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

Last Update: March 7, 2024

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

This article is related to:

Beauty, DIY, Non-Toxic, Skin Care

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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