Serums are so 2018. Today, it’s all about face oils, the simple skin-saving potions praised for their ability to fight wrinkles, brighten skin, and clear up acne.

By Jennifer Benjamin
Updated: May 31, 2019
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These days, it’s all about going green and clean, whether it’s the foods you’re eating, your cleaning products, or the creams and face oils—like coconut oil—you’re putting on your skin. Natural deodorants and zero waste are both trending topics, as are face oils. Face oils have become super popular recently both for the purity of the all-natural ingredients and for their potency, and before you know it, everyone you know will be on board.

“Generally, oils for the face are outstanding and should be used regularly,” says Ava Shamban, MD, LA-based dermatologist, and founder of SKINFIVE by Ava MD clinics. “Don’t dump your serums, but you can collect a few different face oils to serve different purposes depending on your skin’s needs at any given time.”

Plus, you can’t beat the price tag on many of these no-fuss products. (This Bio-Oil review alone is almost enough to have us converting to oils.) To learn everything we could about these amazing skincare finds, we asked top dermatologists to answer our face oil questions—read on for the answers.

What are face oils, and how do they differ from serums?

Face oils are cosmetic oils that are usually derived from plant sources which serve a particular skin-benefiting purpose, says NYC-based dermatologist Ken Howe, MD of Wexler Dermatology. They have a thicker consistency than a serum and act as a barrier on the surface of the skin, rather than absorbing into the skin.

“To produce the oil, the material—whether it’s fruits for marula, leaves for tea tree, or seeds for jojoba—undergoes an extraction process, which is why they’re some of the most natural products on the market,” he says. Serums, on the other hand, are chemically created recipes that are designed to be lightweight and deliver active ingredients in potent concentrations.

Eek, oil! Will face oils make you break out?

The short answer? No. Oil on the surface of the skin does not cause breakouts—the oil your glands produce below the skin’s surface do, though.

“Many breakouts actually originate from using products that strip the skin of natural oils, creating a desert-like landscape,” says Dr. Shamban. “The skin has no choice but to respond by making extra oil to compensate, therefore clogging pores and creating the breakouts.”

Face oil applied to the skin will not cause a breakout. That said, if your skin is already broken-out, go easy on it and use oils intended to clear up acne. (We’re partial to this rose oil for acne.)

How do you use face oils?

Most commonly, face oils are applied at night, so they can do their job while you sleep, when your skin does most of its repair work.

“Oils form a barrier, so you’ll want to apply it over your moisturizer,” says Dr. Howe. “You may also want to mix a few drops of the oil in with your moisturizer and apply them together.” If you’re at all concerned about breakouts, you can apply your face oil in lieu of a moisturizer as well, as long as it does in fact have hydrating properties.”

What are some of the best face oils?

“Most oils moisturize and hydrate the top surface layers of the skin because they are lipophilic, trapping moisture in, while keeping toxins and other bad stuff out of the skin and pores,” says Dr. Shamban. Still, different oils serve a different purpose—and some aren’t ideal for cosmetic purposes. (Anyone concerned regarding whether palm oil is bad will agree with that.) Here are some recommendations for the best face oils:

Tea Tree Oil

Speaking of acne, Connecticut-based dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, recommends tea tree oil for its natural antibacterial properties, making it a great natural remedy for active acne and tool for preventing new breakouts.

Jojoba Oil

Another good choice for acne-prone skin, Dr. Howe recommends jojoba for its ability to soothe and moisturize, while also killing the bacteria that causes acne.

Maracuja Oil

Rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin C, Dr. Robinson recommends this oil for firmer, brighter, and smoother looking skin. “Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which protects the skin from free radical damage and helps repair it,” she says.

Rosehip Oil

Dr. Shamban praises this one for its ability to help heal scars and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

Argan Oil

Experts love this oil because of its anti-inflammatory properties. “It contains high concentrations of vitamin E and is one of the faster absorbing oils,” says Dr. Robinson. “It’s a great choice for people with rosacea, eczema and acne.”

Marula Oil

If you suffer from dry and sensitive skin, Dr. Howe recommends this oil to reduce redness and any visible signs of irritation.

What ingredients should you avoid in a face oil?

Water should never be the first ingredient listed, says Dr. Howe. “You don’t want a heavily diluted oil, or it won’t be as potent. If water is the first listed ingredient, it’s by definition not going to be the right consistency to deliver to the skin,” he says. In addition, make sure there is no fragrance, as it can cause irritation.

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