What Is Dry Oil? Benefits For Skin, Hair & Nails + How To Use Them Correctly
Have you recently seen a beauty product labeled "dry oil"? If you need some clarification: you’re not alone. How could something liquid and conditioning also be dry? What’s the difference between wet and dry oils? And most importantly, how do you use them?
If you notice some oils marketed as "dry," here's what that really means for your skin, hair, and nails.
What is a dry oil?
For the sake of transparency, let’s begin by stating that dry oil is somewhat of a misnomer. The term refers to the rate at which oil absorbs into the skin, not the consistency of the oil itself.
The concept has been around for ages: Many herbalists, aromatherapists, and product formulators refer to dry oils as lightweight and quick-absorbing oils used in skin and hair care. Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast classification for which oils are defined as dry, but there is general consensus among beauty experts that they are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, namely linoleic, and encompass vegetable, seed, and herbal oils. Some of the most popular dry oils are avocado, borage, rosehip seed, squalane, evening primrose, sesame, grapeseed, safflower, camelina, and sunflower.
Benefits for skin, hair & nails.
Dry oils are great go-to's for regular facial and body care, cuticle and nail T.L.C., and taming frizz and pesky flyaways. Let's break down the benefits:
Seals in moisture with a lightweight feel.
Oils, we know, are occlusives—they trap water into the skin and hair and keep the precious moisture from seeping out. But while dry oils are still classified as traditional carrier oils, they won’t leave a sticky feeling on the surface of your skin or weigh down your strands. In fact, after a few minutes of applying dry oil on damp skin or hair, you won’t even realize that you applied an oil—it sinks right in.
Full of antioxidants.
Each dry oil boasts a varied list of antioxidants: Avocado oil contains vitamins A, C, E, K, B, and folate1; rosehip seed oil features vitamin C, which can also help collagen formulation in the skin; grapeseed oil has resveratrol and quercetin; and so on. All of these antioxidants help stave free radicals, manage oxidative stress, and protect the skin and hair from UV rays and pollution.
Helps support a healthy skin barrier.
Fatty acids are essential for strengthening your skin barrier function, as they keep your skin cell's natural lipids nourished. Dry oils are chock-full of said fatty acids, especially linoleic acid, which research has shown can help maintain skin barrier integrity.2 In fact, another study showed that sunflower oil (a dry oil that contains linoleic acid) effectively hydrated the skin more than olive oil.
Dry oils vs. wet oils.
Again, "dry" refers to how the oil sinks into the skin, not the texture of the oil itself. Meaning: Both dry and wet oils are, technically "wet!" The difference is, wet oils are heavy on the skin and are slow to absorb. They often linger on top of the skin, like massage oil.
That's not to say wet oils aren't without their advantages: Wet oils take their time penetrating the dermis, which makes them great for relieving itchiness and chronic dryness. That's what makes them superb for inflammatory skin conditions. Some common wet oils are neem, coconut, castor, tamanu, baobab, sweet almond, hemp seed oil, and apricot kernel. Conventionally, these heavier oils have been the base of many body oil and water-based product formulations. Due to their thicker, emollient nature, they're best for those looking for better moisture retention throughout the night.
And while you may find yourself identifying with one camp of oils more than the other, the truth is that many products on the market include a cocktail of both wet and dry oils for maximum benefits—unless, of course, you opt for the straight oil itself.
How to use dry oils.
If you’re interested in bringing more oils into your life, experiment with what works for you. There is not one oil protocol that’s effective for all skin types and goals. That said, here are some ways you can apply dry oils on hair, skin, and nails, but feel free to stick to what works best for you:
Using dry oil on hair.
- Apply one to two drops of your dry oil onto your hands, warming it up between your palms before massaging it into freshly washed hair in sections at a time. Start from the ends and work your way up, raking it through the strands.
- You can also drop some oil into your conditioner (three to five drops should do the trick) for a DIY hair mask.
- To apply on dry hair, warm one to two drops of oil in your palms before working it into your ends or smoothing down frizz or flyaways.
Using dry oil on skin.
- As the last step of your skin care routine, warm up a few drops of oil in your palms before pressing it into your face. You can do this over moisturizer if your skin runs dry, or use the oil alone to lock in hydration. Just make sure it's the last step of your routine—no serums or creams can penetrate the occlusive oil.
- Dry oils also make great body oils. I know some people who swear by a dry oil instead of traditional moisturizer and body lotion. After stepping out of the shower, apply a few drops of oil onto your skin and massage it in. Make sure your skin is still slightly damp—oils cannot trap water if there's no water underneath to trap.
Using dry oil on nails.
- No surprise, these oils are great for cracked, frayed cuticles. Rub them in whenever your nail beds are begging for moisture, and especially after washing your hands.
- Since these oils sink in quite fast, chances are you won't have greasy fingers after the fact!
If you're just starting to dabble in face oils, consider dry oils your starter pack. These moisturizing oils sink in quickly and feel quite weightless—so you won't sport slick skin.
Heal Your Skin.
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Leigh Winters is a neuroscientist, psychologist and natural beauty expert. She received her M.S. in Neuroscience and her M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. She is the founder and CEO of Leigh Winters Beauty, and has previously contributed to NBC News, Allure, Health, and Shape, and worked as a researcher at Columbia University’s Spirituality Mind Body Institute researching mindfulness and biobehavioral health.