Svea. She’s got a sense of humour on top of her deluxe knowledge of oils

This is a guest post from a really cool girl named Svea who claims she’s not an oils expert, but compared to my knowledge, I think she sure comes close!

I realize that I’m a little too set on my jojoba oil and had a hunch that different people’s skin would react better to different oils, but I am not very good at external skincare subjects and I just didn’t know where to start.

Luckily I found Svea! Enjoy!

Also, check out Svea’s own blog here.

Let me introduce myself: I‘m no oil expert. I‘m an average girl, usually disorganized, dreaming, musing, but creative. I fear snakes, need 48 hour days, and love to watch Italian movies of the 1950ies – 1970ies. Maybe that‘s one of the reasons why I chose to live in Italy – apart from food, monuments and landscape. I love traveling, love to learn foreign languages, love the arts and architecture.

Before developing eczema and adult acne, I was an extreme skincare junkie, mixing and matching products with little consideration for what they contained. After a severe breakout, I was fed up with antibiotic pills and lotions that just masked the problem. Then I decided to take matters into my own hands: good food, sports, minimal skincare. I still have to lower my stress levels and – above all – I still have to learn to listen to myself much more.

However, I do not believe anymore in external skin care being able to fix a serious acne problem, but I believe in the force of nature. I think, a very mild and elemental skincare regimen can help to rebalance your skin. Personally, I love oils. I tried so many of them over the last few years, that I‘d like to share my experience with you.

But remember: Less is more! You will be surprised that I‘m washing and moisturizing my face only once a day. At the moment I‘m going mad for rosehip oil. Just two or three drops, and my skin feels like heaven. That‘s all.

How to Use Oils

First of all: Always apply only a few drops of oil to damp skin – or wash off the excess oil, patting the skin with a towel afterwards, just like Tracy does (or did, since she‘s living with the cavemen now). 

Good quality organic and cold pressed (or CO2-extracted) oils won‘t clog your pores, but you can still easily create a very thick layer of far too much oil on your face, which means your skin won‘t be able breathe! Forget about ZeroZits! I personally do not believe in those comedogenic ingredients-sheets. The listed oils and fats were tested years ago on rabbit ears without even differentiating between “cold pressed”, “refined”, “organic”, “non-organic” or “hydrogenated”. That makes a great difference.

On the other hand, I think that the combination of fats with other questionable ingredients represents the biggest breakout potential in most commercial products: fats plus emulsifiers (i.e. PEG-esters or anything labelled “ethyl-“, “ceteareth-“, “cethyl-“, “stearyl-“) or film building agents (i.e. silicone, paraffin, glycerin, triglycerides, …), not to mention preservatives, perfume and solvents.

So if you are courageous, just try different oils as a moisturizer! Do not expect an overnight miracle though. It just takes time to find the right dose of the right oil for your own individual skin type. Your choices might change with the seasons, your own personal life cycle or your mood.

Oils and Skin Types

I‘ll give you some brief indication about how to detect, which oil is good for you: If your skin looks matte, not stressed, feels well rested, dewy and moisturized, you‘re definitely on the right track. If your skin “feels wrong”, looks patchy, the oil just lies on top of your skin and does not sink in very well, don‘t continue to use it. Oils should be absorbed completely. If not, your skin might not need any moisturizing at all. Not every skin needs external care.

Nevertheless, let‘s have a closer look at those oils. What are oils, exactly?

Oils and fats consist of fatty acids. There are saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Every oil is characterized by an individual spectrum of fatty acids, vitamins and other substances (phospholipids, plant sterols, squalene, flavonoids, carotenoids and many more) that make it either great for your skin or inappropriate.

Everybody is different and reacts differently to different oils. There are non-drying (heavier) and drying (lighter) oils. That is basically just a figurative expression of how quickly and easily an oil is absorbed into your skin or if it is well suited for dry skin. In painting, for example, linseed and poppy-seed oil are used. Both are extremely fast-drying oils.

So what makes the difference between slowly and fast-drying oils? Their composition of fatty acids: oleic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, lauric acid and so on.

A high proportion of oleic acid – a mono-unsaturated fatty acid – characterizes all these velvety oils, which feel so soft and nice on dry skin: olive, macadamia, avocado, canola or hazelnut oil, for instance. These oils are slowly-drying oils and do not turn rancid too fast.

On the other hand, a high amount of linoleic acid makes an oil lighter. These oils are particularly good for acne prone skin because linoleic acid seems to have the ability to reduce comedones. Of course, it won‘t work in just a few days, but after a month or two you might see a difference!

Oils containing a high percentage of linoleic acid are: thistle/safflower oil, hemp oil, grape seed oil, sunflower oil and rosehip oil. Evening primrose oil, borage seed oil and black currant seed oil do not only contain a high amount of linoleic acid, but are also very good choices for dermatitis sufferers due to another specific fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is considered to promote healthy skin growth and works as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Unfortunately, all these lighter, fast-drying oils get rancid very easily and are not very resistant to sunlight, so be sure to store them in the fridge and to use them preferably at night or during the winter months (at least if you want to avoid hyper-pigmentation or age spots).

This is a summary of a very interesting study about linoleic acid used as a topical in connection
with acne:

“A major pathogenic factor of acne is the disturbed keratinization of the follicular infundibulum. It has been hypothesized that a relative decrease in linoleic acid in the sebum could be responsible, in part, for this. The aim of the present study was objectively to evaluate the effects of topically applied linoleic acid on the size of microcomedones in patients with mild acne.

The design was a double-blind placebo controlled randomized cross-over study. Evaluations were performed by digital image analysis of cyanoacrylate follicular biopsies. There was a significant effect of topically applied linoleic acid on the size of follicular casts and microcomedones, an almost 25% reduction in their overall size being achieved over a 1-month treatment period. In contrast, no change was found at placebo-treated sites. It is concluded that topical linoleic acid might play a role as a comedolytic agent in acne-prone patients.“

Letawe C, Boone M, Pierard GE: Digital image analysis of the effect of topically applied linoleic acid on acne microcomedones. In:
Clin Exp Dermatol., 1998 Mar;23(2):56-8.

Then, of course, there are oils composed by almost equal parts of oleic acid and linoleic acid. These oils are neither extremely light nor extremely oily. Almond, sesame and plum kernel oil (a little more on the oily side) or apricot kernel oil (a quite balanced oil) are some good examples.

What about shea butter and coconut oil?

These fats consist of mainly saturated fatty acids and are solid at room temperature. Shea butter, mango butter, cocoa butter, cupuacu butter and palm oil are rich in stearic acid and palmitic acid. Many people can use these plant butters without problems, even straight on their skin. Others might find them too heavy and greasy. Plant butters can provoke some kind of semi-occlusive effect, but might turn your skin into the smoothest ever due to palmitic acid! I LOVE plant butters as a cold-cream in winter, for example.

Coconut and babassu oil are another special case. These fats contain a saturated fatty acid called lauric acid – the same component, which makes soaps foam. Moreover, these oils are very stable, can be heated at high temperatures and are easily absorbed into the skin.

How to Chose a Good Quality Oil for Skincare

Most oils in commercial moisturizers – including products from organic brands – are refined or at least partially refined oils. Unrefined shea butter and argan oil in a good quality for instance could never become a bestseller just because of their “fragrance” – polite people might say it has some kind of a “nutty” touch.

Cold-pressed wheat germ oil is a very dense, yellowy orange liquid and smells like sourdough. Nobody wants that in a face cream. Organic rosehip fruit oil has an extremely fancy deep orange color (that’s the carotenoids), cold pressed avocado oil is of an intense emerald green color. Nature is so beautiful! Nevertheless, no customer would buy a frog-colored cream. That‘s why in most commercial products you will find only refined, filtered, deodorized or interesterified oils and fats.

First of all: prefer to buy oils from certified organic cultivation! You don’t want to slash pesticides and chemicals onto your face. Try to learn about organic certification standards. Use Google! Each label (USDA, Soil Association, BDHI, …) has its own guidelines as to what qualifies as “organic”. The purity and “naturalness” of a product can vary greatly depending on the body it is certified by.

Done that, have another close look at the label: “virgin” AND “cold pressed” or “CO2- extracted” oils are the best quality you could probably get. Don‘t be put off by a little (!) bit of turbidity, an intense color or a very specific scent: this is actually an indication of quality and authenticity. Unfortunately, the world‘s oil market is dominated by a handful of large companies aiming to maximize profits. So it‘s no surprise, why most often the small oil mills try to offer much higher quality products. Just be aware, that an excellent oil requires a high level of manual skills, expertness and careful elaboration – this also means that a good quality oil cannot be cheap.

Anyway, thinking about the small quantities we might actually need (30 ml should be sufficient for approximately 4 months used on face, neck and décolleté!!!), prices are still quite low compared to most commercial moisturizers. Therefore, buy only very small quantities! One, two or three small flasks of different oil types should be enough!

A Little Oil Encyclopedia (For Hardcore-Readers)

Food Grade – Cosmetic Grade?

If possible, buy edible oils! Food grade oils are subject to clear legal regulations, whereas the quality of “cosmetic grade” oils is not always that clear: in some countries oils HAVE to be refined to be marketed, if the proportion of free fatty acids and peroxides exceeds the prescriptive limits. Other oils might be blended with cheaper qualities. Unfortunately, this is not always declared on the label and affects mostly almond, avocado, olive and wheat germ oil. So check your local (health) food store first for organic cold pressed oils: it’s much cheaper, too! You might find safflower (thistle), sunflower, sesame, olive, coconut or even grape seed oil or cocoa butter. – I guess I don‘t have to tell you not to eat “cosmetic grade” oils and fats! You won‘t buy them anyway!!!


The term “unrefined” apparently seems to express absolute pureness, but “unrefined” oils aren‘t necessarily as pure and natural as you might think: the seeds might have been roasted, the oil might have been filtered after being extracted, treated with hot water, steam or externally added heat. “Unrefined” only means that the oil has not been bleached or deodorized.

Cold Pressed?

A frequent eye-catching quality attribute for vegetable oils is the statement “cold pressed”. Despite the processing name, a certain amount of heat is produced during the process due to friction. For an oil to be marketed as “cold pressed” though the temperature must not rise above 120°F (49°C). Unfortunately, the term “cold pressed” is not legally protected and allows a broad field if interpretation. “Cold-pressed” simply means that no external heat is added. Cold-pressed oils can be subsequently refined, deodorized, treated with hot water or steam or come from previously roasted seeds. If you buy oils labeling only this short term, you cannot be entirely sure to purchase a high-quality, “virgin” or “native” natural oil. The term “cold pressed” assures higher prices and is therefore used very frequently.


However, technology is constantly developing. CO2-extraction is a good example: CO2 in its fluid state is passed through raw plant material, extracting all biologically “active” components. This process takes place at about 85°F (30°C) without any thermal stress and without using any kind of solvents. The low temperature and lack of emissions make it an extremely environmentally friendly process. The extraction is done in a virtual vacuum, with no oxygen present. No oxygen means absolutely no risk of oxidization. This is particularly important for oils prone to turning rancid such as sea buckthorn, rosehip, hemp or grape seed oil. During cold pressing oxygen is present throughout, causing the oxidization process of these oils to start immediately.

Virgin (or Native) Oils

The term “virgin” (or “native”) is a high guarantee of quality. “Virgin” oils are “cold-pressed” and have not been treated with external heat before or during the extraction process. No further processing is allowed. This means: no refining, no washing, no filtering, no centrifugation, no deodorizing.

Extra Virgin Oils

This is the maximum! The term “extra virgin” is used for olive oil only. Until now, there is no precise legal regulation for other oils to use this term. Olive oil that comes from virgin oil production contains no more than 0.8% acidity and is judged to have a superior taste. During the extraction process the temperature must not exceed 86°F (30°C). Extra virgin olive oil does not undergo any kind of further treatment after extraction.

This is the end. Finally.

Well, almost. I‘d still like to propose some oil-mix ideas:

Oily skin: hemp, safflower and apricot kernel oil / rosehip, evening primrose and jojoba oil

Dry skin: macadamia, almond and wheat germ oil / olive, avocado and hemp oil

Invent your own mixes! Just be creative and have fun!

And please remember: less is more!

Have you ever tried different oils as a moisturizer? What have your experiences been?

photo by Julie70