Thrive Tries It: Does Washing Your Face With Oil Cure Acne?

October 6, 2015
by Michelle Pellizzon for Thrive Market
Thrive Tries It: Does Washing Your Face With Oil Cure Acne?

Three different types of oil. Two washcloths. A bowl of steaming hot water. I looked at my face in the mirror, took a deep breath, dipped my fingers into the oil combination, and began to rub it into my pores.

Don't mind me. I'm just washing my face with oil.

Breaking out just reading about it? I hear you. If you've ever encountered complexion issues, you've probably been told that oil is basically the devil. The two people I ask most about skincare—my dermatologist and my mom (duh)—constantly reminded me throughout my teenage years to use oil-free moisturizers, shine-eliminating face wash, and of course, blot away oil with those little blue absorbent sheets.

But when beauty companies started selling oil-based cleansers that promised to make skin look silky smooth and help protect delicate complexions from aging, I wanted in. The only downside of these cleansers? Their luxury price tags.

But oil cleansing isn't a new method—it's been around for a while as an all-natural, DIY solution for clearing acne and fighting fine lines and wrinkles.

The theory behind oil cleansing is that those acne-fighting cleansers and scrubs actually dry out skin, stripping your face of the natural oils that it needs to maintain balance, and healthy skin. Once natural oils are stripped, skin works overtime to produce moisture and rebalance the complexion, resulting in way more oil than normal, leading to shiny, uneven skin, and more pimples.

Many oil cleansing proponents go as far to say that washing with oil actually breaks down the dirt in pores naturally, leaving skin super clean and soft at the same time. No acne, no wrinkles, and glowing supermodel skin—all by breaking a cardinal rule of acne fighting.

Sounds dope, right? The more I researched, the more I wanted to rub oil all over my face. But for every DIY beauty trick that has hoards of followers, there are detractors with horror stories, too. Commenters complained that washing with oil resulted in "deep, cystic acne" and "HORRIBLE breakouts." It was risky, but I had to try it.

First, I prep my face washing station with oils, hot water to steam my pores, and multiple washcloths. I have combination skin, so according to my research I would be best off using a mixture of castor oil—a somewhat astringent oil—with another more emollient one like avocado oil. Then I add a few drops of lavender and rosemary essential oils to the mix because of their healing properties. And because they smell good.

You're supposed to gently massage the oil into skin in circles to remove makeup, dirt, and other oil. I like this part—it feels more pampering than my usual quick scrub and rinse. And the oil easily breaks down my makeup and makes it easy to wipe off.

Next, you're supposed to steam your face—apparently this helps the oil penetrate the skin better and break down the nasty stuff in clogged pores. I am not exactly sure if I want the oil to penetrate my pores more effectively, but it's part of the process and I want to do this right. I drape a towel over my head and leaned over the hot water. Obviously, I begin sweating immediately. I start thinking about the oil and my sweat mixing together and I panic, recalling the internet comments about cystic acne and scarring. And then I relax, because how stressed can you actually be when you're luxuriating over a steam bath?

After about three minutes, I emerge from under the towel, start to wipe off the oil with a warm washcloth. And that's it—roughly 15 minutes later, my face is clean!

I continue this face washing process for about four days, and then I have to stop. But it's not why you think.

Let's talk about my skin. It was amazing. Soft, moisturized, and really glowing, no joke. I noticed that when I didn't steam my face, it seemed like the oil clogged pores a little more easily. But I was lucky enough to avoid any horrible breakouts.

I would totally stick to this method, but the sheer amount of laundry that I generate from washing my face twice a day is overwhelming—you have to use a fresh washcloth every time. And the time spent on this process... It's impossible in the morning, and in the evenings it starts to get tedious.  Plus, I'm hopelessly devoted to my current skincare routine: Wash with probiotic soap, tone with lavender witch hazel, finish up with rosehip oil and a bit of essential oil. It works, and it's easy.

That being said, when winter skin takes over, I might integrate oil washing into my weekly routine for extra hydration. I'll warn you now—if you're worried about breakouts, oil washing may not be the thing for you to try. But who knows, maybe it will be the key to getting your best skin ever!

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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This article is related to: Beauty, DIY, Non-Toxic, Skincare

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  • Shari

    Michelle, you don't have to oil cleanse twice a day; I never have. You really only need to do it once a day, typically at night. Even better, you don't necessarily have to even wash the next morning ... that's completely up to the individual. Some people don't feel "clean" without washing so if that's you, keep your routine. I sometimes wash in the morning, others I don't. As for breakouts, that typically only happens in the 1-2 week adjustment period your skin goes through when you first start the method. I was fortunate enough not to have that issue, even with combination skin, but I did notice my skin was far less oily in the T-Zone (oil dissolves oil) and softer and more supple in the drier spots. I would check out the Fat Face Skincare line - it's all organic and each batch is handmade. She has 3 different versions of the cleansing oil: for dry skin, oily skin and combo skin.

  • Geena Berry

    I totally love oil cleansing! After a heinous breakout that lasted over a month from using May Kay products I decided to use more natural products in my routine. At first I tried honey and oat flour (which i now use once a week or so as a mask), but decided to try oil a couple of months later. My face has never been happier. Honestly, I do not use a clean washcloth each time I cleanse my face, but I do make sure to rinse it with soap and water after each use. Also, I don't stand over steam, just place the washcloth with hot water on my face and let it sit there for a few seconds, twice. A shortened version that might work well for other people :)

  • semily1980

    Like Shari, I also only wash once a day when using the oil cleansing method. I
    cleanse at night and in the morning just give my face a quick rinse with
    warm water. I agree the laundry aspect was a pain at first, until I
    just bought more washcloths. I also switched to microfiber cloths instead of traditional cotton. They are gentler on my sensitive skin.

  • Jacki

    Michelle; like Shari, I only oil cleanse at night. And I don't steam for 15 minutes. I hold the hot wash cloth near my face for 2-3 minutes tops (kind of cupping it around my face so it has some space). In the morning, I let me face get wet in the shower and then use ACV as a toner. Then I apply Vitamin E and Rosehip oil as a moisturizer. I have VERY oily skin and suffered from acne (blackheads, whiteheads, constant under the skin bumps) clear into my late 30's. When I switched to this method, I now get 1 pimple a month, and you can guess when. Also, the breakouts that some experience, there is a bit of a detox period that can happen and if folks push through for a bit, they may find those breakouts clear up. Adding in a clay mask during the transition, could be helpful.

  • Stephanie Hill

    I would just do the oil cleansing at night when you want to make sure all make-up has been removed from your skin. I never did the steaming over a bowl but rather just used a washcloth that was very warm to "steam" my face. Worked quite well. I have dry skin and used a mix of castor oil and olive oil.

  • Tammy Allcorn Ellis

    I've been doing this for several months now. I'm 52 and HAD very oily skin. I use a mixture of castor oil to olive oil 2/1 and I steam my face with a hot as I can tolerate, wash cloth for several minutes. Usually I wet the cloth with hot tap water, place on my face and leave until the cloth begans to cool then repeat the process at least 2 more times. Then I use apple cider vinager diluted with filtered water 2ACV/1H2O as an astringent. My face has been clear, soft and way less oily than ever!! I only do this at night, and when I bathe in the morning I use Kirks Castille soap, and follow with the ACV/H2O. There is sometimes a breakout period in the beginning as the oil pulls the impurities out of your skin. I do add a few drops of lavender, clary sage and tea tree oils also.

  • Deborah

    Why not try Mother Dirt products: no clogged pores or breakouts, and replicates and preserves the skin's natural microbiome. I follow cleansing with a blend of carrot, geranium, clove, frankincense and argan oils to moisturize, and I apply on slightly moist skin.

  • dragonslerra

    The only thing I ever use on my face is coconut oil. I switched about a year ago. I am 50, and get compliments on my skin all the time. It also clears up my teenage son's acne (when he remembers to actually do it ;) ). Like the others have said, I only cleanse my face once a day. Either before bed, or before I get in the shower.

  • Rhianna Warrick Amir

    I've been using the oil cleansing method for more than three years now. Before using oil, I would break out about once a month (or more if I was stressed about something), I would frequently get painful deep cystic acne around my chin/jaw area, my skin was drab and dull (almost like I had a mask on) and I felt terrible about the way I looked.

    I found oil cleansing by chance on the Internet and decided to give it a try. I am by no means a purist - I try everything and almost always improvise, if the rules look like they'll work for me I'll stick to them, if they don't then I wont. I usually try it the way it's supposed to be done at least a few times. That being said, there are many different descriptions about how to oil cleanse on the net. I also started with a morning and night cleanse and spent several minutes over the bowl steaming.

    Now, I'm a mother of two small children, which means any beauty routine has to revolve around them so meditating over the steam bowl for 15 min is basically an invitation to play "mommy jungle gym", in other words, not going to happen!

    What I've found to be easiest is to do it in the shower, once a day. I reuse my washcloth a couple of times, washing it afterward and hanging it to dry. My skin gets prepped in the shower by the steam, I cleanse with a 20%castor, 80%olive(winter) or almond(summer). I put the washcloth over my face and then my face under the water from the shower for a few minutes. I imagine something peaceful to give me a sense of well being.

    I don't break out at all anymore. If I feel my skin is a bit unhappy I adjust the ratio of oils. If I get a blemish I dab straight castor oil on it daily until it dries up and goes away without incident. My skin is soft and has a glow throughout the day. I don't have anymore redness or irritation. I've never been happier with the way my skin looks and feels!

  • Sandra

    I'm 55 years old and suffered from combination skin. I don't wear makeup as my skin dislikes it intensively and have found that I only needed to oil cleanse about once every week and a half. In between, I simply place a wet hot washcloth over my face and wipe (morning). I also do this after profuse sweating. No more breakouts, no zones oily or dry. If a bit dry, I rub some oil in. I do mix Tamanu and neem oil into my basic sweet almond/castor oil mix. Castor oil amount decreases based on how dry my skin is for the season.

  • sisterlilbunny

    DHC Olive Oil user here. And yup, I use it at night to get the makeup off the best. And I don't have to use an extra night routine that way. I still have problems with my chin but that's no matter what I use. The routine you did is a nice "spa" treat but really take a look at what everyone has recommended. So much easier and you get great results!!

  • Johnny

    I never tried oil cleansing, seemed weird. What worked for me though was
    CHANGING my whole approach to acne because of a guide I found on and it cleared up within a week! It was embarrassing as
    an adult to still deal with acne, so glad it's gone.

  • Rae Roberts

    I've had a lot of luck with oil cleansing, as well. The trick I found to save time with the tedious process is to massage the oil into my face before a shower. Then I bring in a clean washcloth into the shower with me, run my nice hot shower, and by the time I've finished, the steam has helped open up the facial pores. A quick wiping with the clean washcloth for my face, and I'm done. It's nice to not have a whole area by the sink to clean up. Just some ideas. Oil cleansing works amazingly well! Thanks for sharing your tips!