While using oil to smooth skin may sound perfectly logical, the idea of using an oil as a cleanser seems counterintuitive, like eating to keep your weight down. But Shu Uemura, Nude, Laura Mercier and Kanebo all offer cleansing oils. One of the first to experiment with them was Uemura, who developed his classic version, High Performance Balancing Cleansing Oil, in 1960. (Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor were devotees.) “Initially women were reluctant because they think their skin will have an oily residue,” says Uemura. “But when water is applied to the oil, it turns into a milky lather that washes away makeup and dirt without drying or harming the skin.” Today, the company makes five types of cleansing beauty oils, including a version for—yes—oily skin.
Liz Earle, owner of the eponymous British skincare brand, is a believer in using oils on top of oils. She suggests applying her Superskin Concentrate oil underneath her Superskin Moisturiser, a cream that contains cranberry seed, rosehip and borage oils, before bedtime. Earle says her products can be used on any skin type, including oily. “The best way to balance oily skin is to provide it with a featherweight layer of oil. If you strip the skin dry with oil-free products, it needs to provide more oil,” says Earle, whose celebrity clients include Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench. “When there’s a layer of oil, your sebaceous glands switch off because they think, We don’t need to make more oil because we’ve already got some.”
This last theory of Earle’s hasn’t exactly been embraced by dermatologists. “A majority of women who have acne tend to have oily skin,” says New York dermatologist Brad Katchen. “The most effective way we know to turn off the sebaceous glands is with oral Accutane. There is no evidence that I have read that sebaceous gland activity can be manipulated with topical oils at all.”
“A lot of romance is attributed to these essential oils,” agrees Scarsdale, New York, dermatologist Amy Newburger. “Plant oil—it’s green. You think it’s good for the environment, but I keep thinking there’s also a lot of molds and fungi that grow in the rainforest [where some of these oils come from].” Newburger allows that oils can be nourishing for older skin with less productive oil glands but says she prefers synthetic ingredients for their consistency and dependability, not to mention their medical track record.
Still, that hasn’t stopped believers from pouring on the gospel. Oils are “the best antiaging medicine in the world,” says Raichur, who does look remarkably youthful for a woman of 70. As for me, I’ve added a few drops of oil before bedtime to my ever expanding skincare regimen. I haven’t yet experienced any major breakouts, and one of my colleagues recently commented that my skin now has a dewier glow. I can’t say I’ve seen a dramatic difference just yet—but get back to me when I hit 70.