Oil Cleansing for Acne — the Secret to Perfect Skin?

If you were like most of us who struggled with acne as a teenager, you were likely holding on to the hope that some day you would grow out of it. A lot of time and money was spent at dermatologists’ offices and on various acne medications from Proactiv to Accutane, and you definitely avoided putting anything on your face that wasn’t labeled “Oil Free.”

You put your hope in the future when you would become an adult and your skin would finally be clear. Before you know it, the future has become today. You are that adult and yet you’re still struggling with acne-prone skin. By this point, you’ve tried all the products out there and you’re desperate to find an alternative method that might finally give you the skin you’ve been looking for.

It’s out of this desperation that you stumble upon the oil cleansing method. Since oil cleansing is exactly what it sounds like–washing your face with oil–the first mention of it likely makes you cringe. My teenage self would have never believed that 15 years later, I’d be washing my face with oil.

Actually, though, it’s not as crazy at it seems. Your skin needs oil to be healthy. What it doesn’t need is harsh ingredients that strip your skin. Like dissolves like, so oil is actually an effective cleanser because it dissolves the dirty oil on your face, which you wipe off, leaving clean skin behind.

I accidentally stumbled upon oil cleansing when I was looking up information on “No Poo.” The process is as follows:

1. Massage your oil (or oil mixture) of choice on your face using an upward stroke.

2. Wet a washcloth with steaming hot water (hotter than you would normally use, but not too hot) and place it on your face to steam it, holding it there until it cools.

3. Gently wipe off oil with the washcloth.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3.

5. If your skin feels tight, moisturize with a bit of the oil you used for cleansing.

Being in an especially vulnerable position thanks to my skin going nuts now that Emme is nursing less (hello crazy hormones!), plus needing my skin to look good on video, I decided to give this a try.

Overwhelmed at the suggested mixes of a variety of oils, I started with my jar of organic virgin coconut oil that I already had on hand. People seem to use that stuff for everything these days, so I figured it would be just fine.

Trader Joe's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil

As it turns out, coconut oil is actually comedogenic, meaning it can clog pores, so it’s not the best thing to use on your face even though I know some people have no issues. Fortunately, I hadn’t gone too many days using that when I happened to see jojoba oil at Trader Joe’s and switched to that instead.

I was surprised that I wasn’t more grossed out by massaging the oil into my skin and also pleasantly surprised that my face wasn’t any more oily than when I was using regular face wash. Still, after a week or so of using the oil cleansing method, I hadn’t noticed a difference in my acne situation.

I decided to take the plunge and purchase a few of the oils I had read were recommended for acne-prone skin, with castor oil making up to as much as 75% of the mix. Since castor oil is the one that does the cleansing (would you believe that an oil can actually be drying to skin?), a carrier oil is needed, like jojoba, and there are also a variety of other oils you can add to the mix that are supposed to be beneficial for one reason or another.  My new blend–the one that I’ve used during most of this experiment–consisted of a 1:1 ratio of castor oil to jojoba oil with a few pumps of tamanu oil, which I had read was recommended for acne-prone skin. I also bought a nice little bottle for storing it in.

blue oil cleansing bottle

After a few weeks of trying this, I still didn’t notice a difference. My skin certainly wasn’t any worse, but it sadly wasn’t any better and it was still prone to breakouts at the most inconvenient times (like right before a video shoot). I did some more research and read encouraging information about trying a different mix of oils. From there I decided to nix the jojoba oil since it can be problematic for some people, replacing it with cold-pressed, organic hazelnut oil.

oil cleansing oils
The lineup

I’ve only been using this mix for about a week and still have yet to notice a difference. Again, my skin’s not any worse, but it’s not getting any better either. Since I spent the money purchasing these oils, I’ll probably continue with this method until I run out of them even though I’m not seeing any improvement.

I feel frustrated because I was nine years old when I was humiliated by my first big pimple and here I am more than 20 years later still struggling. There was a point, about five years ago, where I had finally gotten my acne under control through a certain mix of prescription medications. It was the first time ever that I felt comfortable in my skin for such an extended period of time. That was right before we decided to have a baby, so I had to go off the medications before becoming pregnant and unfortunately, the same mix didn’t work as well when I went back on it after Reece weaned.

After hearing success stories from others, I was really hoping this would be my key to clear skin, especially since I can’t start up on any medications yet since Emme is still nursing. Perhaps the next step is breaking down and spending the money on expensive laser treatments and seeing if that will be the cure, but I’m not too hopeful.

Even though I’ve always been reluctant to believe that the foods we eat can be the cause of acne, I think I’m going to try cutting out dairy since I’ve heard it’s helped some people. I actually started that a few days ago, but then finally found the Ben & Jerry’s Core Hazed and Confused flavor that I’d been looking for for weeks, so obviously I bought it. 🙂

Ben and Jerry's Core Hazed and Confused

Have you tried oil cleansing? If so, what mix of oils worked for you?

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Comments 5

  • Like you, I have struggled with acne for years and am always searching for more natural ways to avoid toxic chemicals. I did try oil cleansing once with jojoba and castor oil for a good amount of time, but didn’t see a big enough improvement (plus it annoyed me to have to steam my face). Although I decided to stop oil cleansing, I still use a lot of tips that I discovered on the path of researching oil cleansing. I first of all cleanse my face every night with Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel (which is great for my sensitive skin and does a good job at removing my makeup at the end of the day) then follow with a homemade toner (fill a 3oz spray container with 2/3 full of alcohol free witch hazel and 1/3 raw apple cider vinegar and spray onto face). Then I follow the toner with a few drops of an oil moisturizer (1oz jojoba oil, mixed with a few drops of carrot seed oil, 3 drops geranium oil, and 3 drops lavender oil). In the morning I cleanse my face with raw honey, which has natural antibacterial properties that help prevent breakouts and follow with the toner and moisturizer. The raw honey always makes my skin feel so fresh and soft after rinsing. The mixture of all these tips has really made a difference in my skin throughout the past year and I now have very few breakouts! This was an article I came across a few years ago that I always refer back to http://empoweredsustenance.com/7-secrets-to-cure-acne-without-chemicals/

    I also have tried eliminating dairy and do notice clearer skin when I do, but it is so darn hard to give it up completely! Now I just try to keep it to a minimum and that seems to work for me ☺

    • EmpoweredSustenance.com is a great resource for this sort of thing! I’ve picked up a few tips there and from other blogs she links to.

      I didn’t mention it in this post, but I have also been honey cleansing in the morning along with oil cleansing at night, but then I stopped because I wasn’t noticing any difference. I’ve also tried apple cider vinegar a few times as a toner, but I could still smell it on my face for hours after, so I didn’t continue with it. Maybe if I mixed it with other things like you do. Good to know that there are witch hazel products without alcohol in them because they usually seem to go hand in hand.

      I’m with you on the steaming! That’s why I don’t plan on continuing after my oils are gone unless I start to notice a big difference.

      Dairy will be so challenging to give up, but I’m really curious to see if it works. After I finish my Ben and Jerry’s, that is! At least if it makes a difference, I can avoid it most of the time and then just know it will cause a breakout if I choose to indulge.

      Thank so much for your helpful comment!

  • Thanks for posting. I had seen your post but just got around to reading it. I was curious to see what your experience was. I’ve tried the oil cleansing method as well (started with coconut and switched to castor oil too), I also didn’t see results for my acne prone skin 🙁 I am now going back to Lush facial cleansers. I recently started using their Fresh Farmacy cleanser. So far it’s been good. I’ve still gotten occasional small breakouts. I’ve been prescribed Aczone but haven’t tried it yet. I’m holding out to see how the Lush cleansers work.

    • It’s so frustrating to still struggle with acne as an adult. I feel like I’m willing to try just about anything at this point. It’s such a bummer when something doesn’t work, though.

  • […] even though it’s nasty), avoiding most dairy or my new face wash, but I have seen some improvement with my skin. Fingers crossed it just continues to get […]

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