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Everything You Need to Know About DIY Oil Cleansing

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All over the internet, women have decided that now is the time to start cleaning their precious faces by slathering fatty oils all over them. According to all sorts of earth-mother mama blogs, this is the hottest new trend in having a not-dirty face. The need to oil cleanse seems to be steeped in a lot of trendy anti-detergent, anti-sulfate, anti-corporate Beauty Internet discourse, but for me, it just made me buy more garbage.

Oil cleansing is based on the chemical principle that "like dissolves like."

Like a girl to a curly fry, I — and you too, probably, we’re the same — have been compelled to buy up all sorts of oils: castor, olive, jojoba, rosehip, almond kernel, and the like. And yet, these products have been building up grime in the cabinet under my sink because I never did quite learn how to oil cleanse.

Lucky for us, the experts know.

Oil cleansing is based on the chemical principle that "like dissolves like." Water dissolves water; oil dissolves oil. By that governing principle, the oil collected on your face after a day of sweating, secreting, and unknowingly smearing food on your upper lip can be best dissolved by another oil. Racked spoke to FutureDerm’s Nicki Zevola Benvenuti, who suggests that if you want to mad scientist your own oil cleanser, stick to olive oil and castor oil.

"Castor oil has ricinoleic acid that has been proven to get rid of mild to moderate non-cystic acne," said Benvenuti. "Olive oil has antioxidants, it protects against UV damage, it protects against tumor formation in mice."Correct ratios are crucial. If you have oily skin, Benvenuti suggests a mix of three quarters castor oil with one quarter olive oil. For dry skin, mix three quarters olive oil with one quarter castor oil.

But like life, we must not think in oil cleansing binaries.

But like life, we must not think in oil cleansing binaries. This is where it gets confusing for people just trying to better themselves via DIY beauty goods: castor oil is drying, it has been shown to cause contact dermatitis and cheilitis (cracking of the lips). Olive oil has less of a potential to irritate, but it’s associated with eczema. Benvenuti suggests playing around with different oils that have "medium to long chain hydrocarbons" (I had to listen to my recording of our interview back like nine times to understand those words) like palm oil, coconut oil, and argan oil. A 1992 study in the journal Dermatitis (great read) found that linoleic, linolenic, oleic, and lauric oils had the most hydrating properties for the skin. Their common link was that they all have "medium to long chain hydrocarbons."

More trouble comes when people try and get fancy then complain on message boards. If you want to add in other oils, keep it to a drop. "When oil cleansing became popular, it was mainly olive oil and castor oil with a drop of jojoba or grapeseed," said Benvenuti. "Now people are adding like 10 or 20% of it. Grapeseed oil can really make you break out if you use too much, like above 2%."

"The real problem is people really don’t know how to do it," said Benvenuti. It’s true. Even if we’ve now got the ratios down, we don’t know how to apply it. Do you leave it on your face? Do you allow neighborhood dogs to lick it off? Do you dab at it with a paper towel like you sometimes remember to do with pizza?

The post-oil cleansing step tends to freak a lot of people out, unsure if adding a balm to their already lubed up skin is healthy.

Tata Harper, a natural beauty guru who produces the cult favorite Nourishing Oil Cleanser told Racked it’s simpler than it looks. "Apply [oil cleanser] to dry skin then rinse with warm water to use as a stand-alone cleanser," said Harper. "Or use it at night as a your first step in double cleansing, or apply to a cotton pad and use it as a makeup remover."

Oil cleansing can work on all skin types, but if you’re prone to blackheads and acne, massage the oil cleanser into your skin and then use a brush or washcloth to soften your skin before rinsing it off. This exfoliates and helps decongest skin.

The post-oil cleansing step tends to freak a lot of people out, unsure if adding a coat of moisturizer or balm to their already lubed up skin is healthy. Jessa Blades, natural beauty expert, suggests to listen to what your skin is saying. "If your face feels hydrated, you can moisturize. If you know you have a drier skin that’s going to suck it all up, put an oil or face balm back on top."

Few of us understand that lotion or moisturizer is already oil, just emulsified and whipped with water.

Few of us understand that lotion or moisturizer is already oil, just emulsified and whipped with water. When companies add water to a product, they must also add preservatives. Take the water out, and you’ve just got oil again. "It’s not scary," said Blades. "You’ve always been putting oil on your face."

If you’re like me and you don’t trust yourself with basic fractions, buying a pre-made oil cleanser isn’t selling out. And if you think it is, pour the oil cleanser into a miniature jam jar and hide the evidence from your roommate. Benvenuti agrees. "I may stand alone here, but I support experienced cosmetic chemists," she said. "I trust what’s formulated by the professionals [more] than what someone whips up in their kitchen. It’s unpopular to say right now."

Benvenuti speaks truth to power; and thus I speak for dry-skinned and somehow-also-oil-skinned acne-prone girls all over the internet.