The skin is one of the most important organs in the body. It is responsible for preventing water loss, preventing bacteria from entering the body, regulating body temperature, and storing fat and water.
Often the skin works in perfect harmony and does these tasks at the same time. In other cases help is needed to replenish what has been lost. This is where skin care comes in. While some consider cosmetics primarily as a means of improving appearance, they also serve a functional purpose.
As consumers move away from processed skin care products with dozens of ingredients to try natural skin care products, natural oils have become increasingly popular. We cover some of the best natural oils for your skin, what to look for, and how to avoid unwanted or allergic reactions.
Which layer of skin is responsible for water retention?
Your skin is made up of three layers: a thin upper layer (epidermis), a thick middle layer (dermis) and a lower layer (subcutaneous fat). Each layer has its own role. The middle layer of the skin contains hair follicles, sweat glands and blood vessels. It’s also home to sebum glands, which are responsible for producing oil and keeping your skin soft, hydrated, and waterproof.
This oily substance, called sebum, is a mixture of triglycerides, fatty acids, waxes, and other components that lubricate the skin and help it retain moisture. Whether due to environmental factors, behavioral factors, or certain medical conditions, too much water can evaporate from your skin and cause dry skin.
By infusing oils into your skin, you add a protective layer that locks in moisture. As an added bonus, certain types of natural oils are high in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Which oils are good for your skin?
All oils are not created equal. Below, we analyze more than a dozen different types of natural oils that can benefit your skin. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist before using any of these products as part of your skin care routine, as natural products can still cause allergic reactions.
Many of the oils listed are the same types found in kitchen cabinets. Edible oils tend to be refined, so opt for cold-pressed or unrefined oils if you want to use them on your skin. This is how you get the maximum benefit.
When you research these different oils, you will see words like linoleic acid and oleic acid. These are the two main types of fatty acids in oils. Oils high in linoleic acid tend to be less comedogenic, which means they are less likely to clog pores. Oils high in oleic acid tend to be more comedogenic, which means that they are more likely to clog pores, especially in people with oily skin.
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which keeps it in a solid state at room temperature. The high fat content, combined with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, make it ideal for preventing moisture from leaving the skin. Coconut oil is comedogenic, so it can cause pimples on the face. However, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil is safe to use on other parts of the body.
High in vitamins A, D, E, and K, olive oil also acts as a moisturizer and can help keep your skin hydrated. Many types of olive oil are refined or a mixture of several types of oils. You get most of the benefits from extra virgin olive oil, which is unrefined and cold pressed.
Avocados are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folic acid. Although they have more fat than most fruits, avocados have the good kind of fat – they’re high in linoleic and oleic acids. The oils extracted from this fruit contain the same nutrients, making them a useful skin conditioner for dry skin.
The next time you use it, take a look at your sunscreen bottle and you will likely see jojoba oil on the ingredient list. When combined with other ingredients, this oil helps improve their absorption. Jojoba oil is rich in wax esters that prevent water loss. It can help treat different types of dermatitis and has anti-inflammatory properties.
Shea butter is made from the nuts of a shea tree, which are native to West Africa. The end product is similar to cocoa butter in that it stays solid at room temperature before melting once it hits the warm skin. Shea butter is rich in phenols and plant sterols, which contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Tea tree oil
Many natural oils can actually make acne worse, but tea tree oil cannot. The antimicrobial properties of tea tree oil help disinfect your pores while reducing swelling and inflammation. However, a little goes a long way. Blot each area with a cotton swab dipped in some tea tree oil.
This herb is a mixture of water mint and spearmint. The oils from peppermint leaf can have anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties, making it a good topical oil for soothing skin conditions that cause itching.
In teas and herbal drinks, chamomile can help relax your body and mind. Chamomile oil works in the same way to soothe your skin, and it can be used to soothe red, itchy skin.
This oil, which is rich in antioxidants, comes from the marula tree native to Africa. Marula oil is considered a lighter oil so you can use it on oily skin without the risk of worsening acne. This is due to its non-comedogenic properties that don’t clog pores. Marula oil also helps retain moisture.
As a popular addition to shampoos and other bath products, argan oil helps moisturize the skin and, thanks to vitamin E and omega fatty acids, also has antioxidant properties.
Grapeseed oil is another popular cooking oil that can also be used as a product for your skin. Rich in omega fatty acids, it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. You can also use it as a moisturizer. When shopping, choose cold-pressed or unrefined grape seed oil.
Wild rose oil
Obtained from the seeds of wild rose bushes, rose hip oil can be used as a moisturizer due to its ability to moisturize the skin. It also contains beta-carotene and vitamins C and E. The anti-inflammatory properties of rose hip are beneficial for people with skin conditions such as eczema.
Rosemary, another herb more known for its culinary uses, is used to treat acne and promote healthy hair and skin.
This popular cooking herb contains oils that can be beneficial in healing wounds on the skin.
Best natural oils for dry skin
Most oils work well on dry skin because their primary goal is to lock in moisture. However, there are some that stand out. In general, coconut, rose hip, olive, and argan oils all help treat dry skin. Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and marula can help with extremely dry skin, which is prone to cracking, bleeding, and flaking.
Coconut oil, marula oil, and avocado oil are especially useful because they are high in oleic acid, which makes oils thicker and richer to help lock in moisture. Oleic acid, which is also found in argan oil, can help balance sebum production so that moisture doesn’t leave the skin too quickly. Argan oil is also rich in vitamin E to help repair damage caused by dry skin.
If you have oily skin that is getting dry, you may want to shy away from a comedogenic oil like coconut oil. These types of oil can clog pores, especially on the face, and cause acne breakouts. Instead, opt for lighter oils like argan, jojoba, or grapeseed oil. These oils soak into the skin faster and can also help soothe dry, dehydrated areas.
Can you apply essential oils to the skin?
Between diffusers and drops in cleaning agents, essential oils are still very much in vogue today.
But that’s just the beginning. These powerful extracts are also used on body parts to help everything from scratches and cuts to acne and sore muscles. But are they safe to use?
Avoid using pure essential oils directly on your skin. Why? Essential oils are strong because it takes a large amount of the plant they are derived from to produce a small amount of oil, which makes them highly concentrated products. For example, it could take hundreds of lemongrass plants to make a pound of oil.
Instead of applying these oils directly to your skin and risking a side effect, dilute the oils in a carrier oil or water so they aren’t as strong. Carrier oils are usually neutral plant-based oils that “carry” the essential oils to your skin cells. Examples are grapeseed oil, jojoba oil or avocado oil.
Essential oils can still cause an allergic reaction no matter how much you dilute them if you have sensitive skin or have had a history of skin reactions (bad rash or hives). Oregano oil, lemongrass oil, chamomile oil, and cinnamon bark oil tend to cause more allergic reactions than other essential oils.
While citrus oils can be used diluted, they can cause sunburn if applied before leaving the house. Use these oils either the first thing in the morning or before bed to avoid sunburn.
Oils like bitter almond, inhula, khella, pennyroyal, sage, sassafras, turmeric, and wintergreen are potentially toxic and should not be used on the skin.
If this is your first time using essential oils – or any natural oil – use a small amount as a test run on your arm to check for any side effects. For questions about natural oils or skin care in general, contact an INTEGRIS Health dermatologist.
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