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Apothecary: The Best Cleansers and Moisturizers

Oil isn't the skin saboteur you've always thought it was. In fact, it may be a valuable beauty resource.
Martha Stewart Living, November 2011

Think of it as a skin-product change in protocol. For years, we've been hunting down products that proudly proclaim, "Oil-Free!" But now dermatologists are increasingly recommending cleansers and moisturizers that are packed with soothing, skin-plumping lipids. Once assumed to be the enemy, oil, it turns out, might be the best ingredient for removing sunscreen and long-wear makeup and (counterintuitively) for clearing up greasy, acne-prone skin. "Oil fights oil, so an oil cleanser will sweep away pore-clogging oils," says Jeannette Graf, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York. Plus, if you're looking to include more products with natural ingredients in your beauty arsenal, oils can help you do it, since these cleansers and moisturizers contain oils derived from nuts, seeds, and flowers. The following page explains how to use them -- without looking like you've had an oil spill.

Cleansing Oils

Instead of leaving you with a squeaky-clean, tight feeling, a cleansing oil will make skin feel smooth and hydrated. That's because "the wet-to-dry cycle itself can dehydrate the skin if a cleanser doesn't have some oil in it," says Noelle Sherber, a dermatologist in Washington, D.C. In fact, oil cleansers are so moisturizing that people with oilier skin might even be able to skip using a separate cream. Massage a pump's worth into dry skin for 30 seconds. (You can even rub it on your eyes without any stinging since oil cleansers take off eye makeup while conditioning eyelashes.) Then rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry.

Philosophy Purity Made Simple Mineral Oil-Free Facial Cleansing Oil (philosophy.com) dissolves makeup with natural oils from olives, sandalwood, and geraniums instead of pore-clogging mineral oil.

Shu Uemura High Performance Balancing Cleansing Oil Advanced Formula (shuuemura-usa.com). Martha is a fan of this oil-based cleanser. One of the earliest mainstream cleansing oils, the original formula was introduced in Japan in 1967.

Moisturizing Oils

Because it forms a barrier that seals hydration in slightly damp skin for hours, oil moisturizes better than lotions and won't leave skin parched again a few hours later. Plus, "many have anti-inflammatory properties, which means skin will be smoother and less red," Sherber says. Stick to quick-absorbing formulas, and use a light hand since it's easier to add oil than remove it. Massage two to three drops all over your face, and give it a few minutes to sink in before applying makeup. If you're feeling hesitant, ease in by adding a drop to the amount of moisturizer you usually use.

Bobbi Brown Extra Face Oil (a href="http://bobbibrowncosmetics.com" target="_blank">bobbibrowncosmetics.com). After discovering that olive oil makes a great moisturizer, Brown was inspired to create this blend, which also has sesame and sweet almond oils.

Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil (josiemarancosmetics.com) is made from argan kernels grown in Morocco. It absorbs fast and is high in vitamin E.

Tata Harper Replenishing Nutrient Complex (tataharperskincare.com) comes in a convenient roller and has beta-carotene-packed carrot-seed oil and antiaging borage oil.

Mario Badescu Rose Hips Nourishing Oil (mariobadescu.com). Great for dryness, it's loaded with reviving antioxidants.

Nighttime Oils

Using a facial oil before bed gives it ample time to sink in and repair skin (and don't worry, it won't stain your pillow). Nighttime formulas are often heavier than daytime versions, which is good because they can lock in hydration even as your heater blows hot, dry air on you all night. "Apply three to four drops of a facial oil immediately after getting out of the shower or after washing your face with warm water, while your face is still slightly damp, to lock in hydration," Sherber says. In the morning, simply splash your face with water.

Clarins Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil (at department stores) is made with hazelnut, rosewood, and patchouli oils. Apply a small amount to the face and neck (if you use too much, simply dab off the excess with a tissue).

Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate (kiehls.com) contains a blend of half a dozen soothing oils, including evening primrose, which Graf recommends for dry skin.

The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil (thebodyshop-usa.com) should be used on blemishes only. It's naturally antimicrobial, says Graf, so it shrinks pimples without the harshness or irritation of benzoyl peroxide. And since it has a potent scent, it's best to apply it at night. You can use a cotton swab to dab it on.

More Ways to Oil Up

Facial oil can double as an allover hydrator. Here are some surprising ways to use it.

On Your Hairline

Pomades and silicone serums are great for taming flyaways and unruly baby hair, but over the course of the day they migrate onto skin and can clog pores along your hairline. Instead, use a facial oil, which smooths hair just as well but is less likely to cause breakouts since it's meant for your face anyway.

On Knees and Elbows

These areas have fewer oil glands, so they get very dry very quickly. Rather than slather on lotion, smooth on a gentle, natural facial oil right after showering. It won't be as thick as body oil, which can sometimes feel syrupy.

On Legs and Bikini Line

A layer of facial oil applied to wet skin before shaving cream makes the razor slide over skin, not scrape it, which further minimizes razor burn and bumps. You can apply it again after showering to soothe legs better than body lotion.