I've finally returned to my Do I Need This? series, which had been on a year-long hiatus. In these posts, I offer my experience and opinion about whether or not I think a trendy product or technique is worth it. Obviously, you don't really need ANY beauty products, so the answer to the question is always going to be no, to some extent. But is it going to change your life (or face)? Is it going to make things easier? Are you going to notice any difference at all? That's what I'm getting at. You may disagree with my verdict, because we all have different bodies/faces/brains/desires, but I'll try to offer a starting point, at least.
Oil cleansing is nothing new, and oil in skin care has been a big thing for a while now. We used to always check to make sure our products were labeled "oil-free" (at least those of us with oily or acne-prone skin), but now we're being told to embrace the magical, precious oil, regardless of skin type. Especially if it's "natural." So were we mistaken all that time? Is oil the new everything? Can I actually clean my oily face with oil? Wha?
As usual, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Lots of oils have positive properties for various skin types. Some will work for some people and not for others. Adding oil isn't necessarily going to clog your pores or make your skin produce more oil - in fact, it might have the opposite effect. The trick, as always, is to experiment and find out what works for you.
I'm going to talk about my experience with cleansing using oils here. Facial oils that are supposed to treat skin issues are another thing (I'm partial to rosehip oil, myself), so I'll leave those out. This is about washing your damn face.
Do I need this?
Short answer: Oil is effective for removing makeup, but don't expect miracles (and you don't need to spend a ton of money on fancy oil cleansers).
Oil Cleansing Method
There are a lot of different options when it comes to using oil as a cleanser. One of the most hyped is the Oil Cleansing Method (OCM), which uses readily available oils in a custom mixture, following specific steps, including massage and steaming with a hot cloth. You can read all about it here. Some people claim it has been miraculous for their skin. The idea is that oil will dissolve oil, and so using this method will unclog your pores and help clear up your skin. Then there's stuff about the steam opening your pores, which is not actually a thing that happens (pores have no mechanism to open and close with temperature changes). If the cloth you use is too hot, that could also be bad for your skin. Finally, the idea is that using oil will not strip your skin like other cleansers do, and so it will remain moisturized and won't overcompensate by producing more oil. Again, it's not clear that your skin can sense how oily it is and adjust its production accordingly. Most of the claims sound bullshitty to me (and here's another critique), but anecdotal evidence suggest that this process is effective for some people. If you want to try it, you'll need castor oil and a plant oil, like olive or jojoba or sweet almond. Different people have different preferences.
I tried the method for 4-6 weeks a couple of years ago. (I forget exactly how long I stuck with it.) I noticed absolutely no difference, and since the process was more complicated and time consuming than just washing my face, I didn't bother to stick it out. I was left with 3/4 of a bottle of castor oil that I had no use for and that I eventually threw away when I moved a year later. So overall, it was kind of a waste for me. There's your anecdotal evidence that this method does not have noticeable results for everyone.
So as for OCM, I'd say it can't hurt to try it, but don't necessarily believe the hype.
Removing Makeup with Oil (or Double Cleansing)
You can also use oil to remove makeup. Most oils do an excellent job of dissolving makeup, so much so that you can even use them to clean your makeup brushes if you want to. For your face, all you have to do is lightly massage the oil into your dry skin, add a splash of water to emulsify it and massage some more, and then rinse. If you have dry skin, you might stop here, and if you don't, you might do another quick wash with a regular cleanser. It's like OCM, I suppose, except simpler, and the goal is simply to remove makeup, not to transform the way your skin functions. You can also use oil to remove stubborn eye makeup rather than applying it to your entire face - though be careful to avoid getting it in your eyes, because it can cause (temporary) blurry vision.
Exactly what oil you use is up to you. Olive, jojoba, grapeseed, safflower, almond . . . whatever sounds good to you. Some people swear by coconut oil (after all, coconut oil can do ANYTHING, it seems), but that can clog pores, so YMMV. Also be careful with oils that solidify at higher temperatures, like coconut oil, because if you rinse them down your sink, they can clog your drain.
I tend to break out really easily when I wear foundation or any other product that contains titanium dioxide. To avoid that reaction, I use oil to remove the makeup and then I wash again with my usual gentle gel or foaming cleanser to make sure I get rid of everything before I go to bed. This method is sometimes referred to as "double cleansing" for obvious reasons - if you google that phrase, you'll find all sorts of pages raving about this ASIAN! SKIN! CARE! SECRET! It's not that mysterious. Step 1: Remove makeup with oil. Step 2: Wash face as usual.
I use the Garnier oil in the photo below for the first step, because I hated it for any other purpose. It's not designed for cleansing, but it's effective nonetheless. When I use this stuff up, I will probably just go with a basic fruit oil - I won't replace it.
Obviously this last category overlaps a lot with the last one, except here you buy a specifically designed oil-based cleanser and you just wash your face with that, rather than (necessarily) double cleansing. Unlike straight up oils, oil-based cleansers have additional ingredients designed to rinse more easily and make sure you don't end up greasy. I've only tried a few samples of these products myself, though I did like the large sample of the Josie Maran version I used for a few weeks, and the DHC Cleansing Oil is a cult favorite. There are more and more of these things on the market every day, so your options at every price point are plentiful. The premise of these cleansers is the same as what I've described above: they will dissolve the pore-clogging shit on your skin without stripping it and drying you out too much.
In addition to straight up cleansing oils, there are hybrid products, like balms and cream-to-oil cleansers. I don't have personal experience with the former, but I have the tube of Lancome 'Crème Douceur' Cream-to-Oil Massage Cleanser. You use it just like you would a regular cleansing oil, by applying it to dry skin and then adding water and rinsing. Counterintuitively, perhaps, it's one of the most drying cleansers I've used in a while. It definitely removes makeup well, but I really have to moisturize after I use it. So don't be sure that a product in this format is going to be best for dry skin.
Verdict: My personal recommendation is to try using oil as a makeup remover if you react badly to heavy makeup or you just want to be completely sure that you've removed it all. I only do the double cleansing thing when I wear a full face of foundation, which isn't every day. It does seem to help prevent breakouts when I do it. I don't think that you need a special product to do this, at least not if you are planning to wash a second time with another cleanser. You can use pretty much any oil you already have in your kitchen cabinet (with the above caveat about solid oils like coconut).
What do you think? Is oil cleansing already part of your routine? Or does it seem more like just a trend - one that you're sitting out?