Why Oil is NOT Your Enemy: It's your BFF!

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If you’ve read through the Our Beauty Philosophy page, you’ve already seen me preaching this: oil is NOT your enemy, it’s your best friend! Ayurveda has been telling us for millennia (literally) this simple, powerful fact and I’m happy to see that modern beauty brands are trying to catch on. In today's post I want to get into the science behind this...

Let’s start with a lesson on the anatomy of our skin. 

bright body skin anatomy and physiology

The three main layers of the skin are as follows:

  1. epidermis– outermost layer of surface skin, contains keratinocytes which produce waterproofing proteins; comprised of the stratum corneum and acid mantle.
  2. dermis– the thick layer of living tissue below the epidermis that forms the true skin, containing capillaries, nerve endings, sweat glands, hair follicles, loose connective tissues, and lymph vessels.
  3. hypodermis– layer beneath the dermis used mainly for fat storage; also contains larger blood vessels than the dermis.

When we are talking about improving the look and feel of our skin, we are really talking about the epidermis. HOWEVER, the health of the epidermis is dependent on the health of the dermis and hypodermis, since the epidermis does not have its own blood supply or source of natural oils.

Given today’s discussion on oil, let’s first focus on the sebaceous glands & hair follicles, located in the dermis. First thing – we are all mammals so we have hair everywhere, it’s just very fine and light in certain areas and thicker in others. Over the majority of our faces you will find a very fine peach fuzz coating of hair. If you’ll notice in the illustration above, each hair follicle has its own corresponding sebaceous (oil) gland. Think about that for a second – the word “pore” is really referring to the openings in the skin through which the hair follicles emerge. Each strand of baby peach fuzz acts like a wick through which the oil emerges on the epidermis.

While getting a facial recently at Luna Aesthetics & Spa here in Richmond, I asked my aesthetician Cat about how she can look at someone’s face and determine what skin type they are, regardless of what products they’re using. She told me that the secret is in the size of the pores, or follicle openings on the skin. Oilier skin types have bigger pores or follicular openings, allowing more oil to make it to the surface of the skin. Dry skin types have smaller pores or follicular openings, allowing less oil to make it to the surface of the skin. Normal/average skin types have moderate sized pores, and combination skin types have a mixture of pore sizes over the face, with larger pore sizes concentrated in certain areas (most often the T-zone) and smaller pores over the rest of the face.

bright body t zone

My next questions for Cat were all about moisture and hydration in the skin, and how you can tell what skin needs. First, let’s get into the differences between moisture and hydration:

  1. Moisture – refers to the oils present in the skin, and this is what determines your skin type– dry, normal, oily, or combination. No matter your natural skin type, the presence of natural oils is absolutely essential for a healthy, bright, and beautiful complexion. No skin type, under any circumstance, should ever be stripping their skin of natural oils. Furthermore,every skin type can benefit from a moisturizer, but there are different moisturizer types best for each skin type. Of course you want to clean the face, but the key is using products that do not completely rid your skin of its natural moisture.
    1. Dry skin types have the least amount of moisture naturally present on the skin because their smaller pores don’t allow the sebaceous glands to release much oil onto the surface of the skin. As a result, dry skin types need more moisturizers and more deeply nourishing moisturizers.
    2. Normal skin types tend to have the “sweet spot” amount of moisture naturally present on the skin because their moderately-sized pores allow the sebaceous glands to release a balanced amount of oil onto the surface of the skin. As a result, normal skin types need a medium amount of moisturizers.
    3. Oily skin types have the most amount of moisture naturally present on the skin because their larger pores release a the most oil onto the surface of the skin. However, that does NOT mean that oily skin types don’t need moisturizer. Oily skin types needmoisturizer in order to “train” their sebaceous glands not to overproduce oil, and benefit from lightweight moisturizers.
    4. Combination skin types have a few different pore sizes, with larger pores usually concentrated somewhere in the T-zone. Combination skin types do well using different moisturizers for their different areas – a more nourishing moisturizer in drier patches and a more lightweight moisturizer in oilier sections.
  2. Hydration – refers to the water present in your skin. Most of the water that we drink doesn’t make it all the way to our skin, and we also lose water from our skin through evaporation, a process called transepidermal water loss. My aesthetician said that 80% of us have dehydrated skin, regardless of skin type! Dehydration can look tight and dull with very fine lines. Hydrated skin looks plump, glowy, and bright.
    1. Hydrators are water-based products (usually with a gel consistency) that up the plump factor in your face by literally infusing your skin cells with water. Most hydrators feature hyaluronic acid, a safe ingredient designed to draw (and keep) moisture to the skin’s surface and give your face a plump, glowy appearance.
    2. Most every skin type can benefit from using a hydrating product! And guess what?! I’m in the process of developing a gel-based hydrator, so stay tuned.

So let’s get back to oils and moisture. I don’t know about you, but I grew up hearing that “oily” skin was a bad thing, and I used sooooo many products that gave me that tight-as-a-drum feeling. I used to associate that feeling of no oil on my face with being “clean.” *shiver*

The reality is that the oils from our sebaceous glands AND from our moisturizers are absolutely essential to the health of our skin. Without these oils, our skin’s acid mantle, or barrier function, cannot behave like it should. You will be more prone to infections and irritations, and your skin will look uneven, flaky, and dull. Your skin will also have trouble healing from any cuts, scrapes, and acne. No one wants oil-free skin even though our culture has told us that “oil-free” is a good thing. Trust me, no one wants to look uneven, flaky, dull, or be prone to infection, irritation, and delayed healing.

bright body acid mantle skin anatomy and physiology

I know many people with oilier skin types who say that they “have to” wash their face more than twice a day. OH GIRL, NO. What’s really happening is that you’ve likely been using products that are harsh and strip your skin of way too much natural moisture. No matter your skin type, if you use a product that removes too much of your natural oils, your sebaceous glands will rush to produce even more oil to make up for the fact that you have been drying yourself out.This overproduction of oils can lead to clogged pores, acne, and a lot of frustration. By stripping your skin with harsh cleansers and masks, you are “training” your skin to be even oilier than it is naturally. So yes, oily skin needs moisturizer just as much as other skin types, but look for lightweight products instead!

And guess what? This advice is the same for acneic skin! Properly moisturizing acne with a lighter weight product will actually help it heal faster with minimal scarring. And by extension, that means that acne products containing alcohols, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and similar drying ingredients can do more harm than good. Repeatedly drying the living daylights out of your acne can cause flaky, inflamed skin that makes it harder for the acne to heal! And if you are using a drying acne treatment, it is absolutely crucial that you use a moisturizer every. single. time. you. use. your. drying. treatment. Also, there are non-drying acne treatments like azelaic acid that work on both inflammation and bacteria without dehydrating your skin. If you haven’t tried azelaic acid for your acne yet, check out our Clear Skin Potion and consider giving it a whirl. 

Noncomedogenic natural oils are an absolute must for healthy, happy skin, no matter your skin type. All skin types, even oily skin, should avoid stripping their skin of natural moisture because it simply creates more problems. If you are struggling with very oily skin, here is my anatomy-informed (and aesthetician-approved) advice. Fair warning, during the first few weeks of this process, you will probably find that your skin is oilier than before. DON’T. GIVE. UP.This is normal and should be expected. After those initial few weeks, your skin will begin to dial back its production of natural oils because it is no longer being stripped.

  1. Throw away whatever cleanser you are using. Yes, seriously, throw that ish in the trash. Switch to a gentler, non-stripping facial cleanser appropriate for your skin type like our Gentle Facial Wash, Hydrating Facial Wash, Balancing Facial Wash, or Clarifying Facial Wash. Wash only twice a day (once in the morning and once in the evening). Your skin will go through a detox period where it is still overproducing oil as old habit from when it was used to you using your harsh product.
  2. Read the label of your current toner – if you see alcohol anywhere on it, throw that sucker in the trash, too. Switch to a gentler, alcohol-free toner appropriate for your skin type like our Gentle Toner, Hydrating Toner, Balancing Toner, or Clarifying Toner. Use twice a day after cleansing. If you’re not using a toner, consider adding one into your routine!
    1. If you are using an acne treatment, read that label. If you see alcohol, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or similarly drying ingredients, put it aside for a little while. Switch to our non-drying and gentle Clear Skin Potion and use after your Toner once or twice a day. See if the azelaic acid, probiotic ingredients, and essential oils help with your acne and overall skin health as much or more than what you were using.
  3. Read the label on your current moisturizer – if you see alcohol (fatty alcohols are fine) anywhere on it, put that sucker aside for now, AT LEAST until your skin has gone through the detox period, if not forever.Switch to an alcohol-free, gentle moisturizer appropriate for your skin type, like our Whipped Facial Cream or Light Facial Cream. Moisturize twice a day after washing, toning, and treating acne (if you do).

If you’re dealing with excessively oily skin, this detox is one of the best things you can do for your skin health right now. And no matter your skin type, natural oils and natural, noncomedogenic oils and butters are absolutely essential for glowing, beautiful skin. Oil is not the enemy! It is a prerequisite for all of your #skingoals.


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