If you’ve ever heard of the oil cleansing method (OCM) and wondered what it is or how it works you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide you will learn everything you need to get started and begin creating your own natural blends that can assist in remedying whatever skin concern you might have.
Whether you’re struggling with acne, rosacea, sensitive, dry or even oily skin, there’s something for you here.
To put it simply, today you’re going to learn how to fight oil with oil.
First we’ll discuss why it is such an effective deep cleansing method and how it works, next we’ll give you an example of what a simple routine looks like and a few different variations you might try based on your personal preferences. Finally, we’ll discuss how to choose the best oils based on your skin type and concerns, how to create your own recipes, and also give a few starter recipes to help you get closer to that ever-elusive clear complexion.
Table of Contents
How It Works
Oil cleansing is based on a concept within chemistry that says “like dissolves like.” In this case we’re using oils that can nourish and purge the skin of impurities to dissolve the “unclean” oils on your skin which can include makeup, grease, sebum, sunscreen and so forth, leaving behind a cleansed and clear face.
This may seem counter-intuitive especially if you have acne-prone skin and just winced at the thought of willingly slathering more even more oil on your skin.
The thing is oils aren’t necessarily bad. We credit this misconception to empty marketing claims which promote products that excessively strip the natural oils of your skin leaving it tight and dry. This sensation makes people think the products “worked” when in reality they just left you with dehydrated skin.
There is a reason your skin naturally secretes sebum and it’s because it needs it to keep itself properly moisturized and elastic. This reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines making you look younger. So when you use cleansers that contain harsh chemicals like sodium laureth sulfate and other ingredients within the sulfate family, your skin overcompensates by producing even more oil than before. This is what really contributes to breakouts and the awkward pimple. So oil in itself isn’t inherently bad.
In fact you may have already used an oil-based cleanser or makeup remover that use oil as their primary ingredients without realizing. Fact is, oils are great at getting rid of leftover products from off your face and are more gentle than foam-based cleansers. Of course, not every oil will work for every person’s skin type — we’re going to address that in the next section, but for the most part they are less irritating making them the ideal solution for sensitive skin.
The power comes in their simplicity. Most blends only contain 2 or 3 ingredients at most. Compare that to the laundry list of ingredients listed on the label of your favorite store-bought cleanser.
So what does an example routine look like?
Simple 3 Step Instructions
There are three basic parts to the OCM. But before you begin, make sure you have the following items:
- A washcloth, wipes, or cotton balls.
- Your oil(s) prepared and ready to go.
- Warm water.
Most people prefer doing their OCM routine in the evening before bed because grease and grime builds up during the day and your face will still be refreshed and clean in the morning from the night before. So performing it once a day is really all you need.
Also note that it may take a week or two for your skin to adjust where it’ll feel super oily right after cleansing. This is normal and it happens because pores will become unclogged and release everything all at once. This means that it’s working so don’t get discouraged if it happens to you.
The first step is simply to apply the oils to your face. It is not necessary to clean your face beforehand although some people do in fact do something called “double-cleansing” where they’ll cleanse with oil and then again with a store-bought product. In fact, it’s better to even avoid washing your face because oil and water don’t mix and getting your face damp may interfere with the cleansing process. After all, the whole point is for the oils to do that job for you!
All you have to do is pour about a quarter sized amount of the oil into your palm and then rub your hands together before smoothing them over your face. Another option you have here is to use a spray bottle and spritz about 4-6 times over your face if you don’t want to get messy handling bottles and whatnot.
After the oil is on your face the next step is to simply rub it over your skin using slow motions and focusing on your problem areas. Press firmly but also be gentle and let it sink into your pores and break up the product residue. It’s really important you don’t apply too much pressure here because doing so can inflame your skin and cause irritation which further exacerbates pimples. You’ll know this is the case if any particular spot on your face begins to hurt.
The goal here is to massage the oils over your face and then let them “sit” and work their magic as they work to purge out your pores. This is especially crucial if you use waterproof sunscreen or mascara and concealer which can be more of a hassle to get rid of.
A simple breakdown would be 30 seconds of massaging and then a minute or two of just sitting back and relaxing before you move on to next step although it doesn’t really matter whether you let the oils sit first and then massage or if you massage first and then wait. As you massage, move your fingers upward pushing your skin away from the ground. Over time this encourages your skin to stay firm rather than get saggy and droop downward.
The final step is to remove the oil off your face. You also have options here depending on the type of oil you used. Store bought oils often contain ingredients called “emulsifiers” which make it easier for them to be washed off with water. But if you’re using a homemade blend of one or two ingredients it won’t come off as easily.
If that’s the case, this is where you take your washcloth and soak it in warm water. You can then use it to wipe the oil off but it’s likely you’ll need to re-soak the cloth and then repeat the process 2 or 3 times to get all of it off. First press it over your face and hold it there until the cloth cools off before wiping to let the heat open up your pores.
Some people are fine letting the extra oil sit on their skin to act as a natural moisturizer but if you are prone to acne it would be better to remove the oil and any products dissolved in it to avoid clogging up pores.
If you plan on exfoliating afterwards, especially with an AHA type it would also be best to get all the oil off because AHA exfoliants can’t sink into the skin as well if they have other products blocking them.
Best Oils For The OCM
There are tons of oils you can try but the main thing we want to stress here is that quality matters! Look for oils that were produced organically and cold-pressed to ensure they contain all of their beneficial compounds. These can be destroyed in the refining process and your oil cleanser won’t work as well it could.
We also always recommend patch testing products first before applying them in larger amounts to test if you have an allergic reaction or not. If you’re allergic to nuts, for example, you probably want to avoid sweet almond or macadamia oil.
The rest after that comes down to personal preference and what works well for your skin specifically. Here are some recommendations broken down by skin type and concern.
We recommend starting off with mineral oil or just plain baby oil if your skin can tolerate fragrances. If not (it’s more common than you think) look for one that’s unscented to avoid irritation. Overall, mineral and baby oil are both non-comedogenic making them unlikely to cause acne flareups or clog pores. Look for mineral oil specifically sold for skincare and not laxatives.
The following are all oils which are lightweight, easily absorbed by the skin, and with the exception of grape seed, have some type of moisturizing properties. They’re also slightly comedogenic so remember to patch test beforehand!
- Grapeseed Oil – Easily absorbed by the skin but also an astringent which makes it suitable for oily skin and acne.
- Apricot Kernel – High in essential fatty acids and has anti-inflammatory properties ideal for dry, aging, and sensitive skin.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Also high in essential fatty acids and antioxidants which protect the skin from free radical damage.
- Jojoba – Has a very similar composition to the natural sebum your skin secretes making it best used for oily skin which it can easily break down.
- Sea Buckthorn – Easily penetrates through the skin’s layers reducing inflammation and redness and supporting a healthy skin structure.
The following oils are more viscous and will feel “thicker” compared to the oils we listed above. They can be very nourishing but it’s important not to use them in excess because they are also slightly comedogenic so be careful! We’ll explain more in the next section how to best mix them to get their positive effects.
- Castor Oil – The most popular oil for the OCM. It must be diluted and used in combination with other oils because on it’s own it can be very drying. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties which may alleviate the P. acnes bacteria which causes pimples.
- Sweet Almond Oil – Great for dry skin and a natural emollient (meaning it helps soften rough skin smooth) thanks to the high concentrations of fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals it contains.
- Avocado Oil – Great for all skin types but works particularly well for aging and sensitive skin thanks to its beneficial compounds that promote cell regeneration. Like castor oil, it also has antibacterial properties capable of soothing the skin which can help treat eczema, rosacea, and general irritation.
The following are oils that don’t clog pores and are unlikely to cause blackheads or whiteheads to pop up. They also make great carrier oils for your mix.
- Sunflower Seed Oil – An very nourishing oil with a high concentration of vitamins and essential fatty acids best used for dry or dehydrated skin and conditions like eczema.
- Safflower Oil – High in linoleic acid and fatty acids which helps prevent inflammation and hydrate dry skin.
- Tea Tree Oil – A very potent and drying oil. You MUST always dilute tea tree oil with other carrier oils because it can be extremely irritating. It’s an oil proven to work just as effectively as benzoyl peroxide if not more for dealing with blemishes and acne.
- Neem Oil – Works well and is non-irritating but has a very bad smell that takes some time getting used to. Unlike tea tree oil, it isn’t very drying and can be used as a spot treatment undiluted with other oils.
For Sensitive and Aging Skin
- Evening primrose – Great for eczema and psoriasis. It’s also safe enough to use undiluted so no need for a carrier oil (patch test first just to make sure).
- Macadamia Nut Oil – High in palmitoleic acid which helps skin retain its youthfulness and delay cellular aging. A good choice for aging and even oily skin.
- Rosehip Oil – An extremely rich oil that acts as a conditioner and helps skin retain moisture. Perfect for mature skin and people who want to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and saggy skin but also works for acne-prone skin too.
- Hemp Seed Oil – Chock full of antioxidants and rich in minerals that reduce inflammation and visible signs of aging in the skin.
- Borage Seed Oil – Ideal for sensitive and dry skin and can be used to treat eczema or other forms of irritation.
Higher End Oils
A bit on the pricier side and more “exotic” than the other oils listed above.
- Argan Oil – Great for all skin types but especially aging and sensitive skin thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties and high concentration of unsaturated fatty acids that nourish and soothe leaving your face softer.
- Tamanu Oil – Can also be used for all skin types but is ideal for dehydrated skin in need of moisture. High in oleic acid (found in olive oil) and linoleic acid (found in sunflower seed oil) among other varieties of essential fatty acids.
Highly Comedogenic Oils
These oils are more likely to clog pores, cause irritation, and inflame sensitive skin. It’s not a guarantee and maybe they work for you but if you’re just getting started we caution you stay away from any of the following:
- Coconut Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Sesame Oil
- Linseed (aka Flax) Oil
- Citrus Oils of any kind (too acidic)
You may be surprised to see coconut oil on there especially after all the hype it has received but we encourage you to do your own research and not believe everything you read online. Pinterest in particular has become a hub of pinners parroting bad advice to one another so always be wary.
How To Create Your Personalized Oil Blend
While store bought oil cleansers can work effectively, creating your own gives you greater control over the ingredients you put on your face allowing you to tailor the blend to your skin’s specific needs.
Depending on the oils you use, it can even end up being less expensive.
So now you might be wondering, “How do I know what oils to use for my skin?”
The first thing you need to do is identify your skin type.
Next you need to identify any skin concerns you want to address. Is your skin dehydrated? Do you have acne? Rosacea? Eczema? Sensitive skin?
Understanding your skin is key when making adjustments to your oil cleansing routine.
For example if you’re using castor and sunflower seed oil as your combination, and you have dry skin, you’d want to use less castor and more sunflower oil than someone who has oily skin since castor can be a drying ingredient.
Carrier Oils vs. Secondary Oils
The first thing to understand when it comes to mixing oils together is the concept of carrier (sometimes known as primary or base oils) and secondary (usually used to refer to essential oils).
Carrier Oils aka base oils aka primary oils are used to dilute essential oils which are usually volatile and/or highly irritating on their own. Carrier oils make them safe to be applied directly onto the skin.
An example of carrier oils would be any of the non-comedogenic oils we listed above like mineral or sunflower seed oil.
This means we typically will use carrier oils in higher concentrations than something like castor or tea tree oil.
Finding the perfect combination of oils takes a lot of trial and error. The more oils you introduce into your blend, the harder it will be to find the right percentages for each.
That’s why at most we recommend using 4-5 oils at once. We find just 1 or 2 to be ideal.
How To Split Your Oil Ratios
When mixing, a good rule of thumb is to either think in thirds or fifths.
Start off with 2 parts of your carrier oil (for example 2 tsp.) to 1 part of your secondary (1 tsp.)
For well tolerated oils you can split the ratio down to 50% of each (assuming you’re using 2 oils).
If you find the 2/3 carrier oil to 1/3 secondary is still too strong or irritating, further dilute it using 80% carrier to 20% secondary.
For stronger oils like tea tree oil they may need even further dilution. We recommend starting off with a ratio of at least 90% carrier oil.
You can always adjust the increments up or down by 5-10% of each oil to find the optimal solution for you.
(Ex. You might find that 25% castor and 75% sunflower is perfect for your skin after starting from 20% to 80% respectively.)
Or you can just eyeball it. These are recommendations to get you started, not set in stone rules. We strongly recommend that you experiment and keep at it until you find the right combination for you.
Starter Oil Cleansing Recipes
Here are a few starter recipes and the dilution to help you get started. Of course you could also use store-bought oil cleansers but these make nice alternatives for the DIY skincare crowd. Adjust accordingly and experiment with different ratios and oils to find the ideal solution for your skin.
General / Multi-Purpose
- 100% mineral or baby oil
- 75% safflower oil
- 25% castor oil
- 60% sweet almond
- 30% safflower
- 10% extra virgin olive oil
- 50% rosehip oil
- 50% evening primrose
- 40% neem oil
- 40% grapeseed
- 20% sunflower oil
- 66% argan oil
- 33% avocado oil
Oil cleansing can be an effective component of your routine once you find the ingredients that work best for you skin. All it takes is one session a day of less than 5 minutes to begin improving the quality of your skin. So why not give it a try? Remember all it takes is 3 simple steps: Apply the oil, massage it over your face, and then wash it off after you’re done and continue with the rest of your routine.
We hope you found this guide helpful and if you think we might have missed something or if anything was unclear you can always reach us on Pinterest or Twitter (@maxmylooks). We’ll be glad to help you out.