Oil Cleansing: How to Have Amazingly Clear & Radiant Skin. ~ Kate Bartolotta & Jennifer White

Via Jennifer S. White
on Nov 1, 2013
get elephant's newsletter


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


About Jennifer S. White

Jennifer S. White is a voracious reader, obsessive writer, passionate yoga instructor and drinker of hoppy ales. She’s also a devoted mama and wife (a stay-at-home yogi). She considers herself to be one of the funniest people who ever lived and she’s also an identical twin. In addition to her work on elephant journal, Jennifer has over 40 articles published on the wellness website MindBodyGreen and her yoga-themed column Your Personal Yogi ran in the newspaper Toledo Free Press. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in geology, absolutely no degrees in anything related to literature, and she currently owns a wheel of cheese. If you want to learn more about Jennifer, make sure to check out her writing, as she’s finally put her tendencies to over-think and over-share to good use. Jennifer is the author of The Best Day of Your Life, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She's also as excited as a five year old to announce the release of her second book, The Art of Parenting: Love Letters from a Mother, available on Amazon.


91 Responses to “Oil Cleansing: How to Have Amazingly Clear & Radiant Skin. ~ Kate Bartolotta & Jennifer White”

  1. Sounds like it might work! Thank you : )

  2. Nat says:

    I have very oily acne prone skin and started the oil cleansing method about 2 weeks ago & I LOVE IT! I have been using proactive for the last several years as I could just not find anything that would combat my acne. I always wanted to get away but every time I tried my acne just came back worse – finally I've found something that's given me the confidence to completely get rid of my nasty proactive stuff!

    I use this method every night and use a natural cleanser in the morning as I'm not prepared to Use just water in the mornings yet – I've also made my own natural apple cider vinegar toner which seems to be working great too (except the smell!). Cheers to nature!

  3. Kristen says:

    I actually have this same problem, although I've only been using a couple days – it's something I have to watch out for but my skin is improving already, so willing to work around it!

  4. Karen Rose says:

    I would rather not make my own stuff, and exposed organics is out of business. Are there any commercially available oil cleansers you would recommend?

  5. Lin says:

    Darn, Kate left the water running the whole time! So much for Mother Earth.

  6. Damarys says:

    My 19 yo is experiencing the same with proactive and is open to new method of facial cleansing please detail the oil and information to rid the acne. thanks.

  7. BloomingTree says:

    I'm getting close to 70 and have really good, unlined (and very dry and sensitive) skin. I credit the products that I've been using – 90% Paula's Choice, unfragranced, very gentle and non-irritating; and the occasional foray into the toiletries dept. at Macy's, mostly Lancome. I carry pure jojoba oil with me when I travel and use it as a moisturizer, but I've never used an oil as a cleanser. I wouldn't go near lavender, mint, eucalyptus, or citrus oil with a 50' pole, though – they are all quite irritating. I may try one of your combos as a cleanser. You didn't mention that some oils go rancid pretty fast, so small batches are good.

  8. Acnetame says:

    I use argan oil wipes as well as tea tree oil wipes to help get rid of oily skin and prevent acne. I feel that tea tree works the best for me as it has a cooling effect and is an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. I also use a tea tree mask that by The Body Shop which I apply on my face and leave on for 10 minutes. It leaves my face looking tight and smooth.
    A study by the Royal Prince Albert Hospital in Australia showed that tea tree oil is just as effective as benzoyl peroxide. It is great that we can use these over the counter natural remedies like essential oils in place of harsh chemical topical treatments.

  9. Jessica says:

    THIS WORKS!!! I came across this article a few months ago. I have always had problem skin, lots of pimples, lots of oil, sometimes dry. TRIED EVERYTHING! Used Proactive throughout my teens, but it became too harsh as I got older. I wanted something more natural and was spending a ton of money on organic products for my skin, and was getting nowhere. Finally I came across this. I happened to have some Jojoba oil (I get it from Trader Joes or Vitacost) and also some castor oil – I think you can get this almost anywhere. I mixed it 4 parts Jojoba to one part Castor oil. I do still wash my face at night sometimes to get the makeup off, but it really isn't necessary, more of a habit than anything. Anyway, I do this, and in the morning, just splash my face with water and throw on some makeup. It has really saved me a ton of money and my face has never looked so good. Thank you so freaking much for helping to solve my skin issues!!

  10. jessica says:

    I do not use oil and it works great. I used 4 parts jojoba to one part castor oil and I love it.

  11. jess says:

    I don't use a moisturizer, I find this moisturizes perfectly.

  12. jess says:

    I'll use mine a few times a week before cleaning it, but I ONLY use it on my face. Use it, rinse out well, hang to dry until the next day. After a few days, it will start to feel oily, time to change!

  13. jess says:

    I only use at night, and splash my face with water in the morning to 'knock the crud off'. But, I have done it morning and night as well, and either way my face looks great. Also, like others mentioned, give your face at least a week to get used to the oil, might get some zits at first, but they will go away. So wishing I had done before and afters now!

  14. @DawsonEvie says:

    Thanks for haring… It might sound a little odd to clean your face with an oil, especially if you have oily skin but it really works.
    Tea tree oil soap

  15. Micaelah says:


    I have acne prone, combination skin and I would love to start doing this, but I would prefer not to use castor oil. All of the blog articles I’ve read so far have mentioned hazelnut oil or almond oil as an alternative but I’m allergic to both (and all other nuts.)

    Is there anything you can suggest for me? (I’m also allergic to sunflower oil) And what would be a good secondary oil for my skin?

  16. Malina says:

    Thanks for this article.

    I´ve had acne prone skin my whole life. I tried out this method 2 years ago, and my skin became dry AND I got zits ALL over my forehead; something that hadn't happened since my teenaged years. I was using a mixture of castor oil with olive, almond, and rose hip oil, and using the wash cloth method. I finally stopped the oil washing, and my forehead acne went away after a few long months.

    I decided to try it out again this year, after, out of no where, I developed severe cystic acne around my jawline. I didn't have castor oil, so I just used almond, rose hip, and olive oil. And instead of using any sort of wash cloth, I used my hands to splash and smooth warm water all over my face, until about 90% of the oil is off. And my skin finally looks better! No forehead acne, but I still have the cystic acne, albeit LESS… although I should say I only use the oil washing method once, maybe twice, a week from fear of getting more acne again. In any case, EVERY time I use the oil wash, my face looks SO much better. It's not irritated or dry, and just glows.

    Although I still have problems with my skin, I've noticed that the more natural the product, the better my skin reacts. And, on a side note, in the case of acne, a healthier diet makes a big difference (for the people who've "tried everything!", anyway). I've experimented with cutting out coffee and taking zinc supplements, and my skin looks much more calm and is getting clearer.

    Thanks again for this article!

  17. Nicole says:

    My acne finally calls it quits last year after 20+ years of obnoxiousness. If I still had bad acne, I'm not sure I would have been willing to try oil cleaning on my face. I first started cleaning my whole body including my face with oil last winter when my dry skin was out of control. Over the summer, I went back to my normal products, but was dissatisfied with the irritation, tightness, and drying sensations. So, just the other day I swapped back to all over oil cleanse. I do not make mixes of oils though. I do straight up olive oil or coconut oil. My face is so sensitive to pretty much everything (soaps, citrus, fruit extract, etc), that I don't want to try with different mixes and essential oils. I use the oil in the shower every morning. It's quick (but it makes the bathtub a bit slippery on occasion!).

  18. Nicole says:

    I have extremely oily skin, to the point where I get out of the shower and an hour later I could run my finger across my face and it feels like a stick of butter. Just curious if you would suggest I try this and possibly what combo of oils? I'm desperate- I always hoped it was teenage phase but now, almost 30, nothing has changed! Thanks a bunch!

  19. Frankie says:

    What about plain coconut oil?

  20. Elle says:

    Hi! I have a nut allergy so almond oil and hazelnut oil are not options for me. I have combination skin that's more on the dry/sensitive side. Which secondary oils would you recommend?

  21. Gabby says:

    Could I just use one oil instead of a blend? I like sweet almond oil.

  22. Jodi says:

    Please avoid putting Sweet Orange essential oil on your face during the day! It can cause permanent discolouration of the skin when you're out in the sun. A better option would be Mandarin/Tangerine oil. It doesn't react with sunlight on the skin. Citrus oils to be wary of if you're going to be in the sun: bergamot, sweet orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime. These can all work wonders on your skin (especially lemon), if used in a nighttime cleaning regimen.
    Also, a good substitute for chamomile essential oil, for those who are allergic, is neroli. It's gentle, healing and smells wonderful.
    Thank you for reminding me that ricin is in Castor oil!

  23. Alice O'Malley-Woods says:

    this is great! I’ve been using coconut oil to remove my make up for a while but not religiously. will definitely be interested in using these blends. are they safe to remove eye make up?

  24. Leslie Kirby says:

    Thank you for your article. Have used oil cleansing method for two weeks now love the results no acne or dry skin. I’m 55 and quite happy with the results. All these years I have been stripping and scrubbing my face..now I use an oil cleanser manufactured by KARI GRAN… Love it!!!!!!!

  25. Becky Herman says:

    Hi ladies – Does this formula work on body/back acne? I’m 37, have been off birth control for a year and am having a terrible flare up. In the past the only thing that has worked has been antibiotics, which I’d like to avoid.

  26. Mountain Rose Herbals website has great info on the qualities of other oils. Sunflower Seed oil isn't one I've used.

  27. I don't use contacts, but perhaps keeping clear of the eye area or using something else to remove eye makeup would be best.

  28. Yes, I addressed this on the video comments. Old house and old well = it takes a little while before the water is usable. We should definitely use as little as possible.

  29. Grapeseed oil is fairly light and safe for people with nut allergies.

  30. Glad to hear it was helpful!

  31. I don't use it to cleanse my body skin, but I will say one thing that helps keep my back clear (especially in warm weather) is washing my shoulders *after* I'm done washing and conditioning my hair.

  32. I use these to remove eye makeup as well. If you have contacts, I would be cautious or take them out beforehand.

  33. Sure! I often just use Apricot Kernel Oil.

  34. Apricot Kernel Oil is a nice, nut-free heavier oil.

  35. ruth says:

    turn the water off! -California

  36. Yasmine says:

    Hello thanks for the great tips! Please can you recommend which oil to use for cleansing very sensitive, blotchy, itchy eczema prone skin?

  37. Disha says:

    Where Do you buy your oils from?

  38. Mara says:

    Any response?

  39. zeniah says:

    Hi, I live in a pretty humid and hot place and off course polluted. I want to know when i have a sweaty face should i just wait for it to dry and then continue with the oil cleaning method or i should just skip the oil cleaning method and use a face wash. Can i alternate using a face wash in the morning and OCM during the evenings.

  40. Don't go to bed with makeup on. Makeup left on overnight seeps into your pores, clogs them, and congests your skin. Make sure that you wash your face twice at the end of the day. Once to get the makeup off. A second time to wash the skin itself.

    Womens Health Forum Australia, Womens Health Forum, Womens Health Subscription

  41. Exfoliate daily. After washing your face at night, be sure to exfoliate. Use a delicate scrub. If you don't have one on hand, a tablespoon of sugar or oatmeal will work just fine.

    IT Works Products Australia, IT Works Products, IT Works Global Store