Dara Kennedy

Dara Kennedy worked in beauty product development and marketing for more than 10 years before starting Ayla in 2011. She is a graduate of Princeton University and holds an MBA from Harvard. A longtime yoga practitioner and mother of 2, she's been a supporter of non-toxic beauty products for years.

Given the frosty temperatures of January 2018, we thought we’d update our introduction to facial oils to help you through these and similarly frigid times in the future (or any sympathy pains your dry skin may seem to be exhibiting). This guide answers three key questions: Who should use oils, how do you choose the best one for your skin, and — the new and important addition — how should you use it? It also organizes the oils we currently have on our shelves in order from lightest to heaviest.

Q: Are oils right for everyone?

A: Generally speaking, anyone can use a face oil as long as you’re using the right type for your skin and you’re using it in the right way. Unlike the clogging mineral oils of yore, plant-based oils — either a single type or a blend — can help any skin type by moisturizing, providing antioxidant protection, and soothing skin. Whether your complexion tends to be dry or oily, these types of facial oils can help bring it back into balance either by preventing your skin from overproducing oil or by replenishing moisture loss.Oils might work particularly well for you if you:

Are looking for a dewy, glowy look.  (Aren’t we all?)  Oils are spectacularly efficient at delivering moisture to skin: they pass through skin’s lipid layer more quickly than creams do. This helps both add moisture and prevent moisture loss for a prolonged period of time, making skin look pleasantly plump and dewy.

Have sensitive skin.  Many oils boast anti-inflammatory, soothing properties, and as the stellar New York facialist Julia March says, “They can calm, hydrate, and replenish skin that’s been exposed to external stressors more quickly and without possible irritation.”

Are 35-40+. Julia March also informed us that skin’s natural oil production decreases significantly starting in our late thirties, and as skin becomes more fragile due to the breakdown of its natural moisture barrier, it becomes much less likely to retain essential moisture. This dryness and fragility continues to increase in subsequent years, so it’s a good idea to get into the habit of using oils to deeply moisturize and soothe skin sooner rather than later.

Want a quick, one-step skincare solution. If at first you thought oils were a little too messy and complicated to deal with, you might want to reconsider: They can be a single solution to provide your skin with essential moisture and anti-aging antioxidants, and all you have to do is apply 3-5 drops to damp skin.  They also work beautifully under mineral makeup, and they can also work wonders on dry hair, cuticles, and hands.

Q: OK, so how do I pick the right oil for my skin? 

A: Finding the right match can be a little tricky because oils tend to vary quite a bit.  When in doubt, contact one of our Guides at help@aylabeauty.com, or call us between 10am-5pm PT, Monday through Friday. You can also use the list below, which presents the oils from lightest (Argan Oil) to heaviest (Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Barrier Lipid Complex).

The lightest ones

  • Kahina Argan Oil is a great choice for those who are new to or tentative about oils due to concerns about breakouts. It’s simple (one ingredient!), light, and fast-absorbing.
  • Marie Veronique Treatment Oil is another great option if you're acne-prone: it's the single go-to, breakout-fighting, treatment-and-moisturizer-in-one product that many of our blemish-prone customers swear by.
  • UMA Ultimate Brightening Facial Oil is a lightweight, heavenly-smelling oil that has pomegranate oil as its base and pure rose, neroli, and frankincense essential oils — grown and distilled on UMA's own farm — to boost luminosity.

The lightweight but nourishing shape-shifters (suit a variety of skin types)

  • Vintner's Daughter is an anti-aging serum that uses grapeseed oil as its base, which absorbs well and makes it suitable even for oilier skin types. It boasts myriad anti-aging ingredients and is particularly adept at brightening and boosting luminosity, with a cult-favorite formula that's more substantial than the UMA oil listed above.
  • May Lindstrom The Youth Dew is a very well-balanced, silky-feeling oil that suits most skin types from combination-oily to combination-dry. Its oil blend includes sebum regulating oils, essential fatty acid rich oils, and antioxidant rich oils.
  • Dara's Oil (made by Marie Veronique exclusively for Ayla) is one of our favorites, obviously...but what we love most about is that it has a beautifully lightweight feel while being exceptionally nourishing, sinking in while giving skin the perfect dewy glow. It's also suitable for anyone and everyone given its uber-sensitive skin friendly formula that's free of fragrance, essential oils, tocopherol, gluten, animal derived ingredients, and nuts. We actually weren't sure exactly where to put this one on the spectrum because it feels very light and absorbs so nicely, yet it's satisfyingly rich.

Slightly richer, but still most-skin-types suitable

  • TWELVE Beauty Intelligent Frontier Facial Oil is the newest luxe addition to this crew — so new that, at time of publication, we were still waiting for it. Given the number of people who have called or written to us about it, this silky and nourishing blend of high-performance oils will be one of our best sellers.
  • M Picaut Precious Oil sets itself apart as an oil/anti-aging serum hybrid because it blends organic oils with high-powered peptides to boost elasticity, firm skin, and plump fine lines and wrinkles. We typically recommend it as a booster with a moisture lotion or a hyaluronic acid serum, but it works just fine on its own, too.
  • Marie Veronique Protective Day Oil works on a wide range of skin types, from combination-oily to dry, because it absorbs quickly and layers well. It boasts a blend of antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory oils, some of which are naturally sun-protective.
  • MyHavtorn Organic Facial Oil is excellent for sensitive skin, and it's particularly wonderful for the rosacea-prone. It's rich in vitamins A and C, and it boasts a full suite of essential fatty acids to deeply nourish skin. At the same time, it's not too heavy.

The richest ones

  • The Organic Pharmacy Antioxidant Serum is one of our best sellers, and our top choice for those who want an oil that really goes to work on the signs of aging (from wrinkles to hyperpigmentation and other signs of sun damage). If you wish you could use it but worry that it might be a little too heavy for you, just blend it with The Organic Pharmacy's Antioxidant Gel to create the perfect product for you.
  • Marie Veronique Rejuvenating Night Oil is a top choice for those who find that their skin looks dry and dull (it can be used day or night, despite the name). Packed with super-nourishing organic oils, this wonder product has the ability to transform lackluster skin overnight.
  • Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Barrier Lipid Complex is the richest, most nourishing oil we carry. Its thick, cream-oil texture, due to the addition of cholesterol (obtained humanely from sheep's wool) and ceramides, makes it similar to a balm: it's the one to go with if your skin just simply can't get enough moisture, ever.


Q: How should oils be used?

A: Ooh, one of our favorite questions —so meaty and complicated! It depends a lot on your skin, the oil you’re using, and the specific products you’re using with it, so feel free to email us for personalized suggestions. But here are some broad guidelines.

- While cleansing.

This is a fun, added-value way to use an oil. If it’s very cold, your skin is feeling particularly dry, and/or your current cleanser just seems to be too stripping, try mixing a few drops of oil into your favorite non-oil cleanser. Facialist Julia March taught us this trick — it works particularly well with the Luzern Pure Cleansing Gelee. You can use this trick with your favorite mask, too.

- As a moisturizer or moisturizer booster.

We particularly like the look and feel of an oil applied along with a water-light hydrating serum (like the ones from TWELVE, Luzern’s Serum ReHydrate or Firming Collagen Booster, Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique’s Soothing B3 Serum, or The Organic Pharmacy’s Antioxidant Face Gel). The combination absorbs more quickly and provides your skin with a deep reservoir of moisture that keeps it plump and dewy all day long.

If you have a moisturizing cream or lotion you adore and it just needs to be a little more moisturizing to carry you through the winter, just mix a couple of drops of oil into it. Presto: your own bespoke moisturizer. (The cream or lotion already has water-like ingredients in it, so that part is taken care of.) 

And, if your skin is more closely aligned with the “I cannot get enough moisture EVER” camp, you could try layering a water-light hydrating serum, then an oil, and then a cream. Sort of like a moisturizing layer cake. You could also try switching the order of the oil and the cream — there are mixed views about what’s best, but what really matters is that it feels good on your skin.

- As an all-in-one treatment and moisturizer.

If you like the look of a streamlined medicine cabinet, oils can be the way to go since they’re almost all you need. Almost. The key is to apply them to skin that is slightly damp, ideally from the use of a toner or mist. This makes the oil easier to spread and allows it to absorb more readily; if you consistently apply oils to dry skin, you may find that, over time, your skin feels dry yet looks greasy.

There are always exceptions and alternatives in this whole layering process, so if you're not sure what to do or what you’re doing doesn’t quite feel right, just contact us for tips. (Don't feel bad — this is one of our most frequently asked questions.)