The truth about beauty oils

What if we told you that your perception of oils – that they make your skin greasy and may result breakouts – has been wrong all along? Read on to discover the true magic of this centuries old ingredient.

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What if we told you that your perception of oils – that they make your skin greasy and may result breakouts – has been wrong all along? Read on to discover the true magic of beauty oils, whether for face or hair.

When my trusted skincare therapist first prescribed a facial oil to treat the fine lines that had appeared on my forehead literally overnight, I recoiled in horror. As a teenager, I suffered from regular hormonal breakouts and, despite the fact that my skin has changed considerably now that I’m in my early 30s, I’m still in the habit of picking out products with the term ‘oil-free’ boldly emblazoned across the front. Why on earth would I want to slather a greasy layer of oil across my face, I wondered? As it turns out, the right face oil can clear up your pores, soften your skin (and hair!) and even result in a dewy, more youthful complexion.

As it turns out, most synthetic and natural oils have a similar composition to your skin’s own moisture barrier. Itchy, dry skin is often as a result of a damaged moisture barrier, so it makes sense that adding oil to your regimen will encourage your skin to heal itself, essentially “filling” the holes in the moisture barrier and repairing your skin for a softer, smoother appearance. Some oils – like anti-inflammatory lavender, chamomile and rose oils – even have the ability to soothe irritated skin, while others (think argan, camellia and sunflower oils) promote collagen production for skin that’s noticeably firmer and plumper.

If you have an oily skin type that’s prone to blemishes and acne, you may be surprised to learn – as I was – that your best bet when it comes to choosing an effective cleanser would be an oil-based cleanser. If you think of it in terms of adding a few drops of water to oil, it becomes clear: oil rejects water, leaving little water bubbles floating on the surface of the oil. The same thing applies to your skin: when you wash your face and rinse with water, any excess sebum clogging your pores remains stubbornly in place; it’s only when you add an oil-based cleanser that you’re able to rinse away the grease and grime properly. Skin Creamery Oil-Milk Cleanser (R375) is a luxurious cleanser that goes on as an indulgent oil, but soon transforms into a milk once water is added to ensure that all impurities are easily and effectively rinsed from your skin. A word of caution to those with drier skins: stay clear of oil-based cleansers as these will strip the natural oils found in your skin, when you should really be focusing on adding more oil to boost hydration. This can be done by adding a face oil to your evening beauty routine – Skinderm’s Intense Nourishing Facial Oil (R420) is a firm favourite. It contains vitamin C and E to revitalise and nourish moisture-depleted skin, while protecting against free radical damage and helping to improve the appearance of existing pigmentation.


As well as giving skin a nourishing hit of hydration, oils can help your moisturiser to work even harder and better. The humectants (glycerin, hyaluronic acid, etc) contained in your moisturiser draw more moisture into your skin, and applying face oil over the top of this will ensure that this excess hydration is ‘locked in’ for longer lasting moisture. A common mistake that many women make is applying oil before moisturiser, as you would do with a serum. This is a big no-no –  moisturisers aren’t able to penetrate through oil, but oil is able to penetrate through creams and lotions so it’s best to apply your chosen oil only after your moisturiser.

Perhaps the easiest way to introduce oils into your beauty routine is to begin with a body oil or hair oil. Hair oils in particular have enjoyed increasing popularity over the past few years, with the renowned argan oil being at the top of our must-try list. The original MoroccanOil Hair Treatment contains argan oil and leaves your hair looking and feeling soft, supple and shiny, and has gone on to inspire a whole new category in hair care.

I’m also a big fan of My Abby Abyssinian Hair and Scalp Oil (R249), which is a recent discovery I stumbled upon at this yea’s ProBeauty Expo in Johannesburg. This lightweight oil softens and nourishes the hair shaft, while enhancing its shine – and all without weighing it down or leaving it looking oily. In fact, what differentiates My Abby from so many other hair oils is the fact that it can be used on the scalp – I like adding a couple of drops to my shampoo to help treat a dry, itchy scalp. My Abby also has a hair oil specifically formulated for ethnic hair types to help soften, nourish, and prevent breakage – you can read more here.

Hair oils are great at creating a protective barrier during the summer months, so now is as good a time as ever to invest in one. Simply add a few drops of oil to your hair before stepping into the pool or ocean to create a barrier that will protect your hair from the damaging effects of salt water and chlorine, as well as preventing your colour from fading in the sun.

Regardless of your skin (or hair) type, it’s clear that an oil will not only improve your appearance over time, but it will go a long way in treating specific concerns too. It’s no wonder, then, that natural oils have played an important role in beauty rituals for centuries: Helen of Troy favoured olive oil, while Cleopatra was fond of almond oil. If it’s good enough for these famed beauties, I’m certainly willing to give oils a go!

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