The Science Behind Oil Cleansing

Have you heard of oil cleansing before, but you weren’t exactly sure how it works and why it works? You've come to the right place. In this post, we're going to cover the following topics:

  • What is oil cleansing
  • Why should I oil cleanse?
  • The science behind how it works
  • Recommended cleansers for your skin type
  • How to make your own oil cleanser for your skin type

 What Is Oil Cleansing?

Oil cleansing is a method of cleansing your face using oils rather than soap. An oil cleanser is typically a mixture of various oils and no surfactant is added, meaning, no soapy suds will be added. Some oil cleansers have a mild emollient or surfactant to aid in washing off the oil cleanser. 

Why Should I Oil Cleanse?

If you're having difficulty removing make up, or your skin feels too "squeaky clean" to the point where your skin feels very dry and dehydrated, or if you're prone to breakouts and blemishes... or if you just can't seem to find the right cleanser, you should definitely give oil cleansing a try.

Here are some benefits:

  • It doesn't strip your skin of its natural sebum
  • Removes makeup more efficiently than most makeup removers - makeup is mostly oil-based, and oil attracts oil
  • Great at dissolving gunk (dirt, spf, makeup, etc) from your pores - again, most of gunk in our pores is oil

The Science Behind Oil Cleansing and How It Works

The reason why oil cleansing has become so popular is because traditional facial cleansers that contain surfactants tend to strip your skin of its natural sebum. Our pores need sebum, or, oil produced by your pores. It keeps the skin lubricated, it protects the skin against friction and aids in keeping the skin hydrated and moist. When you wash your face in the traditional sense, you are removing everything - which is good because it cleans your face of oil, dirt, spf, makeup, etc. But it does too good of a job, stripping your natural oils as well. That's why we then need to use a toner to balance your skin's pH levels, and moisturize, etc.

When you rub oils directly onto dry skin, your sebum (as well as all the gunk inside your pores) binds to the oil cleanser. If you remember from chem class, like attracts like. Oil attract oil. All the dirt, spf, makeup, etc that has been sitting on your skin, trapped in your pores, will bind to the oil cleanser by way of your sebum. Once the oil cleanser has been massaged well into your skin for at least 60 seconds, then, depending on the oil cleanser, you will either wipe everything off with a warm damp wash cloth, or you will add tepid water to your face, massage some more so that the oil cleanser begins emulsifying, and then you can rinse your face. 

If an oil cleanser instructs you to add water, emulsify, and rinse off, it means they've added a mild surfactant (an emollient or emulsifier). Since like attracts like, the oil cleanser is now combined with your makeup, gunk, dirt, spf, grime, etc. But all of that is not going to dissolve in water. That's where the surfactant comes into play. Surfactants contain a positively charged "head", a water-loving side. It also contains a "tail" that is oil-loving. It helps dissolve oil in water, forming little droplets, usually it creates a milky consistency on your face as you rinse it off, and leaves your skin clean.

Surfactant hypdrophliic head lypophilic tail

Emulsifiers and surfactants and how they dissolve oil in water

Our Green Tea Facial Oil Cleanser as well as our Cranberry Cleansing Balm both use a mild emollient. These types of oil cleanser shouldn't require you to then wash your face afterwards, but if you're wearing a lot of makeup, or you feel that you need a good cleanse, feel free to wash your face with a mild cleanser afterwards. A great way to check if you need to do an additional cleansing step is to put some toner on a cotton pad, swipe your face. If you see traces of makeup, then you should cleanse again.

If you are making your own oil cleanser or your oil cleanser instructs you to take a warm damp wash cloth and wipe off the product, then there is no surfactant. What you are essentially doing is physically wiping off the oil cleanser that has binded with all the spf, makeup, dirt, grime, and gunk. In this case, you'll want to follow up with a traditional cleanser. This 2-step cleansing process is called double cleansing. 

Recommended Oil Cleansers Per Skin Type

Dry Skin

Dry skin works best with cleansers that are high in oleic acid, so look for ingredients such as avocado oil, olive oil, almond oil, argan oil, marula oil, sesame oil, or apricot oil.

Here are a few we recommend:

DHC Olive Oil Cleanser

DHC Olive Oil Cleanser $34

 Primally Pure Oil Cleanser for Dry Skin

Primally Pure Oil Cleanser for Dry Skin $36

Fyve Green Tea Oil Cleanser $38

Oily Skin

For oily skin, look for oils that are naturally high in linoleic acid such as safflower seed oil, sunflower oil, hemp oil, sea buckthorn oil, evening primrose oil, rosehip oil and pumpkin seed oil. Here are a few recommendations:

One Love Enzyme Cleansing Oil and Makeup Remover - for Oily Skin

One Love Organics Cleansing Oil $42

Mad Hippie Facial Oil Cleanser

Mad Hippie Facial Oil Cleanser $17.99

Fyve Facial Oil Cleanser for Oily Skin

Fyve Facial Oil Cleanser $42

Combination/Normal Skin

If you have combination or normal skin, squalane oil is great for any skin type. The following are great for any skin type, and would work well for combination or normal skin type:

Biossance Squalene Oil Cleanser

Biossance Squalane Cleansing Oil $32

Tata Harper Oil Cleanser

Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser $88

How To Make Your Own Oil Cleanser at Home

For Dry Skin:

  • Choose one or two oils that work well for dry skin: avocado oil, olive oil, almond oil, argan oil, marula oil, sesame seed oil, apricot oil, or hazelnut oil. 
  • Your mixture should contain a total of about 80-90% of a combination of oils from the above list
  • The remaining 10-20% will be castor seed oil. Castor seed oil can be drying, so if you have really dry skin, use closer to 10%.

For Oily Skin:

  • Choose one or two oils that work well for oily skin: safflower seed oil, sunflower seed oil, hemp seed oil, sea buckthorn oil, evening primrose oil, rosehip seed oil, or pumpkin seed oil.
  • Your mixture should contain about 70-80% of a combination of the oils listed above
  • The remaining 20-30% will be castor seed oil. If you have really oily skin, opt for 30% (or more) of castor seed oil, and adjust the other oils accordingly until you reach a total of 100%

For Combination/Normal skin:

  • Choose one or two oils from the dry skin or oily skin list
  • Your mixture should contain a total of about 
  • The remaining 20-25% will be castor seed oil.


  • Mix your oils well, and store in a well sealed bottle or container
  • To use, apply a quarter sized amount of oils to dry skin
  • Massage all over your face for at least 60 seconds
  • Take a warm wash cloth, and gently wipe your face clean
  • Follow up with a mild cleanser.

It's truly that simple. We hope this post was helpful. As always, please let us know if you have any questions. 

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published