It happened overnight. Over the past year, it seems like every beauty brand under the sun launched a face oil. Really? We’re putting oil on our faces now? The very existence of face oils defies everything we’ve been trained to believe about skincare (raise your hand if you won’t even go near a moisturizer or cleanser unless it’s oil-free). The conventional wisdom is that oil clogs pores, causing zits, whiteheads, blackheads and gross greasiness. And shiny-slick skin has never been sexy. So why the sudden obsession with using oils instead of traditional moisturizer? Simply put, face oils are like complexion perfection in a bottle.
Face Oils: What?
Facial oils are made up of a variety of different botanical oils, or based around a single plant-based extract (like argan, lavender or chamomile). “They provide skin with powerful antioxidants and nourishing vitamins inherent in nature,” says Queenie Lee, Director of Education at Clarins. “Plus the essential oils are highly aromatic, without containing any artificial fragrances or colorants—providing instant aromatherapy.” And contrary to popular opinion, these treatment oils penetrate quickly and deeply, leaving a velvety-smooth (decidedly ungreasy!) finish. “The oils have light molecular weight and non-comedogenic properties, so they’re able to easily absorb into the epidermal layers,” says Pevonia Botanicals Educator, Melissa Morris, who recommends looking for oils with ultra-lightweight squalane, hazelnut or safflower extracts if you’re still concerned about oily buildup.
Face Oils: Why?
The aromatherapeutic healing properties of facial oils are a kindler, gentler alternative to traditional moisturizers. There’s an essential oil to help balance every skin type—from breakout-prone to dryness—which leads to a calmer, less-stressed complexion. “Essentials oils have been used to conquer skin conditions for thousands of years,” says Morris. Check out our goofproof guide to skin-perfecting extracts found in face oils:
Face Oils: How?
The way you apply facial oils is almost as important as formula, itself! First begin with thoroughly cleansed, damp skin. Pump five to seven drops of facial oil into your palm, rub hands together and gently press oil into face and neck, avoiding under-eye area. According to Morris, the application of your face oil must be followed by a gentle massage. This slightly warms the skin, allowing the oils to penetrate more quickly. If you’re using an anti-aging oil, also do a target massage over troubled areas.
Face Oils: We Tried It
Here, YouBeauty staffers test drove the top 10 new face oils on the market.
Tested by: Laura Kenney
As someone who’s worried about both aging and acne (not fair, right?), I traded my moisturizers for face oils 10 years ago, when I first heard it through the beauty editor grapevine that these oils miraculously address both of my main skin concerns. What’s got me so addicted? Their incredible ability to leave skin soft and supple without being greasy (and my skin is prone to shine) or sticky, while quelling irritation—key for taking a breakout from big and red to barely noticeable. I tried Clarins Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil, and it delivers on all of the above.
It’s packed with pure plant extracts from its namesake, the orchid, cucumber and hazelnut to keep skin soft, radiant and elastic. Many oils are meant to be applied at night, but this one’s great for day, leaving skin soft, soothed and—even though it’s counterintuitive—ready for makeup. Like most face oils, Clarins Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil comes at a price—it’s $50—but you only need the tiniest drop to reap it’s benefits, and oils don’t go bad, meaning you’ll get full bang for your buck.
Tested by: Tia Williams
I’ve been a face oil cheerleader for years! I love everything about them: the aromatherapeutic scent, the sublimely-moisturized-but-not-greasy feel on my skin…everything. And I’ve officially just stumbled upon my new favorite. Fresh’s new face oil is chock-full of good-for-you ingredients like seaberry, cranberry seed, camellia seed, grapeseed and sweet almond, all of which manage to hydrate dry skin (mine’s usually parched) without being too heavy. Perfect for the rapidly dropping temps! I also dab a bit on my wrists and under my nose, just to fully take advantage of the calming aromatherapy effects. Heaven, bottled.
Tested by: Anne Roderique Jones
All the cool kids in the beauty biz are saying that Marula Oil is the new argan oil—thanks to the superior levels of antioxidants. The promise: a unique combination of ingredients that has major skin hydration and anti-aging benefits. I religiously dabbed a smidgen of the thick-ish oil on my dry-ish face every evening before bed, and instantly noticed a pretty glow—it smelled nice to boot. It’s too early to tell if this hot, new oil has turned back the clock, but it has cleared my acne! An oil that provides hydration and clears my skin? Consider me the poster child for this stuff! Bonus: I love that Marula Oil comes in a bottle pretty enough to display (aka, show off) on my bathroom counter.
Tested by: Valerie Fischel
The first thing I noticed about this was the lavender smell and the bottle's shape. The large, glass pit-shaped top is designed so that the excess oil will slide back in. I'm big into functional package design, so not getting oil all over the outside of the bottle is a major plus. When applied (only a very small amount is needed!), the oil absorbs into the skin, leaving a natural and healthy glow. This oil is also a great base for makeup, so I recommend using it in the morning. Eyebrow pencil, coverup and blush go on much more smoothly and stick to the skin better. The sesame, sweet almond, olive and jojoba smell delicious and make the skin soft, and the Vitamin E protects skin from environmental damage. I've noticed a difference in the softness in my skin over the past week of using it. I’m a fan!
Tested by: Amanda Schupak
Putting oil on oil-prone skin might seem oxymoronic, but Pevonia strikes the right balance with this light formula that veritably disappears into your face. I'm a combo-girl myself, and after a bedtime application was pleased to find that my nose and chin weren't glowing like the rising sun when I awoke the next morning. This topsy-turvy turnout owes to the gently astringent properties achieved with an aromatherapeutic balance of hazelnut, sandalwood, mandarin orange and grapefruit oils. I’m not quite sure what it was supposed to make me feel, exactly—but it did give me the briefest olfactory flashback to Skin So Soft. Oiler beware: Good luck trying to apply just three to five drops, per the instructions. That stuff pumps out hard and fast! On the plus side, it rubs in easily for an almost powdery softness.
Tested by: Courtney Dunlop
I love face oils—I use one every morning on clean, damp skin (before sunscreen) and I swear by their ability to make my skin look instantly plump and young. Since I fancy myself a face oil connoisseur, I was excited to try a new one to the market.
M. Steves’ star ingredient, rose hip seed oil, is proven to help heal skin and is great for reducing wrinkles and scars. I haven’t been using the product long enough to see any long-term results (fine lines can take months to go away), but I’ll keep using it until I do because I like the light, sinks-right-in-texture and subtle, earthy scent. I’d recommend this face oil for anyone who is looking for serious anti-aging benefits—something you don’t always find this category.
Tested by: Angelica Catalano
To protect my complexion on crisp mornings, I rub the oil into my cheeks and dark circles. This helps blend my cakey concealer and gives my powder bronzer a luminous finish. My skin drinks it quickly, so I'm left moisturized without the grease. The only slight downside? The oil smells like a supplement from a health-food store, probably because it's made of organic Omega-3s.
Tested by: Danielle Tiu
When the weather changes and starts getting colder, my skin becomes dry and patchy—it’s especially noticeable when I apply my mineral makeup. Just as the directions said, three drops was all I needed to give my skin the right amount of moisture. The scent was mild and absorbed quickly into my skin without looking slick later on in the day. I also applied it to my hands and there was no oily residue left on anything I touched afterward. I have acne-prone skin so I probably wouldn't use this on a daily basis because I use prescription topicals. However, I would recommend this oil for some without acne whose skin is in need of extra moisture.
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