This week, dermatologist Carmen Traywick of May River Dermatology in Bluffton discusses how oil cleansing works and whether it's right for your skin.
Question. I've heard about oil cleansing, where you use oils -- instead of soap -- to clean your face every day. Does this work? What types of oil should be used? How do I decide if it's right for my skin?
Answer. Oil cleansing has become more popular in recent years. The idea behind oil cleansing is to use oil in various forms instead of soaps or cleansers to cleanse the face.
The reason that it can aid in facial cleansing goes back to organic chemistry. The idea here is that "like dissolves like." In other words, oil dissolves oil. Many facial cosmetics (makeup) are oil-based. If your goal is to remove makeup and leave behind some natural oils on your face, oil cleansing can be a reasonable option. The oil applied to the face will dissolve makeup and some oil-based dirt and sweat. As the oil that has been applied is then wiped away, the unwanted products dissolved in the oil go away with it. Some of the residual oil is left behind, which aids in keeping the face moist and smooth.
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There are various oil cleansers than can be purchased over the counter. Actually, extra virgin olive oil as a cleanser has been recommended by dermatologists for some patients with terrible dry skin or eczema.
One issue with cleansing this way is that the residual oil can rub off on clothing, sheets, and towels and can lead to some extra housework. It may also leave a somewhat uncomfortable "oily" feeling to the skin.
One goal of facial cleansing is to remove unwanted oils, but another goal is remove and exfoliate unwanted, dead skin cells. This is accomplished in a more efficient manner by various mechanical methods and more traditional cleansers or soaps.
Oil cleansing, in my opinion, is not a good method to consider if you have baseline oily or combination skin. To figure that out, do this simple test. Apply makeup and your regular facial products in the morning, but do not reapply all day. Look at your forehead at noon. If it is shiny, you have oily skin. If it doesn't look shiny until evening, you have combination skin. If it never gets shiny (without applying any more makeup), you are dry.
If you have dry skin, you may want to consider once in a while trying an oil cleanse. In general, gentle cleansers (not harsh soaps) will do the same thing with less mess and less cost. If you already have oily skin or are acne prone, this method is not for you.