Choosing an oil for your skincare routine according to your skin type

Megan Dominion

Let me start by saying there are no good or bad oils for skin. There are good and bad oils for YOUR skin. Different oils will have different properties – some will be more comedogenic, some will be lighter or heavier than others, some will be better for their moisturising properties, and some will very likely aggravate acne prone or sensitive skin. So, how on earth do you choose the best oil for your skincare routine? Here are a couple of simple steps to empower you to make the right decision when buying new skincare products containing oils.

Carrier oils vs essential oils

First, it’s important to understand the difference between carrier oils and essential oils. Carrier oils are fatty oils derived directly from a fruit or nut by crushing it up, putting pressure on it and what is produced are oils. Think of nut oils, seed oils or olive oils – these are carrier oils. They can be wonderful in skincare and can be used undiluted.

Essential oils are not fats, but are oils commonly used in aromatherapy. They are powerful chemicals derived from plants and can sometimes have properties that are good for the skin. They can be extracted from a flower, leaf, root, etc. Think of tea tree, chamomile, lavender oils. These should never be applied directly to your skin without it being diluted within another product first.

For this article we will talk about carrier oils and how to choose the best carrier oil for your skin type (what is my skin type guide). I am not against essential oils, and think they can be a lovely addition to a product if they are not irritating to your skin. The carrier oil you choose can have some essential oils added in if you like.

How to choose an oil for your skincare routine

Step 1: What are your skincare concerns

First identifying what your skin concerns are will help you in choosing an oil that best suits your skincare needs. Write a list if it’s easier, and if your list feels too long remember NO-ONE has ‘perfect’ skin.

Step 2: Understand & Research Fatty Acid Ratios

The first thing to understand is that oils are made up of four main fatty acids, in different proportions. Each fatty acid will be better at addressing skincare concerns than others but finding a good balance of these fatty acids will do wonders for your skin.

The four main fatty acids found in oils:


Linoleic acid

Omega-6 fatty acid, skin barrier repair, hydrating, anti-inflammatory properties, skin brightening properties

Linolenic acid

Omega-3 fatty acid, skin barrier repair, anti-inflammatory properties, may be good for reducing hyperpigmentation, soothing properties

Oleic acid

Omega-9 fatty acid, wound healing properties, hydrates and locks in moisture

Stearic acid

Saturated fatty acid, wound healing, anti-inflammatory, skin barrier strengthening, prevents water loss

Linoleic Acid & Linolenic Acid

Linoleic acid and linolenic acids are lighter and absorb faster. This means that oils with a higher percentage of these fatty acids will be better for oily, acne prone skin, skin with whiteheads or blackheads, sensitive or maturing skin.

Oleic Acid & Stearic Acid

Oils high in oleic acid are generally better for dry or aging skin. Oils high in stearic acid are also great for dry skin, however stearic acid can be more occlusive or heavier than the other fatty acids. It’s because of this that it’s generally better to avoid oils high in stearic acid on the face and rather use them on the body. These oils can potentially lead to blocked pores or breakouts.

There is no need to avoid oils with stearic acid completely, remember it will be a ratio and you can still get some benefit from stearic acid on your face. It’s just important to understand what a high concentration of this fatty acid can do if it’s too rich for your face. Essentially, if the oil you are using is too high in stearic acid, it increases the risk of blocked pores or breakouts.

Finding a balance of Fatty Acids in your Skincare Oils

If you are not sure if a certain oil is the right choice for your skin – you can search the ‘fatty acid composition’ of that oil and use this information to decide whether this oil is the best choice for your skin type and skin concern. Here is a summary to guide you a bit in the right direction

Fatty Acids in Facial Oils

Step 3: Understanding Comedogenic ratings

A comedogenic rating of an oil is essentially rating how likely that oil is to clog your pores. The scale runs from 0-5. Here is a guideline on the maximum comedogenic score of an oil you can use on your face according to skin concerns:

Acne – 1
Blackheads / whiteheads – 2
Oily skin – 2
Aging skin, wrinkles, fine lines, dull complexion, sensitivity, hyperpigmentation, rough texture – 5

In summary, if you have oily, acne prone skin, or whiteheads / blackheads, you need to be concerned about comedogenic ratings and try not to choose any oils with a higher comedogenic rating than 1 or 2. If you do not, it’s good to understand them but don’t be too concerned with this when choosing oils for your face. It’s good to be aware of it though.

For example, a comedogenic rating of 5 could very likely cause breakouts on skin that is not usually prone to breakouts due to its high comedogenic rating.

Step 4: choosing an oil for your face

Now that you understand the ‘sciency bits’ behind oils, you can make a better informed decision on the products and oils you’d like to use on your face. Some tips on choosing an oil or product:

  • Always patch test a new oil or product, and introduce it to your routine slowly to assess any adverse reactions
  • Research the quality of the oil you would like to try: is it organic, cold pressed. Has it been diluted with cheaper oils to cut costs or past its expiry date?
  • Mixing your own oils is totally fine, try them one at a time first to assess any unwanted reactions. Food grade oils are useable on your face, cosmetic oils should not be ingested though
  • Try aim for a balanced ratio of fatty acids, keeping your skin concerns in mind
  • If there’s more than one oil in the product, weigh up the fatty acid rations and comedogenic ratings for each oil
  • If an oil is far down the ingredients list there is less of that ingredient in that product, if it’s high up there’s more of it in that product

Skincare serum dropper and hand

What step in your skincare routine should you use oils?

Oils act as an occlusive so in general it will trap moisture in the skin. It should therefore be your last step in your routine after your moisturizer, as anything you apply on top of it is not likely to be absorbed through the layer of oil.

Most people use their oils at night as their last step, as it can act as a protective layer while you sleep. Oils can add a unwanted shine to the face, so opting to use it overnight also means you won’t be wandering around with an extra shiney face during the day. However, some people, especially those with extra dry skin, find that using face oils in the morning as well as at night provides the extra moisture their skin needs.


Megan Dominion

Megan Dominion is SILKUP's Managing Editor. She's been down both the curly hair and skincare rabbit holes many times and loves that there's always something new to learn; a new science, method, product or personal experience.