A Delicate Balance


As it pertains to skincare, there’s a big misconception about oil. We tend to think of oil as bad, that the “oil” our skin produces makes us shiny and clogs pores. Anyone with oily skin might frequently complain about it, without realizing that they have an excess of a good thing. Oils are every bit as important to the skin’s hydration levels as the water inside the skin. But, yes, oil-related issues like forehead shine and acne can more commonly occur when there is an excess of sebum (the actual term for this oil). And this is why we spend so much time and energy trying to tone these oil levels.

Sebum is imperative for our skin’s health. It is filled with fatty acids, squalene, and glycerides; together these preserve the moisture levels in our skin, as well as fortify cell membranes and boost the skin’s oil barrier. (So that the sebum production can continue into perpetuity.) For these reasons, we don’t want to eliminate the skin’s oil production altogether. Sebum helps skin look firmer and brighter, which is to say it looks more youthful and alert. When sebum is excreted from the scalp or facial hair follicles, it makes its way up the shaft of the hairs and helps nourish each follicle and strand. An excess of sebum on the scalp can lead to dandruff or hair thinning, but that’s why we use shampoo 2-3 times per week—to mitigate the situation and prevent scalp irritation as well as grimy hair.

This is also why oil-based skincare products are so useful, even if you have naturally oily skin. If you find products that are proven as non-comedogenic (meaning they don’t clog pores), then you can give the skin an oil-based assist in its ability to protect moisture levels in the skin and keep everything looking taut and nourished. The skin often reacts favorably to these oil-based products and, over time, starts producing less oil of its own given the routine nourishment you apply. This is one way to steadily look less glossy since oil-based skincare products absorb just as quickly as water-based ones—when applied to freshly cleansed skin.

Speaking of water, what role does it play in the skin’s health? Most importantly, water comprises as much as 70% of your skin cells. And while we can absorb all kinds of nutrients (as well as water) through our skincare products, these hydration levels in our dermis are primarily resultant of what we eat and drink. Water, as we all know, is the very foundation of having a healthy body—and the skin is a huge expression of how hydrated we are internally. The skin’s ability to stay healthy and protect your body is often dictated by the body’s hydration levels.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore helpful water-based skincare products, though. Water-based serums—like many hyaluronic acid serums—are an excellent way to hydrate all layers of the skin, then boost and retain water at high levels. Even if you use these products, you should still consume enough water in a day to keep body (and skin) functions at peak performance.

If your skin is parched regularly, then you probably have classifiable dry skin. If it’s parched only on occasion—like if you haven’t hydrated today or if you took a long, hot shower on a very cold winter day—then your skin is simply dehydrated. You can think of dry skin as a lack of oil production, and something that must be remedied by applying the proper oil-based products (even over a water-based serum, as it all helps). Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is a temporary condition and should be addressed by consuming more water, getting plenty of rest, applying water-based serums, followed by oil-based moisturizers, both of which can trap in the moisture. Avoid excessively hot water and cold, dry air.

And as far as oils go for your face, they’re not all the same. You may have to pick the right oils that target your specific skincare needs. Here are some of the main oils you’ll find in skincare, and their core functions: Tea tree oil (antimicrobial, reduces acne and inflammation); grapeseed oil (anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich, regulates oil production and can be useful on oily skin); argan oil (super moisturizer, antioxidant-rich, and anti-ager); jojoba oil (reparative and anti-inflammatory); olive oil (a vitamin-rich moisturizer); sunflower seed oil (protective and moisturizing). It’s best to avoid coconut oil, a common and nourishing skincare ingredient since it can easily clog pores.

How do you preserve the balance of oil and water in the skin, while avoiding irritation, blemishes, and rough or dull patches of skin? The best answer is to drink plenty of water, every single day. Pair this with water-based serums (again, hyaluronic acid is a great place to start), applied after cleansing, twice daily. Then apply an oil-based moisturizer over top, potentially targeting the skin with a specific oil ingredient. Use a gentle cleanser every time you wash, to preserve your pH levels (also addressed in this same issue), and to remove only the excess oil on the surface of the skin, without extracting oils already inside the skin, and thus risking dryness. If you maintain this regimen, oily skin should train itself to produce less oil, but can always be mitigated with blotting papers or an alcohol-free toner (post-cleansing, pre-serum, and moisturizer). Naturally dry skin, on the other hand, should benefit almost immediately from this regular, twice-daily regimen.