Yep, it really works.
If you have frequent acne, it may seem like a nightmare scenario to slather your face in oils. But experts say you should consider doing exactly that to both prevent and clear those stubborn breakouts. Yes, for real.
Here’s the deal: Pimples occur when your pores get clogged by bacteria and over-produce sebum (a.k.a. oil). And too much oil can actually happen when your skin is dried out or stripped from using harsh products, like strong cleansers, peels, and retinol products, says Gary Goldfaden, M.D., a Hollywood, Florida dermatologist and creator of Goldfaden MD products.
Using an oil-based cleanser or moisturizer prevents skin dehydration, which is what leads to that over-production of oil that causes pimples, says Goldfaden. In other words, applying oils to your complexion can actually help put the brakes on your skin’s natural production of oil. Whoa. Goldfaden also notes that oils can address anti-aging concerns like dullness and dark spots, too, making them a true skin-care powerhouse.
So what oils are safe for acne-prone skin? Goldfaden recommends looking for ones high in essential fatty acids like omega-6 (you might see this as linoleic acid on the label), as well as ones high in vitamins A, C, and E because they also brighten the skin and help even out tone. (That means those annoying post-acne spots will fade faster, too!)
That being said, certain oils do live up to the legend of clogging pores. Wheat germ oil and avocado oils are both known acne aggravators, and any formulas combining oils with a heavy hand of silicones (like dimethicone) can clog pores, too. “Coconut oil is always up for debate, even though it offers anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial benefits,” says Goldfaden. He suggests trying some on a patch of skin before slathering it all over your face.
If you’re hitting up a spa for a facial, ask what type of oils your esthetician is thinking of using beforehand. Tea tree oil is a great one. It offers antiseptic and inflammation-calming benefits, so it won’t aggravate acne.
If you want to test the waters at home, dry oils (which you apply to dry skin) are a good place to start. One of our favorites is Josie Maran 100 Percent Pure Argan Oil ($48, sephora.com). After cleansing your skin, apply the oil like you would a serum to your face, neck, and chest. Follow with moisturizer if needed.
Or add a cleansing oil to your nighttime routine as a first step to remove makeup and the pollutants that accrue on top of your complexion during the day. We like Origins Clean Energy Gentle Cleansing Oil ($26,beauty.com). Be sure to apply and massage in the cleansing oil on dry skin, and then rinse with water to remove it. In Asia, it’s popular to follow up with a second gentle cleanser, a ritual known as “double cleansing” that is said to get skin nice and clean without drying it out (which is exactly what you want to avoid, remember?).
The bottom line: Oils can work for all skin types, and even surprisingly well if you’re acne-prone. So don’t be afraid to try cleansing or moisturizing your face with one—you can thank us for your clearer skin later.