A Step by Step Guide to the Oil Face-Cleansing Method

Reader Contribution by Kelsey Steffen

What is the Oil Cleansing Method?

Oil cleansing has been around for centuries as a way to naturally cleanse the skin. It’s not soap, and it’s not “washing”. Did you know the industrialization of soap wasn’t even around until the 19th century? How did people get clean before soap? Jumping in our hypothetical time machine let’s go back and visit the ancient Roman Baths. Traditionally, the first thing one would do is lather the skin with oil. This oil would gently loosen any dirt on the skin and in the pores, then, using a strigil, the oil and dirt would be scraped away. Only after this oil cleansing would one be permitted to plunge into the baths.

Because oil dissolves oil, the oil cleansing method (OCM) works very well to cleanse, tone and moisturize the skin all in one step, all without the need for soap. The basics of the OCM is to use the right ratio of astringent oil with conditioning oil (more on that below) and massage onto the face in a circular motion. This allows the oil to dissolve any make-up, dirt and oil lurking on one’s face. Meanwhile, the oil softens and removes any built up dirt or dead skin cells within the pores, gently clearing them away. Adios blackheads!(This is also a wonderful and gentle eye makeup remover, but take care not to get it in your eyes.) The last step is to place a hot, wet washcloth over one’s face, allowing the steam to further loosen dirt and grime, then gently wipe away. A thin layer of oil remains on the skin which both protects and moisturizes throughout the day.

Oil cleansing is not a miracle cure for skin issues. The most effective treatment for acne, eczema, psoriasis or other skin ailments is through proper diet and nutrition. However, if you find yourself dealing with these issues, oil cleansing can become your best friend as it’s a much more mild and gentle approach to cleansing and moisturizing your skin than harsh soaps and cleansers.

First Things First – Know Your Skin Type

Is your skin oily, dry or a combination of the two? Do you feel the need to dab your t-zone of excess oil throughout the day? Or does your skin seem dull, dry and even flaky at times? How about oily in some areas while dry in others…and perhaps a pimple or two thrown in for good measure? Once you nail down your skin type, you’ll know which oils will be most beneficial for you and your unique needs, and can begin to combat those pesky issues showing up on your face.

Astringent Oils

Astringent oils, believe it or not, are oils that can be drying to the skin. Which makes them perfect for oily or combination skin, as well as for those with dry skin (in smaller amounts). Astringent oils will temporarily constrict the outermost layer of the skin (the epidermis) by reducing the blood flow, thereby minimizing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, as well as shrinking pore size.

The following oils fall under the category of “astringent oils”: Argan oil, Castor oil, Grapeseed oil, Hazelnut oil and essential oils of Carrot Seed, Cyprus, Ginger, Myrtle, Patchouli, Rose, Rosemary and the citrus oils (Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin and Sweet Orange). Lavender also falls under this category as it has both astringent and conditioning properties.

Hydrating & Conditioning Oils

The majority of your oil cleansing combination will be made up of conditioning oils. These oils soothe the skin as well as provide all day moisture and nutrients. Conditioning oils are beneficial for all skin types, even those prone to oily skin and breakouts. Oftentimes breakouts occur when our skin is over-producing oil due to a lack of hydration. Many times this lack of hydration is caused by harsh cleansers, scrubs and acne treatments designed to dry out your skin while clearing up blemishes. To make matters worse, a common misconception for those prone to breakouts is to skip the moisturizers altogether due to the excess oil production (truly a vicious cycle…one I was caught in for years during my early twenties).

Hydrating oils will help keep dry skin moisturized while normalizing oil production, all while improving the look of dull, aging skin. The following oils are considered “hydrating”: Avocado oil, Coconut Oil, Hemp Seed oil, Jojoba oil, Olive oil, Sweet Almond oil and essential oils of Basil, Bergamot, Camphor, Evening Primrose, Lavender, Roman Chamomile and Sandalwood.

Finding the Perfect Combination

There are countless combinations that can be made with the astringent and conditioning oils, and finding which combination is right for you may take some experimentation. But there are some general rules of thumb to follow when you first start with the OCM.

No two skin types are the same, and simply narrowing down your skin type doesn’t mean the following ratios will work perfectly for you. Once you begin using the OCM regularly, pay attention to how your skin responds and make adjustments accordingly. The following are merely guidelines, but let your face have the final say.

Oil Blends for Dry Skin

A good starting ratio for dry skin will be one part astringent oils to ten parts conditioning oils (1:10 ratio). So go through the list and pick out your oil of choice…chances are high you already have these in your house! You may be wondering why we’re adding an astringent (drying) oil to our dry skin blend. It’s true these oils can be drying, but the benefits of the astringent oils far outweigh any drying that may take place at such a small ratio to the conditioning oils. The pore refining and skin tightening properties will be welcomed along with the soothing and moisturizing properties of the conditioning oils. With this ratio you’ll have the best of both worlds.

Dry Skin Option: 1 Tbs Castor oil mixed with 10 Tbs Avocado or Olive oil . A tsp of Vitamin E or Emu oil (these have deep moisturizing components that will be noticeable all day long). 10-20 drops Lavender and/or Roman Chamomile essential oils for their soothing and calming properties. Mix it all up in a re-purposed glass bottle and use 1 tsp each day.  

Oil Blends for Oily Skin (and blemishes)

For oily skin it’s important to increase the astringent oils to help combat the overproduction of oil. But don’t go overboard, remember the overproduction of oil often means your skin is crying out for hydration. One part astringent to three parts conditioning oils should be a good start.

Oily Skin Option: 2 Tbs Hazelnut oil mixed with 6 Tbs Avocado oil (contains Vitamins A, B, D and E). For acne prone skin add 10-20 drops Tea Tree (Melaleuca), Lavender or Patchouli essential oils (or a combination of the three). Tea Tree is antiseptic, great for healing current blemishes, Lavender is anti-inflammatory and calming and Patchouli is also anti-inflammatory as well as antiseptic, both great for soothing current blemishes. (Read this post for additional benefits of Lavender.)

Oil Blends for Combination Skin

For normal to combination skin try a ratio of one part astringent to four, five or six parts conditioning oils.

Combination Skin Option: 2 Tbs Castor oil mixed with 8-12 Tbs Almond oil. Add 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil such as Lavender, Frankincense and/or Roman Chamomile and you’re good to go. (Read this post for additional benefits of Frankincense.)

Oil Blend Tips

The options listed above are examples for different skin types, but it doesn’t mean they’ll work perfectly for you. If you have oily skin and a 1:3 part ratio isn’t helping normalize your oil production, you may need to make your ratio 1:2 parts astringent to conditioning oils. Increasing the astringent oils until your face regulates oil production may be necessary temporarily, then, if you find that ratio begins to dry out your skin, try upping the conditioning oils again until your face is happy.

The sample recipes above should last approximately 2-4 weeks (depending on how much oil you’re using daily). It’s my recommendation to stick with a new oil combination for about a week or two before deciding to try a new combination.

Barring allergic reactions (which you then should discontinue use immediately), your skin may require time to adjust to this new method of cleansing, especially if you’ve been using harsh cleansers filled with chemicals. Allow your pores to do their job, which is to help detox our body by cleansing and pushing out toxins.

You’re Ready for the Oil Cleansing Method

Step 1: Gather your oil blend and a washcloth or two and be sure your hair is pulled back, away from your face.

Step 2: Starting with a dry, or slightly damp face, take 1 tsp of your oil blend and gently massage the oil into your skin with your fingertips, moving in an upward, circular motion. Continue rubbing the oil into your skin for 1-3 minutes, even working along your jawline and neck. If you’re wearing eye makeup, wait to rub that off until just before Step 3, doing your best to keep oil out of your eyes.

Step 3: Run your washcloth under very hot water (hot enough to tolerate but not burn), quickly wring out excess water and press washcloth gently over your face. Hold the washcloth on your face to allow the steam to open your pores, allowing any excess dirt and oil to loosen. Hold the washcloth on your face for 30-60 seconds. Do not wipe your face with the washcloth, this step is purely to allow the steam to open and cleanse pores.

You can repeat Step 3 two or three times, rinsing the washcloth between each application.

Step 4: Rinse your washcloth well, or grab a clean cloth and wet it with hot water, then gently wipe away excess oil from your face. A thin layer of oil will remain (unless you scrubbed too hard, if this is the case, you can always add a bit more), this oil will protect, moisturize and condition your skin all night long, and even into the next day.

Step 5: If you feel you want a bit more moisture, simply rub a small amount of your oil blend into your damp skin and let air dry.

Step 6: The following morning, simply wipe face clean with a damp washcloth and apply a small amount of oil if needed. Allow oil to soak in before applying makeup.  

OCM Tips

Depending on your skin type, you may be working on clearing up blemishes, eliminating eczema or combating dryness. The OCM can be used up to three times daily. Once your face is clear and moisturized, oil cleansing once daily should be sufficient to keep your skin balanced, smooth and blemish free (assuming you’re keeping that healthy diet in check!).

Remember, no two faces are the same, do what’s best for your skin and continue to experiment with your oil blend until you find just the right combination for you.

Kelsey Steffen is an aspiring farmer, wife, mom of four (with one on the way), and home-school educator in North Idaho. Join Kelsey and her family over at Full of Days as they blog about life in the Steffen household, and follow along on Facebook and Twitter. Read all of Kelsey’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere

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