Not only do they make killer cleansers, moisturizers, and spot treatments, but they’re beneficial for every skin type, from dry and sensitive to—yes, really—oily and acne prone.
The only part that’s not ideal: Sifting through all of the seemingly awesome options in this huge beauty category to find the best one for you. (Can someone invent a Tinder for skin care, already?)
In search of some guidance, we turned to natural beauty activist Jessica Assaf, co-editor of clean skin-care blog BeautyLiesTruth and co-founder of Raw is Everything, a newly launched line of organic, cold-pressed, unrefined, single-ingredient skin oils ($45-$55). “Facial oils can do everything we want in a skin-care routine,” she says. “You’ve just got to know your ingredients and where they come from to experience really remarkable results.”
Keep reading to learn how to read a face oil label like a pro, and you’ll be swiping right on your perfect match in no time.
1. Shop for oils like you’d shop for juice
The first thing to look for, says Assaf, is an oil that’s cold-pressed, unrefined, and organic—for all the same reasons you’d seek those things out in a kale/apple/lemon blend. “Cold-pressed oils have 700 percent more bioactive compounds than those conventionally extracted with heat,” she says, adding that it’s important to go organic to avoid pesticides. To ensure those clean and potent ingredients stay that way, look for oils bottled in dark glass. “Exposure to light and heat will damage the oil,” Assaf explains.
2. Do the sight-and-smell test
Not sure if an oil is unrefined? When in doubt, sniff it out. “A lot of oils say they’re organic, but if the color is really light and you can’t smell the oil, it’s likely refined and you’re losing the majority of the benefits,” says Assaf. “Also, if the oil has an expiration date of five years, you know it’s not unrefined.” Yes, that means you should be reading the labels on your beauty bottles like you do your almond milk.
3. Consider your skin type
This is advice worth memorizing: Assaf says those with oily skin should opt for a dry oil like rosehip or jojoba, while dry skin is best served by something richer, like passion fruit seed or marula oil. And if you’re battling inflamed or sensitive skin, tamanu oil is tops. “It’s been used for hundreds of years by Polynesian women to clear acne and reduce the appearance of scars,” she explains, adding that it’s also good for eczema and redness. “It’s a richer oil, so it works best as night treatment.”
Those with oily skin should opt for rosehip or jojoba, while dry skin is best served by passion fruit seed or marula oil.
4. Think about what’s going on after
“Once you start layering you have to think about how all of the ingredients are interacting,” says Assaf, who notes that unfavorable interactions can cancel out each individual product’s positive effects. That includes sunscreen, the healthy girl’s daily staple. The good news: Certain single-ingredient oils, like Raw is Everything’s raspberry seed Antioxidant Treatment ($45), may offer serious UV protection and can be used on their own to both moisturize and protect. Although it’s not FDA-approved like a traditional sunscreen, Assaf cites a scientific journal article that indicates raspberry seed oil could have a natural SPF of 30 to 50, and carrot seed oil could have a natural SPF of 38 to 40. If it saves us a minute in the morning, we’ll take it.
5. Avoid red-flag fillers
According to Assaf, water is often the first ingredient in commercial face oils—and if that seems counterproductive, well, it is. “That means the product needs tons of very strong preservatives because water [breeds] mold,” she says. She also warns against buying oils that are petroleum-derived—telltale ingredients include petrolatum and mineral oil—or that have grape seed oil high on the list. “Grape seed oil is cooking oil. It’s not going to have the most [topical] benefits,” she explains. “Look for oils where the [active] ingredient is the first ingredient.”
6. Seek out short ingredient lists
You might think the more oils in a blend, the better, but Assaf stresses that three or less is usually best. “It’s a question of dilution,” she says. “When you think about a product with, say, 22 different oils in it, what’s the majority made up of?” She notes that long ingredient lists can also prove problematic for sensitive skin. “If you have an allergic reaction to a product and there are 10 ingredients in it, you have no idea what you’re allergic to,” she says. “Over 50 percent of women claim they have sensitive skin, so this is a huge issue.” If that’s the case for you, she recommends choosing a single oil and using it in isolation for two weeks to find out how it impacts your skin. And If it doesn’t work for you, drop it like a bad dating app and move on to the next one.