This post was originally published in December 2010. It has been revised and republished.
I have had amazing success with a strange-sounding method of natural skincare called “The Oil Cleansing Method.” Along with the dietary, supplemental and digestive strategies outlined in the next edition of my Purely Primal Skincare Guide (hop on my list to get email updates), I’ve been able to keep my skin happy and clear without harsh cleansers or soaps.
The way I treat my skin from the outside has changed dramatically over the last decade. At one time, I used multiple prescriptions and all the so-called “gentle”/”non-comedogenic”/”oil-fighting”/buzzword-laden drugstore crud in a desperate attempt to treat symptoms (acne, oily skin, and uneven tone) rather than addressing the root cause of my problems (hormonal and bodily imbalances and topically irritated skin).
Switching to the Oil Cleansing Method, along with using oils exclusively to moisturize, truly made my skin better and more clear than it has ever been.
At the time, this was completely out of the norm (there wasn’t a single oil-based serum on the market then – now, there are hundreds!)
My daily skincare routine has changed dramatically, and so has my skin. But this hasn’t been the only piece of my skin healing puzzle – nutrition and digestive health are key too. Check out this post for more on that.
It may sound crazy to use oil on the skin when most people are trying to get rid of oil, but let me tell you: I used to have oily skin, and this works! As I learned in 7th Grade Biology (or as the interwebs tell me that I should’ve learned), “like dissolves like” – so does the cleansing oil dissolve the oily gunk stuck on my face and in my pores.
At the same time, the oils nourish and balance my skin. Happily, this routine also works on dry and combination skin!
You don’t have to work as hard at this regimen as you may think, especially after your skin has reached a point where you’re happy and in “maintenance mode.” For me, one day per week of by-the-book oil cleansing (as explained below) is excellent, but the rest of the time I tend to do a few different, lower-maintenance things:
I’ll massage my oil of choice into my skin (usually jojoba), then briefly cover my face with a warm (NOT HOT) washcloth and wipe away – once to remove makeup if necessary, then again to cleanse.
Some days I’ll even simply wipe my face with a soft cloth and dab a light oil like Rose Hip Seed oil on as a moisturizer.
What this method has shown me, above all, is how powerful oils can be for the skin.
More on the Oil Cleansing Method can be found here, where I originally discovered the regimen, and I describe my personal routine (which I believe improves upon that method), below.
My Oil Cleansing Method
I start with three basic oils: castor oil for deep cleansing (hazelnut oil can be used as a replacement for castor), organic sweet almond oil as a carrier oil to blend with the castor oil, and jojoba oil or rose hip seed oil as a light post-cleansing moisturizer.
Castor oil has a long history in wound treatment and holistic medicine, and even Ayurveda. It’s incredibly potent, considered a topically-applied anti-inflammatory, and NOT EVER EVER EVER for cooking. Unless you’re not planning on hanging on to your meal for too long. (That’s a motility joke.)
Here’s how I cleanse:
- I add 1 part Castor oil to 2 parts sweet almond oil for my cleansing mixture, to equal about 1-2 tsp oil blend. I do this only in the evenings.
- I apply the mixture to my face, massage gently for a few minutes, then apply a very warm (NOT hot) washcloth over the oil to my face to open the pores, holding the warm cloth on my skin for a minute or so. (Remember, if it’s too hot for your hands, it’s too hot for your face.)
- An added benefit of facial massage: lymph drainage!
- After the first stint with the warm washcloth, I massage the remaining oil in again, use the warm washcloth again, then gently wipe all remaining oil off as best I can. I pat my skin dry, then add a thin layer of moisturizing oil.
A few fun facts about the oils you might choose to cleanse and moisturize with:
- Jojoba oil is actually a wax ester, and is extremely close in structure to the skin’s natural sebum. It creates the perfect balance – my skin doesn’t over-or under-produce oil when it’s nourished with jojoba.
- Rose hip seed oil is incredibly light and fast-absorbing, and a little goes a long way. (It’s even known to help with bodily stretch marks.)
- Coconut oil is great for more intensive moisture, and the lauric acid it contains is thought to have a great affinity for the hair and skin. That said, not all skin types tolerate it well. If your skin is particularly sensitive, I like jojoba and rose hip seed oil much better.
- Tallow is well-tolerated by almost all skin types, and has become a fun, sustainable favorite of mine.
You can find all many skin care oils at Whole Foods, as well as online. (Update: since this post came out, there are hundreds of brands making dedicated oil blends!)
The first week using the OCM I saw a nice little breakout – a detox, perhaps – but I stuck with it. After a week my skin began to steadily improve, and after a few months my skin looked amazing – better than the results of years of dermatological intervention.
KEEP IN MIND, THOUGH, that a brief “detox” period should NOT be a frightening explosion of acne lesions or severe skin irritation. This is a HUGE, sad, frustrating misconception in the natural skincare world. A “detox” might look like a few easily-expressed whiteheads or some small pustules bringing grime to the surface, but anything worse is likely a reaction to the oils themselves.
People can be intolerant to ANYTHING, from strawberries to skincare oils. I once had my whole face break out in hives from an avocado mask.
Often, with nutritional and digestive approaches, skin sensitivities calm down. Don’t beat yourself up if this routine isn’t right for you, and ALWAYS REMEMBER TO SPOT-TEST.
If you’ve tried this method, or if you’re curious about it, let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!