Essential Guide to Facial Cleansing Oils: For All Skin Types (+ DIY Recipes!)

There used to be a time not that long ago when the concept of putting oil on your face was absolutely ludicrous. After all, isn’t the whole point of a skincare routine to remove excess oils? But in reality, it’s the opposite: Oil-containing cleansers can not only gently remove surface dirt and oils, they are often better than traditional soaps.

Remove any thoughts you may have of applying “grease” to your face. Let go of your inhibitions and concerns about clogged pores and breakouts. Facial cleansing oil could be the pathway to your dewy skin dreams.

This article will cover:

What is the “oil cleansing” method?

Historically, we’ve been taught that our faces are a problem, that in order to achieve glowing, healthy skin we must strip away all the “bad” things. Then, when we have a clean surface, we can apply products that help create the ideal skincare texture and appearance — smooth and supple with moisture, glowing with radiance, and resilient to the touch.

It’s been explained to us that oil is “bad,” that our faces must be rid of all oil in order to prevent blackheads and pimples, that we must go oil-free before we can introduce all the ingredients we really need to achieve the clear, glowing skin we so desire.

So we then buy products that strip the skin of oil, along with the dirt and grit we fear are clogging our pores and blocking our way to brighter, better skin.

It’s been going on for a long, long time. However, oil is not bad for your skin.

If you think logically about oil, it makes sense. The skin is our largest organ, charged with protecting our bodies from harm as well as helping to regulate our internal environments. Skin produces sebum (oil) to maintain the skin’s all-important moisture barrier — which not only produces the cosmetic effect of soft, supple skin but also prevents foreign substances from entering the body and causing harm to the ecosystem within. Our body produces sebum to protect the skin and keep it supple and moist for a reason: It’s the best natural way to keep the skin healthy.

Oil is actually good for you.

Sebum production remains normal until the brain gets a signal that a part of the body is sensitized and dry, when it responds by sending more sebum to help combat dryness. This can create a vicious cycle of over-cleansing: If you strip your face of oil, your body will just make more to replace it. Stripping oil also means you dry the skin out, which means the body produces even more sebum. And the dyes, perfumes, and synthetics in most cleansers further aggravate already sensitive skin. Now your skin is in a constant state of inflammation and redness, trapping debris in your sensitized pores.

There is one method of cleansing that won’t cause these issues: oil cleansing.

Essentially, oil cleansing uses oil to attract sebum. This means that through the application of botanical oils mixed with other emulsifiers, you can remove dirt, grime, and dead skin cells by simply sweeping them away without disrupting the sebum that’s critical in keeping skin healthy and supple.

Even though you may have just heard about it, oil cleansing has been around for thousands of years.

If you’d made a trip to the legendary Roman baths in that day, you would have rubbed olive oil into your skin before bathing and then removed any remaining surface oils and dirt with a strigil, a scraping device used to essentially skim the grime and dirty oil off the skin in hot plunge rooms called caldariums. Throughout the years, oils have made their way through beauty routines of various civilizations and have recently re-appeared as facial oils. Now, facial oil cleansing has become a mainstay of the skincare conversation.

How does facial cleansing oil work?

Facial cleansing oil dissolves any trapped dirt, grime, impurities and dead skin cells and removes them while maintaining the oil balance of your skin. It’s a gentle way to clean the skin without stripping, drying, or aggravating it, which means your sebum production stays stable. The result can be a calm complexion with fewer pimples and blackheads.

The key to facial oil cleansers is hydration. By removing dirt and grit without stripping the skin, the moisture barrier remains intact. Cleansing oils are more hydrating because they don’t contain as many (or any) surfactants as more traditional cleansers — which means they cleanse without inflaming the skin, triggering that excess sebum production problem, etc.

It’s also important to remember that facial cleansing oils aren’t made from the same oils with which we cook: These are lighter, skin-loving, natural options that work with your skin to soothe and nourish while removing surface impurities. It’s important to pick the right cleanser for your skin type, but in general, these products are healthy options to help you achieve your skin goals.

How Do Facial Oils Work Facial Oils As Cleansers

Facial Oil Cleansers Facial Oil As Cleanser

Facial oil as cleanser Facial oil cleansers

How to use facial cleansing oil

Here’s how to use a facial cleansing oil:

    1. Start with dry skin: When using a facial oil cleanser, start with dry skin, not wet. You don’t need to splash water on your face to get it to work — it’s actually best if you don’t.
    2. Massage into your skin: Pour some of your facial oil cleanser in the palm of your hand (about the size of a quarter will do) and massage the product into your dry skin. It’s always best to apply any skincare product by sweeping from on your chin upward in a circular motion: This works against gravity to support your skin’s natural structure, and the circular motions are a gentle way to heat up the skin to loosen surface dirt and dead skin cells. This method also opens your pores slightly so they can release any grime hiding inside.
    3. Steam your face: Wet a washcloth or facial towel using warm water, then press it onto your face. The steam from the towel will soften your skin, loosen surface dirt, further open pores, and starts the emulsification of your oil cleanser.
    4. Remove product: Once the product is soft and slippery, use the washcloth or towel to wipe away the oil cleanser.
    5. Double cleanse if you want: Some like to use a practice called a “double cleanse,” which means you go for round two in the same manner. Repeat these steps again over the first cleanse and reap the additional benefits.
    6. Follow with a serum, face oil (particularly those with dry skin), and moisturizer (and sunscreen if you’re leaving the house during the day).

    This will help you to create dewy, glowing skin in no time.

    Which oils are best for the oil cleansing method?

    Now that you know that facial cleansing oils are your friends, let’s talk about the best ones to use for your individual skin type.

    Best facial cleansing oils for acne-prone skin

    Acne-prone skin can truly benefit from facial oil cleansers. Dryness and irritation from over-cleansing can make acne much worse, but the gentle hydration of these products provides soothing results while helping you keep your skin free and clear of unwanted debris. You’ll want to select non-comedogenic, nourishing oils that help acne-prone skin, such as squalane, grapeseed, argan, lavender, or jojoba. These oils are lighter in nature and will work well with your skin.

    Tip: Squalane, tea tree, and jojoba oils have antibacterial properties that can help kill off acne-causing bacteria while removing dead skin cells.

    Best facial cleansing oils for oily skin

    While it might still seem counterproductive for oily skin to benefit from, well, more oil, lighter oils like jojoba, marula, kukui, argan, rosehip, and buckthorn can make all the difference. Lighter in texture and non-comedogenic, they soften and cleanse while keeping moisture levels intact.

    Tip: Combining with a moisturizer that contains alpha hydroxy acid is a safe bet to reap the skin-loving benefits of facial oil cleansers while keeping pores clear and oil production at normal levels.

    Best facial cleansing oils for dry skin

    Dry, irritated skin can benefit from the hydrating, calming benefits of marula, coconut, and squalane oils. Marula is great for reducing the characteristic redness that seems to accompany irritation due to dryness. Sunflower and avocado oils can also benefit dry skin.

    Tip: Combine your facial cleansing oil with a moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid, which occurs naturally in the skin to bind moisture to the body, keeping your skin hydrated and replenished longer.

    Best facial cleansing oil for normal-to-combination skin

    Combination skin is dry in some areas (usually around the periphery of the face) and oily in others (the “T-zone” of the forehead, nose, and cheeks.) This is when an oil that works for both oily and dry skin can bring your skin back into balance. Cleansing with marula and tamanu oils benefits combination skin — the hydrating effects will work for all zones of the skin while the antibacterial aspects penetrate quickly to remove acne-causing bacteria and debris.

    Tip: Combine with a lightweight moisturizer to reap the benefits of your newly balanced skin.

    Best facial cleansing oil for sensitive skin

    Sensitive skin is most in need of calming and hydration, which is where soothing oils like camellia seed and rosemary can come to the rescue.

    Tip: Avoid cleansers with fragrances if you have sensitive skin, which might aggravate and worsen your condition.

    How to pick the best facial cleansing oil for you

    Now that you know more about which oils are best for your skin, you should know that the beauty market is filled with facial cleansing oils that can help you achieve your skincare goals. To get dewy skin, to soothe dry skin, to manage acne, and to combat aging, there are plenty of options out there at a variety of price points.

    Best facial cleansing oils for glowing, dewy skin

    Dewy skin is hydrated and supple, so seek out oil cleansers that combine gentle cleansing with incredible hydration and moisture-binding. L’Occitane’s version of a nourishing oil cleanser is packed with 5% shea oil for incredible hydration delivery. Other dewy skin greats include nourishing versions from Tata Harper, Julep, and Sonya Dakar, whose Buriti Purifying Cleanser eschews mineral oils for a base of skin-loving coconut oil for pure luxury and dewy-skin goodness.

    Best facial cleansing oils for acne

    If you have acne-prone skin, you’ll want to take advantage of non-comedogenic oils that will help dissolve surface dirt and dead skin cells without disrupting the moisture barrier or further aggravating already sensitized skin. Beauty editor favorite brand Sunday Riley has formulated their C.E.O. C Plus E Micro-Dissolve Cleansing Oil with both alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids to clear away sticky skin cells and grime while nourishing and hydrating. Japanese brand Hadalabo Gokujun uses a base of skin-loving olive oil with two types of hyaluronic acid to cleanse and hydrate. Shu Uemura has created some of the beauty industry’s finest cleansing oils; their Porefinist contains salicylic acid — an acne sufferer’s best friend — to mildly exfoliate and boost your cleanser’s ability to clear away the dirt, debris, and dead skin cells that can clog pores.

    Tips

    • Avoid cheap cleansing oil products that contain mineral oil, which can clog pores.
    • Also, stay away from cleansers that include fragrance, as it can aggravate sensitive skin.

    Best facial cleansing oils for dry skin

    Facial oil cleansers for dry skin can be the solution to getting the dewy, hydrated skin you’ve always craved. By using nourishing oils like camellia and olive, you can:

    • soothe the irritation experienced when skin is parched,
    • repair your moisture barrier,
    • and bring your skin’s hydration levels back to a supple, glistening glow

    DHC and Julep make amazing options to soothe parched skin, and Tatcha has created a gentle, soothing version that uses both camellia and rice bran oils for their time-tested skin soothing and softening benefits. If you want a gold standard, Erno Laszlo’s White Marble Cleansing Oil uses a combination of coconut and sunflower oils that can power through even the most stubborn dry skin flakes and grime while leaving skin soothed and hydrated.

    Tips:

    • Cleanse twice. Follow an oil cleanser with one of the foaming variety.
    • If your skin is severely dry, you may want to skip double cleansing. After all, over-cleansing can lead to dry, irritated skin, and that’s precisely what you’re trying to avoid.
    • Also avoid lemon, ginger, and tea tree oils, which can further dry out already parched skin.

    Best facial cleansing oils for combination skin

    Individuals with combination skin need to focus on moisture delivery that will saturate the normal-to-dry sections without clogging or aggravating the oily/acne-prone bits. They also need a pH balance that keeps skin from getting too dry or oily.

    Marula oil can calm and soothe dry spots while killing off acne-causing bacteria. It also cleanses pores of dirt, debris, and other irritating foreign matter.

    Marula, the skincare brand saturated with their namesake oil, makes a Foaming Cleansing Oil that’s perfect for combination skin. Other options include lightweight oils at a variety of price points: DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, SheaMoisture Peace Rose Oil Sensitive Skin Cleansing Oil, Tatcha Pure 1-Step Camellia Cleansing Oil, and products by BareMinerals, Derma E, Biossance’s Squalane + Antioxidant Cleansing Oil (squalane mimics the oils naturally produced on the skin), and Badger all make great options filled with nourishing ingredients for combination skin.

    Tips:

    • A light face oil like grapeseed, marula, or camellia seed oil will go a long way to balance the moisture in combination skin.
    • To strike a balance of moisture and pH, a moisturizer is also a critical component of your skincare regimen.
    • You want lightweight formulas that deliver hydration to dry skin while remaining gentle enough to soothe oily skin without clogging.
    • There are great options for this skin type: Boscia, Grown Alchemist, OleHenriksen, and Kora Organics make amazing options with minimal additives.

    Best facial cleansing oil for sensitive skin

    Sensitive skin tends to follow the same rules as combination skin when it comes to the types of oils you want in your facial oil cleanser — but this is where you want to take this one step further by avoiding fragrance or additives. (We advocate that everyone takes it this step further!) You want your facial oil cleanser to be as natural as possible, so label-reading will become incredibly important. Biossance, Babor, Josie Maran, Boscia, and Tatcha make great options.

    A note here for those living with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis: These rules apply doubly for you, since your conditions can flare up. The good news is that oil cleansing could provide the soothing moisture and relief you deserve.

    You want to ensure your facial oil cleansers are fragrance-free and contain no chemical additives or irritants like surfactants, sulfates, or phthalates. You also want the most calming oils you can find: Evening primrose, borage, neem, sea buckthorn, and jojoba oils are good options because of their anti-inflammatory properties and abundance of skin-healing properties. This is where it’s best to get advice from your dermatologist before trying a new oil cleanser. It’s always best to play it safe with inflammatory skin conditions; the skin is a very delicate ecosystem and you want to be careful with any additions to your doctor-recommended skincare regimen.


    Tips:

    • Those with sensitive skin have to be careful about introducing new products, so be sure not to add anything else when switching to a facial oil cleanser.
    • This way, you can pinpoint the cause of sensitivity more easily.
    • It’s not expected that any of these products would irritate your skin, but as you’ve probably learned, you can never be too careful.
    • If you have sensitive skin, it might be best to “prime” it by placing a cool washcloth over your face to calm the skin prior to application.

    What are the advantages of organic face cleansing oil?

    The closer you can get to a natural, botanical extract when it comes to your beauty products, the better. The skin is the largest organ of the body, so whatever you apply to it, you essentially “eat.” As such, you want to “feed” it the best food-grade products you can.

    Here are some reasons organic facial cleansing oils are a great option:

    • Less risk of sensitivity: When using organic products, you can rest assured the ingredient list doesn’t contain any rude surprises like pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, other mystery chemicals. Now, that doesn’t mean that all-natural ingredients are always good for you — personal allergies do exist (so, for example, those with nut allergies should avoid products containing nut oils). You want to ensure you use the right oil for your skin type.
    • Cleansing without stripping: Organic cleansers are rife with actual oils vs. chemical surfactants. This means a lower risk of stripping the skin, which is exactly what you’re using a facial oil cleanser to avoid.
    • Better for your skin, better for your body: There’s no new news here that many consumers are calling for greater transparency with their beauty products due to many questions around hormone disruption, toxicity, and other concerns over the mystery additives and ingredients. Organic facial oil cleansers are natural, meaning the body can recognize the ingredients and know what to do with them immediately. The closer you get to food-grade oil, the better the body’s natural response to the nutrients received.

    Best organic, all-natural face cleansing oils for all skin types

    If your goal is organic, all-natural facial cleansing oils, then we’re here to provide the details. This is a list of the certified best facial oil cleansers for those seeking a more natural way to cleanse and beautify, and we’ve taken it one step further — most of the products in this list are sustainably sourced, vegan, and cruelty-free.

    • Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Cleansing Oil ($34) — A fantastic option for dry skin with fine line and wrinkle concerns, it contains grapeseed, may chang, and ho wood oils along with a proprietary blend of plant stem cells that help boost skin regeneration while soothing, purifying, and balancing.
    • Kari Gran Cleansing Oil ($35) — You have to love an organic product that only contains five ingredients: sunflower, avocado, castor seed, and lavender oils, and tocopherol (a non-GMO vitamin E derived from sunflowers). It cleanses while maintaining your skin’s natural oil balance.
    • Mun Akwi Purifying Cleanser ($60) — This cleanser only has three ingredients: castor seed, argan, and camellia seed oils. The three combine for nutrient-dense moisturizing and skin-balancing and deep cleansing without stripping.
    • Tata Harper Purifying Cleansing Oil ($80) — Full disclosure: While 100% of its ingredients are natural, only 66% of them are organic. But this rich, moisturizing cleanser deserves to be on this list due to the founder’s pioneering views on healthy, healing skincare and this gorgeous formula, which delivers soothing hydration and smoothness to even the driest, roughest skin textures.
    • Eminence Stone Crop Hydrating Gel ($40.24) — This organic Hungarian brand’s cleanser brightens and revitalizes even the most tired skin. It combines sunflower and jojoba oils with a detoxifying microgreens complex for a potent shot of vitamins and nutrients that revive the skin while cleansing and soothing.
    • Earth Tu Face Palmarosa + Aloe Face Wash ($47.93) — Started by two passionate herbalists in California, this natural brand created a face wash that’s actually a facial oil cleanser. It combines pure organic palmarosa and ylang-ylang oils with coconut and olive oils, along with other botanicals and natural vitamins, to heal and soothe while it cleans. These products are so natural that the colors of the ingredients may vary from batch to batch.

    DIY facial cleansing oils

    Want to make your own facial cleansing oil at home? Here are some of the benefits — and drawbacks — of making your own facial cleansing oils.

     

    Pros and cons of DIY facial cleansing oils:


    Benefits

    • You know exactly what the ingredients are, since you’ve sourced them yourself.
    • Because you’re customizing the blends yourself, the cost-per-use could be less.
    • You can mix the right formula for your skin type.
    • You can add all the skin-loving additives you want.
    • Want to add a lovely, fragrant natural oil to your blend? Go for it!

    Drawbacks

    • If you don’t get the formula (ie, the proportion of each oil to other ingredients) right, you could wind up causing an unwanted reaction on your skin.
    • To maintain the integrity of your cleanser, it’s critical to store ingredients properly.
    • You need some equipment, like beakers, tinted bottles, eye droppers, etc.
    • High-end, better-quality oils can be more expensive than purchasing a pre-made oil blend, depending on your source and availability.

    How to make your own DIY facial cleansing oil


    Wondering what you need to make your DIY facial oil cleanser? Here’s what you need to think about.

    Containers and mixing products

    Ideally, you need a container in which to place your DIY facial oil cleanser, so it’s best to purchase an opaque 50 mL bottle, as most recipes yield at least that much. It’s best to make your cleanser in small, rather than large, batches; you want to make an amount you can use before the biodegradable ingredients go rancid. You can always make more.

    You also need a measuring beaker or clean measuring spoons, a small funnel, and a stirring implement of some kind if you’re using the beaker (bamboo and wooden stirrers are great for this). Otherwise, it’s recommended that you measure your ingredients, place them directly into the glass bottle, and shake well, leaving it overnight for the ingredients to combine and infuse.

    The base

    If you’re making a facial cleansing oil at home, it’s best to start with castor oil as your base. Both homemade and store-bought facial oil cleansers are often based on castor oil, as its viscous consistency makes it effective as both a cleanser and moisturizer. As an alternative, you can also use hemp seed oil — it’s non-comedogenic and filled with moisturizing linoleic acid.

    Emulsifier vs. no emulsifier

    Some of the facial oil cleansers we’ve mentioned have an emulsifier component, which means the oil foams slightly, more like a traditional cleanser. It’s something that those with acne-prone skin might wish to consider if at all concerned about clogged pores or worried that a washcloth won’t entirely remove the oil.

    The main natural emulsifier is polysorbate 80, which is a naturally-sourced vegetable emulsifier that causes solubility between oil and water molecules, breaking up the oil formula slightly. There’s some debate between the organic and scientific community about whether polysorbate 80 — even though it’s a naturally-sourced ingredient — is actually good for us. It’s entirely your choice if you choose to add a bit of it, but remember, it should only comprise 10% of your facial oil cleanser recipe. You can purchase polysorbate 80 at natural food stores or Amazon. But the choice is up to you — traditional oil cleansing enthusiasts skip it, while more modern herbal enthusiasts might include it.

    After that, you want to pick the oils that are best for your skin type to add to your base. Let’s talk about some good general recipes for a simple facial cleansing oil.


    Normal skin

    • 20% castor oil
    • 80% sunflower oil

    Dry skin

    • 10% castor oil
    • 30% sunflower oil
    • 60% avocado oil

    Oily skin

    • 30% castor oil
    • 70% sunflower oil

    Acne-prone skin

    • 20% castor oil
    • 40% sunflower oil
    • 40% grapeseed oil

    (Source for all recipes)

    You can add any essential oil to these baseline recipes. Just add a drop each of frankincense, ylang-ylang, lavender, or any other natural scent you like. You can also swap the non-base oils above with any of the suggested oils for your skin type listed earlier in this article.

    If your goal is glowing, dewy skin, consider dropping your foaming face soap in favor of a gentle facial oil cleanser. Healthier, supple skin is just a few drops away.


    FAQ

    Is castor oil good for under-eye wrinkles?

    The short answer is yes. It’s one of the oldest remedies for eye wrinkles and puffiness known to man. That said, you want to use a high-quality product and only apply lightly to the area around the eye (the periphery of the actual eye itself). Apply it to clean skin by dipping your finger into the oil and gently tapping it onto the area. Allow it to sink in for a few minutes — how long will depend on your skin type — then cover with moisturizer (and sunscreen, if using during the day).

    Can you use olive oil on your face?  

    Yes! Cleopatra was a fan of this fatty-acid-packed oil. A great lipid carrier, it’s also the secret of the Mediterranean diet and why individuals who apply it have such youthful, supple skin. It naturally contains squalene, which mimics your body’s natural sebum, and contains antioxidant properties that battle skin damage caused by free radicals. There’s also evidence that olive oil can help reverse and prevent some of the tell-tale signs of sun damage and photoaging.

    That said, this is really best for those with dry-to-combination skin types. A few drops on clean, wet skin as a face oil can be beneficial under moisturizer. However, this isn’t for all skin types — those with acne-prone skin would do best to ingest olive oil through their diets.