How to Use Cooking Oils as Part of Your Skin Care Routine

Affordable Oils Make Great Skincare Products 

Everywhere we look these days we see beauty oils, both carrier and essential oils, aimed at helping us to keep our skin in top shape. While these oils are useful, they can be expensive and difficult to find. Here are some affordable oils you can find on your grocery store shelf that make an excellent addition to your beauty kit.

Sunflower Oil Opened My Eyes

In 2007, during my first week at esthetics school, I was surprised to see amidst the lotions and potions a bottle of sunflower oil I’d seen on the grocery store shelves. It struck me as a bit of a scam. Shouldn’t the oils we were using be legitimate beauty oils? When I asked a teacher about it she laughed.

"It's loaded with essential fatty acids that skin loves," she told me. "When the time comes to use it, we'll dispense it into a pretty bottle before taking it to where a client can see it. That's all the manufacturers of beauty oils do before they sell them to us."

Of course! It was so obvious, once it was explained to me. In the 'smoke and mirrors' world of the beauty industry packaging is often as important as product.

How to Choose the Right Culinary Oils for Your Face

If the idea of putting oil on your face seems counterintuitve, it’s probably because you grew up learning to remove oil to prevent acne outbreaks. But the truth is, even if you have acne you can benefit from using oils on our face, providing you choose the right oils for you.

Comedogenic vs Non-Comedogenic

The Comedogenic Rating Scale rates oils according to the likelihood that they’ll clog pores and potentially trigger acne and general inflammation. It was developed by dermatologists and introduced to the skincare industry in the 1970’s.

Basically, the scale determined how much acne an oil caused when it was applied to rabbits' ears. If it caused no acne then it was given a zero rating and called non-comedogenic, and if it caused a lot of acne it was given a four and called comedogenic. The scale is considered to be outdated by those in the know.

These days, dermatologists and industry experts agree that a better indicator of an oil’s comedogenicity are the essential fatty acids (EFA) it contains. Much of what we know about the the effects of EFAs on skin is the result of tests involving inexpensive cooking oils in the care of premature infants in the developing world. Inexpensive oils such as sunflower have been useful in improving the barrier function in the babies' skin, thereby, saving their lives.

What Gives Oils Their Curative Powers?

With a few exceptions, vegetable oils are made up of predominantly unsaturated fatty acids of two kinds: monounsaturated (oleic acid) and polyunsaturated (linoleic and linolenic acids).

Oils with a high concentration of linoleic acids tend to be lighter and less comedogenic, while those that contain a lot of oleic acid are heavier and better suited to people with drier skin.

Knowing your skin type is the first step to choosing the right oil. Then, you can find out how much linoleic and linolenic and or oleic acid is contained in whatever oil you are considering and determine if it’s worth trying. If you have what's known as 'normal' skin, which is neither dry nor oily, you will need to experiment a little to discover which oils work best for you. If you have combination skin, then you might benefit from a combination of oils applied to different areas of your face.

How to Determine Your Skin Type 

In the morning, before you wash your face, take a piece of tissue paper and gently press it to different areas of your face. Hold it up to the light each time you press it and see if there's an oily patch on it.

If there isn't any oil on the tissue your skin is dry. If it's clearly moistened you have oily skin. If it's very lightly marked, then you have normal skin. Obviously, this test is subjective, but most of us have an intuitive idea of our skin type simply because we live in our skins everyday. That said, our skin changes with the seasons and as we age.

Common Kitchen Oils You Can Use on Your Skin

Thre are so many vegetable oils available today that it’s beyond the scope of this post to consider them all. The oils I'm listing are simply those that make good skin oils, are affordable and can be easily found.

I looked to Wikipedia to find out the ratios of oleic to linoleic acids in common household oils.

Canola: With a ratio of almost 4:1 oleic to linoleic acid, you'd better steer clear of this one if you're worried about clogging your pores. On the other hand, if your skin is dry, canola oil would be a good choice. Here's a link to one of the better canola products.

Corn: Corn oil contains twice as much linoleic acid as it does oleic acid, so we can assume it is relatively non-comedogenic. Corn oil also contains vitamins C and E and lycopene, antioxidants that help to improve the texture of skin.

Coconut: Always buy the solid form of coconut oil. It’s a saturated fat, and as such it should be solid at room temperature. If it’s liquified it’s been heavily processed, so most of the fatty acids, which are what make it beneficial to your skin, will have been destroyed.

Keep in mind that coconut oil contains caprylic acid, which doesn’t agree with everyone’s skin. If you’re using coconut oil and your skin seems bumpy and/or red, it's probably because of the caprylic acid. On the other hand, because caprylic acid is known to be antibacterial and antimicrobial, it can help to control acne and soothe skin.

Cottonseed: As one of the cheapest oils in the North America, cottonseed is the oil of choice in many processed foods. As cotton is not a food, there is concern that farmers over-spray this crop with pesticides. The fact that most cotton is grown from genetically modified seeds also worries people. All that said, if you still want to experiment with cottonseed oil, it has almost three times as much linoleic acid as oleic acid, so it's probably non-comedogenic. Here's a link to an organic cottonseed oil.

Hemp: This one makes a lovely face oil. It's light and absorbs quickly into skin. With six times the linoleic acid to oleic acid, it’s a clear winner for anyone who is dealing with an oily complexion and concerned about acne. It’s becoming easier to find organic, cold pressed hemp seed oil, and although it’s one of the pricier edible oils it’s still cheaper than many beauty products.

Olive: A mature woman’s best friend. With seven times the oleic acid to linoleic acid, olive oil is a rich emollient that will nourish the driest of skins. It’s easy to find olive oil at a range of price points and it’s all non-GMO. Buy extra virgin to get the most antioxidants, including a very generous dose of vitamin E.

Safflower: Here’s another winner if you’re not worried about acne. The ratio of oleic to linoleic acid in safflower oil is roughly 6:1, so it’s emollient rich and ideal for dry skin. Bonus: Safflower oil is relatively cheap, and it’s non-GMO.

Soybean: Natural, organic soybean oil is quite different from the type of soybean on supermarket shelves. Organic soybean oil is reputed to be a healthy oil, beneficial when ingested and when used in and skin care. With a little over twice as much linoleic acid as oleic acid, it’s not terribly comedogenic. Might be worth trying if you've got normal to oily skin.

Keep in mind most supermarket soybean oil comes from genetically modified seeds, and crops that were heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, so it doesn’t get thumbs up from the health-conscious crowd.

Sunflower: Different types of sunflowers produce different fatty acid profiles. If you have very dry skin lok for high oleic acid sunflower oil. It can be as high as 21:1 with linoleic. This is the ratio of the oil used to prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) in premature infants. in the developing world.

How to Use Cooking Oils to Care for Your Skin

It’s easy to incorporate cooking oils into your skin care routine because they’re so versatile. If you want to use your oil in the bathroom, dispense it into a bottle and protect it from light. I like to keep my oils in spray or pump bottles, because it makes them so easy to use.

Use a light touch when using oils on your face and body, particularly those high in oleic acid. Overdoing it will make you feel slimy instead of moisturized. And be careful using oils around your eyes: Having a oily residue on your eyeball isn’t dangerous but it is unpleasant. (I speak from experience!)

Make-up remover: Dab a little oil on a cotton pad and use it just as you would a commercial make-up remover. When you’re done, you can either wash your face with a cleanser or you can simply rinse with warm water and pat dry.

Cleansing oil: In the Mediterranean, people used to use a strigil and oil to cleanse themselves before washing. You can do the same today with a discarded credit or other plastic card: Cover yourself in oil and then scrape it off with the edge of the card.

Sweat and sebum and dead skin cells are easily scraped away with oil. Air pollution, which is often made up of microscopic droplets of oily residue can similarly be wiped away. Again, you can follow with a cleanser or simply use warm water and pat dry.

Bath oil: How deep do you like your bath to be? That will dictate how much oil to add to your bath water. I have a big, deep bath and when I fill it I find a quarter cup or 60 ml of oil is enough to soften my skin.

Use caution if you do use oil in your bath: Move slowly and hold on to something, so you don't slip and fall. 

Hair oil: A very light application  of oil applied to wet hair will improve flexibility and sheen when it dries. You'll need to experiment to find the amount that adds sheen without droop. I have shoulder-length hair, and I find that a drop about the size of my baby finger nail is enough.

When I'm in the bath, I float my bottle of oil in the water to make hot oil treatment. I smooth the oil through my hair, relax for a while, and then wash it out before I leave the tub. The oil will helps to smooth the hair shaft and leaves my hair feeling silky.

Nail oil: If your cuticles are looking a little ragged, massage your oil of choice into them any chance you get. You can also massage oil into your nails. It won’t penetrate but it might make them a little less brittle. If you're a swimmer, oil your nails before going in the pool; it will help to protect them from chlorine.

Body oil: Massage yourself or have your partner massage you with your oil of choice. Edible oils also make excellent vaginal lubricants.

Body scrub: Add one-part oil to three-parts sugar and mix well. Your scrub should have the consistency of wet sand.

This simple sugar scrub is an effective and inexpensive exfoliant.
Stand on a towel and rub it on your body before you get in the shower or bath. Rinse off and you’ll be amazed at how silky soft your skin will be. (Again, take care! When you’re working with oil you can get slippery and fall.)

Face exfoliant: Try the same sugar scrub on your face. Use a delicate touch and move it around in a circular motion for a minute or so. Then, rinse with warm water and pat dry. Exfoliate your face every second day. If you become red or sensitive, shift to once every three or four days. If you’re still sensitive, it might be enough to exfoliate once a week or once every two weeks. You be the judge.

You might not even need to use moisturizer after using this scrub, because it’s so hydrating. But if you do want to use moisturizer, your product will penetrate more effectively, because your skin will be free of excess keratinocytes, (the cells that make up the top layer of your epidermis).

Adding essential oils: If you want to add essential oils to your homemade oil products, check out my post: Using Essential Oils Safely


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