Fatty Acids: The Key To Figuring Out The Right Facial Oil For Your Skin

Once you know the difference between oleic and lineolic acids--and the oils they're in--picking out the perfect product is easy.
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Once you know the difference between oleic and lineolic acids--and the oils they're in--picking out the perfect product is easy.

So you’re probably aware that oils are totally having a moment right now, and for good reason: pure oils and oil blends provide excellent emollient and occlusive action with minimal ingredients. This means you can hydrate and nourish your skin while avoiding clogged pores and acne--really--by rubbing oil on your face.

The key to getting it right, though, is choosing the appropriate oil for your skin type. For example, you may love coconut oil for basically everything, but for many people, it is a major no for facial skin. Think horrible, inflamed, cystic breakouts. 

So how do you pick an oil that won’t betray you so mercilessly?

Taylor Face Oils

Me + Maracuja Oil 4 Lyfe. Photography shot with the Canon SL1.

First, you have to understand what makes up oils. 

You’ve probably heard of fatty acids, the building blocks of oils. What makes each oil different from one another is the combination and percentages of these fatty acids, and it’s these differences that determine how they will affect your skin. 

For example, coconut oil contains a fatty acid called caprylic triglyceride, which is a major acne trigger for some. The good news is it's unique to coconut and palm oils.

There are hundreds of other fatty acids that make up oils, and I won’t pretend to know how all of them interact with the skin. Instead, I want to pick out the two that most reliably indicate to me whether an oil will work for my skin or not: oleic acid and linoleic acid.

Oleic acid makes oils richer and heavier, so they are extra-occlusive and can seal in moisture really effectively. High-oleic oils include olive oil, safflower oil, almond oil, and avocado oil among many others. These oils are especially suitable for very dry skin, as they can deliver heavier moisture than even your most potent night cream. 

Those concerned with aging skin will especially like high-oleic oils that are also rich in antioxidants, like rose hip oil, argan oil, and camellia oil.

Some good readily available high-oleic bets are: Boscia Tsubaki Beauty Oil, MARULA Pure Marula Oil, and Josie Maran Pure Argan Oil.

Oleic acid is awesome and all, but it's not suitable for all skin types. Acne-prone folks might find that these oils break them out, and sensitive skins, especially those dealing with conditions like rosacea or sebbhoreic dermatitis, may find that high-oleic acids exacerbate those problems. 

Instead, the acne-prone and sensitive-skinned should seek out an oil high in linoleic acid.

Linoleic acid makes for a lighter oil with a thinner consistency. These oils will still nourish and protect skin without being too heavy, but may not provide enough moisture for a more dry, delicate skin type. 

These oils can range from relatively moisturizing, like passion fruit oil (also known as maracuja oil), sesame seed oil, and seabuckthorn oil, to more astringent oils like grapeseed and castor oils that are ideal for use in oily skin to actually dry it out. 

Sensitive skin that needs more moisture may benefit from an oil blend that is mainly composed of a high-linoleic oil, with a bit of high-oleic oil blended in to get those heavy moisturizing properties.

Some great high-linoleic oils you can find in stores are: Tarte Pure Maracuja Oil (my favorite until the end of time) and Fresh Seaberry Moisturizing Face Oil.

Now, oils and oil blends you find in stores are often mega-pricy, so also check out beauty ingredient wholesalers like Garden of Wisdom and Mountain Rose Herbs. They sell fresh, reputable products for a fraction of the cost and have a wealth of information about all different kinds of oils if you want to learn more about what is in those blends on the shelf.  These are also great resources if you want to create you own blend out of a few different oils you like.

Do make sure, though, that when you purchase an oil blend (or make your own), it does NOT contain essential oils (lavender and citrus oils are usually the culprits) because they can be highly irritating to the skin and potentially phototoxic (causing mad skin damage if you wear them during the day in the sunlight). But if you stick to these basic oils, often referred to as “carrier oils,” and choose the right ones for your skin type, you can definitely find an oil to give you that coveted glow and have you kissing your oil-free favorites adios.

Have you hopped on the facial oil bandwagon yet? What’s your favorite oil to moisturize with?