Oils have a Jekyll and Hyde reputation with acne. While we have been taught to go oil-free if we're dealing with breakouts, there are thousands of websites touting the benefits of using oils on the skin. So where's the truth? It's right in the middle.
Oils can be fantastic and there is a right fit for everyone. But while coconut oil may be great for your dry skin or rosacea-prone friend, it can cause nightmares for someone with acne. The reason is its comedogenicity - or pore-clogging factor. Many oils have been tested and only a few have been found safe for acne-prone skin. Here is an easy list of which oils are safe and which are not.
Oils SAFE for Acne
Sunflower oil. Rated a 0 out or 5 in the 1989 Dr. Fulton comedogenic study, this oil is safe for use on acne-prone skin. A "0" on the comedogenic scale means no clogged pores were found when the oil was used on the skin. Many other oils were found to be comedogenic.
Safflower oil. Also rated a 0 out or 5 again in the Dr. Fulton study.
Jojoba oil. To call jojoba an "oil" is actually a little misleading. It is technically a wax and its composition makes it the closest compound to our own natural sebum production. In a sense, using this oil is like lathering your face in your body's own natural oil. This was found to have a rating of 0-2 depending on the source. I recommend to use the highest quality of jojoba possible. Because it is a more expensive oil, some suppliers may dilute it. Be sure to read ingredients and if you do use a jojoba that you find breaks you out, best to switch to another higher-end brand you can trust.
Essential oils are potent extractions of plants and herbs. This includes tea tree, clove, lavender, mandarin, sweet orange, bergamot, tangerine, and turmeric just to name a few. These are always safe for acne-prone skin, however they should always be diluted and never used directly on the skin.
Oils NOT SAFE for Acne
This is where things get a little tricky. What may be good for someone else's skin may not be good for yours. Everyone has an oil that is right for them, this is just a list to avoid if you have acne. If you don't have acne, you generally don't have to worry about what oils you use (as far as clogs go). So while your friend with dry skin may rave about cleansing with olive oil, slathering that on your breakout-prone skin will cause your face to explode in clogs. Here are the oils to avoid:
Apricot kernel oil
Cotton seed oil
Flax seed oil
Peach kernel oil
Shark liver oil
Sulfulated jojoba oil
Sweet almond oil
Wheat germ oil
Vitamin E oil (tocopherol). This is generally safe if used in <2% of the product, but at 10-100%, it can cause clogs on the skin. It is very thick and unbreathable.
The Unknown Oils
All other oils not listed here have not been tested for comedogenicity (pore clogging). This includes hemp, argan, castor oil, and many more. Because they have not been tested, I recommend to play it safe rather than sorry and avoid using them if you have acne.
Another note here - oils generally do not clear acne. They can be used to help support the clarity of skin, but if you have acne the best way to clear it is to find the root cause and make the changes necessary to allow your body to balance naturally. I will be writing an upcoming blog article on which ingredients fight acne. It's worth knowing what to have in your corner!
Elise May, CN + LE, is the owner and practitioner behind SKINutritious. She has helped over 1,000 clients clear acne with detoxing treatments, clear skin coaching, and holistic skincare.
Work with Elise. Book online here.