoothing fine lines, healing wounds, and having anti-inflammatory effects. For individuals with acne prone skin, oils will likely not be the best option for you. If you do decide to try one, tea tree oil has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that have shown to be well tolerated by acne patients.


In addition to the argan and marula oils previously mentioned, apricot kernel oil and grapeseed oil are lightweight and quick-drying, making them compatible for most skin types.


On the other hand, avoid using olive oil and coconut oil on the face due to their tendencies to clog pores leading to excess sebum production and acne.



Here is where the coconut oil comes in! The skin on your arms, legs, hands, and feet will benefit from coconut oil much more than your face. The skin on your body is thicker and all the saturated fats that make up coconut oil can help repair your skin’s natural barrier and maintain its moisture levels. If your skin is sensitive or does not respond well to coconut oil, try other oils such as sweet-almond oil or sunflower-seed oil. These oils will act as emollients and can be used to improve the complexion and skin tone of the body. Explore your options through trial and error to see which oils your body responds best to.



In the same way that our bodies respond differently to oils, as does our hair. The variety of hair types and the ability to retain moisture varies from person-to-person. Typically, the hair and scalp is less sensitive to oils so anything from avocado oil to jojoba oil should work great. Cautionary measures should be taken when determining how much oil to use. Those with thicker and/or drier hair will benefit from coating the ends of their hair with oil before wash days to protect the hair from the drying effects of shampoo. Those with thinner hair may only need a few drops of oil to retain moisture over longer periods of time.


Use this advice as a starting point to consider your oil options, but as with all dermatological conditions, it is always best to have your questions answered by a dermatologist.

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