The Best Facial Oils and How to Use Them

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A dropper applies an orange-y serum to someone's super smooth skin
(Photo: Stocksy)

You either swear by facial oils or are skeptical of all the fanfare and its myriad of purported benefits. In recent years, facial oils have become a booming skincare category, taking up prominent shelf space. There are all kinds of facial oils you can choose from with ingredients like rosehip, marula and jojoba. They are also said to boast a bevy of skincare benefits like brightening, calming inflammation and minimizing the look of fine lines and wrinkles. Despite their popularity, there’s also some confusion around face oils. Will they clog pores? Do they replace your moisturizer? Do you even actually need one? To help make sense of it all, we enlisted the help of two experts to break it all down, plus, the best facial oils for every skin concern.

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What does a facial oil do?

The purpose of a facial oil is to provide moisture to the skin’s surface and serve as a protective layer against environmental aggressors, says Dr. Monica Li, a Vancouver-based dermatologist and clinical instructor in the department of dermatology and skin science at the University of British Columbia. Facial oils both act like an emollient (filling in the gaps between skin cells to strengthen the outer layer)—and an occlusive agent (sealing water in at the skin surface), explains Li.

Our skin produces natural oils—known as sebum—which help retain water within the skin surface. A facial oil is basically added protection, helping supplement the oils the skin already produces and maintain a robust skin barrier function, says Li.

A face oil can be a game-changer for your skin, says Jennifer Brodeur, a Montreal-based facialist to celebs like Oprah and Michelle Obama, and founder of JB Skin Guru. “The right face oil will help with skin homeostasis [its ability to maintain a stable internal environment], as it provides nutrition and hydration to the skin.”

Can anyone use a facial oil?

Facial oils can be beneficial for everyone—even oily skin types. A caveat: there’s no one-size-fits-all formula. “As not all face oils are created equally, it’s important to know what face oils are right for you,” says Brodeur.

What are the best facial oils?

Since not all oils are the same, different ones will have different skincare benefits. Beyond its hydrating and nourishing properties, a facial oil can also have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits, depending on the ingredients and composition, says Li. Brodeur adds: “My favourites are those that contain lots of good fatty acids and vitamins. For example, sunflower seed oil, peoni root extract and rosehip seed oil.” However, you also need to be mindful of your skin type.

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What are the best facial oils for sensitive skin?

For sensitive skin, Brodeur recommends steering clear of essential oils, especially citrus oils. Essential oils can be very potent, which means they can cause irritation or trigger allergies for sensitive skin. Citrus oils in particular like orange, grapefruit and bergamot can cause photosensitivity, resulting in skin irritation or discolouration. Brodeur also suggests avoiding oils with dye or fragrances.

What are the best facial oils for oily skin?

If you have oily skin, Dr. Li recommends using an oil with a light texture like jojoba or grapeseed that will absorb more easily into the skin and won’t clog pores.

What about facial oil for dry skin?

For dry skin, look for a facial oil with either oat or argan oil, both of which are known for their soothing and nourishing properties. “Mixing two to three drops of the facial oil with a moisturizer will have a compounded hydrating effect,” says Li.

Once you choose an oil, apply it on a test spot like on the wrist or behind the ears for at least a week. “Keep in mind that these natural oil ingredients may be a source of contact allergens depending on the individual,” she adds. Facial oils are still a relatively new category of skincare and more research and clinical studies are l needed, so it’s best to consult with a board-certified dermatologist if you have any questions or concerns.

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How can I incorporate facial oil into my skincare routine?

The answer will vary depending on who you ask (yes, it’s that controversial). For the most part, experts agree that you should use a facial oil after your moisturizer as the final step in your skincare routine. “Oil sits on water, so it creates a protective layer to prevent water loss,” explains Brodeur. However, if your skin is on the drier side, you can apply oil first or even layer with an oil, moisturizer and then oil again. You can even mix a few drops of facial oil into your moisturizer or foundation for a dewy glow.

Can facial oil replace my serum?

“As a rule of thumb, serums are usually used to target specific skin concerns [such as hyperpigmentation and fine lines and wrinkles], whereas oils are primarily used to nourish and hydrate the skin,” says Brodeur, meaning you can use both a serum and a facial oil.

What’s the best way to apply facial oil?

Always apply facial oil on clean skin after you’ve cleansed. Brodeur recommends using two to three drops and taking the time to massage it into your skin using upward strokes.

Here are some of the best facial oils for dry, oily and sensitive skin:

Amandine

Inner Glow Face Oil, $120, amandinesolbotanicals.com

Formulated with a blend of botanicals and essential oils like lavender and calendula sourced from the founder’s family farm in Ontario, this multi-tasker lends a helping hand for a healthy, glowy complexion.

Peoni

L’extrait, $225, jbskincare.com

Made with a concentrated blend of sunflower seed oil, peony root extract and licorice root, this gentle oil soothes and hydrates skin.

Pai

Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil, $50, shoppersdrugmart.ca

Rosehip seed oil does all the heavy lifting in this formula with vitamins, antioxidants and essential fatty acids, which help with brightening, collagen production and fighting free radicals.

Juice Beauty

Stem Cellular Vinifera Replenishing Oil, $90, sephora.com

Jojoba, macadamia and olive squalene oils help boost the skin’s moisture while fruit stem cells, vitamin C and grapeseed oil to help improve skin tone and radiance.

Garnier

BIO Organic Lavandin Smooth & Glow Facial Oil, $23, walmart.ca

Tapping into lavandin essential oil (a hybrid created from true lavender and spike lavender) and argan oil, this formula promises smooth, supple skin with a non-greasy finish.

Biossance

Squalane + Tea Tree Balancing Oil, $65, sephora.com

Ultra-hydrating and lightweight squalene meets skin-purifying tea tree oil for a nourishing and quick-absorbing face oil.

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