The science behind washing your face with oil

I recently created a cleansing oil for a teenage client using organic plant oils and essential oils.

While it might seem counter-intuitive to wash the face with oil, particularly teenage skin prone to breakouts, cleansing oils can bring balance to the skin and actually prevent breakouts.

The secret lies in understanding the important role that sebum plays in our skin.

A natural moisturizer

Sebum is a natural lubricant that everyone needs for healthy skin. Sebum is a wax like oily substance produced in the sebaceous glands just below the surface of the skin (Davis, 1995).

Sebum only becomes a problem when there is too little or too much of it – resulting in dry or oily skin.

Your skin up close


Pores are tiny openings in the skin, and for every hair on your body there is a corresponding skin pore. We have millions of pores all over our body.

Pores house a hair follicle and the sebaceous glands (which produce sebum).

Sebum naturally flows along the shaft of the hair and comes outside the opening of a follicle. As it flows away, it carries dead cells out of the hair follicle.

The birth of a pimple

Oily skin is caused by overactive sebaceous glands that produce too much sebum.

The amount of sebum produced by the sebaceous gland usually depends on hormonal factors. During puberty (and sometimes during pregnancy or menopause) sebaceous glands produce more sebum than ever before.

When the skin is excessively oily, the pore may become blocked by excess sebum combined with dirt and particles of dead skin cells (Davis, 1995). Bacteria feed on the excess sebum and dirt, and the hair follicle becomes inflamed and a pimple is produced.

Finding balance for your skin

Skin breakouts sometimes result from over cleanliness, in particular by scrubbing the face with harsh cleansers and soaps.

Many commercial cleansers that are designed to “de-grease” the skin actually cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum to compensate for the lack of oil that is a result of using the cleansers (Worwood, 1998).

This can lead to even more break outs and pimples. Which in many cases, leads to the use of more harsh cleansers and chemicals.

How do you stop this cycle?

Unrefined organic plant oils and essential oils can have a balancing effect on the skin without making the sebaceous glands produce more sebum (Worwood, 1998).

So while it may seem counter-intuitive to wash your face with plant oils, it might just be what your skin needs to bring the sebum production back into balance.


Davis, P. (1995). Aromatherapy An A – Z. Essex: C.W. Daniel Company Ltd.

Worwood, V. (1998). The Fragrant Pharmacy. London: Bantam Books.



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