Should You Be Cleaning Your Face With Oil?

The Oil Cleansing Method is one of many skincare regimens making its rounds on blogs and forums alike, with claims of being a near-miracle fix for everything from fine lines to stubborn acne…but does it work?

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We slather our skin with an alarming number of chemicals on a daily basis under the guise of caring for it (or, too often, covering up any evidence of imperfections). A growing number of individuals, though, have been seeking out more natural alternatives. The Oil Cleansing Method (OCM) is one of many skin care regimens making its rounds on blogs and forums alike, with claims of being a near-miracle fix for everything from fine lines to stubborn acne. Here’s how it works: massage a small amount of castor oil (typically “diluted” with another high quality, cold-pressed oil) onto your face to loosen up all of the oil, dirt, bacteria, and dead skin clogging your pores; then use steam via a hot washcloth to remove it all. It’s meant to be done “regularly but not too frequently,” which is a bit vague but generally measured by how your skin feels. If it’s too dry, back off a bit. It sounds reassuringly simple, but does it work?


A lot of people do find OCM truly revolutionary. Individuals all over are singing its praises from the virtual rooftops. It removes makeup! It cleans skin without over-drying, because instead of harsh chemicals you’re balancing out the body’s natural oils! It’s inexpensive! It’s luxuriously relaxing! And you should see the before and after pictures! They’re incredible! Castor oil, known for its traditional medicinal uses, is the key ingredient. A lot of its skin-healing properties specifically have been attributed to its ricinoleic acid content. If you’re totally freaking out about putting oil on your skin, especially if your skin tends to be oily already (that’s me!), OCM advocates insist that it’s the fact that the cleanser is oil-based that makes it so effective. The argument is that “like dissolves like,” and in order to clear oil-laced dirt and grime from pores, you can’t rely on water-based cleansers. (Oil and water don’t mix.) In addition to that, the harsh chemicals and soaps in most commercial cleansers dry the skin out, which can actually cause the body to produce more oil, exacerbating the problem in the long run. Although extensive research hasn’t been done on the subject (not at all uncommon for home remedies and alternative medicines), it makes sense, right? I was certainly convinced. I bought myself some nice, organic castor oil and sweet almond oil, because the internet told me that would be a good combination for my skin, and I dove right in. I was excited! I was optimistic! This was going to be awesome!


It wasn’t awesome. It was very stressful. The first few days were ok, but after about a week, I started noticing far worse breakouts than I had ever had before. You know, breakouts of the gross, cystic, no-amount-of-makeup-is-going-to-hide-this variety. I read about “detox periods,” where skin can flare up a bit for the first week or so, so I stuck it out. Surely it would get better. It didn’t. It got a lot worse, and I’m not the only one who has experienced this. In fact, the more “research” (blog posts and forums) I read, the more complicated it got. For every few glowing reviews of the method, there were stories exactly like mine. The anecdotal concerns are not wholly unfounded, either. Some sources say that although oil cleansing works for some, it may wind up clogging what’s known as “problem skin.” Additionally, using a steamy hot washcloth can actually be irritating and cause problems down the road. This last concern isn’t an issue with oil cleansing itself, but with the method that many sources recommend you use to remove the oil from your skin afterward.


Are those of us with negative experiences simply doing it wrong? Maybe we haven’t found the right oil blends for our skin. Maybe we should use cooler rags, or better yet, dry ones. Maybe I should be more diligent about not reusing the same washcloth a few (way too many) times. (Oops.) I’m certainly willing to try troubleshooting a little more before throwing in the towel altogether. Here’s the thing with our health, though. Whether we are talking about nutrition, skin care, physical activity, or any other facet of it: We are all different. I have no doubt that OCM works wonders for many people, but it may not be the right option for me (or you), and that’s ok. If you’re having trouble with your skin, consider all possible causes and remedies. We can cleanse religiously, but if there’s an underlying problem (diet and hormones being common culprits), OCM is merely a Band-Aid at best. OCM might help you get by day-to-day while your body heals, but it’s what’s going on under the surface that really matters.