November 1, 2013

Oil Cleansing: How to Have Amazingly Clear & Radiant Skin.

Kate Bartolotta and I recently discovered that we’ve both been using the oil cleansing method of skin care—using, yes, actual oils—with success for years.

And—because we’re such generous, kind-hearted people—we’ve decided that we absolutely have to share with you our mutual secret to happy, glowing skin.

Here goes.

From Jennifer:

I was initiated into oil cleansing when I lived near Philadelphia and my nextdoor neighbor created her popular organic, vegan, eco-friendly natural beauty line, Exposed Organics

Wait…I should preface this article with the fact that I’ve always had hormone-driven, acne-prone skin since, basically, the moment I hit puberty. (It’s awesome.) So, of course, I was very skeptical of this method, but I trusted my wonderful neighbor and decided to give her number-one, best-selling product—an oil cleanser—a try.

The rest is history because my skin, my wallet and I all fell in love with it.

Another thing I should probably tell you is that my skin has been the worst lately—just bad—and I was trying to think of what I had been doing differently when it suddenly dawned on me—I hadn’t been religiously using my oil cleanser for the last several weeks.

After days upon days of skin frustration, I got back on the oil-cleansing wagon, and my skin was remarkably improved after only 48 hours. This reaffirmed to me that oil cleansing is the way to go—for all skin types—as Kate and I will demonstrate. (And—bonus!—we’ll even help you learn how to make an inexpensive, custom-designed blend.)

First, I’ll share with you a little information on castor oil, because it’s typically the base in oil cleansers, and because I personally choose to avoid it when making my own.

“The castor seed contains ricin, a toxic protein. Heating during the oil extraction process denatures and inactivates the protein. However, harvesting castor beans may not be without risk. Allergenic compounds found on the plant surface can cause permanent nerve damage, making the harvest of castor beans a human health risk. India, Brazil, and China are the major crop producers, and the workers suffer harmful side effects from working with these plants. These health issues, in addition to concerns about the toxic byproduct (ricin) from castor oil production, have encouraged the quest for alternative sources for hydroxy fatty acids. Alternatively, some researchers are trying to genetically modify the castor plant to prevent the synthesis of ricin.” 

Most over-the-counter oil cleansers, as well as most recipes, do contain castor oil—and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I’ve found alternative oils that act equally well as astringent bases—no castor oil required—so these are what I’ll be sharing with you.

You’ll notice that I called castor oil the “base oil.” Essentially the standard formula looks like this:

Oily skin: 30% castor oil to 70% secondary oil

Dry skin: 10% castor oil and 90% secondary oil

Combination skin: 20% castor oil and 80% secondary oil

Instead of castor oil, though, I use sweet almond oil, but hazelnut oil is also a great base.

Additionally, keep in mind that castor oil can actually be quite drying—which is why you’ll use less of it if you already have drier skin—and mine generally isn’t and these oils still work wonderfully for me.

Secondary oil can refer to several different varieties—and blends of these varietals—depending on the needs of your skin. (Some examples are apricot kernel, argan, rosehip, jojoba, olive (another good “base” too), tamanu, avocado, grapeseed, and baobab—to name a few.)

My favorite secondary oil of all time, hands down, is argan oil.

I use it in my hair (I discovered it through my hair stylist), plus I’ve found that it works wonders for my sensitive, combination, acne-prone skin—and it’s especially great for wrinkles. (Hey, I might have acne-prone skin, but I left my teenage years behind awhile ago). Still, this oil has become increasingly popular, so I’ve been trying to find other secondary oils that I like in order to avoid contributing to negative ecological impacts.

Side note: argan oil originally provided positive social and economic changes in rural Morocco—including protecting argan trees from being cut down because they’re now seen as valuable resources—but, unfortunately, there’s currently controversy as to whether the surging popularity is too much.

In stepped rosehip oil.

Without further ado, here is my original go-to oil cleanser for combination, acne-prone skin:

1 part organic sweet almond oil

2 parts argan oil

2 parts rosehip oil

tea tree oil*

*Note: Kate will instruct you on how to include essential oils. I add tea tree oil to this recipe for its aroma as well as for its anti-acne properties.

Remember, too, that sweet almond oil, as stated earlier, is actually ideal for dry skin—and it still does wonders for my slightly oily complexion. (Continue reading for directions on how to use your new oil-blended creation.)

From Kate:

Growing up in America, I was inundated with “oil free” skin care products from the get-go. Lucky for me, one of my college jobs was for a French skin care company and I quickly learned to get over my fear of putting oil on my face.

Besides sunblock, I consider the use of natural oils for skin care to be the best thing I’ve done for my skin. Many people associate oils with “break-outs” or blemished skin, but when used to cleanse the face, the right oils improve and protect every skin type.

Most people think of their skin as having a certain type, but treating your skin the same way year-round is just as counterproductive as wearing the same type of clothes year-round. If you are in a dry, cold climate in the winter, you will need to treat your skin very differently than if you are in a moist, hot summer. For this reason, I have categorized my recipes in terms of time of year rather than type of skin, and given some notations on how to tweak it to make it just right for you.

 A few things to note:

 ~ It’s best to make these in small batches, especially if you would like to add essential oils. For a 4 oz. blend, I would generally use 10 drops of the recommended essential oils.

 ~ Essential oils are enjoyable for their aromatherapy benefits and their benefits to the skin directly. Use them in the base oils to prevent irritation. If you use these oils to moisturize in addition to cleansing, take care to use sunblock, as some oils can have photo-sensitizing effects.

 ~ I tend not to wear face makeup/foundation on a daily basis, but have used these to remove all sorts of makeup, including full theatrical makeup for a photo shoot. If you are wearing heavy make-up, you might want to leave it on for an extra minute before you begin removing it.

 ~ While I’d guess that 90 percent of the people who chose to read this article are women, these are a great way for men to care for their skin too—especially if you have easily irritated skin.

 ~ Getting healthy oils in your body is as important as putting them on your body. Avocado, coconut oil, nuts, chia and flax seeds…all of these are a great addition for many health reasons, not least of which is your skin.

 Spring/Summer Cleansing Oil

2 parts jojoba oil

½ part castor oil

Calling jojoba an oil is a bit of a misnomer to begin with. Jojoba is actually more of a liquid wax-like substance and is the closest “oil” in texture to human sebum. It’s great for your hair, great as a lightweight moisturizer….good for so many things.

As Jennifer mentioned, there are definitely pros and cons to using castor oil; I have included it here as it’s cleansing properties are helpful during the warmer months when we might be sweating more or outdoors more. It is also helpful in getting of every last trace of your sunblock before bed. Sometimes I include the castor oil, but I have also used straight jojoba oil and jojoba oil with essential oils.

 Essential oil add-ins:

 Oily/Congested skin: Geranium, Cedarwood or Clary Sage

Sensitive/Irritated or Sunburned skin: Lavender, Rose and/or Helichrysum

Many people also enjoy Chamomile essential oil for irritable skin. If you are prone to seasonal allergies like me, you may not find it helpful. Chamomile is in the ragweed family, so if you suffer from allergies, try a very small amount at first.

 Fall/Winter Cleansing Oil

1 part Apricot Kernel Oil

1 part Hazelnut Oil

¼ part Castor oil

There are so many wonderful oils you can use on your skin. These two I love both for cleansing and moisturizing. If you wear minimal makeup, you could skip the castor oil here altogether and just use the two base oils. Typically in the winter, I cleanse with this blend, and then add a little more on my face (or a little argan oil) before going to bed. Both are richly moisturizing without leaving your face feeling greasy. It’s also a great blend to use as a moisturizing treatment for your hair.

 Essential oils add-ins:

Relaxing/Soothing: Vanilla and Sweet Orange essential oils. (These oils are more for their aromatherapy properties, but the Sweet Orange also has anti-inflammatory properties.)

Sensitive/Irritated/Wind burned skin: Helichrysum (*Helichrysum is just a great all-around oil for the skin and helps with everything from bruising, to swelling and irritation, to helping with burns. It’s a great oil to have on hand), Lavender, Neroli and Rose.

 Okay, it’s Jennifer again.

Now you just need to know exactly how to use your freshly made oil cleanser—it couldn’t be easier.

Rinse a washcloth in warm water. Apply the warm washcloth to your face for a few moments before gently rubbing a nickel-sized amount of your chosen blend onto your skin. Using circular motions, massage your entire face.

Then wet your washcloth with warm water again; placing it over your face, and allowing your pores to open. Pat your skin with the cloth and repeat. (And please don’t leave the water running this whole time. Thanks. Love, Mother Earth.)

Repeat this warm washcloth/patting routine until all of the oil and/or make-up is removed from your skin. (About 2-4 times.) Finally, cover your face with a cold washcloth; letting your pores tighten back up to ensure the moisturizing effects of this method.

Watch Kate’s step-by-step visual guide on YouTube:

Oil cleansing is cheap, simple and, better yet, it really and truly works.

(Another thing to keep in mind with holidays on the horizon: pretty, little bottles of your favorite homemade mixtures make great gifts!)

We hope you enjoy this do-it-yourself process—and the results—as much as we do.

Bonus self-care:


Relephant for your skin:

Oil Cleansing Method: Washing Our Faces with Oil, Really! 

Neem Oil: An Ayurvedic Specialty For A Glowing Complexion.

Only 3 Things Needed for Great Winter Skin. {Skincare Recipes}


Want 15 free additional reads weekly, just our best?

Get our weekly newsletter.


Ed: Bryonie Wise

Read 92 Comments and Reply

Read 92 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Jennifer S. White  |  Contribution: 45,780

Image: Matt Reiter/Unsplash