The skin of my adult years has been pretty problem-free. It’s neither too dry nor too oily, and I’ve been pretty content with my 15-year hiatus of using Cetaphil or its generic equivalent. But since I turned 30 a few years ago, I’ve noticed that my skin has become… blah. Kinda dull. Losing its vibrancy. A little cloudy. It’s also been dry and tight after washing, and even moisturizing wasn’t helping much.
I wasn’t overly concerned about it, until I read from some of my favorite blogs this summer about a face cleansing method I hadn’t yet tried. I had been going shampoo-free for a few weeks, so I was eager to try this out, too, since it requires no harsh soaps or man-made chemicals. I figured, what did I have to lose? I’ll try it out, and if I don’t like it, I’ll simply switch back to my tried-and-true method.
And so far, I don’t think I’ll ever go back. I love my refreshed skin and its frugal cleaner.
The Oil-Cleansing Method (OCM)
Alright, it might sound a little odd to clean your face with an oil, especially if you have oily skin. But contrary to popular belief, oil does not cause oily skin or acne. That culprit is usually a combination of hormones, trapped bacteria, and dirt.
Like your hair, the sebum that the skin secretes is actually good for your skin — it’s there to protect it from the outside environment, and to keep harmful things from seeping in. Since water doesn’t break up oil, most commercial cleansers are marketed with the “oil free” stamp of approval, making them easy to splash off.
When skin’s natural oils are removed, the body’s reaction is to compensate by producing more oil, much like shampoo does with our hair. Or if your skin is dry, it’s because all the oil has been stripped away, and your body doesn’t compensate by replenishing it (that was my case).
Here’s a direct quote from acne.org:
“Oil dissolves oil. One of the most basic principals of chemistry is that “like dissolves like.” The best way to desolve a non-polar solvent like sebum/oil, is by using another non-polar solvent similar in composition: other oils. By using the right oils, you can cleanse your pores of dirt and bacteria naturally, gently and effectively, while replacing the dirty oil with beneficial ones extracted from natural botanicals, vegetables and fruit that heal, protect and nourish your skin. When done properly and consistently, the OCM can clear the skin from issues like oily skin, dry skin, sensitive skin, blackheads, whiteheads and other problems caused by mild to moderate acne–while leaving your skin healthy, balanced and properly moisturized.”
So in essence, good-quality oil is the perfect substance for cleaning sensitive skin, such as on our face, because it helps gently remove the dirty oil and replaces it with good, nourishing, healing oil.
Photo from chez loulou
How to get started
1. Make your cleaner
Simply mix the oils together in a small bottle, give it a little shake, and you’ve got yourself a homemade, frugal facial cleanser. The most popular blend of oils for this cleansing method is castor oil and extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). The castor oil draws out dirt and other gunk from your pores. The EVOO is a brilliant moisturizer, helping heal and nourish the skin.
• For those with normal skin, you could start off with a one-to-one ratio of castor oil and EVOO.
• For those with acne-prone or oily skin, reduce the proportion of EVOO, and try three parts castor oil to one part EVOO.
• For those with drier skin, start off with one part castor oil to three parts EVOO. This is what I use.
Experiment, and find what ratio works for you. Just start off with a little bit, and then try it for a few days. I began with one teaspoon of castor oil and three teaspoons of EVOO in a little squeeze bottle.
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2. Gently rub it in
Pour a quarter-sized amount into your palm, rub your hands together, and slowly massage your skin with your fingertips. Don’t splash your face with water first — apply it dry. Work the oil into your skin for about a minute, and enjoy the peaceful massage at work. Don’t scrub — just rub.
3. Steam your face
Next, wet a washcloth with hot water (but not scalding!), and put it over your face until it’s about room temperature. This is steaming out your pores, removing the impurities and the dead skin cells. It’ll take about a minute — enjoy the nearly-free facial.
4. Wipe off the oil
Take the washcloth, rinse and wring it, then gently wipe off the oil. Your skin will probably feel softer immediately.
Enjoy the benefits
Photo by Macarena Alejandra
• If you’re like me, your skin will feel softer and look a bit brighter. It won’t feel tight, but it won’t be greasy, either. Olive oil has the same pH as human skin, so it’s the perfect cleansing balancer.
• The OCM also brilliantly removes makeup. It works better than the Clinique makeup remover I had been using. Much cheaper, too.
• You also probably won’t need to do this more than once per day. I do this at night, just before bed. In the morning, I simply splash my face with cold water to wake up. Every now and then, I’ll dab on a little bit of moisturizer, but I hardly need that anymore. I never thought I’d see that day.
Other beneficial oils
Castor oil and EVOO are carrier oils and work well, but other people have found great success with jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, and flaxseed oil, especially if their skin is very oily. I haven’t tried these personally, though.
Coconut oil is fantastic for all sorts of things, but seeing as it hardens in cooler temps, I recommend using fractionated coconut oil, which stays liquid.
If your skin is on the dry side, almond oil and evening primrose oil are also good carrier oils.
Tea tree essential oil is a natural antiseptic, and is great for clearing up acne. Try a few drops into your OCM mixture. Only use a few drops — a little goes a long way.
- Megan wrote about her experience with OCM on Sorta Crunchy.
- Stephanie at Keeper of the Home has good information about the OCM.
- Helium has a good article about different types of essential oils that are healthy for the skin.
- Pioneer Thinking has good information about natural skin cleansing, along with other non-commercial beauty tips.
Update: I’m so thrilled that this post has resonated with so many people! Because I’ve had to fight so much spam in the comments section, I’m afraid I have to close comments now. Feel free to follow me on Twitter if you’d like to talk about it more, and head here for an update written four years after this post (hint: yep, I still clean my face this way!).