It could be said that face oil is one of the most controversial skincare products on the beauty market. Walk (or scroll) through any beauty retailer, and you'll find hundreds of options featuring all sorts of oils, actives, and other credit card–tempting ingredients. Some people swear by its efficacy for hydrating and healing thirsty skin while others condemn face oil with fearmongering threats of congestion, clogged pores, breakouts, and more. So what are we to believe?
I'll admit that for years I wouldn't touch face oil with a 10-foot pole. I have sensitive, acne-prone skin, and I was as terrified of face oil as I am of spiders, heights, losing A.C. in 100-degree heat… You get the idea. But then, the tide started to change. I began talking to more and more dermatologists and facialists who told me face oil is largely misunderstood. In fact, pretty much every person with any type of skin can benefit from it. That said, there are some important caveats and things to know when shopping for the best face oil for your unique complexion. As with all skincare, face oils are not one size fits all, and there is some strategy and skill involved in choosing the right one.
To clear the muddled air surrounding face oils, and in order to gather more intel and advice on whether they're the worthwhile investment the industry wants us to think they are, I reached out to two amazing experts: Sunday Riley, master formulator, CEO, and founder of her namesake skincare brand, and board-certified dermatologist Shari Sperling, DO. Keep scrolling for everything you ever wanted to know about face oil and to shop some of the best options for every skin type.
Are Face Oils a Truly Effective Way to Moisturize?
Yes, yes they are. That said, there is one *very important* caveat to this, which is the quality and formulation of the face oil you use. For instance, the oils hanging out in your kitchen cupboards or bodycare collection are (or should be) vastly different from what you're putting on your face.
"Face oils are specifically formulated to sink in and moisturize without leaving an oily finish," says Riley. "You might also find they have oil-soluble esters in them, which reduce the greasiness of the other oils and leave a very velvety, dry finish on the skin. Face oils are also one of my favorite ways to get oil-soluble actives, like retinoids, salicylic acid, or vitamin C esters, into the skin."
Can Everyone and Every Skin Type Use and Benefit from Face Oils?
According to both Riley and Sperling, everyone can, indeed, use and reap the moisturizing benefits of face oils. But again, it comes down to using your oil correctly and choosing a formula catered toward your skin type or your major concerns. For example, someone with very dry skin probably won't use the same oil as someone with very oily skin. And yes, even folks with oily skin can use face oil. The right mixture of ingredients can actually help stabilize and regulate the skin's sebum production, which, in turn, will help curb excessive oiliness.
"Remember, applying a face oil should not make you produce more oil—quite the opposite," Riley confirms. "If you have oily skin, look for an oil with oil-soluble esters, which help the oil to sink into the skin and disappear."
But Won't Face Oils Clog My Pores and Make Me Break Out?
Yes and no. High-quality, strategically formulated face oils should not clog your pores, but not every oil is suitable for your face or every skin type. Steer clear of highly comedogenic oils (like coconut oil), and mind how much oil you're applying. A little goes a long way.
If you're especially prone to grease or are worried about congestion and breakouts, however, Riley suggests looking for a face oil that contains an ingredient like salicylic acid that will dissolve the sticky, oily buildup loitering around your pores. (Sunday Riley's U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Acne Treatment Face Oil, $80, is a great option.)
Of course, if you were to slather your body oil onto your face, it very well may result in clogged pores or a fresh set of blemishes. According to Riley, these types of products usually feature heavier oils that can be too much for the complexion to handle, ultimately trapping bacteria and leading to unwanted congestion.
What's the Most Effective Way to Apply Face Oils?
As a rule, your face oil should pretty much always be the very last step in your routine since oils have a larger molecular size. If you apply it too early, anything you put on afterward won't be able to penetrate the skin.
"An oil with active ingredients in it (like retinoids, vitamin C esters, or salicylic acid) is more like an oil serum, whereas a pure oil with ingredients like argan oil or jojoba oil is really just a nurturing moisturizer," explains Riley. "I like to apply oil serums first after cleansing and/or toning so that the retinoids or vitamin C can easily sink into the skin. But if you're using a straight oil like jojoba, make sure to apply it as your last step. It's too heavy to go first and could stop your other products, like serums, moisturizers, and treatments, from effectively penetrating into your skin."
The Best Face Oils for Oily or Acne-Prone Skin
Tea tree oil, salicylic acid, and black cumin seed oil work together to combat breakout-causing bacteria. Then, additional strategic ingredients like hexylresorcinol and licorice help gently brighten the skin to even out lingering scars or pigmentation.
If you're looking for one of the best oils to help keep breakouts at bay, Sperling recommends reaching for a formula featuring rose hip. This affordable version is one of The Ordinary's best sellers. It's organic and utilizes cold-pressed oils—a must, according to Riley.
Herbivore's best-selling Lapis Facial Oil is a game changer for those with oily or pimple-prone complexions. It keeps skin amply hydrated and balanced, which is still of paramount importance for oily skin. The blend of blue tansy, plant-based squalane, kukui-nut oil, and jojoba oil help manage sebum and oil production while reducing redness and other forms of hyperpigmentation.
This face oil is legendary. It's extremely versatile and can lend a helping hand with everything from prematurely aging skin to stubborn breakouts. Plus, the signature mix of jojoba oil, olive squalane, shea butter, perilla seed oil, kukui nut oil, and cannabis sativa seed oil will make your skin positively gleam.
The Best Face Oils for Mature Skin
As if the stunning gilded packaging wasn't enough to make you drool, this anti-aging face oil is also chock-full of the dreamiest ingredients: Ouessant honey, royal jelly, and Commiphora oil, which is rich in highly active molecules to encourage cell turnover, renewal, and radiance.
Antioxidants are essential for everyone but are especially important if you're looking to slow or reduce visible signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, spots, or discoloration. This best-selling face oil from Mad Hippie brims with them thanks to an all-star lineup of ingredients, featuring organic argan oil, sea buckthorn berry, grape-seed extract, hempseed extract, camu camu berry, goji berry, and so much more. (It's like the most potent of superfood smoothies but for your face!)
The Best Face Oils for Dry Skin
If your skin is always craving moisture and you're partial to a super-radiant finish, this will be one of the best face oils for your complexion. It's filled with an active, botanical-based blend of cold-pressed superfood seed oils (like broccoli, raspberry, cranberry, and blueberry), teeming with skin-feeding nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, essential amino acids, and omegas 3, 6, and 9.
This budget-friendly oil is a game changer for anyone with super-dry skin, especially as we head into the colder months of the year when chap and flakes become more likely. This hydration-locking oil is exceedingly lightweight, but the 100% Organic Moroccan Argan Oil formula doesn't skimp where skin-loving fatty acids, vitamins, phenols, and carotenes are concerned.
The Best Face Oils for Combination Skin
Those with dry or normal skin can also benefit from this lightweight, glow-inducing oil, but it's especially well suited for those with combination skin. It boasts an incredibly stable form of vitamin C to fight environment-induced skin damage and telltale signs of aging like loss of firmness, lines and wrinkles, dark spots, or redness. The hero ingredient, golden turmeric, floods skin with antioxidants for even more skin tone–evening and anti-inflammation perks.
This face oil covers all of your bases. It's nutrient dense and lightweight (and fast absorbing) and is specifically formulated to deliver enough hydration to work as a moisturizer while still targeting specific skin conditions in a supremely healing nature. The superstar ingredients include grape-seed, lavender, clove, juniper berry, tea tree, and clary sage oils.
Featherlight and natural, this is one of the best (and most affordable) oils for any skin type, but especially peeps with combination skin. Its hero ingredient is plant-derived squalane, which delivers potent hydration to thirsty skin while simultaneously curbing oil production that's in overdrive. (It also has anti-aging properties!)
This is one of the best-selling face oils at Sephora, and it's especially genius for combination skin. The unique blend of tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (an oil-soluble, ultra-stable form of vitamin C), sugarcane-derived squalane, and Chios crystal oil firm, brighten, and deeply hydrate a thirsty complexion.