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Face Oils versus Creams

It’s not surprising that face oils recently have become rediscovered by beauty brands. In ancient times, women all over the world used face oils. As we need oils in our diets to keep us healthy, so does our skin.

Why our skin needs oil?

The outer layer of skin is composed of dead cells held together by lipids (oils) that are produced by the skin. This layer forms a barrier that protects our skin from environmental factors such as sunlight, cold, allergens, and infection. The lipid barrier gets damaged on a daily basis, even when we use cleansers, so it requires regular replenishment of lipids. As we get older, our skin produces less oil and it needs to be supplemented by topical application.

What is the difference between a natural, plant-based face oil and a cream?

Natural face oils usually consist of a single ingredient – oil. Face oils are sourced from fruits, nuts and seeds. The oil is composed of fatty acids, antioxidants and lots of nutrients that work together on your skin. Natural face oil is usually clean and non-toxic (depending on the extraction method – cold-pressed is best).

Creams include a blend of waxes, water and some oils, as well as many other ingredients such as plant extracts, clays, vitamins and minerals. They may contain chemicals, toxins and synthetic fragrances.

Face oils are multipurpose so they can make your skin routine simple. All skin types benefit from face oil, even oily skin, and finding the right oil is not difficult. Some people are worried that face oils clog pores, but many oils are non-comedogenic and can be used on acne-prone skin. Fatty acids in face oil replenish the skin’s natural oil, strengthening the skin’s lipid barrier [i] that prevents dehydration of the skin and restores the antimicrobial activity on the skin surface. Fatty acids in the oil seep in between the spaces between dead cells in the outer layer of the skin, “filling in the cracks” and making the skin immediately softer and smoother. The feeling of oiliness disappears quickly once the oil is absorbed. Glycerol in the oil contributes to hydration of the outer skin layer. Antioxidants in the oil repair damage to the skin from sunlight and pollution [ii], making the skin firmer and clearer. Active molecules in natural oil that target specific skin problems are in low concentration, so they are non-irritating. Some face oils can act as penetration enhancers, allowing actives to penetrate deeper into the skin. Face oils can be used on their own or in combination with other skin care products.

Creams are able to give skin oil and hydration. The small amount of oil in a cream works to replenish the skin’s lipid barrier. The water allows active ingredients that are added to the cream to penetrate more deeply into the skin. The waxes may prevent water loss from the skin, but they may also clog pores. Wax build may also occur preventing the oil in the cream from penetrating the outer layer of skin. Creams have higher concentrations of actives, compared to natural oil, making some creams more irritating.

Occlusives in the cream may make the cream feel thick and heavy. Creams can be formulated to target different skin problems and different skin types, but formulating a cream that is balanced is complex. Finding a cream that works for you can take time and money.

Imaya Beauty's Retinoic Face Oil is a multipurpose face oil that is suitable for all skin types. It makes your skin smooth, clear and firm. If you do use face oil with other products, it should be what goes on last – eventually it will penetrate into the outer layer of skin.


[i] Lin T-K et al (2018) Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Molecular Sci 19,70; doi:10.3390/ijms1901007

[ii] Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health. Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center.

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