You’ve no doubt heard it before: plant oils are great for your skin. Replacing your face wash and cream with oils can help cure everything from acne to wrinkles. But it can still be pretty overwhelming to know which oils to choose, especially when it seems that every few months a new exotic oil becomes trendy.
The key to choosing an oil to treat your skin often lies in the oil’s unique fatty acid composition. Slapping any old oil on your skin — even if it is totally natural and organic — doesn't necessarily mean you're about to experience the best skin of your life.
Here are four typical skin issues and the different fatty acids that are best suited to combat and treat each. Hopefully this makes your next trip down the green beauty aisle a little easier!
1. Oily, acne-prone skin
For people whose skin tends to be oily or acne-prone, you’ll want to choose oils high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. These oils have a very thin, light texture and are rapidly absorbed, leaving no trace of oil behind. Linoleic acid-rich oils are great for acne sufferers because they'll provide just enough moisture to nourish the skin while simultaneously breaking up clogged pores and preventing the overproduction of sebum.
Oils that are high in linoleic acid include grapeseed, hemp seed, safflower, evening primrose and watermelon seed.
2. Dry, mature skin
Oils high in oleic acid are rich and heavy, so they're better suited for people with dry, normal or mature skin. Oils rich in oleic acid also tend to be quite high in antioxidant properties, which help fight inflammation both internally and externally. These oils are also excellent for helping to repair sun damage.
Oils that are high in oleic acid include avocado, apricot kernel, camellia seed, olive and hazelnut.
3. Inflamed, angry skin
Gamma linoleic acid (GLA) is getting a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. This omega-6 fatty acid fights inflammation in the whole body and improves many skin conditions when taken internally.
When applied topically, oils high in GLA help prevent water loss and reduce inflammation. These oils also have numerous benefits for people with skin conditions such as acne (especially hormonal acne), eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and rosacea. I usually recommend one of these oils for skin problems that are characterized as red, itchy and irritating.
If you can’t find a bottle of one of these oils, you can check in the vitamin section of any health food store or pharmacy, as they're also available in capsule form — just break open the capsule and apply as needed.
The three oils which contain the highest amounts of GLA are evening primrose, borage and blackcurrant.
4. Scarred skin
Palmitoleic acid doesn’t get as much attention as the other fatty acids mentioned here, but I think it’s an important one to include because it’s one of the major fatty acids of our skin’s own sebum, and one that our skin stops producing as we age. Palmitoleic acid functions as an antimicrobial within our skin’s sebum, so incorporating oils that are high in this fatty acid aids in healing burns, scratches, wounds and scars.
There are only two plant oils that are high in palmitoleic oil: macadamia nut and sea buckthorn berry. Both oils are exceptional for skin regeneration, softening scar tissue, and anti-aging.
When choosing any plant oil, it’s important to look for oils that are cold-pressed, unrefined, and preferably organic. Many plant-based cooking oils that you would find in the grocery store are heat treated and refined, which remove most of the beneficial properties. And making sure to consume the proper amount of essential fatty acids will also go a long way to treat and moisturize skin from the inside out.