Ever since I was a teenager with pimples all over my face, I was told to AVOID oil on my face at all cost. Even today, our instinct is still to run away from oil, when we are battling break-outs. At best, we look at a non-comedogenic oil as something that won’t make our problem worse provided of course we use it sparingly. But can oils actually – GASP – improve break-out prone skin…? Let’s look at how an acne pimple is formed.
At the beginning of a break-out is a pore that’s clogged with a sticky combination of sebum (your own skin’s oil), dead skin cells (and maybe some other external debris), that forms a plug. Add to the sticky plug the proliferation of acne bacteria, a.k.a. Cutibacterium Acnes, plus the resulting inflammation, and, voila: You get a break-out! How can an oil help when oil is part of the problem?
1. The Role of Linoleic Acid (Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acid)
The presence of oil alone does not explain a break-out. There are plenty of people with oily skin that don’t get break outs, and people with dry skin that do. It turns out applying an oil rich in Linoleic Acid, which is an essential fatty acid, can help reduce break-outs. Why? It has been shown that the surface of break-out prone skin tends to be low in Linoleic Acid. Interestingly, this is independent of having a Linoleic Acid deficiency inside your body. Apparently the deficiency on the skin’s surface leads to your skin not self-exfoliating properly and dead skin cells accumulating inside the pore. Hence applying Linoleic Acid aids the skin’s own pore-clearing process. Oils high in Linoleic Acid include Candlenut (Kukui) Oil, Passionfruit Oil, Hemp Oil, Rosehip Oil, Safflower Oil and Rice Bran Oil.
2. The Role of Your Skin Barrier Function
Our skin barrier is our skin’s own defense structure, of which Linoleic Acid is a key component. A weak skin barrier (which can be due to genetics, use of harsh products or hormonal changes) makes skin more prone to dryness, dehydration, irritation and inflammation, which in turn can make break-outs worse. Imagine having break-out prone skin that is also dry and sensitive! Applying an oil high in Linoleic Acid not only helps reduce the cause of break-outs themselves , it also strengthens the skin’s own defense structure, making it less vulnerable to external stressors and irritation.
3. Targeting Acne Bacteria
While a number of moisturizing oils like Jojoba or Passionfruit have natural antibacterial properties and help balance skin flora, there are several essential oils that target the acne-causing Cutibacterium Acnes specifically. The most famous one is Tea Tree Oil, but Lavender and Rosemary Oils have been shown effective as well and offer a natural alternative to salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide if you have mild acne. If you have persistent break-outs or moderate to severe acne, however, it is best to also consult with a dermatologist.
So next time you are shopping for your skin wondering which products can help with break-outs, take a closer at those skin oils. You might find one that will become your skin’s best friend!