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If you aren't getting what you wanted from your facial or body oil, it's probably because you aren't using it correctly. Here's the right way.
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Oil Does Not Hydrate

Once and for all, OIL. DOES. NOT. HYDRATE. Sorry for the strong tone, but I'm so tired of seeing brands tout their oils as hydrating or moisturizing. It's become a trigger for me like common grammar errors, such as "different than" and "I wish I would of" and confusion over "there/their" and "its/it's." AAAARGH.

In an Instagram comment promoting Glossier's new Futuredew gleaming oil serum, the brand's social media person mentioned that the formula's "Jojoba, Grape Seed, Evening Primrose and Rosehip oils–along with plant-based squalane–deliver instant dewiness and hydration..."

GAH. Oil cannot deliver instant hydration. Oil cannot moisturize. Oil has no moisture in it. So oil cannot add hydration.

Hydration comes from moisture. From water. Water hydrates. Water moisturizes. In fact, water is the first on Futuredew's ingredient list, as it should be for a product like this. (Futuredew also contains light-reflecting components such as mica and pigment, but that's not at issue here.)

I'm not saying oil is useless, not at all. As an occlusive, it's a useful component in skin care and health. I use oil in my skincare routine. And of course, we know our bodies make oil – sebum (I wish that word were prettier) – that keeps skin and hair supple, and contributes to a healthy moisture barrier that keeps good things in the skin and bad things out. Oil helps skin hold onto water, slowing its all-too-eager evaporation from the epidermis. Yes, oil is an occlusive, a "light sheet" in comparison to petrolatum's "comforter."

what to apply before oil

When it comes to skin benefits, oil functions best when it has water to corral. Put oil on damp skin. That's when you get a nice glow instead of an instant oil slick. Whether you mist lightly with thermal water, or use an essence or hydrating serum (hello, Vichy Mineral 89) before applying oil, just make sure your skin isn't absolutely dry. Oil on dry skin is just basting – and it feels that way too.

I mean, if you use a hair oil, would you use it on dry hair? Hair brands are the only ones consistent with the right messaging: apply oil on wet or damp hair.

So, if you're using a straight-up oil, such as squalane, rose-hip, marula or some kind of blend – a formula that contains zero aqua or H2O – you want to apply all your actually hydrating stuff first, then mix a couple of drops with your moisturizer (which likely contains water) and put it on top.

I love oil for my body as well. Favourites include Weleda Sea Buckthorn Oil (although I'm hugely disappointed they call it "Hydrating" right on the darned box), and Dr. Hauschka Rose Body Oil. When I use them, I always, always, always smooth it on over damp skin post-shower, or mist my skin with thermal water first.

And cuticle oil, such as CND Solar Oil, is best used when hands are damp, not dry.

Oils are occlusive – a "light sheet" to petrolatum's "comforter." They slow water loss from the epidermis, so they're best applied on damp skin.

Oils are occlusive – a "light sheet" to petrolatum's "comforter." They slow water loss from the epidermis, so they're best applied on damp skin.

how i use oil on my face in the a.m.

Why don't I just share the steps I take before I apply oil on my face in the morning? (It's not my complete AM routine; another post to come.) After cleansing: 

  1. My application starts with a couple of moderate mistings of Avene Thermal Spring Water. I spray my face, let it sit for several seconds, use a small towel to dab off the excess, then repeat. 
  2. Then I immediately apply a hydrating essence or serum – Missha Time Revolution Essence or Innisfree Green Tea Seed Hydrating Serum
  3. Then I apply Korres Wild Rose 15% Vitamin C Spotless Serum, which I love because it's a bi-phase formula that feels like oil and water together!

water + oil texture = hydration and glow

Yep, I used an exclamation mark in that last sentence up there because I think putting water and oil-like ingredients in a bi-phase arrangement is clever. This format seems promising when it comes to giving you the results you aren't getting by applying oil on its own. Because water is part of the mix, an oil-in-water format should deliver plumping, hydrating and glowing benefits almost instantly.

Biotherm mixed water and oil textures in a gel-emulsion serum ages ago with their Blue Therapy Serum in Oil. Fresh did it in their recent Vitamin Nectar Glow Juice Antioxidant Face Serum. Glossier did it too with Futuredew, but ticked me off by spreading misinformation.

Now most of the serums mentioned in this post are not as simple as just "oil in water so you don't have to remember to put them on damp skin." But I can't explain that just yet; stay tuned.

over to you

Have you been using an oil as moisturizer, either for face or body or both, but with disappointing results? Oil as a skincare step isn't for everyone, but is it part of your regimen?

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