Cleansing Oils in Skin Care Products

Written by: Dr. Leslie Baumann



Time to read 6 min

Cleansing oils have become a popular part of many skincare routines. As a dermatologist, I often get questions about using oils to cleanse the face. Are cleansing oils right for your skin type? Do they actually help dissolve oil and makeup? Can they exacerbate acne? Here I'll explain the benefits of cleansing oils, different types to choose from, which skin types I recommend them for, and some of my top picks. Read on to learn why dermatologists like myself often recommend incorporating a cleansing oil into your skincare routine.

What are cleansing oils?

Best Products With Cleansing Oils

Cleansing Oils can be found in a variety of product types like moisturizers, cleansers, toners, sunscreens, and more. They can make a great addition to routines where a “Double-cleanse” is required, and also typically have multiple other benefits like hydrating fatty acids, etc. These are a couple of our favorite cleansing oil products:

What are Cleansing oils?

Cleansing oils gently break down oil-based products on skin and penetrate pores to dissolve sebum and debris. They are common in many cleansers because they emulsify with water to remove dirt, makeup, sunscreen, and other impurities from the skin. Oils like mineral oil, jojoba oil, or many essential oils can be blended with emulsifiers so they rinse clean. When rinsed with water, the oils bind to impurities and can be washed off, leaving skin clean without stripping natural oils.

How Do Cleansing Oils Work?

Cleansing oils attract and bind to oil-based impurities on skin like sebum, makeup, and sunscreen. When water is added, the oils and emulsifiers allow the product to transform into a milky emulsion that rinses cleanly off your face. This removes impurities without dehydrating the skin. The oils are also often great for gentle facial massage which can aid circulation and relaxation.

which skin types can use cleansing oils

Which Skin Types Can Use Cleansing Oils?

Most skin types can use cleansing oils. Oily and acne-prone skin benefits from their deep cleansing properties to dissolve excess oil. Dry skin benefits from hydrating oils. Sensitive and eczema-prone skin tolerate gentle oils too. As long as the formula does not contain irritating ingredients, most skin types can use a cleansing oil for a thorough yet gentle cleanse.

Do Cleansing Oils Cause Acne?

Properly formulated cleansing oils will not clog pores or cause acne breakouts. The right oils will thoroughly dissolve sebum and rinse away instead of sitting heavy on skin. However, some cheaper oils may leave residue. Using pure mineral or botanical oils without comedogenic ingredients minimizes acne risks. 

Many cleansing oils contain antimicrobial polyphenolic compounds that can help kill acne-causing bacteria. 

Not all cleansing oils are good for acne treatments.

Which Cleansing Oils Should Acne Prone Skin Types Avoid?

Some cleansing oils still have various components that can result in clogged pores. Some oils that acne prone skin types might want to avoid include:

These oils are rated as moderately to highly comedogenic, meaning they can clog pores and lead to acne breakouts. Oils like coconut, olive, almond, and avocado oil are especially problematic for acne-prone skin due to their heavier saturated fat compositions that leave residue and promote congestion. When selecting a cleansing oil, it's best to avoid comedogenic options and choose lighter, non-clogging cleansing oils instead if you are acne-prone.

how to use cleansing oils

How to Use Cleansing Oils

Cleansing oils are a key part of a proper skincare routine and using them correctly is crucial. Start by applying a quarter-sized amount of oil to dry skin. Less oil can be used if you have oily or combination skin. Gently massage the oil over your entire face for 30-60 seconds. Use light, stroking motions with your fingertips to dissolve impurities. Focus on oily areas like the T-zone, (The forehead, bridge of your nose, and chin), and use circular motions around congested pores. Take care to not get the oils in your eyes. Allow the oil to sit for 10-15 seconds so it can penetrate and break down oil-soluble debris. Then, wet your hands and continue massaging to emulsify the oil into a milky texture. Rinse thoroughly with warm water - don't be afraid to rinse for a full 30 seconds or longer to eliminate residue. Pat skin dry with a soft towel. Follow with a water-based cleanser if desired to remove remaining traces. Use once or twice daily, avoiding direct contact with eyes. Store cleansing oil in a cool, dark place and shake bottle before each use. Patch testing before initial use can detect any unlikely allergies or risks of irritation. Proper cleansing oil leaves skin feeling clean, soft and refreshed without overly stripping sebum from the skin.

Do Cleansing Oils Slow Sebum Production?

This is a common question for those looking to balance oily or acne-prone skin. Despite containing oils, properly formulated cleansers will not increase sebum production from your pores. Using an cleansing oil helps dissolve and remove excess oil, dirt, and other debris, leaving pores clearer. This is why cleansing oils are great - they provide a deep clean without stripping the skin of too much oil. The oils you apply do not penetrate into the pores like sebum does, so they do not trigger more oil production. As always, avoid comedogenic oils that could clog pores if you are prone to acne. Properly rinsing away all oil is key. With controlled use of non-clogging oils, you can benefit from cleansing oils without increased sebum or acne issues. Consult a dermatologist if excess oil production remains a persistent concern.

popular cleansing oils

List of Popular Cleansing Oils

When choosing a cleansing oil, it is important to shop by your Baumann Skin Type to avoid using the wrong products. Every skin type has different needs, and every product is tailored to different needs. With our expert custom skin care regimen recommendations, you will never have to worry about buying the wrong products for your skin. To see which cleansing oils are best for your skin type, take our quiz for a custom regimen.

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

How to use cleansing oils?

In simple terms, you should give any cleanser at least 30 seconds to emulsify oils and/or kill bacteria before thoroughly washing it off. Each cleanser has different best methods of use depending on whether it is a foamy, liquidy, or creamy product. It is important to follow the instructions listed on your product for best practices.

Are oil based cleansers the same as cleansing oils?

No, a cleansing oil is considered to be an oil that assists in the cleaning of the face and is an ingredient category. Oil based cleansers contain cleansing oils, but they are not really interchangeable terms.

Best References and Scientific Publications on cleansing oils

  1. Baumann L. Antiaging Ingredients in Ch. 37 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Baumann, L. Ch.  Cosmeceuticals and cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
  3. Sally R, Reider E. Acne (Type 1 Sensitive Skin) in Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology 3rd Ed. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  4. Kligman, A. M., & KWONG, T. (1979). An improved rabbit ear model for assessing comedogenic substances. British Journal of Dermatology, 100(6), 699-702.
  5. Fulton Jr, J. E., Pay, S. R., & Fulton III, J. E. (1984). Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 10(1), 96-105.
  6. Nguyen, S. H., Dang, T. P., & Maibach, H. I. (2007). Comedogenicity in rabbit: some cosmetic ingredients/vehicles. Cutaneous and ocular toxicology, 26(4), 287-292.
  7. Mills, O. H., & Kligman, A. M. (1982). A human model for assessing comedogenic substances. Archives of Dermatology, 118(11), 903-905.
  8. Inuzuka, Y., Natsume, O., Matsunaga, M., Monna, Y., Okada, E., Kato, Y., & Taguchi, T. (2020). Washing with water alone versus soap in maintaining remission of eczema. Pediatrics International, 62(6), 663-668.