Will Chloe Grace Moretz’s Olive Oil Cleansing Clear-up Acne?

Cynthia Bailey, MD|November 8, 2016

Chloe Grace Moretz recently told Allure in an interview that she washes her face with olive oil and that it cleared up her cystic acne: "I swear, my skin is clearer because of it."  Does this work for everyone, and what do I as a dermatologist think about it? Well, she sure is lovely and her skin is beautiful. And actually it's not a bad idea in my opinion. Although, there is more to the story.  

Last week I spoke to Self and was quoted in their recent article on this topic. In this article I'm giving you, my dear readers, more detail on this interesting topic. 

This is the Oil Cleansing Method of facial cleansing. It has been popular in Northern California, where I live, for years. People here like to try Do-It-Yourself (DIY) natural skin care - and they especially love anything natural and safe for consumption as food. I've examined complexions cleansed with the oil method for years. The results are as mixed as with any other cleansing method. It will clear up some complexions, and cause problems for others. 

What is the Oil Skin Cleansing method?

The Oil Skin Cleansing method involves applying a warm moist wash cloth to your face for about 20 seconds to warm your skin. Then you apply the oil of your choice and massage it into your skin to dissolve oily skin residue. Hard to believe, right? Follow this by using a warm wet wash cloth to remove the oil and dissolved debris.

Why might olive oil work as a face wash?

Oil will dissolve oily skin residue because like dissolves like. If you use moisturizer or makeup that is oil-based then olive oil will help remove it. This includes synthetic oils like dimethicone, which is a popular skin care ingredient in makeup, sunscreens, and even mattifying products and makeup primers. 

Do you need a moisturizer if you use the Oil Skin Cleansing method?

Not really, because oil is already a hydrating emollient moisturizer. Moisturizers work by binding water to the dead and living skin cells of the stratum corneum and epidermis. They do this by impeding evaporation or holding and/or binding water. Chemistry is amazing!  When you have an oil layer present on your skin, any warm water remaining on the skin will be less apt to evaporate.

That being said, people with dry skin may want to add a moisturizer that has additional water-trapping functionality such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid. One of my favorite options for this is my Instantly Luminous Serum. This beautiful product is loaded with varied molecular weight hyaluronic acid in an oil free base that is especially great for dehydrated skin. Another fabulous option is my Green Tea Antioxidant Serum, which is loaded with pharmaceutical grade green tea antioxidant polyphenols and hyaluronic acid. My Daily Facial Creams (Daily Face Cream for Dry to Normal Skin, and Oily to Normal Skin) as well as my Natural Lotion and Natural Body Butter all contain glycerin, to provide that water-trapping feature. 

Is there a risk that Oil Skin Cleansing can clog your pores?

Yes. Olive oil is moderately comedogenic. Comedones are blackheads. There are other comedogenic botanical oils that are pretty common, such as almond oil, apricot oil, coconut oil, castor oil, and avocado oil. Non-comedogenic oils include sunflower oil and safflower oil.  It is important to recognize that some complexions are more prone to blackheads than others. If you are prone to blackheads and pimples, and want to try this cleansing method, then be sure to pick an oil with less comedogenicity.

Another risk is allergy and skin irritation from some oils. In particular, I would not recommend mixing tea tree or peppermint oil extract with your carrier oil (which is the olive oil, or other main oil of your choice) as these can be allergens. 

Would I, as a dermatologist, recommend that people try Oil Cleansing? 

Oil Skin Cleansing is an interesting option if you are frustrated with your current skin care routine. I would suggest caution if you have acne because both this method can clog and irritate pores, especially with certain oils. Everyone knows that oils can cause pore-clogging, but do you know how important pore-irritation is? Pore-irritation can lead to pimples too. The key article that chemists depend on for rating ingredients based on their tendency to clog and irritate pores lists the qualities of many skin care ingredients, including oils (James E. Fulton Jr., Acne Research Institute). According to this foundational article, the two safest oils are sunflower and safflower oil. For anyone interested in oil cleansing, I would start with one of these. I've included a link to the online article below in case you want to see for yourself and learn more.  

I want you to know that cleansing your skin is really important. Cleansing is the first skin care step in a complete skin care routine, and it prepares your skin to be treated by the active ingredients in all of your corrective skin care products. Theoretically, water based actives may not penetrate skin as well when applied after oil - which is one reason that water based skin cleansing is my first choice. Often, however, in our zeal to clean our skin we end up irritating and over-drying the layers of our skin. You know you are over-dry if you have that ‘squeaky clean’ feeling after washing your skin. Watch out for whether that 'squeeky clean' sensation leaves you reaching for rich moisturizers with comedogenic or pore-irritating ingredients. Every complexion is unique, and our complexions even change with the seasons. It is important to find that sweet spot for your skin at any given time; you want it clean but not overly dry. You also want it ready to absorb any active ingredients you are using to slow skin aging or treat skin problems. That's why I have a range of cleansers from gentle to deep cleansing, because every complexion needs something different.

The bottom line is that oil cleansing is ok! And it even works well for some people. However, my cautionary note is that it will not work for all people. Chloe Grace Moretz's story is a helpful anecdote, but it must be put in perspective because it is not necessarily true for the majority of people. The nice thing about skin care is that you can always see the cause and effect of any changes you make in the mirror. So you can try something for a while and see how it works. 

Have you tried Oil Skin Cleansing? Share your stories about how it worked for you in the comments below! 


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Reference:

This is the foundational article ranking skin care ingredients based on their comedogenicity and pore irritancy: 
JAMES E. FULTON, JR., Acne Research Institute, Comedogenicity and irritancy of commonly used ingredients in skin care products, J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem., 40, 321-333 (November/December 1989).

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