How to Choose the Right Facial Oil: Tips for Every Skin Concern

Green beauty lover Jacalyn Beales helps you find the right facial oil to use all year round.
How to Choose the Right Facial Oil: Tips for Every Skin Concern

When it comes to facial oils, things can get a bit…confusing. Which ones should we use? How do we use them? Which oils work best for your skin type? What if you’re on a budget?

Chances are, when shopping for skin care items, you’ve walked past a facial oil or two in a store or taken a gander at them online and have been totally gobsmacked not only by the variety of oils available, but their price tags, too. There happen to be a wide selection of oils available for all skin types whose prices range from $25 to well over $200. Being such a costly expenditure, you’d think one oil versus another is “better” but, the truth is, every oil possesses its own slew of benefits and purposes. The trick is in knowing what oil works best for each skin type, and how to apply it.

The first thing to consider, however, is whether you need one. Facial oils have become insanely popular thanks to their plethora of rumored anti-aging, protective and hydrating capabilities. Many facial oils market themselves as “serums” or “treatments” meant to target skin issues such as fine lines and wrinkles, redness and irritation, dullness, dryness, and even acne. The once slightly-fearful notion of slathering oil on the skin to banish zits and rectify a tired complexion has been shattered thanks to many an oil’s healing, nourishing and restorative properties. If you feel your skin could benefit from an added dose of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and/or hydration, a facial oil might just be a welcome addition to your skincare routine.

But how do you choose the right oil for you, and not based on the beautiful model’s flawless skin in pretty much every oil ad? Most oils will help to soothe irritated complexions and often give a more plump, dewy appearance to the skin; however, not all oils are created equal. Some oils, for instance, work wonderfully as a primer beneath foundation and other makeup products but may be ineffective in calming redness or soothing a breakout. That’s because facial oils are typically made to treat specific skin issues, with the exception of some oils, which are created as a more “generalized” solution for nourishing the skin, without a specific purpose in mind (like clearing acne) – think of those types of oils as “multi-purpose” oils.

Let’s break this oil thing down based on a few common skin concerns:


anti-aging-facial-oils-cleanFighting wrinkles with a facial oil might sound like a scam, but you can, in fact, soften the appearance of those nagging little lines with oils rich in antioxidants and botanical extracts. You might consider an oil with rosehip, orchid, or black currant extracts, for example, or one made with carrot seed oil as its main ingredient. Why? These fruit and floral extracts have known anti-aging properties which can help lessen the signs and symptoms of aging. I love Little Barn Apothecary’s Orchid + Black Currant Face Serum, but Earth tu Face’s Blue Chamomile + Carrot Seed Face Serum and Folie Apothecary’s Prickly Pair Face Serum also work wonderfully. I find each help soften the look of the laugh lines around my eyes.

Oily/Acneic Skin

facial-oils-for-oily-acneic-skinFighting oil with oil seems counterintuitive but, on the contrary, facial oils can actually help balance out oily complexions and deliver essential nutrients and fatty acids your skin may be missing. Many facial oil blends which target acne, oily or blemish-prone skin will contain floral extracts such as tea tree and lavender, which are known for being both soothing and antibacterial – perfect for calming irritated complexions and killing bacteria caused by breakouts. You could try Anitako Organic’s Clarifying Face Serum or Province Apothecary’s Clear Skin Advanced Face Serum, both of which contain a wealth of natural botanical oils great for fighting oil and acne.

Sun Damage

facial-oils-for-sun-damageIf you’re looking to rectify the harm done to your skin by too much sun exposure, try a facial oil aimed towards repairing skin damaged by UV rays. I love Urb Apothecary’s Sun Worshiper Serum, which saved my skin this past summer after a few days of sunning myself by the lake. Flora Hue’s Celeste Facial Serum works perfectly, too; both serums are formulated with ingredients rich in Vitamin E and other botanical extracts which soothe and repair sun-damaged skin. Because facial oils are usually packaged in smaller bottles as well, you can take these serums with you on any tropical or sunny vacation – so there’s no excuse for not repairing your skin 😉

Basic TLC

best-facial-oilsGiving your skin a little bit of basic TLC, no matter the season, is essential. You can easily do this by adding a multi-purpose facial oil to your beauty routine without any fuss. I recommend CAMP Skincare’s Yin Yang Balancing Facial Oil, along with Nektar’s Regenerative Facial Oil and Marble & Milkweed’s Nourishing Serum. Each hosts its own skin-benefitting properties but are also perfect for general maintenance of healthy skin. They could come in handy for those who typically forgo moisturizers or those pesky night-time “serums.”


Simply put, facial oils are concentrated products made with various botanical extracts, vitamins and/or minerals meant to nourish the skin. Facial oils can be used for a variety of skin issues and concerns, and can be purchased as individual oils (i.e. straight rosehip oil, straight carrot seed oil, etc.) or as a combination of oils, such as “rose & currant” or “sea buckthorn and aloe vera” oils. Facial oils will have a carrier oil as their base, such as almond oil. Generally, people will have mixed emotions when it comes to facial oils, but there are a few key things to keep in mind when it comes to this latest skincare craze:

• You cannot moisturize with facial oils alone—that’s because oils do not draw in water like moisturizers do, but they can still help to nourish the skin
• Facial oils can clog pores, but not all of them do—for oily complexions, for instance, avoiding mineral-based facial oils will help to keep clogged pores at bay
• Body or massage oils should not be used on your face as a facial oil – which is kind of a given, right people?
• Depending on how your skin reacts, you can use facial oils as cleansers, too


Before you even consider reaching for a facial oil, you need to ditch the “myth” that facial oils are only for colder seasons. Ummmm…no. Facial oils can be used year-round, regardless of whether the sun is so hot it’s setting your lawn on fire, or you live in Canada (like me) where, sometimes, we have ice storms so severe, your car gets frozen to the ground (shout-out to winter 2013). You simply need to use lighter oils in the warmer months, when our skin is more prone to sweating and losing natural moisture. In the winter months, you may find yourself in need of a heavier facial oil, which is fine – just reach for the right ones! A multi-purpose oil might just do the trick for year-round skincare.


One piece of advice I was given by a brand some time ago is to avoid reaching for the oil with the prettiest label. Just like we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we shouldn’t approach the use of facial oil based on how prettily packaged it is. Paying attention to the ingredients is key – an oil’s ingredient list will reveal much more about its quality and effectiveness than its beautiful bottle or lovely label will. In fact, facial oils which contain the addition of fragrances and perfumes, synthetic ingredients, palm derivatives and/or animal by-products of any kind should be totally avoided. Typically, facial oils will utilize the botanical names of their ingredients to denote which specific oils or extracts are used in their formulation. Completely natural facial oils will also have a shelf-life, so it’s wise to purchase a smaller version of your favourite oil if you find you do not go through it quickly, as expired skincare products cease to be effective. If a facial oil mentions that it can be used on the hair and body as well, it is likely a general body oil and is probably unsafe for the face – that’s because oils meant for nourishing your body may be too heavy for your face, and can cause clogged pores and breakouts.


The answer to this is both yes and no. Using a facial oil is not required and, because oils can moisturize the skin by offering hydration, the use of a moisturizer is still important. However, facial oils are concentrated formulas of extracts and oils from plants, vitamins and (sometimes) minerals which can benefit the skin in different ways from a moisturizer. Think of facial oils like booster shots, ones which can be used in conjunction with your moisturizer. Facial oils also act as humectants in most cases, meaning they help prevent the loss of moisture – making them the perfect partner to your daily moisturizer.


There’s a lot of discrepancy on how to best utilize facial oils to their maximum potential, but one piece of advice generally agreed upon is to avoid wiping or rubbing. When you wipe or rub product into your skin, you end up pulling at the skin, which disrupts the natural collagen there. It also hinders the oil from absorbing fully into your skin, which means you won’t benefit entirely from all of your oil’s wonderful properties. Rather, you should lightly pat or gently massage the oil into the skin using upward circular motions. If applying around the eye area, gently dab or pat the oil into the skin, but never wipe or pull. The best way to get longevity and results from your oil is to put about 3-5 drops on the tips of your fingers and rub them lightly together to warm the oil before then applying it to your skin.

Whether you choose to apply your oil before or after your moisturizer or other serum really depends on what works best for your skin, but many articles recommend applying it prior to a moisturizer to give the oil time to absorb into the skin. You may have to experiment with the timing of oil application to see what works best for you, however, from my own standpoint, I apply my facial oil at night before bed, after I’ve washed my face and have spritzed with a toner. I generally avoid a night cream or serum when using a facial oil, as I find it gives me better next-morning results. Refinery29 created a guide on when and how to apply facial oils that could be a good starter-guide for first-time facial oil users – see it here.


For the most part, a facial oil shouldn’t cause acne, nor should it worsen existing acneic conditions, unless you utilize an oil that isn’t right for your skin type. A doctor or dermatologist could help determine which ingredients (or even which oils) work best for an acne-prone complexion, however, you can also ask the brand whose oil you’re interested in trying if they can tell you more about its impact on acneic skin. Sticking with a facial oil made with botanicals such as tea tree or neem oil can be helpful in calming acne, reducing breakouts or soothing the severity of them, but it’s important to know the root cause of your skin issues first, before purchasing a facial oil as a “cure all.”


The good news here is that the astounding variety of facial oils available to us today come in a range of prices, starting at $20 and up. It’s easy to find a facial oil that will not only work with your skin, but for your budget – it may simply require a bit of detective work on your part. I’ve purchased facial oils which have costed $40 and others which have costed $70+. Depending on the brand, some may upsell their oils based on packaging, shipping and ingredient costs, but many offer various sizes so you can try an oil at a lesser cost before purchasing a full-size bottle of the stuff at a much higher cost. But don’t despair; even if you have to drop a cool $60 on a facial oil, keep in mind that it only takes 3-5 drops of these beauty elixirs to do the trick, which means your oil could end up lasting you!

A dedicated wildlife advocate, Jacalyn Beales writes on the issues and conflicts threatening the world’s wildlife and advocates for the conservation of Africa’s lions. Read more of her work at

What are your favourite facial oils? Let us know in the comments below!

Get the monthly newsletter

Annie's fresh picks for ethical fashion, beauty, books, films, and more—not on the site or anywhere else.