6 Cleansing Oil Mistakes a Dermatologist Says People Make All the Time

Photo: Getty Images/ Artem Varnitsin
If you want to spark a debate about skin care, all you have to do is bring up cleansing oils. Some believe they're the holy grail of hydrating cleansers that effectively work to whisk away makeup on all skin types, while others stand firmly behind the idea that you should never, ever use them (especially on oily and acne-prone complexions). There is, however, one thing upon which all dermatologists agree: If you are going to use a cleansing oil, there are a few important mistakes to avoid.

“Cleansing oils are an oil in water emulsion, meaning that small droplets of oil are immersed in water where they are insoluble,” says Lian A. Mack, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. “Because like dissolves like, cleansing oils literally melt makeup away, more specifically waterproof makeup. They also help to remove sebum or oil on the skin, and clean out clogged pores. Moreover, they help lock in moisture and may help mature or aged skin look more youthful.”

Experts In This Article

Board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, is also a big fan of cleansing oils. "Cleansing oils are great as the first step in your cleansing routine, especially for people who wear makeup," she says. "I would recommend it be used for sensitive or dry-skinned people, who wear makeup, as a gentle method of removing stubborn products without over-drying the skin."

While both Dr. Nazarian and Dr. Mack recommend cleansing oils and believe they can be used universally by all skin types, they see many people making the same six mistakes that prevent the product from working to its full potential.

The Most Common Cleansing Oil Mistakes

1. Applying it to wet skin

While most lathering face washes need to be mixed with water in order to operate, the opposite holds true for cleansing oils. "The biggest mistake I see people making is mixing cleansing oil with water before it's been rubbed into the skin," says Dr. Nazarian. "Your goal is to allow the oil to blend with the natural oils, dirt, and makeup on your face, and since water and oil repel each other, introducing water will only interfere with the process and prevent the product from effectively cleaning the dirt and oils off your skin." Instead, be sure to massage your cleansing oil in circular motions on a completely dry complexion, then add H2O into the mix.

2. Using cold water

When it comes to effectively removing cleansing oil, the temperature of the water you use plays an important role. "The colder the water, the more likely the oil will firm towards solid state, and render it ineffective," says Dr. Nazarian. "Warmer temperatures ensure the oil stays in a liquid state, and combine more effectively with the oils and dirt on our skin." The key here is "warm"—not "hot"—because hot water will strip your skin barrier and negate some of the nourishing elements of the oil cleanser.

3. Not rinsing entirely

Unlike facial oils, which serve as a final hydrating step after your moisturizer and are meant to stay on your skin all day, cleansing oils need to be completely removed. Otherwise, they can cause breakouts and can prevent your other products from working properly. "Aside from potential irritation, which is one of the most important reasons the oils should be rinsed off, many oils may prevent absorption of other products," says Dr. Nazarian, adding that if you don't wash your cleansing oil off, it may act as an obstacle between your other products and your skin, which means you're missing out on the benefits of the rest of your routine. "Cleansing oils are fine, but ensure you have a clean palette when you’re done and rinse with water and gentle cleansers before applying the next steps in your regimen."

4. Using too much cleansing oil

Another big cleansing oil mistake Dr. Mack often sees is using too much cleansing oil, which makes it difficult to remove. And again, any remnant oil that’s left on the skin can clog the pores and cause unwanted breakouts. Dr. Mack recommends using a small amount, about a penny size. “A little bit of cleansing oil goes a long way,” she says.

5. Not double cleansing 

If you do experience breakouts after using cleansing oil, it’s likely because you’re not rinsing or wiping the oil off your face entirely. This is why Dr. Mack suggests double cleansing. “Make sure to apply the cleansing oil first and use another gentle cleanser to remove it preferably with a soft cleansing cloth or washcloth,” she says. Once you’ve implemented the double cleansing method and you’re still having breakouts, she adds that it could be because you’re using a cleansing oil that is pore clogging.

6. Not choosing the right cleansing oil 

“While J. Lo swears that her youthful appearance is the result of using olive oil, do not reach for the olive oil bottle in the kitchen just yet,” Dr. Mack says. “Not all oils are suitable for cleansing. Some oils are inherently more comedogenic, [meaning] black head and white head forming, than others.” More tips on choosing the best cleansing oil for your skin type below.

How To Use Cleansing Oil Properly

Now that you know what cleansing oil mistakes not to make, Dr. Mack offers a simple explanation of what to do when using cleansing oil. First, apply a quarter size amount of cleansing oil into your hands, then apply it to dry skin. Gently massage the oil into your skin in circular motions. Once you’ve thoroughly massaged it in, rinse your face with warm water and use a damp washcloth to wipe off any remaining residue. Or, alternatively, if you don’t like using a washcloth, Dr. Mack recommends employing the double cleansing method by following the oil cleanse with a gentle cleanser. Once your skin is clean, apply the rest of your skincare products per usual.

How To Choose the Best Cleansing Oil

Like with every skincare product category, there are tons of cleansing oils on the market. The key to choosing the best cleansing oil comes down to your specific skin type because Dr. Mack says different oils work better on certain skin types. If you have dry skin, Dr. Mack recommends cleansing oils that contain olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil. For sensitive skin types, she points to jojoba oil or rosehip oil.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, Dr. Mack says cleansing oil can still work for you. Here’s why: “Cleansing oils are applied with short contact meaning that you apply them for a short duration of time and then rinse them off posing very little risk to worsening acne prone skin,” she explains. In particular, she suggests cleansing oils formulated with jojoba oil, argan oil, or marula oil, which can help regulate oil production.

Also, for all skin types, Dr. Mack recommends opting for fragrance-free cleansing oils to minimize the risk of an allergic contact dermatitis.

Still not sure what type of cleansing oil is best? Monat’s Vanishing Cleansing Balm is one of Dr. Mack’s favorites. “It is a blend of olive, jojoba, and coconut oil, making it an ideal choice for most skin types,” she says. “The product also comes with a soft muslin face cloth to assist with removal of the product.

Watch the video to find out more from a dermatologist:

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