No-makeup makeup has gotten so good, my partner genuinely doesn't think I wear any. And while I could pat myself on the back for an understated beat well done, there’s absolutely nothing like wearing zero makeup and still feeling great about your skin. It wasn’t something I found myself doing regularly until I started using Oak Essentials Moisture Rich Balm ($88), a heavy-duty moisturizer that’s essentially dewy skin in a jar.
How it works
To understand the balm, you have to understand why it was created in the first place. Oak Essentials is a beauty brand founded in 2021 by Jenni Kayne (you know, the designer responsible for apparel that looks like the sartorial manifestation of oatmeal—in a good way!). And you've likely seen hygge-inspired ads for Oak Essentials all over your social media feed. During her first pregnancy, Kayne overhauled her lifestyle choices in favor of cleaner ingredients and a simplified routine; Oak Essentials follows this ethos and avoids synthetic fragrances, silicones, sulfates, phthalates, parabens, petrolatum, and nanoparticles.
“Oak Essentials is simple, beautiful, and effective, which is everything I want a beauty routine to be,” Kayne says in an interview on the brand’s blog. It’s true, everything you see in the line—and the Moisture Rich Balm, specifically—will probably sound familiar to you. The formula is comprised almost entirely of botanical oils; nine to be exact. This seems like a lot of flora fluff, but if you break down even just the first four oils on the ingredient list you’ll see why this product is a powerhouse: Safflower oil has hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s often used to soothe irritated skin, coconut oil is an accessible and trusted moisturizer, sesame oil is packed with vitamin E and zinc, making it a great antioxidant, and borage oil is useful in combatting dryness and inflammation.
An ingredient that Oak Essentials focuses on, though it falls midway through the list, is sea buckthorn. It’s no wonder: the linoleic acid-carrying oil is a skin-care wonder that alleviates dryness and irritation, controls acne, stimulates cellular turnover for well-aging benefits, and strengthens the skin barrier. Apart from these extracts, there’s also beeswax, a humectant that helps the skin retain moisture, and cocoa seed butter which, is an antioxidant-rich moisturizer that happens to smell heavenly.
This all makes for a heavy occlusive that encapsulates your skin in a glossy sheen. Is it technically a product that’s best reserved for slugging? Yes, but that’s the exact reason why I’ve been using it instead of makeup. If you know anything about California weather this year, “precarious” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The dew point whiplash has done a number on my skin, and foundation has only made the flakes and irritation worse. It took slugging with this balm during the AM hours to renew my skin.
My honest review
After four weeks of using the Moisture Rich Balm over my workhorse barrier-restoring toner, serum, and moisturizer, my skin has gone back to glowing—so much so that I’ve avoided doing anything else except brows in the morning. This is a lot coming from someone with hyperpigmentation, texturized skin, and regular hormonal acne. To be fair, my newfound skin acceptance is partially because I literally can’t wear anything over the balm without it sliding off. (Good on those who manage to but, for me, the balm is the opposite of a primer—unless you’re priming for a runny mascara telenovela look.)
Though it’s not tinted, the balm has a kind of luminescence that blurs my skin and leaves it positively radiant. I tried to showcase the effect by taking pictures in the increasingly rarified Los Angeles sun. You can still see acne spots, pores, and a purple hue around my eyes from a weekend helping my toddler bid farewell to her pacifier. But that bounce! That glow! I can assure you it’s not because I’ve been *~ drinking more water*~.
You’re meant to grab a pea-sized amount of the balm and spread it over your face, though I tend to use a pea-and-a-half to ensure full coverage. The melt is unreal—like butter seeping into warm bread. The scent is reminiscent of a woody forest after a rain, and it works beautifully as a gua sha or face roller companion in the morning. After applying, my face appears “lifted”—as if I’ve put on an all-over highlighter, minus the glitter flecks. What surprised me most was the moisturizing tenure; this stuff lasts all day. I’m normally someone who rehydrates their face at least twice a day, but with this, I never feel compelled to.
To be upfront: This balm is not going to be for everyone. The product melts, but it does not absorb like a lotion. It leaves your skin somewhat slick, and wouldn’t wear as pleasantly for those with a baseline of hydrated, or oily, skin. For the record, I’ve tried to use it in the evening as the last step in my routine, but it’s too occlusive for me to rest comfortably on a pillow. I essentially need to relegate it to AM use, which is a bit disappointing for the ticket price.
Those struggling with acne or sensitive skin should spot test, too. The balm has not been tested specifically for its comedogenic properties, and some of the ingredients (hi, coconut oil) may cause breakouts in people who are prone to them. I even wound up with a few spots that I can’t blame on my usual period pimples. Finally, despite being a “minimalist” brand, the proliferation of oils is an interesting choice. In my view, the variety means more potential allergens or irritants, especially for those who’ve struggled with fragrances or oils before and need a truly streamlined formula.
But if you, like me, are desperate for dew and haven’t found something that works on your dry, very dry, or mature skin, you’ll want to consider this balm. I haven’t been using it long enough to see the sustained benefits, but after a month, my skin feels resealed. No cracks, just smooth like a freshly oiled baby’s butt. More importantly, it’s gotten me to love myself bare-faced. And though I can’t predict whether the sun will come out like it used to, my skin is bouncy, bright, and straight-up beaming from my corner of the Zoom call.
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