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Greasy does it - an explanation of oil-based cleansers

Is a Solution for:
Dull Skin, Oily Skin
Reviewed by Sarah December 24, 2009 5 Comments
If you had told me five years ago that, despite the multitude of beauty breakthroughs over the past century, people in 2009 would be washing their face with oil, I would have dismissed you as a lunatic. However, despite how silly it may seem to rid your face of oil by covering it in oil, a plethora of oil-based cleansers have recently hit the market, many of which have been getting rave reviews.

So how exactly is oil going to clean your face? To break the science down into the simplest terms possible, like dissolves like. The oil in the cleanser knocks out the oil shining up your skin by bonding with it and breaking it down. When you wash off the cleanser, the oils on your face will go right down the drain with it.

Unlike many traditional cleansers, oil-based cleansers generally do not contain harsh chemicals or detergents, which can cause irritation and breakouts. Despite the fact that oil is generally thought of as the mortal enemy of blemish-free skin,  olive oil, a component of many of these cleansers,  is actually non-comedogenic, meaning that it won't clog pores or trigger breakouts. Olive's Organic Botanicals Facial Replenisher with Carrot Seed, available through the Truth In Aging store, is one of the olive oil-infused cleansers that appeared on our radar earlier this year, which has since won rave reviews from both Copley and reader Terri.

Another slick skin treatment that's recently become a questionable beauty darling is castor oil, which is most often used as a laxative or as a method of inducing labor. However, unlike olive oil, castor oil has harsh detergent properties, due to its high concentration of ricinoleic acid. Although the amount of ricinoleic acid is diluted when the castor oil is applied as recommended, which involves mixing it with other types of oil, it can still leave skin dry and dehydrated.

A popular potion that seems to be popping up in every fashion magazine known to man is Shu Uemura's Cleansing Oil, a favorite of Madonna and other celebrities. Despite the brand name and pretty packaging attached to this product, the main component of this formula is none other than plain old mineral oil. While there are countless message boards and magazines touting the miraculous, skin-smoothing qualities of this cleanser, the ingredient list raises some red flags. Mineral oil, the first ingredient listed on the cleanser's information page, can be irritating to skin, while another component, propylene glycol, is not only classified by the National Library of Medicine as an irritant, but is listed as slightly hazardous on the Material Safety Data Sheet.

While some oil-based cleansers may contain a high percentage of natural ingredients, it's important to read the label before assuming that any of these products are natural or irritant-free. Without more extensive scientific testing, it's impossible to say if these products really do soften skin or reduce wrinkles, but there are many supporters of oil-based cleansers that insist that they do. In the end, remember that, just like bell-bottoms and feathered hair, beauty trends come and go, so if your current skincare regimen works for you, stick with it, regardless of what the Queen of Pop is doing.
  • September 11, 2010

    by deb

    for the time being, probably until the economy recovers....lol, i use extra virgin olive oil as a body lotion. it is especially nice after a shower and absorbs quickly. i don't notice any particular odor (i don't add garlic!) so I'm hoping that besides not doing any further harm to my skin i'm actually doing something that is helpful.

  • December 28, 2009

    by claudia

    I make my own oil cleanser for a fraction of the cost. I use olive oil, grape seed oil and castor oil. I also use sunflower oil when I don't have grape seed oil. I will never go back to other cleansers..high end or drugstore brands. My pores are large and get easily clogged. I massage the oil mixture in and use a microfiber wash cloth that is quite warm and steam my face. Then I gently wash off the remaining oil.It didn't happen overnight but my pores are tighter and unclogged now. It is amazing something so inexpensive can be so effective.

  • December 28, 2009

    by JulieK

    I use Burt's Bees Orange Essense and love it. I lather it on my face, neck and arms and leave it there while I wash my hair in the shower- I wash it off during my conditioning cycle. My face is clean and never greasy feeling. ~jk

  • December 24, 2009

    by Jan

    I've used DHC brand and have really liked it in the past - however due to hormonal fluctuations I find I personally don't need that much hydration. With that said - it is a nice product. Thanks for the info!

  • December 24, 2009

    by Olivier

    It would be great if you guys could do "the 5 best oil cleanser"

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