The best facial oils can work for all skin types. Even those with naturally oily or spot-prone complexions can take advantage of the hydrating properties of an oil – you just need to shop smart.
Drinking enough water might be the most commonly touted benefit of facial oils, but to dismiss them as merely a super-charged moisturiser is to underestimate them. “Each oil will have differing skin benefits such as antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory,” explains aesthetician Abigail James. That’s why it’s important to pick the best facial oil to suit both your skin type and needs.
But, how do facial oils work? “Facial oils are emollients and occlusives,” says Aesthetic Surgeon Dr Munir Somji. “ The emollient softens and smooths the stratum corneum (the outer layer of your skin), whilst the occlusive forms a protective seal on the epidermis to lock in moisture and strengthen the skin’s barrier.”
In short, they add moisture to the skin and help to keep it there. By adding this extra layer of hydration, skin is less likely to become dry, cracked or generally uncomfortable.
Read on for our expert-approved guide to all things facial oils, plus our tried-and-tested top picks to shop now.
When to apply facial oil
Let’s talk about where a facial oil should slot into your skincare routine. It might sound obvious, but to avoid trapping dirt or other nasties, your skin needs to be clean and make-up free. Most experts recommend layering your skincare by consistency, starting with the lightest products (serums) and finishing with the heaviest (moisturisers). Although for Votary founder Arabella Preston, the rules are a little more flexible.
“Always apply a serum before an oil but you can experiment with putting an oil under or over a moisturiser – see what your skin likes best,” she advises.
As for whether to apply morning or night, that’s down to personal preference too. If you’re new to oils and worried about the possibility of breaking out in spots, start by just using one as part of your evening routine, a couple of times a week. You can always ramp up your usage depending on how your skin reacts. If it’s crying out for more moisture, double down with twice a day applications.
Facial oils are traditionally associated with colder weather, when a tricky blend of plummeting temperatures and soaring central heating leaves even normally content skin tight and flaky. But that’s not to say they can’t be used all year round.
“In the summer I switch to one of our lighter oils, like jasmine and calendula, that have a fast absorption into the skin,” says Arabella. “They’re beautifully lightweight and don’t make your skin sweat when you apply SPF on top. In winter, nourishing oils will repair dry, sensitive skin.”
Our golden rule is to always layer your SPF over oil, and never mix the two together. Blending them could affect the efficacy of your sun protection, and no one wants to end up burnt.
Choosing the best facial oil
When shopping for a facial oil, start by giving the ingredients list a quick scan. “You should ensure they have ingredients suitable to your skin type,’ explains Dr Munir Somji. “Ingredients such as jojoba, tea tree and marula are light in texture and don’t make skin feel greasy, so they’re perfect for oily skin. Sweet almond oils are great for dry skin.”
Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better, but how the oils have been processed can impact how they work. And cold-pressed ones do tend to be pricier.
“Ideally your facial oil should be blended with cold-pressed oils,” says Arabella. “This process allows the oils to retain more nutrients and results in a higher quality oil. Facial oils that are pressed and blended in small batches to allow for maximum freshness will also mean more benefit to your skin.”
It is important to note here that not all dermatologists recommend using an oil. “I have seen little evidence to back up the claim that facial oil is good for those of us prone to spots,” says Dr Anjali Mahto. “My advice would be to steer clear of these unless you have dry or very dry skin. Oils on the skin can promote the formation of blackheads, leading to spots.”
Best facial oils
1. No7 Youthful Replenishing Facial Oil
Best oil for dry skin
One of the more reasonably priced facial oils on the market, this more than delivers when it comes to nourishing uncomfortably dry skin. Our beauty writer Emma North gave it a try, as did her mum, and they were both impressed. “There’s no tackiness or greasiness, and it soaks into skin beautifully, for maximum radiance with minimal residue. Ideal for layering beneath your normal moisturiser during cold spells or whenever your skin is in need of some extra TLC. The scent makes it a sensory experience and a joy to use, but if you’re sensitive to fragrance, it might be too overpowering.”
2. Sunday Riley U.F.O Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil
Best oil for spot prone skin
The jury is still out on whether spot-prone skin types can benefit from an oil, but we do know that formulation is key. This one takes a two-pronged approach, teaming oils (milk thistle seed, black cumin and pomegranate seed to name a few) with powerhouse exfoliator salicylic acid. It’s main focus is not to intensely hydrate skin, but banish blackheads and prevent breakouts, which is why it feels more like a treatment serum than a typically ‘wet’ oil. “It worked wonders on my sprinkling of hormonal spots, especially across my chin, but did leave my skin a little dry,” says Deputy Beauty Editor, Jess Beech. Our advice is to go slow, and use sparingly alongside a good moisturiser to avoid dehydrating the skin.
3. Votary Super Seed Facial Oil
Best oil for sensitive skin
If you’re after an oil that feels akin to an afternoon spent in a posh spa, this is it. Not only does it smell amazing, but the chic green bottle is the kind you’d happily display front-and-centre of your bathroom cabinet. Our Fashion Director, Paula Moore put it to the test. “A combination of cold weather, central heating and chemotherapy had left my already dry and sensitive skin feeling like sandpaper. Just two drops (less than half of the recommended 4-5) applied every day and my skin was soft and glowing.” The whole Votary range is safe to use during chemotherapy, giving you extra peace of mind at a stressful time.
4. Trilogy Hemphip Balancing Oil
Best oil for oily skin
If you love the idea of a facial oil, but the reality tends to be congested, greasy skin, then give this a go. Senior Beauty Editor Fiona McKim is one such sceptic, but was pleasantly surprised. “The texture is quite ‘dry’ as oils go, and it smells more citrusy and clean rather than deliciously spa-like. Unlike the majority of oils, it sinks in really fast, leaving skin soft and dewy, without feeling or looking overly oiled up. This makes it a good product for layering beneath make-up. A quick glance at the ingredients list and you’ll notice salicylic acid, which is a clever addition to counteract cloggy pores. It does, however, dry skin out a little, so I’d recommend all but the very oiliest skin’s reserve this as a treatment for 2-3 times a week.”
5. Clarins Blue Orchid Treatment Oil
Best oil for dehydrated skin
Giving thirsty skin a much needed dose of hydration, this is the perfect oil for times when your moisturiser alone isn’t quite meeting the mark. As you’d expect from Clarins, it is heavily fragranced, thanks to a combination of plant extracts and essential oils, which gives it a real wellbeing feel. Our Lifestyle Director, Jayne Marsden, who has a long history of allergies and irritation to skincare, found it soothing and calming, with dry patches softened. “Putting the oil in my palms to warm up before applying, it felt rich and I knew it would be comforting on my face. I applied with press-and-release movements, as directed on the leaflet inside the box and could feel my skin drinking it up.” Not only will these motions help with absorption, but they’ll help create a relaxing night time ritual too.
6. Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate Serum
Best oil for fine lines
The best things you can do for your skin are to wear SPF, drink plenty of water and aim for a solid 8 hours of sleep a night. And while this won’t help with the first two, it will certainly lend a helping hand with the later. “As a an early bird and someone who struggles to get more than six and a half hours of sleep, I was been to try something that would make me look well rested,” explains Editor Anna Bailey. “After using this for a few days, my skin definitely appeared brighter and more nourished, while the soft lavender scent helped me to unwind before bed.” A little goes a long way too, so one bottle will last for ages. The one downside? The unisex bottle and not too sweet, not too musky scent might mean you have to share with the man in your life too.
7. Pai Skincare Rosehip Bioregenerate Facial Oil
Best oil for dull skin
The perfect pick-me-up for skin that feels a bit ‘meh’, this harnesses the power of rosehip oil to return your skin to it’s perky best. Hydrated skin is happy skin, and continued use will see a reduction in dryness, fine lines and flakiness, as well as an improvement in skin’s texture and tone. “Thanks to the slight tint and slinky consistency, this immediately left my skin glowing,” says Deputy Beauty Editor Jess Beech. “My previously tired complexion was suddenly bright and beaming,” One of the biggest benefits of Pai is that all products have been specially formulated for sensitive skin, so even the most easily-irked of complexions are likely to find this suitably soothing.
Best natural facial oils for your skin type
Most off-the-shelf formulations are made up of a blend of different oils, but according to Dr Dr Munir Somji, these are the best base oils to keep an eye out for, depending on your skin type:
- Oily skin – jojoba oil
- Acne-prone skin – sunflower seed oil, geranium oil, lavender oil (this can be allergen so consider formulation and concentration)
- Dry skin – sweet almond oil, Argan oil,
- Mature skin – frankincense oil, hemp seed oil, Rosehip oil, melon seed oil
- Sensitive skin – calendula oil
Which facial oils should you avoid?
“Olive oil is not great for the face, as it is comedogenic,” says Dr Somji. Comedogenic ingredients block pores, leading to spots and blackheads – not the ideal outcome from adding a facial oil to your routine. Squalane derived from olives makes a good, lightweight alternative, boosting the skin barrier with none of the pore-plugging side effects.
“Coconut oil is also not good for the skin as it increases skin irritation and can lead to increased pigmentation following UV exposure.” Keep yours for the kitchen only.