Skin-Care Tips Face Oils

‘Oil Pulling’ Your Skin Can Effectively Dislodge Blackheads—But There’s One Major Caveat

Photo: Stocksy / ohlamour studio
TikTok has a knack for taking tried-and-tested beauty practices and giving them a viral spin. The latest? "Oil pulling," which involves massaging oil into your face for 15 minutes and watching blackheads pop up to the surface.

Though the practice has been given a buzzy new name (which, by the way, is a bit of a misnomer—"oil pulling" is an Ayurvedic oral health practice that involves swishing oil around inside your mouth), it's really just a new take on oil cleansing, which also has roots in Auruveyda. It can be helpful for blackheads, but that depends on your skin type.

"It has some science to it," says Raja Sivamani MD, MS, a board-certified integrative dermatologist and Ayurvedic practitioner. "Blackheads are clogged with oil-based sebum and applying oil to the skin can partially dissolve the sebum and allow the plugs to loosen up."

Though this practice can be an effective way to dislodge dirt and debris from your skin, there are a few things to be aware of before you try it for yourself. First and foremost, it only really works if the blackheads you're looking to extract are relatively shallow. "Oil cleansing won't work on pores that are completely clogged from cells and debris that may need to be exfoliated first," says Dr. Sivamani, who is also an adjunct assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California, Davis.

Plus, because the viral method involves rubbing the oil on for 15 minutes, board-certified dermatologist Adrienne O’Connell, DO, says it can do even more harm to dry skin. "Oil pulling can actually cause harm to the skin by overdrying and damaging the skin," she says. In order for the method to work, you'll need to have fairly oily skin to begin with so that the oil cleanser can attract sebum without stripping your complexion in the process.

So if you have oily skin and don't tend to react poorly to face oils, Dr. Sivamani says you can try out this extended form of oil cleansing to loosen blackheads.

"It's important that people choose gentle oils that are not full of preservatives or fragrances that might irritate the skin," says Dr. Sivamani. "Products with a lot of essential oils may cause an allergic reaction and should be used cautiously and tested in a small area before they are used over the entire face. Oils like grapeseed or pumpkin seed oils are better than coconut oil. Pumpkin seed oil is a great option and there is one study that shows that applying pumpkin seed oil topically can reduce acne severity."

Two great options are the Mad Hippie Cleansing Oil ($18) which heroes pumpkin oil and the APTO Orange Blossom Cleanser with Grapeseed Oil ($18). If you don't have super oily skin, you can still use a cleansing oil, just don't expect it to impact your blackheads. "If you don't produce a lot of sebum and have relatively dry skin, oil cleansing might remove the superficial dirt and oils on the face but might not have a dramatic impact on removing blackheads," says Dr. Sivamani.

Regardless of whether or not you oil cleanse, Dr. O’Connell notes that gentle exfoliation is a surefire method for clearing clogged pores and preventing blackheads. "Blackheads can be treated with cleansing, exfoliating, and extracting," says Dr. O'Connell, who is also the medical director and president of Laguna Beach Aesthetics. "A salicylic acid cleanser is ideal as it breaks down excess oil and dead skin cells, the two main culprits that cause blackheads. An exfoliator will prevent dead skin cells from building up."

The CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser ($12) is a great non-drying salicylic acid cleanser and the Alpyn Beauty Pore Perfecting Liquid with 2% BHA + Borage ($39) is a fabulous liquid exfoliant for all skin types. And for extractions, head to a dermatologist or esthetician who you trust. "Do not pick or squeeze blackheads yourself,' says Dre. O'Connell. "It can cause more inflammation and actually risk damaging and scarring the skin."

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