Photograph by Ritual of Me
There are a lot of fish in the face oil sea — enough to fill your entire vanity. And yet, not satisfy it if you don’t know what you’re looking for in a skinmate. Options are great, but wading through shelves of just-here-for-looks packaging, nothing-serious marketing and attention-sucking bots just to find that one special oil that actually gets your skin is enough to send any face oil virgin running. Even those of us with tons of experience experimenting often find the oversaturated world of face oils overwhelming to navigate. If only there was an app for that. Until someone else invents it, here’s a starter’s guide to deciphering your skin’s perfect face oil match (for now). But before you swipe on any of the face oils below, we need a quick DCR — Define Comedogenic Ratings, your at-first-glance cheat sheet to compatibility.
The Comedogenic Rating Scale
Comedogenic is another way of saying pore-clogging. The comedogenic scale ranks oils based on how likely they are to clog pores with 0 falling on the non-clogging side of the spectrum and 5 basically a guaranteed recipe for a breakout. (1
) But choosing your face oil based on its comedogenic rating alone is a reductionist approach. Which is why this face oil guide includes the primary fatty acid for each oil listed as well as it comedogenic rating.
Whether you prefer them over your salad or over your moisturizer, oils are composed of fatty acids and your face loves them. Oils high in linoleic acid (a member of the omega-6 family) are lighter in texture and best for oily or acne-prone skin. Oils high in oleic acid are typically richer and tend to make dry or mature skin happier. Other honorable mentions you’ll see below include anti-inflammatory linolenic acid (omega-3), skin-repairing palmitoleic acid (omega-7) and sebum-balancing eicosenoic acid (omega-9). (2
Comedogenic rating: 0 High in both linoleic and oleic acid Goor for all skin moods Argan oil is a superstar of the skincare industry for obvious reasons: it’s unlikely to clog pores, it gets along with all skin mood’s and its hydration feats are practically legend. Argan oil is known for its ability to restore the skin’s barrier function and maintain its water-holding capacity. It’s also touted for its sebum production-regulating benefits. Plus, it feels fancy, like silk. (4
Comedogenic rating: 0-1 High in omega 2 Good for all skin moods, especially acne-prone Outlier alert. Squalene is actually a lipid found in several oils. But it’s worth a mention here because it garnered a larger-than-life reputation for being fast-absorbing and protecting against moisture loss, free radicals, aging...all the things. It’s weightless feel and low comedogenic rating make it a winner for all skin moods and a life-saver for breakout fits. Side note: squalane and squalene aren’t exactly the same thing. Squalene isn’t stable enough to give products a long shelf life. Squalane is derived from squalene, but is more stable and therefore better suited to skincare products. (8
Rosehip Seed Oil
Comedogenic rating: 1 High in linoleic and linolenic acids, moderate in oleic acid Good for most skin moods, best for oily and acne-prone Where to even start? Rosehip seed oil is loaded with fatty acids, absorbs quickly into skin and comes with a laundry list of benefits from ultra-moisturizing to naturally exfoliating. It’s effective against inflammation, a common symptom across skin issues — and oxidative stress, and it helps reduce dullness for a brighter, more glowing complexion. But perhaps the biggest draw for rosehip oil is that it helps promote collagen production, a key player in skin maintaining its strength and structure. (10
Sea Buckthorn Oil
Comedogenic rating: 1 High in palmitic, palmitoleic and oleic acid Good for most skin moods, especially dry, mature or damaged skin Extracted from the berries of a shrub, not the sea, this oil is a natural healer. It’s unique mixology of acids gives it regenerative and repair properties, which is why it’s been more traditionally used to treat wounds. For your skin, it’s a soothing way back to a healthy structure if you’re experience damage from dehydration or inflammation. (14
Apricot kernel oil
Comedogenic rating: 2 High in oleic acid Best for sensitive, irritated or combination/dry skin Another soothing oil to add to your shortlist for combating inflammation and irritation, apricot seed oil is best known for how quickly it absorbs. It wastes no time delivering its hydrating benefits to the deepest levels of the epidermis. (16
Comedogenic rating: 2 High in eicosenoic acid Good for most skin types, including oily and acne-prone Even though it has a slightly higher comedogenic rating, jojoba oil shouldn’t be ruled out as too pore-clogging for oily skin. Thanks to its high concentration of eicosenoic acid, jojoba closely resembles our own sebum. Not only does it help balance skin’s oil production, it also breaks down buildup in already-plugged pores. (18
Comedogenic rating: 3 High in oleic acid Best for very dry or dehydrated skin Fact: Avocados are the best thing to happen to toast. Turns out, all that rich, creamy green goodness in oil form might also be the best thing to happen to very dry skin. Packed with vitamins and high in oleic acid, it helps nourish and enrich dry, dehydrated, flakey and chapped skin. Since it’s a heavier oil with a higher likelihood of clogging pores, avocado oil might be best kept to your cooking if you’re skin skews oily or combination. (20
Comedogenic rating: 3-4 High in oleic acid Best for very dry, sensitive moods A darling of the beauty world from the heart of Africa, marula oil is 70% oleic acid, earning it a place on the top shelf of anyone who has had bouts with very dry skin. More than ultra-moisturizing, though, this oil is rich in vitamins C and E, powerful antioxidants that can help protect against free radicals. (24
Comedogenic rating: 4 High in lauric acid Best for very dry or dehydrated skin Coconut oil has certainly had its moment on the beauty stage, but it might be on its way out — or least not longer taking a leading role. Although it does have natural antibacterial benefits that help fight acne, it’s also definitely pore clogging, which can cause acne. It might be ok for dry mood swings, but if you skew oily or are breakout prone, maybe save your coconut oil for your legs or hair. (26
Wheat Germ Oil
Comedogenic rating: 5 High in linolenic acid Best for very dry, damaged skin Although wheat germ oil is high in vitamins and antioxidants and does help nourish and moisturize skin, it has as high a comedogenic rating as oils get. Reserve this one as a spot treatment for cracked or chapped skin. (28
How You Apply it Really Does Matter
It probably goes without saying that this guide isn’t comprehensive. There are hundreds of face oils on the market today and like most things in life, finding your perfect match will take some trial and error (annoying, but true). But picking the right face oil for your skin mood is only half the battle. If you’re over applying or spread too thin, welp, good luck with that. Kidding...here are a couple basic rules of the road to set you on the path to face oil heaven: 1) Once you’ve found an oil that’s compatible with your skin mood and goals, don’t go pouring fistfuls of the stuff all over your face. All you need is one or three drops to cover your whole face. Because oils are so highly concentrated, a little goes a very, very long way. 2) Don’t rub oil into your skin like you would your moisturizer. Instead, gently pat and press it into your skin until fully absorbed.