A dermatologist explains what these products are, and how to choose the right one for your complexion.
bottles of beauty oil on wooden tray
Credit: Getty / Marc Tran / EyeEm

Your skincare routine may contain a lot of lotions and potions, but does it involve any oils? If not, Dr. Marie Hayag, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics, says you may be missing out on an entire category of products—after all, oils can be incredibly nourishing, providing you select the right one for your skin type. Ahead, exactly how to do so, according to Dr. Hayag.

What are oils?

Oils are cleansing and moisturizing products that can, over time, improve skin's texture. "They can be a great addition to a person's routine due to their ability to help fight acne and hydrate and nourish the skin," says Dr. Hayag.

There are three main groups of oils. Pure iterations come directly from the source and are composed of a single ingredient (like coconut oil, argan oil, or tea tree oil). Combined oils, on the other hand, consist of several types to create a multipurpose product suited to address multiple needs. Last but not least, we have oils with non-oil ingredients: These types are not strictly oil-based. Instead they use oils and other ingredients (like retinol) to address skin concerns that cannot otherwise be treated with the former, alone.

Should you replace a lotion with an oil?

Dr. Hayag does not advise replacing your lotion roster entirely with oils—instead, consider supplementing your routine with them. "While an oil can provide the appearance of an immediate moisturizing result, they are not a replacement to a lotion or moisturizer," she notes, adding that they can act as emollients and occlusives, but are not humectants. "Oils can soften the skin as well as entrap humectants and emollients, but they cannot draw water into the skin to hydrate them, like humectants can." That, she says, is a job for your lotion, which should be rich in nourishing ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, peptides, and niacinamide.

How can I pick the right one?

Not all oils were created equal, but the one you choose will ultimately be determined by your complexion. "Face oils are derived from a variety of plant sources and each one is helpful for a specific need," Dr. Hayag explains. "Since they're composed of fatty acids and vitamins, these specifics should determine which oil is best for your skin." Oils that are high in oleic acids (like almond, avocado, and coconut oils), she says, are helpful for dry skin that requires a boost of hydration. But if you're suffering from acne? You likely need an oil that contains more linoleic acid (like grape seed, sesame seed, and sea buckthorn oils) to clear blemishes.

What if oils just aren't for me?

While oils have their perks, Dr. Hayag says that not everyone can use them. If you suffer from allergies, she recommends having a patch test done before applying anything to your face. "Also, fragrances are hidden in oils' ingredients that can cause reactions," she says. "If you are acne-prone, avoid oils with larger molecular structures such as coconut oils, which can clog pores." And if you are pregnant, she says to skip anything with a rosemary oil base—which could potentially cause uterine contractions.


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