What is oil cleansing?
For those of you who aren’t already familiar with the oil cleansing method (OCM), it’s a gentle, surfactant-free alternative to cleansing. The process is simple: a light, short massage with your oil(s) of choice, then wipe the oil off well with a damp cloth. This method can be much gentler than using a “traditional” cleanser, and has the advantage of being highly customizable, since you can choose the oil (or oils) you use.
If you’re new to oil cleansing, PURE mineral oil (often sold as cutting board oil) is a good one to start with, since it is very very well tolerated. You can buy Snow River Wood Oil on Amazon and at Bed, Bath and Beyond, or this mineral oil on iHerb.
Benefits of OCM:
- leaves skin moisturized
- can help reduce the appearance of sebaceous filaments (those “blackheads” on your nose aren’t actually blackheads!)
- very gentle alternative to modern cleansers
- many oils can be very beneficial for acne and compromised skin
Drawbacks of OCM:
- leaves a residue
- can’t follow directly with an AHA
- creates more laundry
- can be a bit messy
- wiping off the oil can cause irritation
How is a cleansing oil different?
With a pure oil, you can’t rinse it off with water, since oil and water just don’t mix (ever seen gasoline in a puddle of water?). Cleansing oils are a way to beat that, since they contain emulsifiers. Emulsifiers allow oil and water to mix. This means your oil rinses off cleanly, just like a cleanser. This solves all the drawbacks of OCM: there’s no more residue, which means no excess oil on the skin to inhibit an AHA’s effectiveness; less laundry, since you don’t have to wipe the oil off at all; less mess since you don’t have to deal with an oily cloth; no irritation from having to repeatedly wipe off the oil.
Tell me more about these magical emulsifiers!
Oil and water are mortal enemies: no matter how much you try to mix them, they will always separate into distinct layers. An emulsifier is a sort of middleman, which makes oil and water get along, like my dad keeping my brother and I from fighting each other. These molecules have two ends: a hydrophilic (water loving) end and a lipophilic (oil loving) end. The emulsifier coats the oil in your mixture, and when you go to rinse off the oil, the water won’t be repelled from the oil anymore, so the oil can be rinsed off (with a little rubbing).
Alright, I’m sold. So how do I do this?
The easiest, albeit more expensive way, is to buy a premade cleansing oil. The cheap way (and convenient if you already have an oil or mix that you love) is to go DIY! I know it sounds complicated, but I guarantee it’s super mega simple.
What do I need to make my own?
- An easy way to convert percentages to your volume measurement of choice. I like this one.
- A glass bottle, or something else to put it in
- Emulsifier: Polysorbate 20 or Cromollient SCE
- Preservative (optional, but highly recommended): optiphen
- Some way to accurately measure. (I like these pipettes.)
What’s a basic recipe for a cleansing oil?
- 5-15% emulsifier (10% is a good starting point)
- .5% optiphen (optional)
- fill up the rest of the bottle with your oil or mix of choice
- shake it up! With the top on, of course
That’s all fine and dandy, but what do you use, and why do you like it?
I searched high and low for a decent cleanser: one that didn’t dry or irritate my skin, make my moderate acne worse, or make my skin even more red. And I just couldn’t find one that fulfilled all these requirements. So I tried OCM, and that still didn’t meet my standards: my skin would be great the first couple days, and then get very irritated and angry with me from having to wipe off the oil. 9 months ago I heard about these magical ingredients called emulsifiers, and within a week I was absolutely in love. The perfect cleanser was the one I could make myself.
My current oil of choice is high linoleic safflower oil. It has an exceptionally high level of linoleic acid, which is proven to help acne, heal PIH, and improve barrier function. I use Cromollient SCE as my emulsifier, because it makes my oil cleanser extra emollient (smoothing and softening).