The Oil Cleansing Method: Tips, DIY, and Ingredients to Get Started

an array of amber-colored bottles filled with oil for a beauty cleansing method

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Oil cleansing sounds like an oxymoron—when we think of cleaning clothes or dishes, we want to get rid of oil. Soapy bubbles come to mind, washing dirt and oil down the drain. But skin is different because skin depends on oil to support good bacteria and keep pathogens out.

Oils can and do remove dirt and particulates from skin, and most of the oils used for cleansing—like castor, grapeseed, avocado, and argan—have the added benefit of being packed with beneficial vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds that support the skin while cleansing it.

How Oil Cleansing Works

woman cleanses face with oil and water in bathroom sink next to monstera

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Oil cleansing is simple: It usually involves just a bit of oil of choice (see more on those below) and a washcloth, plus warm water. It works based on the principle that "like dissolves like," which means that—contrary to what you might expect—the oil you apply to your skin will actually pick up extra sebum, the oily material that your skin produces naturally.

Oil can also help pick up dead skin, particulate pollution and dirt, other oils (like from food that make their way from hands to face), and makeup.

In fact, if you look at most off-the-shelf makeup removers, you'll notice many of them contain oils specifically because it's so good at lifting all kinds of makeup, from eye shadows and mascara (including waterproof versions), to powders and liquid makeups, whether they be oil-free or oil-based.

Some people find that they have less-oily skin after they start oil-cleansing. That's because if you remove too much oil from your skin when washing, your skin may start overproducing sebum to make up for it. This can cause a recurring cycle of oily skin, washing with harsh detergents, and then more oil. By using oil for cleansing, it can help keep the skin's natural balance more even.

How to Oil Cleanse

woman in floral robe places hot washcloth over face after oil cleansing

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

If you haven't oil-cleansed before, it may take a little time for your skin to rebalance once you aren't stripping the natural oils away every time you wash. Give oil cleansing a week or two to see if it works well for you.

Simply choose one of the oils below and drip some (or use a pump) into your palm. How much will depend on the type of oil and your skin—see more about that below, but there will be some trial and error here. Generally, you want to aim for a quarter-sized amount in your palm, or about a teaspoon full for each cleanse.

First, remove your eye makeup the same way you would with a makeup remover but use your oil of choice. Then, remove any other makeup on lips or cheeks.

To cleanse, apply the oil over your facial skin making circles with the pads of your fingers—pretty much the same way you'd wash your face with soap or a scrub. It should feel like a mini-massage (relatively gentle).

The key here is time—it will take a little longer than you may be used to with bubbly facial washes. You should be rubbing and massaging the oil of choice for at least a minute and up to two. It is this motion that will help the oil lift the particulates, makeup, and other oils off your skin.

Then, using a warm (not hot), damp washcloth, wipe the oil off your face, working up from your chin and out from your nose. Go slowly, as you want to open the pores of your skin with the warm washcloth while removing the oil. Be gentle with the washcloth—this should be a wiping motion, not a scrubbing one. If you want to leave even more oil on your skin, you can even just rinse with warm water.

Gently pat dry. Your skin should feel clean and hydrated, and not tight after oil cleansing. It depends on your skin type and lifestyle as to whether you need a moisturizer after oil cleansing. Dry skin probably will need additional oil or moisturizer.

You can oil cleanse once a day (if you wash your face twice a day, before bed is best for oil cleansing), or use it as a regular extra-moisturizer. See what works for you. Again, don't forget to give yourself a week or so when you switch to oil cleansing for your skin to get used to the change. Start with the basic beginner recipe below for that week, then start making adjustments once your skin has adapted.

What Oil Cleanser Is Right for Your Skin?

various brown glass bottles filled with oils for cleansing next to makeup on counter

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Different oils have different advantages, viscosities (how heavy they feel), and scents, though most have very mild odors if any at all. When choosing an oil for cleansing you should take into consideration its attributes and what you know about your skin.

Whatever oil you choose, opt for a pure version of it—it shouldn't have any extra ingredients like scents, colors or dyes, or other additives. Look for high-quality oils that are unrefined. Cold-pressed, virgin oils retain more of their nutrients. Some of these oils will be specifically sold for beauty (not food) use and those are preferred, although some oils that we eat, like high-quality olive oils, can be used as well.

Argan Oil: This oil made from the argan tree's nuts is great for all skin types. It's both deeply moisturizing to dry skin and is lightweight enough that those with oily skin find it doesn't tend to leave any greasiness behind.

Avocado Oil: Full of moisturizing fatty acids, avocado oil is great for dry skin, but may be too heavy for oilier skin types. It's also good for more sensitive skin. (If you are allergic to avocados, stay away from this oil.)

Castor Oil: With noted anti-inflammatory properties, castor oil also has a low comedogenic score, meaning it is less likely to clog pores. It's good for oily skin and sensitive skin.

Coconut Oil: This is a heavier oil that can be great for dry skin, but it is often mixed with other oils to make a facial cleanser due to its heaviness and the fact that it solidifies at temperatures under 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you are allergic to coconut, avoid coconut oils for skin care.)

Grapeseed Oil: A very lightweight oil that's non-comedogenic (won't clog pores) so it's good for oily, sensitive, and acne-prone skin, or for mixing with other oils to lighten them up.

Olive Oil: Best for dry skin, olive oil is probably too heavy for those with oilier skin or acne-prone skin. It's highly nourishing though, so worth making part of the mix if your skin is drier.

Sweet Almond Oil: Another lighter oil that's good for dry skin, oily skin, and sensitive skin, it should be very calming and is great for oil cleansing alone or mixed with other oils since it's non-comedogenic. (Those with nut allergies may or may not get a skin reaction from using nut-derived oils topically. Check with your doctor if you are unsure.)

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Basic Beginner Oil Cleanser

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

If you are new to oil cleansing, the most common mix of oils is olive oil and castor oil. Start with a small batch, and mix in a 1:1 ratio. You can mix a teaspoon of each oil for two washes, and see how your skin feels and looks.

You can then increase how much olive oil you use if you think your skin still feels a bit dry; or if your skin is oilier and more acne-prone, up the castor oil.

For dry skin, try two parts olive oil to one part castor oil. For oilier skin, try two parts castor oil to one part olive oil. Once you get to a mixture of oils that works for your skin, you can make a larger amount using the same ratios.

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Oily Skin Cleanser

woman in silky blue floral robe adds castor oil and sweet almond to hands for cleanse

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

To make a light cleanser for oily skin, combine one part castor oil to two parts sweet almond or grapeseed oil, and apply as per the directions above.

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Dry Skin Oil Cleansers

Treehugger/ Sanja Kostic

For dry skin, you can use a high-quality olive oil straight as a cleanser. You can also mix it with one part sweet almond oil or grapeseed oil to three parts olive oil if you want a bit lighter cleanser.

For the richest of cleansers, mix a half-and-half combination of coconut oil and avocado oil together. You may need to heat the coconut oil if it's become solid, or you can rub your hands together until it melts, then add an equal quantity of avocado oil, then cleanse.

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Combination Oil Cleanser

woman in hair wrap applies straight argan oil from glass brown bottle to face for combo cleanser

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

For combination skin, using straight argan oil can be an ideal cleanser, or try a mix of two parts argan oil and one part castor oil. When it comes time to use the washcloth to remove oil, you can leave more of the oil on your face in the drier areas like cheeks, and more thoroughly remove it from the chin, forehead, and nose.

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Scrubby Oil Cleanser

woman pats cheek dry with white knitted cloth pad after oil cleansing

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

If you want to add a bit of exfoliating scrub to your oil cleanser, it's as simple as adding a teaspoon of sugar or salt to your oil in the palm of your hand, then applying. Rub into your skin gently so you don't over-scrub. Both sugar and salt will slowly dissolve into your skin as you work them—along with the oils.

If you use salt, choose a finer granulated salt, not a chunky one like Maldon or other sea salts. For sugar, any type will work except powdered sugar. You can use brown sugar or white.

Alternatively, you can use a homemade or reusable scrubby pad as your scrubbing agent.