Oils for Your Face

Myth: Oil is bad for your face and it’s what causes acne.

Truth: The cause of acne and skin blemishes is much more complex, and not all oil is created equal. Acne and blemishes are primarily caused by unbalanced oil production, clogged pores, and bacteria. If you constantly work to remove oil from your skin using oil-free cleansers and scrubs, your skin responds by overproducing sebum to compensate. In combination with other factors, this leads to worse acne and blemishes. I can talk in more detail about skin physiology and causes of acne in another post, but here I’m going to focus on what oils you can use to improve your skin.

What matters for an oil to be beneficial for acne prevention is the ratio of essential fatty acids, specifically the levels of linoleic acid versus oleic acid. If your skin doesn’t have enough linoleic acid, the sebum produced becomes thick and clogs pores. Studies have shown individuals with acne tend to be deficient in linoleic acid. So, oils that are higher in linoleic acid and lower in oleic acid tend to be helpful in balancing your oil production, adding moisture, and preventing blemishes.

Using the right types of oils on your face after cleansing can improve your skin a lot. You need to base what you use on your own needs and how your skin reacts. Understanding the properties of different oils will allow you to do this. I prefer using a DIY face oil after I wash my face, rather than using a store bought lotion for this reason, it’s tailored to my needs. The mixture I tend to make includes:

  • Grapeseed oil, tamanu oil, rosehip seed oil, and jojoba oil

I recommend looking at the Complete List of Comedogenic Oils blog post from the Holistic Health Herbalist, which provides good detail on different oils.

This table shows a subset of oils and their composition of oleic and linoleic acids. These percentages don’t show the full story, since there are other fatty acids in oils (like pamitic acid and stearic acid for example).

Oil Oleic Acid Linoleic Acid
Higher in oleic acid
Macadamia oil 55-67% 1-5%
Marula oil 70-78% 4-7%
Sea Buckthorn oil 29% 7%
Palm fruit oil 41% 10%
Hazelnut oil 79% 12%
Neem oil 50% 13%
Shea nut oil 73% 14%
Avocado oil 65% 15%
Olive oil 63-80% 5-15%
Almond oil 62-86% 20-30%
Apricot Kernel oil 70% 23%
Balanced, but higher in oleic acid
Coconut oil (refined) 4.4% 0.95%
Coconut oil (unrefined) 5-10% 1-2%
Jojoba oil 5-15% 5%
Flaxseed oil 21% 16%
Tamanu oil 34-41% 29-38%
Argan oil 43% 37%
Balanced, but higher in linoleic acid
Castor oil 4% 4%
Pomegranate oil 5% 10%
Kukui nut oil 25% 40%
Sesame oil 39% 46%
Higher in linoleic acid
Rosehip seed oil 14% 44%
Soybean oil 24% 50%
Black cumin seed oil 22% 56%
Hemp seed oil 11% 56%
Pumpkin seed oil 23% 57%
Sunflower oil 30% 59%
Safflower oil 10-20% 70-80%
Grape seed oil 21% 63-72%
Evening primrose oil 8% 73%

A few notes on some of these oils:

  • Neem oil should be mixed with a carrier oil; while it’s high in oleic acid, it can be a good spot treatment due to its great antibacterial properties.
  • Jojoba oil is actually a plant wax and is compositionally very similar to human skin oil.
  • Some of my favorites for my face include rosehip seed oil, tamanu oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, and grapeseed oil.