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Plant-Based Oils by Benefit


Oil-based skin care products play a unique and necessary role in replenishing the skin barrier and protecting it from dehydration and damage. However, choosing the right oils and oil-based products can be difficult due to comedogenicity concerns. Although the best skin care regimen is developed through trial and error, knowing the attributes of specific skin care oils can help guide the initial decision-making process. Below, we break down the composition of common natural oils used in skin care and how they provide unique benefits. 


Oil is the common word for any lipid-like substance that acts as an emollient, occlusive, or moisturizer to the skin barrier [1]. Lipids are macromolecules that have hydrophilic “heads” that allow them to interact with polar molecules (like water) and hydrophobic “tails” that prefer to interact with each other and other hydrophobic molecules. The stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin barrier, is composed mostly of the lipid membranes of corneocytes and has a flexible structure due largely to its diverse lipid composition. Gondoic acid (C20:1) is the most common lipid in Jojoba Oil (70%). “C20” refers to the number of carbon molecules in the hydrophobic chain while the “1” refers to the number of unsaturated carbon-carbon bonds in the chain. Plant derived oils, except for Coconut Oil and Shea Butter, tend to contain more unsaturated fatty acids and be liquid at room temperature, making them overall lighter on the skin. 


Natural oils usually refer to oils derived from plant materials [2]. Some of the most common natural oils used in skin care are Jojoba Oil, Argan Oil, Shea Butter, and Sunflower Seed Oil. This table published by Vaughnet al. highlights the composition and associated skin benefits of the most common natural oils used in skin care [3]. Oils can be used to achieve a few main skin care goals:

  • Moisturizing: while hydration refers to increasing the water content of the skin, moisturizing is a broader term that helps preserve skin elasticity on multiple fronts. Jojoba Oil, Oat Oil, and Argan Oil are best used in this context. 
  • Occlusives: Occlusives like Coconut Oil and Shea Butter prevent trans epidermal water loss (TEWL) or skin dehydration. They are often used after the application of lighter oil-based products or oil free products  to lock in hydration and other active ingredients.
  • Antimicrobial: the most famous antimicrobial oil is Tea Tree Oil due to its high ratio of terpinen-4-ol. Tea tree Oil is an essential oil and should be diluted with other moisturizers or carrier oils as it can be too potent on its own [4].
  • Acne control: It is a myth that using oil based products always worsens acne. In fact, using light oil-based products with Argan Oil or Almond Oil can help reduce the skin’s sebum production. 
  • Barrier repair: because these oils help preserve moisture, they can speed up wound healing and promote skin barrier repair. Jojoba Oil specifically has the closest composition to that of human skin but Sunflower Oil has also been shown to improve skin elasticity.

Incorporating oil-based skin care products in your regimen boosts skin barrier hydration and repair and improves overall appearance. The benefit of using natural oils derived from plants as opposed to mineral based oils derived from petroleum is that plant-derived oils contain naturally occurring support molecules like antioxidants that work double time to improve skin health [5]. Not to mention, their extraction process is better for the environment [6] and our health. 


[1] Ahmad A, Ahsan H (2020) Lipid-based formulations in cosmeceuticals and biopharmaceuticals.biomed dermatol 4, 12.

[2] Blaak J, Staib P (2022) An updated review on efficacy and benefits of sweet almond, evening primrose and jojoba oils in skin care applications.Int J Cosmet Sci 44, 1–9.

[3] Vaughn AR, Clark AK, Sivamani RK, Shi VY (2018) Natural Oils for Skin-Barrier Repair: Ancient Compounds Now Backed by Modern Science.Am J Clin Dermatol 19, 103–117.

[4] Infante VHP, Maia Campos PMBG, Gaspar LR, Darvin ME, Schleusener J, Rangel KC, Meinke MC, Lademann J (2022) Safety and efficacy of combined essential oils for the skin barrier properties: In vitro, ex vivo and clinical studies.Int J Cosmet Sci 44, 118–130.

[5] Moore EM, Wagner C, Komarnytsky S (2020) The Enigma of Bioactivity and Toxicity of Botanical Oils for Skin Care.Front Pharmacol 11, 785.

[6] Pinto JR, Monteiro E Silva SA, Holsback V de SS, Leonardi GR (2022) Skin occlusive performance: Sustainable alternatives for petrolatum in skincare formulations.J Cosmet Dermatol 21, 4775–4780.