Oil is booming for skin care, but does it work?

  • Article by: AIMEE BLANCHETTE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2014 - 3:19 PM

Oil -- not the kind you put in your car -- is the skin-care industry's favorite new product. But do you really want it on your face?

Every night Becca Bijoch rubs her face with argan oil to remove her makeup. She’ll dab it on her skin for moisture, too. She even uses a blend of the oil with shea butter and vitamins to condition her hair.

Bijoch’s nightly routine might seem extreme, but she isn’t alone in her oil obsession.

Once derided as a pore-clogging, grease-inducing enemy of faces everywhere, oil has become the darling of the beauty industry. Movie stars swear by it, supermodels love it, even Martha Stewart is a fan.

“Oils are game changers for our skin,” said Dr. Mohiba Tareen of Tareen Dermatology in Roseville. “Especially in Minnesota, because we have such a dry climate.”

Bottles of the stuff — oils from argan trees, jojoba plants, almonds and coconuts — are pushing into beauty aisles once reserved strictly for lotions and creams. Familiar brands like L’Oreal, Dove, Palmer’s and Clarins market tiny vials of various oils with slick promises to revitalize skin and hair without greasy side effects.

Nationwide, department store sales of beauty oils rose nearly 41 percent to almost $31 million from June 2012 to June 2013, according to research firm NPD Group.

But not everyone is buying in. Some skin care experts say consumers should proceed with caution.

“Oils are on trend right now because everyone is looking for natural ingredients, not only in their food, but also in their self-care products,” said Liz Elshaboury, an oncology aesthetician at HealthPartners. “But we’re actually just throwing our money away. Oils are not going to turn back the hands of time.”

You put what on your face?

Celebrities such as supermodel Miranda Kerr and actress Gwyneth Paltrow swear by the beauty benefits of oil, although they’re certainly not the first famous faces to extol its virtues. Oils have been used for centuries. (Cleopatra is said to have used them for her hair and skin.)

But until recently, the U.S. beauty industry has sent out one message: “Oil causes acne.”

“From the time we were teenagers, we’ve been conditioned to look for oil-free products,” said Lisa Coyne, a Whole Body team leader at Whole Foods in Minneapolis. “So it’s confusing for people to hear that oil is so good for your skin.”

Why are oils in vogue now? Some skin care experts say the answer is simple.

“They are usually more effective at hydrating than a moisturizer,” said Tareen. “Oil molecules are smaller and can get through the dermis better than creams, which are water-based and just sit on top of the skin.”

But not all skin — or oil — is created equal.

Some experts warn against using oil on the face, especially for people with oily skin. Undiluted essential oils like tea tree are potent and can irritate the skin or cause breakouts, said Tareen.

“I don’t recommend using oils on the face, period,” Elsha­boury said. “They’re great hydrators, but the last thing you want to do is start clogging your pores.”

Proponents say there’s a difference between plant-based oils and pore-clogging mineral oils that have been used by manufacturers for years. Plant oils are compatible with our body’s natural oils, and in small amounts, they won’t clog your pores or leave you looking greasy, said Twin Cities beauty blogger Elizabeth Dehn.

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