Picture this scene: It’s a chilly winter evening. I’m laid out in a steaming bath with scented salts and a fluffy towel waiting for me when I get out. I’ve decided to treat myself to a spa day. There’s candles burning and my hair’s up in a bun with a hair mask on.
And of course, I’m rubbing my face down with oil.
I felt some of you cringe just then. “Oil?!” you say. And I hear you.
I used to be afraid of oil too. I blame Clean & Clear and their incessant ‘oil-free’ product advertising when I was in high school.
But believe it or not, oil is one of the best ways to melt off makeup, dead skin cells, grime and everything else. It’s a key step in my makeup removal routine.
The key is in choosing the right product and using the correct technique. Let’s dive into The Oil Cleansing Method.
Why should you want to cleanse with oil?
Think of oil cleansing as a pre soak. Just like you wouldn’t rub detergent straight onto a dry shirt, you need to prep the skin when it’s especially dirty so as to give your cleansing products the best shot.
Why is oil the right choice?
Our skin’s sebum repels water, so by first diluting it with another clean oil, we can free it up to be better cleansed away. The oil will dissolve and displodge waxy deposits more easily, so your cleanser can emulsify then wash it all away completely for a truly thorough cleanse.
What are the benefits of oil cleansing?
Besides more deeply cleaned skin, the oil massage brings blood flow to the skin’s surface, and along with it oxygen and healing blood cells, encourages lymphatic drainage, and can dislodge stubborn congestion and provide light exfoliation, and also just feels really good!
Is oil cleansing safe for acne prone and oily skin?
Yes! Oily skin tends to build up non-inflammatory acne like blackheads, and have more sebaceous filaments. Oil cleansing will better break down the skin’s oils to treat and prevent those things. As long as you’re using a low-comedogenicity oil (usually the lighter and thinner, the better) and remove it well, you likely shouldn’t have any problems.
What product should you choose?
There’s two camps of oils people swear by for oil cleansing. These are dedicated, emulsifying cleansing oils designed by skin care companies, or natural, straight plant carrier oils. The latter kind does not contain the additional ingredients that emulsify – or mix – with water, making them more difficult to rinse off.
Cleansing oils are a skin care product that resembles oil when it comes out of the bottle, so they can be rubbed onto the face as normal, but once mixed with water while rinsing, turn into a milky white cream that’s able to be rinsed away. Dedicated cleansing oils come in a range of scents, thicknesses and emulsifications. Many are made from mineral oil as it’s cheap, unlikely to cause reactions, has a long shelf life and has no fragrance. Some are incredibly lightweight and easy to rinse off, and some are richer yet more difficult to rinse. But they are all designed to melt down makeup and grime from the day and make it easier to remove later on.
Choosing a product all depends on the feeling you prefer, the amount of makeup you’re trying to remove, and the dryness of your skin affective how much oil you like to remain behind. Some come in convenient balm formats which are great for travelling or for drier skin types.
My cleansing oil recommendations:
The term carrier oil describes a non-essential oil (not from the fragrant part of a plant) that’s not been tampered with by the addition of emulsifiers or other products to make them rinse more easily. Thanks to their emollient properties, they’re often used as massage oils for the body. You probably already know all the usual suspects, like olive, jojoba, coconut, squalane etc. Each oil has its own comedogenic rating, texture, smell, properties and more. As they contain no emulsifiers, you’ll need to use a second cleanser to get these oils off, as we all know that straight oils repel water making them very difficult to rinse. They are often also preservative-free, inviting them to go rancid over time. But they’re often a more affordable choice and great for those with very sensitive skin or people looking for richer moisturisation benefits.
What technique should you use when oil cleansing?
Oil isn’t an active product. You can’t just slap it on and expect it to do anything. You need another key element to use it in your cleansing routine – friction! Gentle, gentle friction.
Apply a generous amount of oil and spread it all over your face and neck. In most cases, it is safe to use the oil to remove eye makeup also. Then begin to spread the oil around with pads of your fingers to get in there and break down makeup, reveal the fresh skin underneath, and work the oil into your pores. This massage is one of the key elements of the cleansing method. I recommend massaging the oil for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
If this is your first time oil cleansing, prepare to be shocked and to laugh at the batman-esque mess of any sneaky makeup left on your face as it gets smeared around.
What are “grits”?
Maybe you’ve heard people talking about getting “grits” out of their skin by using the oil cleansing method. Grits are the skin care community’s term for loosened pore debris that comes out when massaging your face with oil, which often looks like a speck of sand and has a gritty texture. You might get none, you might get one, or you might get a whole heap. Whether or not you experience grits will totally depend on your skin, and doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see better or worse results from oil cleansing.
How do you remove the oil when you’re finished?
Of course, oil is oil and will repel hydration and prevent all your good skin care products from working their magic if there’s too much left behind. And now the oil is contaminated with your day’s sins and still just sitting on your face – so we gotta take it off!
If you’ve used a designated cleansing oil product, you should be able to add a little water to your hands and start to wash the oil off. The special ingredients allow the oil to turn into a milk that can be rinsed away.
However, if you’ve just used a plain carrier oil, or chosen a cleansing oil that leaves too much of an oily residue for your tastes (*cough* looking at you, Kose Softymo Deep Treatment Oil!) then you’ll need to follow it up with a second round of cleansing.
The second cleanse
This step is referred to as the ‘double cleansing’ technique. The oil is the first cleanse, and a foaming cleanser is used as the second, to remove the oil remnants. The surfactants will break down and emulsify the oil and allow you to rinse it away fully, taking all the skin cells, grits, makeup and dirt with it.
If you’re reluctant to use a foaming cleanser due to issues with dehydration or dryness, I recommend giving it a go as the oil will provide a nice barrier between it and your skin. However, a creamy cleanser and warm wet washcloth can be used to wipe away the oil instead. Keep in mind though that this is a form of physical exfoliation and potentially may be too much for your skin every day. And for those with oily skin types, it may leave a bit too much oil behind for comfort. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Though I don’t oil cleanse in my everyday skin care routine, I do incorporate it as part of my deep-cleanse and special occasion arsenal. It’s also essential to me for removing makeup after a big event. Without oil cleansing, my regular cleanser just has no chance of making its way through so much emollient, waxy, and waterproof makeup. I also find that my skin feels smoother right afterwards. And most of all, oil cleansing is just so relaxing, so who wouldn’t want to give it a go!
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