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Moisturising Oils: Why There is No 'Best'

14/12/2015 10:20



Moisturising Oils: Why There is No 'Best'

There's no shortage of opinion in the world of skincare. Search online or through any popular beauty magazine and you'll soon unearth a trove of articles and reviews, all making bold claims about the latest 'miracle oil.'

The problem for ordinary consumers is who and what to believe. When it comes to natural oils, which really is the best?

The short answer is that there's no such thing. Objectively speaking, it's impossible to say which oil is best because it immediately begs a second question: best for what? People naturally have their favourites, but so much depends on you and what you want to achieve. The truth is, getting the most from an oil is about matching your skin type with the right products and knowing what effect you're going for.

The Basics:

Organic, natural oils from plant sources nearly all contain the same basic components: fatty acids, vitamin E and sometimes vitamin A. That's as true of ordinary olive oil as it is of top-of-the range products like Barbary fig oil. To some extent, they all work as natural moisturisers. The important difference - what really makes each oil unique - is the precise combinations and proportions of these key ingredients. It's these subtle differences that ultimately determine which product is most effective and most suitable for your particular type of skin.

Let's consider the principal organic oils and their key ingredients:

  Argan Oil Barbary Fig Oil Rosehip Oil Jojoba Oil Marula Oil
Oleic acid (%) 42.8 - 46.0 20.6 - 21.9 14.0 - 16.0 5.0 - 15.0 70.0 - 78.0
Linoleic acid (%) 35.0 - 36.8 60.5 - 62.6 43.0 - 46.0 max 5.0 4.0 - 7.0
ALA & GLA (%) <0.5 (approx 0.1) 0.3 31.0 - 34.0 max 1.0 0.1 - 0.7
Stearic acid (%) 5.5 - 6.0 3.2 - 3.9 1.0 - 3.0 max 1.0 5.0 - 8.0
Palmitic acid (%) 12.0 - 13.0 11.6 - 13.9 3.0 - 5.0 max 3.0 9.0 - 12.0
Vitamin E (%) 600 - 900 mg/kg 895 mg/kg 5.25 mg/kg 50 parts/million 220 mg/kg
Vitamin A (%)     2.95 mg/kg (beta-carotene)    

Looking at that first line, it's clear that marula oil contains a much higher proportion of oleic acid than, say, rosehip oil. But what does that mean for your skin? To make sense of the numbers, we clearly need to understand what these key ingredients do. Here's a short summary:


Oleic acid: This omega-9 unsaturated fatty acid is found in nearly all natural oils. The higher the oleic acid content, the richer and heavier the oil and the more of a moisture barrier it creates on the skin. As a compound that protects against drying, it's therefore a very important moisturising ingredient.

Linoleic acid: Linoleic acid tends to be thinner and lighter than oleic acid, so it has a less pronounced barrier effect. However, because it is less viscous, it can help to thin the sebum in oily or congested skin, allowing it to flow more freely. It can therefore have a deep cleansing effect - making it especially useful for people who suffer from acne or blocked / enlarged pores.

ALA & GLA (Alpha and Gamma linoleic acid): ALA belongs to the omega-3 group of fatty acids and, like linoleic acid, it's considered essential for humans. GLA is a non-essential, omega-6 unsaturated fatty acid and our bodies make it naturally from linoleic acid. GLA is vital for maintaining healthy skin; it helps preserve the integrity of cell membranes and helps to keep skin moisturised, supple and smooth. GLA deficiencies can result in dry, scaly and prematurely wrinkled skin. GLA is found in greatest concentrations in rosehip oil.

Stearic acid & Palmitic acid: These saturated free fatty acids (FFAs) allow water and oil to mix. They help skin to retain moisture, they can help to cleanse the skin and they may also help to preserve the skin's antimicrobial defences. As an effective emollient, palmitic acid promotes a smoother complexion and also has an antioxidant action that helps protect against long term damage.

Vitamin E: This is often added to skin care products because it's a natural preservative and because it has valuable antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help neutralize the effects of damaging free radicals which may be generated by smoking or exposure to pollution and UV light. Free radicals can do permanent harm to healthy tissue and accelerate the signs of ageing by damaging collagen and causing dryness, fine lines and wrinkles.

Vitamin A: Technically a whole group of compounds, vitamin A is important for the immune system, for our eyes and for the health of our skin. It helps regulate skin function at the cellular level and stimulates the production of collagen - the protein responsible for keeping skin firm and elastic.

Choosing the Right Oil

As natural products, organic oils have different concentrations of ingredients and their benefits often overlap. The 'best' oil is therefore whichever offers the effect you want, together with the most appropriate balance of ingredients for your skin.

At a simple level, the best moisturisers for dry or normal skin will usually be marula oil and argan oil because they offer the highest concentrations of oleic acid. Greasy skin that's prone to blocked pores may tend to benefit more from Barbary fig oil because its higher linoleic acid content makes it a more effective deep cleanser. However, while rosehip oil contains less linoleic acid, it contains much more GLA and trials suggest that it can help reduce the appearance of scars, sunspots and wrinkles. For those with acne, rosehip oil boasts a therapeutic combination of anti-inflammatory GLA and vitamin A, which can help to promote healing.

So It's That Simple?

Well, no. It's important to remember that the table only shows some of the key ingredients and some of these, even in tiny trace amounts can have a powerful effect. Physical structure is also very important. On paper, for example, jojoba oil looks far less impressive than any of its rivals but its physical similarity to human sebum makes it a good moisturiser and a safe cleanser for virtually all skin types. It can break down hardened sebum, it spreads well without leaving an oily finish, and it is also a powerful antioxidant.

Ultimately, everyone's skin is different and people respond to different oils in different ways. A friend or journalist can tell you what has worked for them but only experience will show what really works for you. The key is finding the balance and, for some, the answer may lie not in a single product but in an individually matched combination of two or more oils.


Posted in News By

Amelia Moss

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