This post has been languishing in WordPress Draft Purgatory since June 28, 2013—ALMOST AN ENTIRE YEAR. You have my friend Kelly from yoga to thank for my finally pushing the “Publish” button. Just knowing that an actual human person is reading makes me want to step up my blogging game. Much of my hesitation in finishing this post has stemmed from the fact that my skin is not perfect. While it was great through high school despite just washing my face with Dove soap and eating all manner of garbage, as I’ve gotten older I’ve experienced more redness and inflammation even though, in general, my diet and skincare regimen are better.
Naturally, the skeptic in me sometimes thinks “Obviously eating healthy and taking care of your skin has no benefit whatsoever!” Yet, whenever I really go off the rails these days, my skin reacts violently. Everyone’s triggers are different, but mine are (in order of least to most severe): low quality dairy, vegetable oil, and gluten-containing grains. Obviously some of this is hard to pinpoint exactly, since the most wonderful offending foods often pack a double or triple threat. For example: the best donuts, cheese sticks, king cake, any really good hamburger, and so on. And though the majority of my knowledge in this area comes from self experimentation, I can say that people I know who’ve gone to the trouble to figure out what pisses off their skin seem to agree with these main three.
But why am I talking about food anyway when this is supposed to be a post about skincare? People a lot more knowledgable than I am have written on this subject with much more depth than I could even attempt in a single blog post. Two resources that have shaped my understanding of the gut-skin connection are Liz Wolfe’s Skintervention Guide and this four part series on Eczema by Rachel Wolf.1 I highly recommend them both, but for our purposes the short version is that diet and skin are so so inextricably linked, and topical treatments cannot solve your skin problems, they can only treat the symptoms. No matter how much you’re paying for that fancy cream, balm, or scrub, it’s not going to get rid of your acne and heal your eczema. The same holds true for oil cleansing, a skincare method I can’t praise enough. While it’s much more affordable and way less toxic than fancy drugstore creams, oil cleansing can’t fix your digestion, mediate the effects of inflammatory foods, or make up for the fact that you don’t eat vegetables. So, if you’re having major skin issues and you’re not sure what’s causing them, examine your diet first and foremost. At least in my experience, everything seems to work better when I am giving my body what it needs and limiting exposure to things I know aren’t good for me.2
Now, after the longest introduction ever, let’s talk about oil cleansing. The logic behind oil cleansing is fairly simple—like dissolves like. So, if your skin tends toward oily, then that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t oil cleanse. In fact, you should most definitely oil cleanse, because it has the potential to regulate your skin’s oil production so that you aren’t running to the bathroom to powder your nose or use a blotting sheet once an hour. Seriously! And if you have dry skin, it’s also good for you, because you can choose more moisturizing oils like coconut and really soothe your dry, irritated skin. And if you have combination skin, then obviously it will work for you as well. Oil cleansing is really the traveling pants3 of skincare. So here is what you’ll need to make it happen:
- castor oil, your “cleansing” oil4
- a carrier oil of your choosing (jojoba, almond, olive, avocado, coconut5, etc., or some combination)
- a washcloth (several of them, in fact)
Those are the three most basic supplies, but I find that it’s also exceedingly helpful to have:
- a glass bowl dedicated exclusively to oil cleansing6
- a tea kettle
- lavender essential oil
Let’s start with your oils. Castor is the nonnegotiable, which I buy in bulk and keep in the fridge until I need it. In addition to castor oil, you will need a carrier oil. If you want to lower the risk bar and use something you already have on hand, I say go for it, as long as it’s high quality and suitable for your skin type. Avocado and coconut are great for dry skin, olive and jojoba are more all purpose/combination oils, and almond is considered best for oily skin. Whatever you make sure it’s the highest quality you can afford, because you don’t want to be smearing toxins and stuff all over your face. I use a blend of olive, argan, and castor oils and I am really happy with it. Argan oil is totally optional, but it’s great for all skin types, and it’s super high in vitamin E, which means it helps my skin to heal much more quickly when I inevitably think Chinese takeout and Supernatural in bed is a great idea (which it just sometimes is).
As far as the ratio of cleansing to carrier oil, there are no hard and fast rules, but in general:
- oily skin – 1:1
- normal – 1:2
- dry – 1:3
The first number represents castor oil and the second represents carrier oil. So for me, I use 1 part castor, 2 part olive, and drop of argan. I recommend starting small, either mixing the oils in your hand each night before cleansing, or mixing up no more than a few tablespoons to begin. The oils stay fresher longer if you store the bulk in the fridge, and after a week or so you’ll be able to tell whether your proportions are right or need adjusting. If you find that your skin is too oily or too dry, adjust as necessary—adding more castor for a more drying oil, and more carrier for a more moisturizing one.
Also, don’t forget to consider the seasons. Right now my mix is somewhere between 1:2 and 1:3, but as the weather warms up I’ll probably have to cut back on the carrier oil. This is another reason that mixing small batches is beneficial. If you find that what worked for you in February isn’t working come April, it’s not a big deal to remix and adjust.
Now for the actual process. This is where the bonus supplies come in. I’ll walk you through what I do a few nights a week, plus offer some modifications in case you’re lacking any of the supplies.
- If using fancy pants, optional ingredients: Put a kettle of filtered water on to boil, and place a clean washcloth in a large glass mixing bowl on your kitchen table. Put 1 drop of lavender essential oil onto the washcloth, and drape a thick towel over the back of your chair. (I didn’t put towel on the list because I’m assuming you have at least one. Also, I use lavender because it’s calming and I love it. I’m also a big fan of eucalyptus whenever I have sinus stuff going on, but you can use whatever essential oils you love and know are safe.)
- Modifications for un-fancy ingredients: Scrub out your sink and get the tap water as hot as you can. Grab a clean wash cloth and a towel.
- Use a headband or hair tie to keep your hair back, wet your face with warm water, and then massage something like a teaspoon of your oil blend into your face. If you’re mixing by hand, just do 1/2 t castor and 1/2 t carrier or 1/4 and 1/2 or 1/2 and 3/4 (you get it). Use a firm, upward motion, being careful not to press too hard. After a minute or two have passed, wash the oil off your hands with a mild soap like Dr. Bronners.
- Fancy pants: The kettle should be whistling by now (this is a great way to time how long you cleanse), so go back into the kitchen, pour 3-4 inches of water into your bowl (not so much that you burn your nose while steaming, not that anyone would ever do that….), and make a tent with the towel and steam your face for a minute or two or five. Especially with the lavender, this part is so nice that I usually stretch it out for as long as possible.
- Regular pants: Stop up the sink, put your washcloth in, and fill the sink with the hottest water you can achieve/stand. Make a tent with your towel and steam your face, as above.
- Once you’re done steaming, drape the washcloth over your face and steam a bit more. Dunk the washcloth back into the water a few times and repeat. Eventually, you can start wiping the oil off of your face, dunking the washcloth and wringing it out, and wiping some more. It’s not an exact science and the process takes a few minutes, so the water should be warm but no longer steaming by the time you’re done. Water from a kettle does get hotter and thus takes longer to cool off, so beware when reaching into the bowl initially.
And that’s it! There’s no need to moisturize after, and I only wash my bowl once a week or so. I love doing this right before bed, as the warm water and lavender are so relaxing. After I’m done, I typically make a magnesium and head to bed for the dreamiest sleep. Yes, oil cleansing is way more work than just washing my face with dove soap, but I think it’s worth the trouble most of the time. On nights I’m too tired to oil cleanse, I either exfoliate with baking soda, wash with honey, or use my konjac sponge; but like brewing kombucha and french pressing coffee, it doesn’t take long for it to stop being a hassle and become part of your routine. It’s kind of ritualistic, even—the massage, the lavender, the warm water… not to mention sitting still for ten minutes without looking at a screen. I kind of love it, and only partially because it keeps my skin in check.
Have you heard of oil cleansing? Have you ever tried it? Do you think I am crazy for smearing oil into my skin on the reg? Let me know in the comments.
- I never noticed the similarity in their last names until typing them side by side just now, but obviously there’s a correlation between having some variant of wolf as a last name and being a total badass.
- And please, please don’t think I am judging you for your less-than-perfect diet or that I survive on lemon water, grass fed beef, and organic spinach alone.
- As in, Sisterhood of the…
- While you can pick up castor oil in the medicine section of the supermarket (it’s a laxative as well), I would caution against it. This is what I purchased when I started oil cleansing, and the results just weren’t great. I can’t be sure it was just the castor oil, but even after I switched to using a tea kettle, I still weird breakouts around my hairline which I blame on inferior castor oil.
- If you’re acne-prone at all, let me caution you against coconut oil. While I’ve not personally experienced problems with it, it does seem to make some people’s skin worse.
- So, I’ve been oil cleansing fairly regularly for four to five years, and the whole glass mixing bowl thing didn’t occur to me until weeks ago. Despite steaming in more than one basin sink, which are essentially bowls, and loving it, somehow it took a disgustingly clogged sink for me to make the connection. But I am so glad I did because now I can sit down to steam! And it uses less water because you don’t have to leave the faucet running to heat it up.