Skincare routines seem to get more complicated with age. They often require multiple steps with various items and even a long list of tricks for making those products deliver lasting results. But what if all of those years of research, trial, and practice led back to the one item you probably smeared on your face as a pre-teen? "Oil cleansers effectively remove dirt and grime while hydrating the skin," Dendy Engelman, MD, a New York City dermatologist, says. "It keeps the natural oils present and helps to soothe irritated skin."
Engelman notes that there are no drawbacks to using a oil-based facial cleanser every day, making it the one item you need in a skincare routine regardless of everything else you might be inclined to use. Oil-based cleansers should be the first step of any morning and evening regimen since they'll pave the way for other items—like the hydrating qualities of toners and moisturizing properties of serums—to be better absorbed into skin. Even though you've likely been using one for as long as you can remember, oil-based cleansers still are a vital component to clear, smooth, and youthful-looking skin.
We asked Engelman to provide details into why oil-based cleansers are integral to proper skincare for every type and which products she recommends to try. Since these cleansers should always be cornerstones of your medicine cabinet, we also included a few more options, too.
"Think of your skin like a canvas, you need a clean canvas to start your work," she says. "The purpose of cleansing is two-fold. The first is to cleanse the skin of oils, impurities, makeup, and pollution—all while maintaining the skin's microbiome. The second is to aid the penetration of the products you will be applying afterward."
Oily Skin Types
"Oil-based cleansers eliminate impurities without drying out the skin," she says. "At first the product acts as a nourishing oil to lift impurities, then with help from water, it lathers to wash impurities away. This is great for oily skin types because if the skin is stripped of natural oils, it will go into overproduction and cause more sebum buildup."
Combination Skin Types
"Oil-based cleansers will create balance by soothing dry areas of the skin since there are no drying ingredients or chemical exfoliants," she notes. "The skin will not go into oil overproduction to compensate for the removal of oil, just like for oily skin types."
Dry Skin Types
"The top layer of the skin is formed by ceramides, lipids, and cholesterol," Engelman continues. "When the skin lacks oils, moisture leaks out and causes dryness. Oils help make the skin supple and pliable, and since they are quickly absorbed, the ones in cleansers help to reinforce the skin barrier, making it stronger and less vulnerable."
Normal Skin Types
"As previously mentioned, clean skin will allow active ingredients to penetrate better and work more effectively," she says. "For normal skin types, facial cleansing oils clear the skin for other products to be absorbed."
"This item uses apricot oil, safflower oil, and olive oil to nourish the skin and restore the skin barrier," she says. "It's also gentle enough for sensitive skin."
"In addition to cleansing oils, Tula uses probiotics to balance skin moisture and hydration," Engelman notes.
"This uses squalene to offer supercharged hydration," she adds. "The similarity of squalene to our own skin's design allows it to penetrate the skin completely and synthesize quickly, so it won't clog pores or leave a greasy residue behind."
"This is free of harmful and irritating ingredients like parabens and fragrance, yet it's effective enough to remove makeup and grime," she adds.
"This is a soap- and fragrance-free formula that gently cleanses your face without irritation," Engelman says. "I especially like this brand for people with sensitive skin or for someone who has atopic dermatitis."
"This is one of the original cleansing oils," she notes. "It is very popular in Japan and is infused with olive oil and vitamin E, making it nourishing and hydrating. It's completely residue-free and doesn't leave a greasy feeling on the skin."
Other Cleansing Oils to Try