photography by PHUONG NGUYEN
It’s safe to say that oils are having a moment, whether plant-based, essential, or synthetic. They also all claim to contain the best derived ingredients—so the time for natural skincare has never been better. But for the facial oil neophyte (and the infiltrated market of various quality), where does one’s search even begin?
“Centuries ago, plants were medicine,” says go-to dermatologist for White House staffers (and a secret backdoor for Secret Service officers), Dr. Lily Talakoub. ”Even today, in developing countries, we use plant-based oils to treat scars, infections, things like that. Oils lost their following for a couple of decades, but now, we’re going back to plants as therapeutic treatments for the skin.”
As consumers get smarter about ingredients and marketing ploys, there’s been a major shift back to holistic, natural skincare. NYC-based celebrity dermatologist, Dr. Jennifer Chwalek, has noticed an uptick in the number of patients requesting natural solutions to skin problems, thanks to the media linking synthetics to cancer.
“There’s a trend now toward wanting more natural products,” she says. ”More and more people don’t want to use things that are processed, or have a lot of preservatives and extra chemicals. There’s this drive to go back to more natural products.”
But why are oils having a resurgence now? Thank technology. “There are so many therapeutic properties to oils—antioxidants, vitamins, fatty acids. We knew this for centuries, but people were afraid to put them on their face," says Dr. Talakoub. “Because the way the oils were extracted from the plants wasn’t very technological, it would make people break out. But now, it’s a lot more sophisticated.”
However, as with almost anything, selecting the right oil is dependant on the skin problem you’re trying to solve.
For total oil beginners, Dr. Chwalek recommends an oil cleanser or argan oil, which is hydrating and inoffensive to a variety of skin problems.
“A great first oil to introduce is argan oil in the evening before you go to bed, especially if you wake up and your skin sometimes feels dry,” she says. “That’s a good, safe one to use. Or if you’re really sensitive, you could start with a cleansing oil. That’s a really safe way to start, since a cleansing oil isn’t going to sit on your skin for very long.”
If acne prone skin is an issue, Dr. Talakoub recommends trying tea tree oil. “People who have acne tend to overuse product because they think their skin is too oily. So, they use harsh astringents that strip the skin, and it tends to get dry,” she says. “But then, your body produces more oil because your skin is dry. People think they’re helping their skin, but they’re throwing it off balance, which makes for a terrible cycle. I use tea tree oil on oily skin instead, because it tricks your skin into thinking that it's already producing enough oil. This will cease oil production.”
For an all-around radiance booster and collagen producer, look no further than rosehip seed oil—and add it to your regime both morning and night. “Rosehip oil has been studied, and it definitely has been proven to improve fine lines and wrinkles in the skin. And it can also improve elasticity,” says Dr. Chwalek.
Another great rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients, the better. “Look for products that have fewer mixtures of oils, and are a little more pure. With more ingredients, there’s a risk that something in it could potentially aggravate your skin, or the problem that you’re trying to solve with the oil,” says Dr. Chwalek. With fewer products, it’s easier to isolate the irritant and reevaluate what your skin's needs are.
“It’s accepted in the medical space that these oils do have healing properties,” says Dr. Chwalek. “You just want to be very careful and deliberate about where you start, and what you’re trying to achieve.”