The Ultimate Guide to Face Oils (and How to Choose One)

by Katie Freitas-Seitz September 26, 2017
ReadThe Ultimate Guide to Face Oils (and How to Choose One) Photo by @paiskincare

You’re probably pretty familiar with the benefits of face oils—fewer fine lines and wrinkles, a glow to rival Gisele’s, etc. etc.—but that knowledge alone doesn’t help much with the process of actually choosing one. As increasingly exotic oils show up on store shelves, it’s only getting trickier to sort through the options—especially for those of us who were taught to avoid face oil at all costs in our pimple-prone teenage years.


So to help you find the best face oil for your skin, I’ve compiled this complete—or at least, as-complete-as-it-gets—guide. You’ll see familiar faces (oh hey, olive oil) to buzzy up-and-comers (what is maracuja oil, anyway?), and hopefully end up with the knowledge and confidence to start searching for your perfect match.


But first, a quick oil primer

Whether you put them on your salad or your face, oils are made up of fatty acids. There are many types of fatty acids, but when it comes to face oils, the big names to know are linoleic acid and oleic acid. Oils high in linoleic acid—also known as dry oils due to their light texture—are best for oily or acne-prone skin (research shows that linoleic acid may actually reduce acne and oiliness). On the other hand, oils high in oleic acid are generally richer, making them better for dry or mature skin.


When buying a face oil, it’s best to opt for the cold-pressed, unrefined kind. The process of chemically extracting and refining oils can destroy the phytonutrients that heal, protect, and revitalize skin. And one last note for those who are thinking, “I’m oily enough, thanks”: oil is good for oily skin. When skin is dehydrated, it compensates by producing more of its own oil, so adding the right face oil to your skincare routine can help balance your complexion over time. If you’re worried about looking disco-ball shiny, moisten your skin with water or a face mist before applying a few drops of oil. Oil spreads easily over damp skin, so you’ll be less likely to use too much.


Apricot kernel oil

Good for: sensitive, irritated, or mature skin

The pit of your apricot is home to a youth-boosting oil that penetrates the skin quickly to condition and soothe inflammation. If you have sensitive, irritated, or aging skin, adding a face oil with apricot kernel oil to your shortlist.


Argan oil

Good for: all skin types

Argan oil has earned MVP status in the beauty world, and for good reason: it’s rich in skin-loving antioxidants with a luxurious texture that hydrates flaky skin and softens wrinkles. It’s also anti-inflammatory and non-clogging, so it’s great for acne-prone skin, since it’s non-comedogenic (aka, unlikely to clog your pores). Opt for fair-trade argan oil so that profits go directly to the Moroccan women’s collectives that produce it.


Avocado oil

Good for: very dry or dehydrated skin

Yes, the green stuff you love on toast turns out a rich, luscious oil that’s packed with vitamins A and E, making it excellent for dry, dehydrated, and mature skin. It banishes flakes, boosts cellular regeneration, and plumps up thin, crepey skin.


Baobab oil

Good for: normal, dry, or combination skin

This richly moisturizing oil comes from the seeds of African baobab trees, which can live up 2,000 years (!!). It delivers a feast of vitamins—A, B, and C, to name a few—to the skin to boost elasticity, protect against free-radical damage, and smooth roughness. For dry skin, this combo of baobab oil and sebum-regulating jojoba (more on that later), is a godsend.


Black cumin seed oil

Good for: acne-prone and irritated skin

Also known as black seed or nigella sativa oil, this amber-colored elixir is showing up in luxury skincare products for its wound-healing, inflammation-soothing, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and linoleic acid, it works wonders to calm red, distressed skin. I’ve gotten great results with this one from Linné Botanicals when my skin was irritated—plus, it smells like a dream.


Borage seed oil

Good for: sensitive or irritated skin

Borage, in case you were wondering, is an herb with pretty star-shaped blossoms. Its seeds release an oil that’s loaded with gamma linolenic acid, a powerful anti-inflammatory that has a soothing effect on psoriasis, eczema, and other skin irritations.


Broccoli seed oil

Good for: all skin types

Broccoli seed oil is often touted as a natural alternative to silicone due to its unique ability to add grease-free luster to skin. So if you crave the silky-smooth finish of silicone but have skin that’s intolerant to it, broccoli seed oil is made for you. A high level of erucic acid (an omega-9 fatty acid) smooths and softens the skin’s surface while vitamin A, like retinol, boosts cellular turnover for noticeable firmness.


Camellia oil

Good for: dry or mature skin

Beloved in Japan for centuries, camellia (aka green tea seed) oil replenishes and protects the skin with oleic acid and a host of antioxidants. It absorbs quickly to deliver powerful anti-aging benefits: fewer fine lines and plump, firm skin, to start.


Castor oil

Good for: very oily or acne-prone skin

Castor oil may not be the sexiest oil, but it’s pretty unique: it’s incredibly high in ricinoleic acid, a rare compound that fights acne-causing bacteria and fungi. Castor oil has a thick, viscous texture and can have a drying effect on skin. It’s also known to stimulate hair growth, so try brushing it into your brows for fuller, thicker arches or on damaged lashes. It’s the main ingredient in the cult-favorite Wink lash and brow oil.


Chia seed oil

Good for: dry or mature skin

The tiny seeds you add to your morning smoothie produce an antioxidant-rich face oil that speeds up skin repair for a plump, well-hydrated complexion. Chia oil is also full of phytosterols, which calm itching and inflammation, and omega fatty acids. I discovered its benefits through Maya Chia Beauty’s Pure Supercritical Omega-3 Chia Oil, a fast-absorbing yet deeply moisturizing face oil that’s great for even the most sensitive skin. This is one you definitely should stock up on before winter hits.


Coconut oil

Good for: dry or dehydrated skin

The darling of the oil world, coconut oil is a game changer for dry hair and skin. Naturally antibacterial and deliciously aromatic, coconut oil deeply hydrates dry, flaky skin and restores glossy shine to hair that’s tangoed one too many times with the blow dryer. As one of the more comedogenic oils, coconut oil can clog pores, so tread lightly if you’re breakout-prone.


Evening primrose oil

Good for: sensitive, acne-prone, or irritated skin

If you’ve ever perused the supplement aisle, you’ve probably come across evening primrose oil. Taken internally, it’s said to help with everything from hot flashes to high cholesterol. Massaged into finicky skin, it heals eczema and psoriasis and controls sebum for a clear, balanced complexion.


Essential oils

Good for: various skin types

Essential oils—like blue tansy, tea tree, and patchouli—are actually aroma compounds extracted from plants. They’re often used in aromatherapy (just try adding lavender essential oil to an aroma diffuser and not feeling relaxed) and can have therapeutic effects on the skin, but many are unsafe to apply undiluted. They’re best added in small amounts to a face oil blend. The tiniest amount of an essential oil like blue tansy can make your face oil feel much more luxe.


Grapeseed oil

Good for: combination, oily, or acne-prone skin

Grapeseed oil is a light, quick-absorbing oil that doesn’t leave behind a greasy film, so it plays well with combination and oily skin types. Astringent properties help to tighten enlarged pores and reduce blemishes.


Hemp seed oil

Good for: oily or acne-prone skin

Not to be confused with cannabis oil, hemp seed oil is a green, nutrient-dense oil that doesn’t contain any THC (sorry, it won’t get you high). High in linoleic acid, hemp seed oil is nourishing and moisturizing yet very non-comedogenic, so if you’re worried about breakouts, start here.


Jojoba oil

Good for: normal, combination, or oily skin

Jojoba (it’s pronounced ho-ho-ba) oil is actually a plant wax that closely resembles human sebum. As a face oil, it sinks in immediately, balancing the skin’s natural oil production and dissolving pore-clogging debris. Oily and combination skin types, take note.


Kukui nut oil

Good for: normal or dry skin

Kukui nut oil has been used for centuries in Hawaii to soothe and protect skin from the elements. Lightweight with a deliciously silky feel, it sinks in quickly to reduce flakes and soften dry, chapped skin. It’s also known for helping skin conditions like eczema, sunburn, and even psoriasis, so using it as a face oil can be incredibly healing.


Maracuja oil

Good for: oily and combination skin

Also known as passionfruit seed oil, maracuja oil is lightweight yet rich in skin-refining nutrients like vitamins A and C and potassium. Naturally anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, maracuja oil when used in a face oil regulates sebum production for a shine-free (but still well-hydrated) complexion.


Marula oil

Good for: dry, dull, or mature skin

If dull, lackluster skin is bringing you down, try a face oil with anti-aging marula oil. Derived from the fruit of the African marula tree, marula oil heals damage and restores radiance and elasticity, helping you wake up to a youthful glow. Rich in oleic acid and vitamin C, it also protects against free radicals—which we all know are bad news for youthful-looking skin.


Neem oil

Good for: acne-prone skin

If you can get past its peculiar scent (some liken it to Thai food), neem oil is a serious blemish-fighting superhero. A key ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine, neem is deeply healing—it’s antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic, plus it regenerates damaged skin cells and extinguishes inflammation.


Olive oil

Good for: normal or dry skin

It turns out that your go-to cooking oil is great for skin, too. It nourishes and softens dry and mature skin, leaving it dewy and youthful. A high concentration of antioxidants defends against the signs of aging caused by free-radical damage.


Prickly pear oil

Good for: all skin types

Derived from a type of cactus, nutrient-dense prickly pear oil hydrates and restores elasticity without clogging pores. Thanks to a high amount of vitamin E and K, it also helps to protect against sun damage, stimulate skin cell growth, and brighten dark circles.


Rosehip seed oil

Good for: all skin types

Rosehip seed oil penetrates into the skin quickly without a heavy, greasy feel. It’s an anti-aging powerhouse that kickstarts cellular turnover, promotes collagen, and—thanks to vitamin C—brightens dark spots and hyperpigmentation. If you’re looking for a recommendation, I have only amazing things to say about Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil. It works wonders for smoothing out fine lines and evening out your skin tone.


Sea buckthorn oil

Good for: dry or mature skin

Despite its name, this deep red oil has nothing to do with the sea. It’s extracted from the bright orange berries of the sea buckthorn shrub and is known to regenerate damaged skin and soothe inflammation.


Sesame oil

Good for: normal, combination, or mildly dry skin

Prized as a massage oil in Ayurvedic medicine, sesame oil is rich in vitamins E, D, and B and zinc. With an equal balance of linoleic and oleic acid, it’s a highly nourishing option for most skin types. Antibacterial properties make it a worthy choice for those who struggle with dryness and acne.


Sunflower seed oil

Good for: normal or dry skin

Sunflower seed oil enhances the skin’s moisture barrier to keep it from getting dry, tight, and flaky. Loaded with skin-softening vitamin E, it forms a protective barrier against pollution and environmental stressors. With a balanced fatty acid profile, it’s a good starting point if you’re new to face oils.


Sweet almond oil

Good for: dry or dehydrated skin

When pressed, one of our favorite afternoon snacks releases a nourishing oil that’s full of vitamins and minerals. It’s often used as a carrier oil and comes with a generous amount of oleic acid, making it a quick fix for dry, flaky skin.


Squalane and Squalene

Good for: all skin types, including acne-prone

Quick science lesson: squalene is actually a lipid that’s found in many oils—including our own sebum. Not only is it miraculously fast-absorbing, it also protects the skin against moisture loss, free radicals, pollution, and UV damage. Antibacterial powers and a weightless feel make squalene perfect for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin. The difference between squalene and squalane is that squalane is hydrogenated, making it lighter and better for those with oily skin.


Tamanu oil

Good for: dry or damaged skin

Thick, nourishing tamanu oil has been used for hundreds of years in the Pacific Islands to heal everything from acne to ingrown hairs. It softens roughness, soothes inflammation, supports the renewal of damaged skin, and acts as a natural analgesic for painful skin irritations—think sunburns, bug bites, and razor burn.


Already found your face oil soulmate? Give it a shoutout in the comments below.

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