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 my Purely Primal Skincare Guide, I’ve been able to keep my skin happy and clear for nearly five years!
Check out my before-and-after:
The way I treat my skin from the outside has changed dramatically over the last half-decade. Over time, I stopped using my skin prescriptions and all the harsh/gentle/foaming/non-foaming/astringent/non-comodegenic drugstore crud I’d been smearing on my face for years in hopes they would treat a symptom (acne) rather than addressing the root cause (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’s ever been. And I no longer put ingredients I can’t pronounce on my skin every day. 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 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 (depending on the season and how my skin feels, I’ll use coconut, jojoba, or tallow, which is excellent for sensitive skin), 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 microfiber cloth (like a Norwex 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.
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.
I have used all kinds of oils and oil-based products for moisturizing since this post was first published, from coconut and tallow to the Egyptian Magic moisturizer and beyond. I find that while many people swear by coconut oil, most people tolerate tallow best.
Since I began using the OCM, some amazing natural skincare companies have begun producing oil blends as well, so the routine is obviously working for many! I keep an extensive list of great and recommended brands in the resource guide for Purely Primal Skincare Guide customers as well.
Castor oil has a long history in wound treatment and holistic medicine, and even Ayurvedic tradition. 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 – in the morning I simply splash my face with water.
- 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 favorite of mine.
You can find all many skin care oils at Whole Foods, as well as online. 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. The avocado wasn’t the problem; it just wasn’t right for me at the time.
Often, with nutritional and digestive approaches (like those outlined in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide), skin sensitivities calm down. Don’t beat yourself up if this routine isn’t right for you, and ALWAYS REMEMBER TO SPOT-TEST.
My non-toxic, natural skincare obsession has extended far beyond just facial care. I’ve also re-evaluated my surroundings. I have ditched industrial strength cleaners (with their “call poison control” warning labels) in favor of cleaning with the natural power of vinegar, and essential oil cleaners like those I have been able to purchase as a Young Living distributor have been life-changing.
I used to be a bit of a bleach addict (I can’t explain it – I just love the smell) but I’ve transitioned to using beneficial bacteria instead of bleach for home cleaning – yup, probiotics like those found at P2 Probiotics. Why fight constantly re-colonizing “bad” bacteria when you can crowd them out with the good stuff and maintain that positive environment?
If you’ve tried this method, or if you’re curious about it, let me know in the comments! And if you’re in need of specialized help and a skincare overhaul, please consider checking out my Purely Primal Skincare Guide.
Thanks for reading!