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.
“In fact, people with oily skin can help balance their complexions by introducing oil to their regimen,” said Dehn, who has her own line of skin care products for One Love Organics. “Oils aren’t necessarily better, but they typically do offer more moisture. … If the first ingredient isn’t a plant oil or butter, it’s not going to be very moisturizing.”
Experts advise those interested in using oils to ease into it. It’s not like lotion. Just a few drops will do. Then see how the skin reacts.
They suggest choosing an oil with a low comedogenic rating, so it won’t clog your pores. Beneficialbotanicals.com uses a rating system ranging from 0 (will not clog pores) to 5 (high chance). According to the website, coconut oil has a comedogenic rating of 4, so that’s better left for conditioning your hair.
Almond oil, on the other hand, has a comedogenic rating of 2, so it’s a better option for the face.
Mia Walker has been teaching herself the benefits of plant-based oils for the past four years. She uses tea tree, lemon, lavender, peppermint and clove oil for everything from housecleaning and burns to headaches and rashes. She also uses them to make toothpaste, deodorant, facial cleanser and moisturizer.
“The oils give me an alternative to over-the-counter medication and skin care products … which are full of toxins,” said Walker, 43, of St. Paul.
Prices for these types of oils range from inexpensive blends at Target to specialty oils in the $25-$150 range. But instead of searching store shelves for the perfect oil, some converts just turn to their kitchen cupboards. Cleopatra herself was known to just use olive oil to soften her skin.
“You might smell a little salad-like,” Coyne said. “But you absolutely can.”