What is Oil Cleansing, and Does It Really Work?

by Jenn Sinrich February 08, 2021

What is Oil Cleansing, and Does It Really Work?

It might seem like every other day a new trendy skin care technique pops up that promises clear, healthy and glowing skin, but stick with us. Many of these are ancient, proven practices that are recently coming back into the spotlight, thanks to the world of wellness. One such treatment is known as oil cleansing, or the oil cleansing method (OCM), which involves using actual oils rather than soap and harsh detergents to remove dirt, oil, and sweat from the skin. 

At first thought, this might sound strange and quiet counterintuitive. After all, you’re trying tostrip oil from your skin not slather it on, right? Well, it turns out that oil cleansing may do the very opposite. “Cleansing oils balance the skin's natural oils, keeping skin well-nourished and clean while protecting the skin's supply of  lipids,” explains Stacy Chimento, MD, Miami-based dermatologist with  Riverchase Dermatology. “This is one of its main contrasts from foam-cleansers, which can strip the skin of its natural moisture and leave it dry.” 

Even individuals with naturally oily or acne-prone skin can stand to benefit from oil cleansing. How? “Oil dissolves oil,” notes  Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Plus the natural emollient properties of the oils have hydrating benefits, so they can be used even in people with sensitive skin.” 

While it’s not her favorite skin “trend,”  Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital does recommend it to some of her patients, specifically those who wear a lot of makeup as well as those with very dehydrated skin. “For those with a compromised skin barrier, oil cleansing can be a more nourishing way to cleanse,” she adds.  

If you’re considering giving oil cleansing a try, here are some tips to keep in mind to make sure you’re doing it right. 


Use a clean washcloth

To ensure that the oil cleansing process is as clean as possible, and that you’re not introducing any germs or bacteria to your skin, it’s best to use a fresh washcloth each time. Dr. Robinson is a fan of  these microfiber face cloths that dry quickly and come in a pack of 6. 

Microfiber Wash Cloth

Keep your hands and face dry

With other cleansing methods, it's commonplace to rinse first. Oil-cleansing starts off dry, according to Dr. Chimento, who recommends making sure your hands are clean before beginning the process. “Your face should be dry, and there is no need to take off makeup prior to oil cleansing as the oil will remove makeup effectively,” she says.


If you’re acne-prone, add an astringent

If you have acne, or combination skin, Dr. Robinson recommends seeking out an oil-based cleanser that also has astringent properties, such as tree oil, peppermint oil or rosehip oil. “These oils have a natural drying and tightening effect,” she says. 

You could also try a double cleanse, which is used in K-beauty to remove any residue left behind by the oils. “This process includes cleansing with the oil, then following up with a gentle cleansing formula that does not dry the skin, like a milk cleanser, that leaves the skin supple but provides extra support in dissolving any excess oil left behind,” says Dr. Chimento. “This will prevent clogged pores and inflammation.”

Astringent Ingredients

Seek out oil cleansers with antioxidants

“Antioxidants, including vitamins E, B and C, are both reparative and protective against oxidative damage from environmental stressors,” says Dr. Robinson. “Squalane is also great and can reduce wrinkles, eliminate scars, reverse UV damage, lighten freckles and erase skin pigmentation.”

Looking to give the trend a try? Check out these great cleansing oils.

Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Oil, $15

This cleansing oil is great for those with sensitive skin, because it works nice and gently when hiding on and rinsing off. It leaves no residue and immediately picks up diary, oil and other impurities leaving the skin feeling clean and extra dewy.  

No7 Radiant Results Nourishing Micellar Cleansing Oil, $18

This cleansing oil is mixed with micellar water, which means it’s super competent at getting all of the nasties off your skin (even waterproof makeup) and leaving it in mint condition. It is also infused with vitamins E, A and B5 along with grapeseed oil for a nourishing finish. 

Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil, $40

This super gentle cleansing oil is formulated for all skin types, from normal and combination to dry and even oily. It goes on nice and silky and is infused with apricot kernel oil, which helps remove dirt, oil and even waterproof makeup. 

Cocokind Facial Cleansing Oil, $14

A cleansing oil you can purchase at your local drugstore? Sign us up! This clean beauty cleansing oil is made from four certified organic oils: avocado, tea tree, lavender and coconut oil. Just one or two pumps is all it takes to remove dirt, oil, makeup and grime from your skin all while maintaining a healthy pH. 

Oil Cleansers
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