It’s not just you, knowing how to apply face oil properly is a struggle for many. If you have oily skin, you might not think you need one. And if your skin is on the dry side, you might have a tendency to overload on oil. There’s also the time of day to take into account — should you apply the product in the morning or at night? Then there’s the question of when to apply face oil in your routine: Do you use it before or after moisturizer? To answer all your burning questions, TZR asked estheticians and dermatologists to share everything you need to know about face oils.
First, what exactly is face oil? Face oils are typically made from a mixture of plant oils, Kasey Boone, a licensed esthetician and founder of Glow Skincare LA, tells TZR. “People use face oils to nourish the skin, help with gliding during facial massage and gua sha, and lock in moisture.” The main purpose of an oil, she says, is to nourish and seal moisture into the skin.
Face oils are different from face serums, the latter of which are meant to treat specific skin concerns with various active ingredients. “An oil is made up of, well, only oil,” Boone explains. “Oil sits on top of the skin and is best applied last in your skin care routine,” she notes, whereas serums should be applied before moisturizers and after toner — but more on that later. The bottom line? What makes an oil an oil are the ingredients, not necessarily the label. For example, you may have a nifty little bottle of skin “serum” in your cabinet, but if the ingredients are just a mixtures of oils, it can technically be classified as a face oil, and you should apply it as such to reap maximum benefits.
When it comes to selecting the best face oil for you, things can get a bit tricky. “There are so many oils on the market, it can be overwhelming,” notes Boone. “I recommend looking for something without added fragrance and an oil to support your skin concerns.” For example, if your focus is anti-aging, she recommends oils like moringa, olive, avocado, and grapeseed.
So, whether you're a face oil newbie or an enthusiast looking to brush up on your skin care knowledge, read on to become an expert in face oils. You’ll learn everything from where they belong in your routine to application techniques that ensure effectiveness.
Why Do You Need Face Oils In Your Routine?
"I like to refer to a face oil as being like a bodyguard for your skin, or like a top coat that works to seal all the products that are underneath deep into the skin," Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician and founder of Renée Rouleau Skin Care, tells TZR. She adds that all skin types — including combination and oily ones — can benefit from face oils, especially if you live in a climate with little to no humidity.
"Face oils not only attract other oils but also help prevent against any environmental stressors that our skin faces from the outside world," says Airi Williams, an esthetician at Skin Gym's facial bar, Skin Camp, adding that oils are "perfect to add a subtle glow." And similar to Rouleau's "top coat" analogy, celebrity esthetician Georgia Louise tells TZR that oils help reduce transepidermal water loss "by creating a barrier to entry to protect the skin." In that respect, Boone concurs. “Oils are a great last step in your evening routine to keep your skin soft and supple,” she says. And if you’re thinking about doing any kind of facial massage or gua sha, Boone says using a facial oil is an absolute must.
Does Face Oil Go Before Or After Moisturizer?
This is by far the most highly debated topic amongst skin care professionals, but long story short, it really depends on how you're using it. "Depending on your skin type, the majority of oils replace moisturizers, so it should be the last product you apply to skin before SPF," explains Williams. Oilier skin types may choose to use face oil or moisturizer, rather than both at once.
For people with dry and combination skin types who want to use both an oil and moisturizer simultaneously, Rouleau says that many people actually apply them incorrectly. Most people know that skin care products should be applied from lightest to heaviest, but not many people actually know what "lightest to heaviest" means.
"Serums are skin care products designed to deliver high concentrations of a particular active ingredient to the skin to perform a specific job, be it hydration, brightening, antioxidant protection, or collagen-stimulating," says Dr. Josh Zeichner, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "Structurally, many different types of products can be called serums. They may be solutions, emulsions, or anhydrous bases. Solution products tend to be called serums, essences, toners, or tonics. Emulsions are mixtures of oil and water, and are what creams and lotion-based serums are made of. Anhydrous bases are products that are water-free; these serums are typically silicone-rich and feel slick on the skin."
He continues, "Moisturizers are designed to hydrate and protect the skin. Most moisturizers are emulsions, combining water and an oil phase into a cream or a lotion. Some moisturizers may also be made in ointment formulas, which have a water-free base often made with synthetic oils. Oil skin care products are either pure oil extracts from botanical sources, or are a combination of ingredients with a predominant amount of natural oils. These oils contain a variety of ingredients, ranging from hydrating and protecting fats to antioxidants."
So what exactly does all of that mean? Zeichner's definition of "lightest to heaviest consistency" means that water-based products should be closest to the skin, and therefore applied first — and oil-dominant products can then form a seal on top of them. It's all about knowing what kinds of products you're applying to your skin. That is, even if the bottle says "serum," but the formula is mainly oil-based and the ingredient list is topped by oils, it's likely that it's actually a face oil and should be applied last.
What Ingredients Do You Need In Face Oils?
Though Boone mentioned grapeseed oil, Louise suggests sticking to the higher-end sort. "Look for luxury base oils [instead of] cheaper oils," she says. "Look for avocado, meadow foam, and almond oil rich in omegas 3, 6, and 9, and vitamin E." These oils are all rich in fatty acids and vitamin E, which help deeply moisturize the skin. Vitamin E also has soothing properties that help combat inflammation from conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Louise also advises avoiding added scent, fragrance, and perfumes, while also looking for ingredients that are rich in antioxidants. This will help protect the skin against environmental stressors and free radicals, which, in turn, combats signs of premature aging.
Williams also recommends looking for oils that incorporate jojoba oil in their formulas because it is the closest replica to the sebum that your skin naturally produces.
When Should You Apply Face Oil?
Like many other questions revolving around face oils, this one has a split vote. Both Williams and Louise recommend using face oil both morning and night, the way you would any other moisturizer, while Rouleau cautions against daytime use.
"Face oils are not ideal to use in the morning [because they may interfere] with the daytime protection you need from your sunscreen," she explains. "Skin oils in their pure form may dissolve your sunscreen throughout the day, similar to the way that your skin's own natural oils can."
As previously noted, Boone suggests always using an oil when you’re performing facial massage or gua sha, but also before applying your makeup if you have dry skin and as a last step in your evening routine. “Once oil is applied it acts as a barrier, and nothing else will be able to penetrate. That's why it is important to apply at the end of your routine,” she tells TZR.
How Should You Apply Face Oil?
When it comes to figuring out how to apply face oil, the general consensus on application techniques is that patting is more effective than rubbing. "It's important to be mindful of how you apply a skin oil to the face — especially based on your skin type," says Rouleau. "For starters, you don’t want to use too much. Oils spread very easily, so only a few drops are needed to do the trick."
She continues, "If you have oily or combination skin that might be prone to occasional breakouts or clogged pores, you'll want your regular skin-type-appropriate moisturizer to do its job because that is what is coming in direct contact with the pores. Then, if an oil is needed — [like] if you're in a dry climate — [you should] rub it into your hands first and then pat it onto the face over the lotion. This acts as a top coat without getting directly into the pores. If you have dry skin, you can massage a few drops over your moisturizer into the skin."
If you're wanting to add a bit more relaxation into your skin care routine, Louise mentions that you can massage the product into your skin in upward and outward motions to relieve tension and encourage lymphatic drainage throughout the face.
If you've finally been convinced to add a face oil to your routine, check out some of these options.
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