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How To Apply Face Oil Properly, Because You Definitely Need It In Your Routine

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Of all the products you can incorporate into your skin care routine, few are as controversial as face oils. People with oily skin think they don't need them, people with dry skin overload on them, daytime use is still questionable, and the question of when in your routine to apply them pops up every few months with skin care experts lining up on either side of the before or after moisturizer debate. So on a hunt to discover everything there is to know about face oils — including how to apply face oil properly — it's been confirmed: Face oils are complicated. (But that doesn't make us want to use them any less.)

"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 The Zoe Report. 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. So while knowing when and how to use them can be a little tough to learn, it's pretty clear that everyone should be incorporating face oils into their regimens.

Whether you're a face oil newbie or an enthusiast looking to brush up on your skin care knowledge, read on for everything you need to know about face oils, from where they belong in your routine, to application techniques that ensure effectiveness.

Does Face Oil Go Before Or After Moisturizer?

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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 Airi Williams, an esthetician at Skin Gym's facial bar, Skin Camp. Oilier skin types may choose to use face oil or moisturizer, rather than both at once, so the oil would go in place of a moisturizer.

For people with dry and combo skin types who want to use both an oil and moisturizer simultaneously, Rouleau says that most people actually apply them incorrectly. Most people know that skincare 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 a 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.

What Ingredients Do You Need In Face Oils?

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"Look for luxury base oils [instead of] cheaper oils such as grapeseed oil," says celebrity esthetician and founder of Georgia Louise Skincare, Georgia Louise. "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.

She also advises that you should avoid added scent, fragrance, and perfumes, while also looking for ingredients that are rich in antioxidants to 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?

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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."

How Should You Apply Face Oil?

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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.

Why Do You Need Face Oils In Your Routine?

"Face oils not only attract other oils but also help prevent against any environmental stressors that our skins faces from the outside world," says Williams, adding that oils are "perfect to add a subtle glow." And similar to Rouleau's "top coat" analogy, Louise says that oils help reduce transepidermal water loss "by creating a barrier to entry to protect the skin."

If you've finally been convinced to add a face oil to your routine, check out some of these options.