Beauty basics: Your 101 on applying facial oils

The pretty bottles lining the beauty aisles aren’t all of the well, snake oil variety – those vials of amber ambrosia can be seriously nourishing skin saviours. For the oil-adverse, here are some surprising ways to use facial oils that might make you do an about-face

Beauty basics Your 101 on applying facial oils B1.png


Old habits die hard, we grant you that: Most of us will remember spending the better part of our pubescent years pining for a pimple-free, perfectly matte mien. But it’s time for a rethink. To the scores of beauty buffs still clinging stubbornly to to the outmoded “oil-free” era, repeat after us: Oils are good for your skin.

Well, some oils are, at any rate. Here’s why. For starters, the most pertinent fact to get straight is this: “Face oil” and facial oils are as different as well, oil and water. The sebum that lubricates our skin is a corporeal composition of waxes and fatty acids, and functions as an absolutely essential “top coat” to prevent us water babies from drying out like prunes. It’s only when our sebaceous glands get out of whack that nasty things happen: Hello, zits and “kwali face” syndrome.

Fancy facial oils, however, are carefully calibrated botanical blends designed to calm any number of cosmetic ailments – with the bonus of being skin-tinglingly sensuous to the touch, too, like liquid cashmere caressing your face.

Zero in on “good” plant-based oils like lavender, chamomile and rosemary, which are supremely soothing and smell so very sublime, too. Steer clear of petrolatum and mineral oil, especially when they’re high up on a product’s ingredients list: These synthetics are the “bad” pore-cloggers which give oils a damaging rep.

This brings us to a fascinating conundrum: What happens when an oily complexioned person applies oil to her face? No, you won’t spontaneously combust into flames. According to celebrity hair and makeup artist Andrea Claire, targeted oil treatments are akin to adhering to the Chinese proverb of fighting poison with poison: “Using an oil product may actually reduce the amount our bodies produce, by tricking the sebaceous glands into cutting back on overproduction.”


Ready to give oils a shot? Just make sure to layer it properly. Use very sparingly – just one or two drops are plenty – and pat into cleansed skin on top of your serums and under your sunscreen.

Like finger painting with the finest lacquers, give your work of art – that’ll be your face! – time to fully absorb each layer before adding the next. A good rule of thumb (and we mean this quite literally): If your fingertips feel damp when you press them into your face, give the product another two minutes, then test again.

Here are some novel ways to get the most mileage out of your oils:

Beauty basics Your 101 on applying facial oils B2.png

Bio-Oil, 125ml, $25.90

As a makeup enhancer. Facial oils are great as a beautifying base, says celebrity hair and makeup artist Andrea Claire: “I love taking cues from the season at hand: Lately, I’ve been inspired by the flicker of festive candles to fold gold pigments into Bio-Oil as a hydrating highlighter.” She suggests using a fine liner brush to pick up the gold-flecked oil and dabbing it just above your cupid’s bow as a pretty pout pick-me-up.

Other inventive ways to use oil: Try elevating the classic red lip with a holographic overlay of gold oil. Andrea adds that mixing a drop of Bio-Oil into a swatch of your favourite matte lippie will lend it a subtle satin finish. Or, if you’re gunning for a less overdone look, “you can actually mix your lipstick with a bit of Bio-Oil, which dilutes the hue’s intensity and makes it a little more wearable.”

For glistening lids, Andrea says swirling a smidgen of oil into a shimmery champagne will make for a really intense eye. “Just don't apply over powders because oils will lift your makeup and cause coagulation,” she cautions. Yes, oils will cause slippage, so less is most certainly more in this instance: “If your red lips are running down your chin, then clearly you’ve added too much Bio-Oil.”

With your anti-aging serums. Be your own mixologist and concoct a custom cocktail by using your go-to moisturiser as a base for a stiff booster shot of facial oil.

Here’s how the molecular dermatology works. Oils are "lipophilic", or fat-loving, says Gene Ho, managing director of CADO Asia Pacific, a Singapore-based beauty research laboratory: “This means that they’re like VIP guests at a party and are allowed entry past the skin barrier that much easier.”

By applying an oil after your anti-aging serum, fat-soluble active ingredients like glycolic acid, retinol and vitamin E get to “gate-crash” as guests of the esteemed oil molecules, tricking your skin into driving the good stuff deeper into the dermis. Pretty neat, yes?

Beauty basics Your 101 on applying facial oils B3.png

Clarins Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil, $65 for 40 ml, and The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil, $18.90 for 10 ml

With your zit creams. Pimples are an all-round pain in the...face. One of the cruelest side effects of most topical acne medications is the frightful flakiness they cause: You’re having a hard enough time dealing with the angry redness of the spots themselves.

To mitigate moisture loss and to take the edge off the sting of your spots, consider layering a comforting oil on top of your salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide treatments: We like Clarins’ Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil for its balmy blend of hazelnut, patchouli and other precious plant-based goodness.

Better yet, some oils – think tea tree, lavender and grape seed – even boast zit-zapping powers. Try rubbing a few drops of The Body Shop’s Tea Tree Oil into blemish-prone zones as an acne alleviating alternative to crude chemical creams!

With your sunscreen. Sometimes things are best said in song. Remember that ‘90s smash hit by Baz Luhrmann that opened with this unforgettable line: “If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it”? Well, sunscreen and oil is the new axiom to live by.

Here’s why. If, like us, you’ve quaffed your fair share of vitamin E capsules, you’ll know that the antioxidant is a fat-soluble compound; bite into a capsule and your mouth will be greeted with a greasy substance. Well, most plant oils are chock-full of the antioxidant, so if you pat them below your sunscreen, you’ll get a double dose of free radical-fighting goodness. As part of a relaxing morning ritual, we like massaging our mien with a few drops of Lancôme’s Absolue Sublime Oleo-Serum ($360 for 30 ml), which we pair with a light sunscreen for a divine, dewy finish.

Bottom line: If the thought of slathering on an oil makes your skin crawl, it’s time to let the new facts (and facial oils) sink in. For a year-end beauty overhaul, try switching to a fatty face “diet”: Your skin will thank you!

Bio-Oil is available at Sasa, Watsons and selected Guardian and Unity pharmacies. For more information, visit

Clarins Blue Orchid Face Treatment Oil is available at Clarins counters. For more information, visit and follow the brand on Facebook.

The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil is available at all The Body Shop stores. For more information, visit and follow the brand on Facebook and Instagram.