Unless you have really dehydrated skin or hair, the thought of adding an oil-based product into your beauty routine is a scary one. It’s all too easy to associate oil with grease and regard it only as a vehicle for shiny skin, breakouts or lank locks.
But with beauty editors the world over raving about the effectiveness of new blends on the market, and celebs from Charlize Theron to Jennifer Aniston swearing by their power to give luscious skin and silky locks, oils are the slippery beauty must-haves of the moment. So forget your oily prejudices – it’s time to discard our preconceptions and discover how these clever unguents deliver such a lustrous, moisturised finish without ending in an oil slick.
The use of oils in skin and hair care is nothing new. Throughout history they’ve been used to clean and condition the body. The ancient Romans used olive oil to cleanse and moisturise their skin, while the Egyptians used oil from the fruit of the Balanites Aegyptiaca trees along with nut oils and almond oil in their skincare routines.
“Oils have always been recognised as being beneficial in skin and hair care,” says author of Imperfectly Natural Woman and organic and natural lifestyle guru Janey Lee Grace. “Plant and vegetable oils restore the hydro lipidic film of the skin, which means they nourish the skin’s layers but don’t add in any water, which many rich, protective creams and lotions do. This is good because too much hydration can lead the skin to become lazy and not produce enough of its own sebum.”
Even those with combination or oily skin can benefit from using good quality oils, says Janey, as they help to regulate the pores – something that botanist Dr Paul Richards agrees with. “Even an oily skin still needs a natural balance of oils, so it’s best not to strip away everything and leave the skin exposed and more prone to drying,” he says. “A combination of different oils that suits the skin’s balance will enhance the ability of the skin to assimilate and absorb them.”
With most of the premium beauty houses now offering a wide range of oil-based cleansers, serums, moisturisers and body treatments, consumers are spoilt for choice – but along with the combined nature and science of the luxe ranges there’s also much hype about some store-cupboard products – Hollywood actress Emma Stone recently attributed her glowing complexion to nothing more than humble grape seed oil, and many women swear by simple fruit oils such as olive or coconut to keep their hair hydrated and frizz free.
“Olive oil will work as a cleanser or moisturiser,” says Janey, “And you can always make your own facial oils by simply using a base such as jojoba, apricot kernel, almond oil or rose hip, a 100 millilitre carrier oil, and up to ten drops of essential oil.” She suggests customising your blend according to your individual skin needs. “Tea tree or eucalyptus can help boost winter immunity and rose can help with hormonal problems.”
A particular favourite of Janey’s and one said to be be used by the likes of Aniston, Miranda Kerr and Gwyneth Paltrow is organic extra virgin coconut oil “They say don’t put anything on your skin you can’t eat and you can (and should) eat organic extra virgin coconut oil, as well as use it in your beauty regime,” she says. “You need only a tiny amount, just use as you would any other body moisturiser, and it is great for hair too.” Janey says she’s devoted to the Tiana brand (Tiana-coconut.com can deliver to the UAE) as it is a fair-trade, cold-pressed and raw organic range.
Sourcing the rawest, most organic of products is almost a no-brainer when it comes to choosing oils over creams and lotions. Dr Richards calls them quite simply ‘pure products’ and says he ‘welcomes their resurgence’ in skin and haircare – even if their popularity is currently something of a ‘latest trend’.
“Historically, oils and fats were some of the first products used in skincare, and fragrances would originally have been incorporated by infusing essential-oil-bearing plants in the oil. Herbs were incorporated into oils and fats for healing as well. Then substances that could emulsify water and oil together were discovered, so products closer to the creams that are popular today appeared – and now with today’s oil based products we have gone right back to the beginning.”
But today’s modern blending methods allow oils to be far better absorbed and assimilated by the skin than they were previously, says Dr Richards, making them more beneficial than when used alone. “Plant oils for instance are best blended to give a balanced profile,” he says. “Often new ‘swear-by’ oils are very well marketed by producers, but rarely have a balanced profile.
Rose hip, for instance, is a very beneficial oil, but mainly when used in combination with several other oils. Within these blends there is then the potential to infuse herbs to enhance the emollient, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of the final product.” Emma Thomson, company training manager at L’Occitane, agrees that blending is the key to getting the best results from oil-based skincare.
“Synergies of skin oils work best,” she says, “We combine them with essential oils to boost effectiveness. Our Almond Supple Skin oil is a great example of this, and it also smells incredible.” L’Occitane’s development team has seen an increased consumer interest in skin oils as natural and organic cosmetics have become more mainstream.
“Skin oils work,” she says, “and as such there have always been people who have blended and made their own. We research the long-term benefits in our laboratories and work with growers and producers to improve quality – consumers should be looking out for quality in products, checking the smell and the oil’s freshness.”
Wu Hong, education manager for Pevonia says that often people are not confident when it comes to using oil on the skin, but she says products such as ‘dry oils’, which do not leave a residue, offer great hydration and are suitable for all skin types. Wu suggests anyone with an oily skin restrict oil use to the evening, and in the form of a preparation that balances and repairs the skin.
“People are very much convinced that oil leaves skin shining and causes breakouts,” she says, “but oil-based products are beneficial – it just depends on the formulations and active ingredients.” One of the active ingredients and formulations causing the biggest beauty buzz right now is Argan, or Moroccan, oil.
The oil is produced from the kernels of the Argan tree, and is endemic to Morocco. Argan is now popping up in beauty preparations across the board, from face to body care, but in its rawest form – often delivered simply as a liquid or serum - it is probably best known as a hair treatment. Alex Rodrigues, senior stylist at JetSet in Grosvenor House Dubai, says that hair oils are definitely having a moment and that consumers are going back to nature and rediscovering the benefits of natural ingredients to protect and treat their hair.
“Hair oils are for your hair what a coat is for your body in winter,” he says, “Sometimes hair problems go beyond a singular issue such as dryness or frizz – in my opinion chemical abuse is the number one factor for damaged hair – natural oils are great to bring back that strength, moisture, shine and and protection.”
“Oil smooths the hair and adds shine to the finish, so its great to use in conjunction with a deep treatment. There are lots of oils that are also beneficial – for normal hair, lemon, geranium or Argan; for dry hair almond, coconut or jojoba; basil for oily hair; and rosemary for flaky scalps.”
“Some oils are mixed with conditioning treatments that really penetrate the hair, whereas others are purely for cosmetic purposes – just to add sheen. We love using Kerastase Elixir in the salon (Dh175), and we are just introducing Tahiti Oil from Original Sprout, which is made up of coconut, linseed, pineapple and vanilla.”
For an at-home DIY treat to nourish and add elasticity, Alex recommends mixing three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil with three tablespoons of honey, heating the mixture in a microwave for 20 seconds before whisking to combine and applying it to the hair for thirty minutes.
So it would seem from nature’s own, to shop-bought luxe or store-cupboard DIY, oils are not to be feared – and there really is one to treat, tame and transform all skin and hair types.
Four of the best oils
Bobbi Brown Soothing Cleansing Oil
A luxury blend of jasmine flower, kukui nut and sunflower oils, this cleanses and softens the skin without clogging the pores. Available at Bobbi Brown, Bloomingdale’s, Dubai Mall, Dh205
Pevonia Aromatherapy Face Oil for combination skin
Hazelnut oil, sandalwood and grapefruit essential oils are combined in this luxe face oil, which will normalise combination skin and tighten enlarged pores. Available at salons across the UAE, Dh66
Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse skin and hair oil
A multi-purpose dry oil for top-to-toe body conditioning. A heady infusion of borage, St John’s wort, sweet almond, camellia, hazelnut, macadamia and vitamin E, this leaves the skin and hair soft and silky without a greasy residue. Available at www.essentialmall.ae, Dh157
Elemis Frangipani Monoi Body Oil
A wonderfully exotic oil for dry, parched or mature skin. Used on damp skin it provides complete body hydration with an intense aroma. Can also be used sparingly on hair, and for intensive moisturisation on hands and feet. Available in Boomingdale’s, Dh264