Does Using an Oil in the Shower Actually Work for Hydration?

Here's what experts say.

There's something about applying a body oil that feels like an indulgent act of self-care. Between its silky, smooth feel and moisturizing benefits, it's worth adding to your routine, especially as we head into winter.

Among the many skincare woes experienced during these colder months, dry skin is probably the most common. In efforts to help remedy dryness, shower oils are said to be beneficial. As the name suggests, shower oils are body oils used in the shower to promote moisturized, hydrated skin. The idea is that applying oil on wet skin can help increase moisture and hydration in the body.

While it sounds like a great idea, especially for those with dry, flaking skin, we have some questions: Do they actually work? Can all skin types use a shower oil, such as acne-prone or someone with keratosis pilaris? Is there a specific way you need to apply shower oil to reap the full extent of benefits?

We tapped two dermatologists to learn about the benefits of shower oils and the right way to use them.

Benefits of Shower Oil

"The benefit of applying a shower oil or applying oil onto a wet body while in the shower is that it prevents moisture loss," says Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist. Oils function as an occlusive, she explains, which means they create a barrier on the skin to keep water and moisture in and the bad stuff out.

Robert Finney, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Entière Dermatology, also says shower oils are a great option for dry and sensitive skin. "Typical soaps have surfactants that clean, but also strip, our skin of natural oils," he explains. "In patients with sensitive skin, this can predispose them to dry, flaky skin, but shower oils can help replenish oils and protect the skin from losing moisture, especially if you like to keep the water hot in the shower."

In addition to keeping the skin moisturized, some shower oils offer gentle cleansing benefits, like Bioderma Atoderm Ultra-Nourishing Shower Oil ($29; dermstore.com).

Can All Skin Types Use a Shower Oil?

While dry and sensitive skin types can benefit from using a shower oil, people with oily and acne-prone skin should be cautious of using them in their routine. Finney doesn't recommend shower oils for those who suffer from back acne, while Garshick says it depends on the type of oil you use.

"For example, jojoba oil, which mimics the skin's natural sebum, is less likely to clog pores for those with acne, as opposed to coconut oil, which has been shown to clog the pores," says Garshick. "So while coconut oil can be hydrating, it is not a good option for someone prone to back acne."

Ultimately, both dermatologists agree that people with oily and acne-prone skin types should stick to cleansers with acne-fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. If you choose to use an oil, make sure you search for a non-comedogenic option, which means that the formula doesn't clog pores.

If you're someone with a skin condition, like keratosis pilaris, shower oils can also be beneficial. "Those with keratosis pilaris can also experience dryness of the skin, so keeping the skin moisturized is important so, a shower oil can be a helpful option," says Garshick.

Application Methods

There are several ways to use a shower oil, says Finney. "I have some patients apply oils before getting into the shower so that their skin is protected, and when they cleanse, they strip less of their natural oils," he says.

You can also use a shower oil after cleansing while still in the shower to hydrate the skin. Garshick says you can also apply a shower oil immediately after the shower to help lock in moisture and ensure maximum hydration of the skin.

Whatever method you choose, however, Finney recommends always following up with a body lotion post-shower to lock in all the moisture you can get.

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