Oils in Skin Care Products

Oil in skin care products

The best oils to use in skin care products depends upon your skin type because oils have many different skin benefits.

You need to know what issues your skin has before buying an oil to use in your skin care routine.

Oils are found in a variety of products including moisturizers and serums.

To find a good natural oil for your skin, look and see which fatty acids the oils contains. 

Fatty acids impart many of the benefits that oils have in skin care.

Oils greatly affect how well your skin care routine will work by influencing absorption of other products in your skin care routine.

Oils hydrate the skin and provide protective barriers to keep water in the skin.

Oils can be used to treat:

The best oil for your skin depends on which of the 16 Baumann Skin Types you are.

Shop for oils

What makes something an oil?

An oil is a substance that is liquid at room temperature and insoluble in water.

Oils are a type of lipid, which is basically a synonym for fat.

Lipids are defined as molecules that are dissolvable in nonpolar solvents.

They are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water.

There are three classes of lipids: 

  1. Triglycerides: Formed from glycerol and 3 fatty acids. 
  2. Phospholipids: Made of two fatty acids, a glycerol and a phosphate. 
  3. Sterols: Alcohols that are a subgroup of steroids with a hydroxyl group.

Oils are triglycerides that are fluid at room temperature.

Oils contain fatty acids.

Fatty acids can be classified as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated based on their hydrogen-carbon bonds.

The benefits of oils in skin care depends on the type of fatty acids the oil contains.

Most popular oils in skin care

What are the best oils for skin care?

Oils vary in efficacy based on their fatty acid composition and the way they were processed, bottled and stored.

16 of the most commonly recommended oils in skin care:

  1. Argan oil
  2. Avocado oil
  3. Borage seed oil
  4. Coconut oil
  5. Evening Primrose oil
  6. Grape seed oil
  7. Jojoba oil
  8. Mineral oils
  9. Olive oil
  10. Rose oil
  11. Rosehip oil
  12. Sesame oil
  13. Soybean oil
  14. Sunflower oil
  15. Tea tree oil
  16. Tsubaki oil
how often should you use oils

How often should you put oil on your face?

Whether or not to use oil on your face depends upon your skin type.

Do not use oil on your face if you are an oily skin type.

If you are a dry skin type, you can use oil once or twice a day on your face. 

Extremely dry skin types can use oil 3-4 times a day on the body if necessary, and 2-3 times on the face.

To find the best skin care regimen for your skin type, take the quiz and see get a custom skin care regimen.


Oils can serve multiple purposes in skin care, but are used primarily in moisturizers.

They can work as occlusives, which create a barrier on skin that prevents dryness by preventing water from evaporating off of the skin.

They can help restore lipids and fatty acids to the skin barrier.

Fatty acids give them other qualities depending on the fatty acid. 

Products containing linoleic acids are anti-inflammatory.

Oils with unsaturated fatty acids can lighten dark spots.

All oils smooth skin and help it glow.


Yes, oils are used in myriad skin care products as moisturizing ingredients and do not pose any particular risks if used appropriately.

Some oils such as lanolin or petrolatum have been observed to cause allergic reactions in some skin types.

To see which oils are right for your skin care regimen, click here to learn more about the Baumann Skin Types.

What are plant oils

What are plant oils?

Plant oils and extracts are among the most popular oils in skin care and are naturally sourced.

Plant oils and extracts are sometimes called of essential oils, check out our article on essential oils in skin care to learn more! 

Several oils such as Argan oil are harvested by growers trying to give their local community better jobs, living conditions and pay.

As people grow increasingly environmentally conscious, they turn to skincare products with natural oils rather than synthetic occlusive ingredients like dimethicone and petrolatum.

Plant oils like extra virgin olive oil have been shown to have antioxidant properties.


Does using oil-based products lower natural oil production in skin?

There used to be a common misunderstanding that using oils on the skin reduced long term sebum production.

People stopped expressing this opinion in the early 2000's, as those claims were shown to be false in multiple studies.

Using oils on the skin does not interfere or change the amount of secretions from the sebaceous gland,

It is commonly accepted that products like oil-based moisturizers do not inhibit natural facial oil production.

What does "oil-free" mean on skin care product labels?

You can tell if a product has oil in it by reading the skin care product label. The ingredient will have have the word “oil” in the INCI name.

Oil-free means that no ingredients with "oil" in the INCI name are in the product.

There are ingredients that are not classified as oils that make products feel greasy, and are not optimal for patients with oily skin. These may be found in products labeled as oil-free.

Oil-free products can be comedogenic.

In other words, products labeled "oil free" products still run the risk of feeling oily and clogging pores. 

Oils on skin absorption


Oils moisturizer the skin in several ways, they:

  • Provide occlusion
  • Prevent water evaporation form skin's surface
  • Push other ingredients into the skin
  • Supply fatty acids that can help strengthen the skin barrier

Best oils in skin moisturizers?

The best oil to choose for your skin depends upon what skin issues you have.

There are multiple types of moisturizers that all work a little differently.

Many kinds of oils are considered great for skin care, but the product that's best for you depends on your skin type.

Best body oil

Whether you are treating eczema. psoriasis, rough elbows or just dry skin, applying body oil on damp skin is a great way to hydrate and smooth body skin.

Our favorite dermatologist-recommended body oil is

Avene Skin Care Oil-  It has safflower oil, shea butter, Camelina Sativa Seed Oil and Vitamin E.

Find more body oil recommendations  here:


Look for oils with soothing linoleic acid fatty acids to soothe skin.

3 examples of oils that treat skin redness are:

  1. Argan oil
  2. Safflower oil
  3. Sunflower oil
skin lightening oils

Skin lightening

Oils with unsaturated fatty acids are best for skin lightening and brightening because they help inhibit tyrosinase

These oils can be used to treat dark spots such as melasma and sun spots, but should be combined with stronger skin lighters in a complete hyperpigmentation treatment regimen.

Some common oils with unsaturated fats in skin care are:

Best oil to treat acne?

Tea tree oil has antimicrobial activity, so it can be used to treat acne. 

In general, looking for oils with antimicrobial activity that aren't comedogenic is a good starting point.

Avoid coconut oil if you have acne.

Here's our advice on the best skin care routines for acne.

Best oil for glowing skin?

All oils are emollients which help increase light reflection from the skin.

All oils can help skin glow, especially if they are used following an exfoliant. 

Best oil for dry skin?

If you have eczema or very dry skin, it is critical to use a barrier repair moisturizer.

Skin barrier repair moisturizers can contain oil, but using oil alone on extremely dry skin is not enough.

Skin needs a combination of fatty acids from oils, ceramides and cholesterol - so oil alone is not enough to treat dry skin.

Avoid oils with high concentrations of oleic fatty acid when you have extremely dry skin because oleic acid can impair the skin barrier.

Five of the best oils for dry skin are:

  1. Argan oil
  2. Borage seed oil
  3. Evening Primrose oil
  4. Jojoba oil
  5. Sunflower oil
Best oils for psoriasis

Best oils to treat psoriasis?

Many oils are safe for use in treatment of psoriasis.

Psoriasis is a condition that causes flakiness and inflammation on skin.

So, when looking for an oil to treat psoriasis, choose oils that have linoleic acid such as:

Moisturizers containing oils are used commonly to treat psoriasis.

Click here to find out about the best psoriasis creams.

Can you use oils to treat eczema?

Eczema is a dry skin condition.

Many oil based moisturizing creams are considered among the best for treating eczema.

Olive oil is not recommended for use with eczema because it contains high concentrations of oleic acid.

Oleic acid can create tiny holes on skin barrier, allowing allergens, microbes and irritants to enter the skin.

Look for oils containing low concentrations of oleic acid, and high concentrations of linoleic acid.

best oils for sensitive skin

Which oils are best for sensitive skin types?

Most oils are usable for sensitive skin types unless they are comedogenic.

Comedogenic oils may cause clogged pores.

Olive oils contain a high concentration of oleic acid, which is not recommended for most skin types.

The best oils for sensitive skin types (depending on your sensitive skin subtype) might be:

Which oils should I use with retinoid products?

Oils can be use with retinoids, including Retin A.

When oils are used before retinoids, they lower absorption and decrease side effects.  When oils are used after retinoids, they increase absorption and can increase side effects.

A good oil to use with retinoids is argan oil.

 Argan oil is an inflammation-soothing oil with high concentrations of linoleic fatty acids.

oils with retinoids

Is coconut oil safe for skin?

Coconut oil is found in a number of skin care products and has been used for years.

Coconut oil is considered an EWG "Verified" product, the best possible hazard score for a skin care ingredient.

This means that coconut oil is in fact especially safe for use in skin care.

However coconut oil may be a comedogenic ingredient and can clog the pores of acne-prone skin types.

The effects of coconut oil in skin care vary greatly depending on how the oil is processed.

To find out if coconut oil is the right ingredient for your skin, shop for skin care products using your Baumann Skin Type.

Dangers of oils in skin care

Sensitive skin types are more vulnerable to clogged pores while using oils than resistant skin types.

Overuse of occlusive oils can cause skin to retain too much moisture.

Holding too much moisture on the skin can lead to a change in microbiome.

Be sure to moisturize based on your personalized skin care regimen.

Oils with high concentrations of oleic fatty acids can damage the skin barrier and make skin more susceptible to allergens.

Some oils are comedogenic and are likely to clog pores, potentially leading to acne.

Oils effect different skin types in different ways, so the best way to make sure you're using the right oils for your skin is to shop by your Baumann Skin Type.

What are essential oils?

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are not always true oils as many do not contain lipids.

The term essential oils is used primarily to describe plant-based fragrances.

"Essential oils" is not a real classification of oils, rather a classification of pressed plant extracts.

They are not necessarily all oils, but many are.

Many people have mild allergies to some essential oils.

What are mineral oils?

Mineral oils are derived from petrolatum-based compounds.

Petrolatum is derived from the process of petroleum or crude oil production.

They are considered extremely effective occlusive agents.

These oils often exhibit greasy textures that are not acceptable for oily skin types.

What are dry oils?

What are dry oils?

Dry oils are polyunsaturated fats which oxidize into film-like solids.

“Dry oils” do not leave a "greasy" residue on the skin, while “wet oils” often do leave a greasy reside.

They are not typical oils because they are not always a liquid at room temperature.  

Dry oils are also commonly found in products outside of skin care meant to leave long lasting coats, like paint and varnish products.

What is lanolin?

Lanolin is an animal-derived oil produced by livestock, primarily sheep.

The sheep are not necessarily harmed to retrieve lanolin. 

Lanolin is a sebaceous secretion of sheep. (Humans also secrete sebum, a reason our skin gets oily.)

Lanolin is spun from wool in centrifuges during regular wool processing.

It cannot be synthesized, and behaves differently based on treatment processes.

Lanolin has been observed to incite mild allergic reactions in some people.

Lanolin is not a vegan product.

It is considered comedogenic.

Some products are labeled “Lanolin-free” for those reasons.

Fatty acids in Face and Body Oils

Fatty acids determine the benefits that oils have on the skin.

Here is a table of some commonly used oils in skin care comparing their active fatty acid contents.

Fatty acids table

What are the differences between saturated and unsaturated oils?

Both saturated and unsaturated oils are used in skin care products and cosmetics.

Oils with a predominance of unsaturated fatty acids have lopsided hydrocarbon chains that do not form solid lipid bilayers as well as saturated fatty acid do.

Saturated fats have hydrocarbon chains which easily align into lipid bilayers, forming a more solid structure.

Unsaturated fats do not oxidize into solids at room temperature.  This is why oils made with saturated fats have a creamier consistency than oils made of unsaturated fats.

Saturated vs unsaturated fats

When to replace a skin care oil once it is open?

The shelf life of face oils depends upon what type of oils are in the products. 

Saturated fats melt at a higher temperature than polyunsaturated fats do, and therefore have longer shelf life and turn take longer to turn rancid.  This means that organic skin care products (without preservatives) will have a longer shelf life if they are made from oils with saturated fatty acids. 

Organic oils made from oil with unsaturated fatty acids will not last as long and should be replaced within 2-3 months of opening- especially if kept in a warm environment.

Which fatty acids in skin care are saturated fats?

Four common saturated fatty acids found in skin care are

  1. Lauric acid
  2. Myristic acid 
  3. Palmitic acid
  4. Stearic acid

Which fatty acids in skin care are monounsaturated fats?

Two of the most common monounsaturated fatty acids in skin care are:

  1. Oleic acid (an omega-9) 
  2. Palmitoleic acid

Which fatty acids in skin care are polyunsaturated fats?

Four common polyunsaturated fatty acids in skin care are:

  1. Linolenic acid
  2. Eicosatetraenoic acid
  3. Docosahexaenoic (an omega-3) 
  4. Linoleic (omega-6)
oils for acne

Can you use oil-based products when you have acne?

It is safe to use many types of oil based products in skin care in some cases when you have acne.

When you have acne, it is recommended to avoid Comedogenic oils.

Comedogenic oils are occlusive oils that often clog pores in certain skin types.

Make sure the oils in your skin care products are non-comedogenic.

Oils to avoid if you are susceptible to acne are:

  • Almond oil
  • Bubussa oil
  • Cajeput oil
  • Castor oil
  • Chaulmoogra oil
  • Coconut oil (depending on processing)
  • Corn oil
  • Cotton seed oil
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Hydrogenated castor oil
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Lanolin oil
  • Mink oil
  • Peach kernel oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Sandalwood seed oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Shark liver oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sulfated castor oil
  • Sulfated jojoba oil
  • Wheat germ oil

Which oils are best for my skin type?

Different skin types react differently to many ingredients, including oils.

To find out which oils are best for your skin type, and to find personalized recommendations for your own skin care regimen, take the Baumann Skin Type questionnaire and build a routine for your skin type!

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Best scientific references and peer reviewed articles on the use of oils in skin care products

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3. Ye L, Mauro TM, Dang E, Wang G, Hu LZ, Yu C, et al. Topical applications of an emollient reduce circulating pro-inflammatory cytokine levels in chronically aged humans: a pilot clinical study. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2019;33(11):2197-2201.

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8. Wehr RF, Krochmal L. Considerations in selecting a moisturizer. Cutis. 1987;39(6):512-5.

9. Kligman AM. Regression method for assessing the efficacy of moisturizers. Cosmet Toilet. 1978;93:27-35.

10. Morrison D. Petrolatum. In Dry Skin and Moisturizers. Loden M, Maibach H, eds. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2000, p. 251.

11. American Academy of Dermatology Invitational Symposium on Comedogenicity. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1989;20(2 Pt 1):272-7.

12. Schnuch A, Lessmann H, Geier J, Uter W. White petrolatum (Ph. Eur.) is virtually non-sensitizing. Analysis of IVDK data on 80 000 patients tested between 1992 and 2004 and short discussion of identification and designation of allergens. Contact Dermatitis. 2006;54(6):338-43.

13. Tam CC, Elston DM. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by white petrolatum on damaged skin. Dermatitis. 2006;17(4):201-3.

14. Ulrich G, Schmutz JL, Trechot P, Commun N, Barbaud A. Sensitization to petrolatum: an unusual cause of false-positive drug patch-tests. Allergy. 2004;59(9):1006-9.

15. Harris I, Hoppe U. Lanolins. In Loden M, Maibach H, eds. Dry Skin and Moisturizers. Loden M, Maibach H, eds. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2000, p. 259.

16. Proserpio G. Lanolides: emollients or moisturizers? Cosmet Toilet. 1978; 93:45-48.

17. Kligman AM. The myth of lanolin allergy. Contact Dermatitis. 1998;39(3):103-7.

18. Boonchai W, Iamtharachai P, Sunthonpalin P. Occupational allergic contact dermatitis from essential oils in aromatherapists. Contact Dermatitis. 2007;56(3):181-2.

19. Bleasel N, Tate B, Rademaker M. Allergic contact dermatitis following exposure to essential oils. Australas J Dermatol. 2002;43(3):211-3.

20. DiNardo JC. Is mineral oil comedogenic? J Cosmet Dermatol. 2005;4(1):2-3.

21. Blanken R, van Vilsteren MJ, Tupker RA, Coenraads PJ. Effect of mineral oil and linoleic-acid-containing emulsions on the skin vapour loss of sodium-lauryl-sulphate-induced irritant skin reactions. Contact Dermatitis. 1989;20(2):93-7.

22. Agero AL, Verallo-Rowell VM. A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis. Dermatitis. 2004;15(3):109-16.

23. Tolbert PE. Oils and cancer. Cancer Causes Control. 1997;8(3):386-405.

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26. Darmstadt GL, Mao-Qiang M, Chi E, Saha SK, Ziboh VA, Black RE, et al. Impact of topical oils on the skin barrier: possible implications for neonatal health in developing countries. Acta Paediatr. 2002;91(5):546-54.

27. Darmstadt GL, Saha SK, Ahmed AS, Chowdhury MA, Law PA, Ahmed S, et al. Effect of topical treatment with skin barrier-enhancing emollients on nosocomial infections in preterm infants in Bangladesh: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2005;365(9464):1039-45.

28. Berbis P, Hesse S, Privat Y. Essential fatty acids and the skin. Allerg Immunol (Paris). 1990;22(6):225-31.

29. Williams HC. Evening primrose oil for atopic dermatitis. BMJ. 2003;327(7428):1358-9.

30. Koca U, Süntar I, Akkol EK, Yilmazer D, Alper M. Wound repair potential of Olea europaea L. leaf extracts revealed by in vivo experimental models and comparative evaluation of the extracts’ antioxidant activity. J Med Food. 2011;14(1-2):140-6.

31. Aburjai T, Natsheh FM. Plants used in cosmetics. Phytother Res. 2003;17(9):987-1000.

32. de la Puerta R, Martínez Domínguez ME, Ruíz-Gutíerrez V, Flavill JA, Hoult JR. Effects of virgin olive oil phenolics on scavenging of reactive nitrogen species and upon nitrergic neurotransmission. Life Sci. 2001;69(10):1213-22.

33. Kränke B, Komericki P, Aberer W. Olive oil—contact sensitizer or irritant? Contact Dermatitis. 1997;36(1):5-10.

34. Danby SG, AlEnezi T, Sultan A, Lavender T, Chittock J, Brown K, et al. Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: implications for neonatal skin care. Pediatr Dermatol. 2013;30(1):42-50.

35. Weisberg EM, Baumann LS. The foundation for the use of olive oil in skin care and botanical cosmeceuticals. In Olives and Olive Oil in Health and Disease Prevention. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press, 2021 pp. 425-434.

36. Idson B. Dry skin: moisturizing and emolliency. Cosmet Toilet. 1992;107(7):69-78.

37. Mitsui T. Humectants. In New Cosmetic Science, Mitsui T, ed. New York, NY: Elsevier, 1997, p. 134.

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