Dermatologist-Reviewed Articles

How the Face-Oil Cleansing Method Works

woman cleansing face with oil

You wash your face in an effort to get rid of excess oil, but what about applying excess oil onto your face to cleanse? It may seem counterintuitive, particularly if you fear shiny skin. But those who have been won over by oils are sold on these botanicals’ ability to cleanse the day away while keeping skin in balance.

Why Add More Oil?

So what’s the logic behind adding more oil in order to subtract it? The idea behind the oil-cleansing method (OCM) is that adding good oils counters the bad oils. After letting the facial oil sit on the skin, these “good” oils bind with the “bad” existing oils on your face—which usually consist of excess sebum, makeup and other surface impurities—and get rinsed away. These good oils also balance out the skin’s oil production instead of stripping away beneficial oils with the bad. Oil cleansing gently dissolves makeup and dirt, all while adding needed moisture to the skin, improving overall skin tone and saturating pores with anti-aging antioxidants.

Not All Oils Are Alike

So what is the proper blend to use for cleansing? Instead of lanolin and mineral oil traditionally found in baby oils, oils used to cleanse the skin are pure botanical oils tailored to each skin type: safflower oil for combination skin, olive oil for sensitive skin, sunflower oil for dry skin or diluted castor oil to counter active sebaceous glands in oily skin. Topical vitamins such as C and E and other active ingredients such as green tea extract are also found in many commercially prepared cleansing oils. If you have very sensitive skin or are allergy-prone, you’ll want to test an oil first in case you develop allergic contact dermatitis.

The Method

Oil cleansing is not just about using the right oils; it’s also about using the oils the right way. The oil-cleansing method starts with dry skin and a small amount of an oil blend fit for your skin type rubbed between your palms. Gently massage that oil into your skin for as long as you’d normally cleanse, either at the sink or in the shower. Top this off with a steam treatment: Saturate a clean washcloth with hot tap water, wring it out and rest it on your skin to soak up the steam until cool. That removes most of the oil cleanser; you can also dab excess oil away with the washcloth.

What Experts Say

While the oil-cleansing method has earned more than a few devotees, the jury is still out among some dermatologists—particularly when it comes to cleansing acne-prone skin. Breakouts could be exacerbated by applying more oil to a face that’s already experiencing irritation and oil-blocked pores as evidenced by pimples. If the oil-cleansing method increases acne, switch back to a water-based cleanser and salicylic acid for spot treatment.


This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.

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