Skip the Fancy Lotions and Use Oil to Moisturize Your Skin

person rubs oil into hands against pale blue striped background

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

The beauty industry doesn't want you to know how pointless moisturizing lotions actually are. All you need is high quality plant oil to do a better job for less money.

There used to be a giant pump-action bottle of Jergen’s hand lotion in my parents’ bathroom. Every night I would rub some into my dry winter-skin hands and hope to wake up with lusciously hydrated skin, but it never seemed to make a difference. That lotion was a totally useless addition to my teenage beauty routine.

Moisturizing Lotions Don't Work

blob of white lotion is squeezed into hand's open palm

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

I’ve since learned an unusual lesson, one that you won’t typically hear anywhere mainstream because the big beauty industry would hate for the cat to get out of the bag: Moisturizing lotions are pointless.

Basic lotion is nothing more than oil emulsified in water, with alcohol added to help with evaporation and chemicals to help with the emulsification. Conventional brands contain parabens for preservation, toxic fragrances (or more chemicals to mask the smell and make it ‘fragrance-free’), petrochemical-based emollients (to soften and give the impression of smooth, tight skin) and humectants (to enhance water absorption), penetration enhancers, and thickening agents. Despite all these fancy ingredients, many of them don’t even work that well.

If you want to avoid all of those nasty additives, then break it down to the most basic component of lotions – the oil that actually provides the moisturizing action that your skin needs.

Use Pure Oils Instead

women in knitted macrame top squeezes oil onto top of hand from glass dropper

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

Smearing oil directly onto your face might seem counterintuitive, especially after years of brainwashing from the cosmetics industry that all oils are bad. We’ve been taught to believe that oil clogs pores, causing acne breakouts and blackheads. It does, but that’s because it’s the wrong kind – usually mineral oils or animal fats, which, according to Julie Gabriel, author of The Green Beauty Guide, form a “waterproof plastic film on top of all the debris on the skin’s surface, locking in the bacteria, dead skin cells, sweat, and sebum.” Yuck!

Plant oils, on the other hand, are similar to the kind of oil that your skin produces naturally. They are easily recognized and absorbed by the skin without clogging pores and can bind moisture to the skin while strengthening skin cell membranes.

woman applies oil directly to cheeks after bathing

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

My advice is to use oil to moisturize your skin directly. Rub oil into your face after washing. (You can even wash your face with oil!) Rub oil over your body when you step out of the shower or after shaving. Rub oil into your hands and cuticles. I’ve been doing this for years; it’s the best (and cheapest) high quality moisturizer I’ve found yet.

Some good oils to try are sweet almond, avocado, extra-virgin olive or coconut oil, grapeseed, cold-pressed sesame, apricot kernel, and rosehip oil.