more on that multi-purpose oil

… continuing along from multi-taskers
LAST UPDATED: 2015-05-24
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I. RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW Current main one (skin irritated and being very reactive) = a 50/50 mix of:

  • meadowfoam seed oil: bought online from Mountain Rose Herbs (no longer available from them),,, and also other local suppliers. Meadowfoam grows and is processed in the Pacific Northwest, both sides of the border, so I have access to some other less regularly available sources here in Vancouver.
  • sunflower seed oil: supermarket standard cooking variety, high linoleic acid

Previously recently:

  • safflower seed oil: high linoleic acid, food/cooking sort
  • mineral oil
  • safflower/sunflower + meadowfoam oil mix, in various proportions
  • safflower/sunflower + olive + meadowfoam oil mix, in various proportions
  • sunflower + olive oil mix, approximately 1:1, when I was away from home and ran out of my DIY blend;
    oils bought from grocery store
  • meadowfoam seed oil alone
  • meadowfoam + sweet almond oil mix, various proportions
  • meadowfoam + extra-virgin olive oil mix, similarly
  • combinations and permutations of the oils above + avocado oil;
    source: grocery stores or Mountain Rose Herbs (Fair Trade Kenyan oil)
  • extra-virgin olive oil, on its own: bought from local shops, grocers, delis, etc. Usually Greek, usually from Crete, usually ABEA or assorted co-ops (3 litre green can).
  • avocado oil alone
  • hemp seed oil alone
  • sweet almond oil alone

II. PURPOSES & REQUISITE QUALITIES Has to be just right. Think Goldilocks and the three bears’ porridge.

  • moisturising, rich, no irritation
  • little to no scent (or at least a scent that I like: ex. I like the “green” scent of avocado, hemp, and olive)
  • sits on skin, doesn’t disappear straight away (like lighter oils like grapeseed)
  • yet also sinks in, thoroughly, and does so fairly fast (not like really heavy oils hat would still be there, minus some that had soaked into your clothes, after you had dressed, spent a day doing whatever, and undressed ready for bed in the evening; some of which may be heavy, rich, and moisturizing in theory–but in practice sit on my skin, never absorb, and skin doesn’t actually feel moist)
  • but also not too heavy and syrupy, can be rinsed off or removed with a cloth
  • for (rinsed off): pre-cleansing face, shaving, eye make-up removal
  • (left on): moisturising, all over


A. Oils that I have loved…

  • apricot kernel
  • argan
  • avocado
  • borage / starflower seed:
    in my experience, works at least as well or better ingested rather than applied topically. Fragile, needs refrigeration, capsules are the most economical and stable way to buy the stuff. High gamma-linolenic acid (GLA, one of the essential fatty acids), fair data (plus doctor recommendations) for use on certain skin conditions including some affecting my skin, ex. eczema. A good cheap convenient source, stable, not needing refrigeration: the ShiKai borage dry skin remedy range.
  • canola
  • evening primrose (ditto as for borage)
  • hazelnut (in a blend: too drying alone, on me)
  • hemp seed (keep refrigerated)
  • jojoba (low dose, in a blend)
  • meadowfoam seed
  • mineral
  • olive, extra-virgin
  • peanut (REFINED)
  • plum kernel
  • rice bran
  • rosehip seed (refined or CO2-extracted, and used as an antioxidant face-serum, not in larger quantities as all-over multi-purpose oil)
  • safflower seed
  • sesame seed (raw, not toasted)
  • sunflower seed
  • sweet almond

futurama: bender and robot oil


Chapter 1: early years

My skin has been “sensitive” in various senses all my life. It is thin, and easily damaged; even now, I am very prone to skin barrier damage. My skin bruises, scratches, and burns easily. It’s easily irritated. I’ve had eczema off and on all my life. Many of these things are simply the down side of being a Natural Born Ginger: there are of course many delightful, delicious, and delirious upsides to very fine sensitive skin…

I’d used oils to moisturise it, or had them used on me, since infancy. I continued with much the same stuff when I was an adolescent; my skin didn’t go particularly hormonal and zitty, but it did become a little less dry. Fortunately, because it was still very reactive, I had less opportunity than others to play around, experiment, try out fun stuff, and break my skin. Remember, ginger skin is thin and hypersensitive. In addition, ginger neural wiring is also somewhat different. We genuinely feel more pain than other people. Add in the sorry fact that I am a wimp. Hence spending teenage years spending pocket-money experimenting with mascara, rather than foundations and other makeup.

Oils used in infancy, adolescence, and twenties (and later):

  • borage seed oil
  • mineral oil
  • sesame seed oil
  • sunflower oil
  • sweet almond oil

A note on borage seed oil: This is a very fragile oil that goes off at the speed of light. It needs to be kept refrigerated and in the dark. It’s also expensive, partly as it’s tricky and expensive to grow, and labour-intensive to harvest. That fragility extends all the way through its lifespan. It’s also one of the things I’ve used for years on eczema and other irritable dryness.

The cheapest way to buy it, and keep it fresh, is to buy it in capsule form. break capsule and spread oil around appropriate areas. The trick is getting small enough capsules, so you’ve effectively only got 1-2 drops of oil inside, which is enough for a single application. My first error, of course, was to buy a larger bottle because it looked cheaper. Even refrigerated, it went off before I’d used a tenth of it. My second errors was to buy capsules, cut a bunch of them open, and pour the oil into my oil blend. The whole oil blend went off before I’d used it up (admittedly, it went off less fast than borage seed oil alone).

So what I usually do with borage oil these days is to buy a bottle of capsules, keep them in the fridge, and take one out when I need one–for instance if skin has gone eczematic, or is threatening to do so in a localised way, or is otherwise being irritable or irritated. Break capsule and use oil: either applied directly to skin, or mixed in (in palm of hand) with whatever my current multi-purpose oil may be. It works at least as well if you just swallow a capsule instead of opening it up and smearing it all over your skin; and there’s more evidence for successful use ingested rather than applied topically. NB: on certain skin conditions only.

Borage seed oil is not a beauty panacea for people whose skin is basically fine and healthy–however vain and/or psychologically fragile they might feel–but a treatment for skin with issues. I also used moisturisers based mainly on the oils listed above; such as the much-beloved RIP old Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion, and (for borage and other GLA) the ShiKai borage dry skin remedy range, especially their hand cream, which I use as an eye-cream and night-cream (as well as a hand-cream).

Chapter 2: late twenties to mid-thirties

I discovered MakeupAlley in my late twenties, when researching sunscreen online. I added a few more oils to the list and played around with them. I’d also been using some other moisturisers, and catching up on a lost adolescence via patch-testing. When I expanded my repertory of ingredients that didn’t result in skin reactions, I kept a note of these (because I am a geek, and also because my doctor trained me in doing this when I was a kid: bless him…) and looked for other products containing them.

I also tried out some other single oils, used them alone, and mixed them in with moisturisers. In the outside world, this was the age of postmodernity, fusion, and remixing. In the world of oils on my skin, there was a lot of blending going on too. This was the blend:

  • mainly safflower, sunflower, and/or mineral oils (ratio of 2:1, for 75-80% of the total quantity)
  • a smaller quantity of sesame and/or sweet almond plus about half as much again of jojoba (ratio of about 2:1, for 20-25% of the total, max.)
  • sometimes a dash of hazelnut and/or also a capsule of borage seed oil

Rationale for oil selection: bland, bland, bland. At that time, my skin dealt better with oils that satisfied the following criteria / or having such oils comprise most or all of the blend:

  • lighter i.e. lighter molecular weight: I’m not entirely sure how far this works, or if indeed it works as a definite factor. My skin texture is fine, with small pores. It’s easily clogged by heavier oils with larger molecules. It’s not with the opposite; though some very light astringent oils (ex. grapeseed) dry it out, and some with the wrong fatty acids (ex. coconut) irritate and zittify.
  • more fluid/runny/watery-looking in the bottle
  • stable, not going rancid/off/degrading quickly
  • odourless or close to it
  • cheap and readily obtainable
  • already tested and/or used on my own skin
  • tested, used, and vouched for by other MakeupAlley-ers who seemed to have similar skin, and similar skin requirements and tolerances, to my own:
    • hence adding safflower and hazelnut oils to the list
    • + completely avoiding saturated fat: coconut and palm oil and cocoa butter are a Walking Dead disaster on my face

How to mix:

  1. Get a clean empty bottle; I prefer the kind with a flip-top cap, often keeping old plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles for the purpose.
  2. Pour in oils. I gauge quantities by eye, approximating based on how much of the bottle has been filled. If you find that difficult, or want to be more accurate, you could use a kitchen measuring jug. Or a baby feeding bottle, or other container with measurements marked on the side. Then decant into your container of choice.
  3. Once the oil is in: Shake. Ensure cap is closed.
  4. Place bottle in shower. I sometimes keep a smaller bottle of the same stuff, or something similar, by the bathroom sink. Then again, sometimes not. Quantities and proportions of oil vary, as I have a habit of topping the bottle up once it’s down to somewhere between a quarter full and only an inch left.


  1. Shake bottle before use.
  2. Pour out 2-3 drops for face, a palmful for body (and more, use as much as you need).
  3. Rub between hands and apply for face as one would a serum before the moisturiser; for body, massage it generally all over.
  4. In cold weather, more of the oil mixed in with moisturiser too.

Chapter 3: thirties

I moved around several times in this period, and between that and changes in jobs, my skin got irritable and irritated again. Basically, it’s either calm and I don’t feel it while it gets on with its own business and life; or it’s a PITA that I feel all the time and that takes over my life. Back on MUA and other skin-care fora, I refined my oil criteria and added some more:

  • lighter i.e. lighter molecular weight
  • more fluid/runny/watery-looking in the bottle
  • stable, not going rancid/off/degrading quickly
  • odourless or close to it
  • cheap and readily obtainable
  • already tested and/or used on my own skin
  • tested, used, and vouched for by other MakeupAlley-ers who seemed to have similar skin, and similar skin requirements and tolerances, to my own:
    • higher proportion of polyunsaturated fat,
    • within which a higher proportion of ϖ-6 fatty acids (omega-6),
    • within which a higher proportion of linoleic acid (LA) or λ-linolenic acid (gamma-linolenic acid, GLA).

These things are usually fairly easy to check on the bottle; bear in mind that cooking oils will usually tell you about saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, and nowadays will usually also tell you about omega fatty acids too. I’ve found no advantage to cold-pressed or first-pressed–indeed, quite the contrary, as they tend to be a disadvantage as resulting in a greater proportion of monounsaturated fats a.k.a. omega-9 fatty acid, oleic acid. My skin is (usually) cool with them, but oilier acne-prone skin often doesn’t jive so well with the old oleic. For further and fuller info on oils, just look up any of the above terms c/o Wikipedia. Quick note–

  • A selection of good and easier-to-find sources for higher LA: safflower seed, grapeseed, sunflower seed, sweet almond, and hemp seed oils. Safflower and sunflower are the highest in LA, but read labels attentively as there are also higher-oleic versions (usually organic first-pressed yadayada).
  • For higher GLA: evening primrose, hemp, and borage seed oils (easier to find in capsules meant to be eaten; these oils are otherwise more expensive, and less stable; you could open and pour caps into a bottle, but the oil would go off fast; just crack open the caps and apply contents where needed, as aforementioned re. borage).
  • Omega-6: in most seed or nut oils have more LA. Another tip: look out for higher-omega-6 oils being avoided by palaeo diet fans…
  • Looking for a lighter oil? = grapeseed (can be astringent, ex. too drying on me) or rice bran oil
  • Looking for a heavier oil? = hemp seed oil: but must be refrigerated

Avoiding the following on skin, though eating them for other health reasons and using some of them on hair:

  • Higher α-linolenic / omega-3 (and still polyunsaturated): fish, some algae, flax and loads of other seeds (but in a less directly-obtainable/digestable form), rapeseed/canola, soy.
  • Higher oleic / omega-9 / monounsaturated fats: palm, olive, avocado, and several of the heavier nut and other fruit-seed oils (ex. macadamia)
    UPDATE: this has changed over the years. I can’t do palm, as it is too high in saturated fats. But olive and avocado are usually good on my skin, either alone or in a mix, as my skin is now drier. Omega-9 is, however, generally not advised on oilier and/or more acne-prone skin.
  • Peanut/groundnut (not an actual nut) bad on my skin: immediate outbreaks. BUT refined peanut oil is wonderful; and chemically quite different.

Now, while that was fine on my skin, a note of caution: the MUAers concerned had what looked like similar skin requirements and intolerances to my own, but there were some crucial differences.

1. Break-outs may differ from one another. What looks the same on skin may be full allergic reaction, irritation, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, acne vulgaris, a parasitic infection, or the start of plague, or you may in fact be a zombie. a number of other things. In order to treat what is on your skin, you need to know what it is, how it is doing what is doing, and why. You need to find out causes and biochemical pathways. The only way to find out what is going on with your skin will be to see a medical professional. Some GP doctors are competent (most aren’t and are clueless, hence the legions of unfortunates on Accutane on MUA). Many dermatologists are, but make sure that they are actually proper doctors, and not jumped-up estheticians.

2. Online fora like MUA actually help a lot here, because they increase your likelihood of finding probable “skin twins” and because they help you to experiment on your own skin intelligently. That is, testing things properly; and not testing any old stuff, but things that look more likely to work (based on skin twins). This is useful if you live in a benighted country with poor health service, postponing if not maybe even saving you the expense of visiting an actual medical professional. In benighted countries with evil medical insurance schemes, this saves you the horrors of worrying about later reimbursement. I am thinking in both cases, of course, of our unfortunate neighbours south of the border; not coincidentally, they constitute the bulk of the online skincare population.

3. While the advice above worked pretty well for me, for a while, it turns out that skin fatty acid needs vary with natural dryness: my skin is actually the type that benefits from more omega-9. In that omega-9 is one of the things lacking in my skin. Whereas skin that is not naturally (i.e. what you were born with, that kind of “naturally”) dry but has been sensitized and has become dry due to external factors such as medication; especially if it is naturally oilier and acne-prone associated with that (NBBB this is a complex association: oil does not necessarily encourage acne, nor is acne necessarily caused by oily skin): this kind of skin seems to do better with more omega-6 and preferably no omega-9.

Many people on skin fora such as MUA have skin conditions (such as various forms of acne) for which they are on medication (such as Accutane) one of whose side-effects is drier skin. Even once acne is under control, skin can have become drier and/or more dehydrated. So much of the MUA population is living with several skin conditions at once: at its most miserable, skin that is oily, dehydrated, dry, sensitive, breakout-prone. In all these cases, what your skin benefits from having applied to it is not necessarily going to be the same as what it benefits from your eating. Omega-3 fatty acids are a good example: most people benefit (not just skin, overall general condition) from consuming oily fish like salmon; but there is a fairly high probability of breakouts on skin from using flax seed or linseed oil on it. So: know your own skin:

  • it is dry because that’s the way it is and always has been
  • or it has become dry because of other factors, such as medication

Chapter 4: late thirties to early forties

In this period, I also started getting interested in topical antioxidants for boosting sun protection, and for building collagen and suchlike. My skin is thin, it will get thinner with age, and the thinner it gets, the more breakable it is. (The usual reason for most people is vanity and fear of ageing: whatever rocks your boat.) So I looked into and started using things like

  • rosehip seed oil

Then stopped, because man that stuff can be expensive, and I didn’t notice a significant enough substantial difference. Same goes for other oils I experimented with as and when they became fashionable:

  • argan
  • camelina
  • maracuja a.k.a. passionflower
  • pumpkin seed

My skin has changed: it’s become drier, and the omega-6 business is useful but lower omega-9 is not an issue. I’ve found other oils with different fatty-acid compositions work as well or better: for example,

  • meadowfoam seed oil

I can actually use and love me some omega-9 / oleic acid: for example,

  • avocado oil
  • olive oil

The main thing is that a very high proportion of oleic acid and saturated fat (ex. coconut oil) corresponds to not being good on most of my facial skin (=ZITTORIFFIC OUTBREAKS), though it may be fabulous elsewhere. There’s some more on these skin changes and on becoming drier in oils revisited (2012-06-25)


A. A GOOD BASIC START FOR MOST SKINS Look for: lighter-feeling oils; often with lower molecular weight and a goodly dose of linoleic acid. Check the latter in chemistry textbooks, Wikipedia, etc. Examples, cheap and readily-available from supermarkets, and should be likely to be OK on many skin types:

  • meadowfoam
  • mineral
  • safflower (+LA)
  • sunflower (+LA)
Look for: light-weight oils and/or astringent. Avoiding: omega-9 (monounsaturated fat), omega-6 especially if λ-linolenic acid (gamma-linolenic acid, GLA), so avoiding seed oils unless high linoleic.
Some possible oils to try out:
  • grapeseed
  • hazelnut
  • safflower (low-oleic: check ingredients on bottle)
= skin that has become more sensitive and more dry, usually as a side-effect of things being used on it (Accutane, AHA, BHA, etc.); may also have damaged barrier ≠ sensitive dry skin, on which see item D below
Look for: light-weight, preferably high in omega-6 if linoleic acid (LA). Avoiding, to be on the safe side: nut oils; omega-9 (monounsaturated fat); omega-6 if λ-linolenic acid (gamma-linolenic acid, GLA), so seed oils unless high linoleic; astringency.
Some possible oils to try out:
  • meadowfoam
  • mineral
  • safflower
  • sunflower
Some possible oils to try out:
  • avocado (heavier)
  • borage / starflower seed
  • canola (careful: patch-test, as allergies are not uncommon)
  • evening primrose
  • hemp seed
  • macadamia (heavier)
  • meadowfoam
  • mineral
  • olive (EVOO, heavier)
  • rice bran (light but not astringent)
  • safflower
  • sunflower
  • sweet almond
Avoid: nut oils; omega-9 / oleic acid: emu, jojoba, olive oils (including derivatives such as squalane); seed oils unless high linoleic. Advice from people on MUA such as the great and good barbiH.
Some possible oils to try out:
  • mineral oil
The following two things are different, but both may result in skin looking and feeling dry:
  • Dryness = oil production by skin
  • Dehydration = water retention

Skin may be any combination of  the two: dry and dehydrated, oily and dehydrated, oily and hydrated, dry and hydrated. And it can be any of them in different areas. And to different degrees. On dehydration: hydrate skin (water is the basic way), use oil to trap that layer next to skin. Hydrators can help too: a.k.a. humectants, like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, etc. In the form of toners, waters, Japanese and Korean moisturising waters/lotions, gels, serums. The most basic hydrator: plain water. V. GENERAL INFORMATION ON OILS

See also, on oils, and on irritation and comedogenicity indices:

Some more links, from barbiH on MUA:
Where to buy oils:
  • Supermarkets, grocers, delis, markets, health-food stores and other eco-shops… and any other establishments that sell food:
    • look in the aisle where cooking oils live. I usually get sunflower and safflower here; also avocado, rice bran, grapeseed, olive, macadamia; and a good place to look for peanut, coconut, assorted others…
    • but: be aware that many nut oils (true nuts, not ground-nut) will be toasted or roasted: ex. sesame, hazelnut. Nice in salad dressing, but the raw version–odourless–is supposed to better on skin (and I just plain prefer less- to non-scented stuff on skin)
    • vitamins & supplements aisle: look here for capsules of borage (starflower) seed oil, evening primrose oil, hemp seed oil
  • Cosmetic / body-care aisle, some “mainstream” food-and-everyday-stuff shops, and in most health-food stores:
    • may well be amongst massage oils, by aromatherapy essential oils: look here for jojoba, sweet almond, the untoasted sesame, etc.
  • Online: this is by no means a comprehensive list, just where I’ve bought stuff fairly recently (or from which others have nicely got stuff for me); most are based in the US; but all those listed below ship to Canada for non-outrageous prices.
Note that food grade is actually a higher standard–subject to stricter controls–than cosmetic grade, beside almost always being cheaper. Stricter controls = quality control, product similarity across batches, lack of pollutants and trace stuff (ex. rat droppings), health & safety in processing, manufacture, lab, etc.
Ready-made oils I’ve bought in the past, before making my own for less. Not all are fragrance-free, but caused no reactions.
  • A-Derma shower oil (Exoméga, I think)
  • Badger baby oil
  • Booth’s (nice, but went rancid very fast)
  • Boots Expert Baby  dry skin massage oil (I think that was the name–it’s mainly mineral oil)
  • Burt’s Bees baby oil
  • California Baby oil
  • Crabtree & Evelyn jojoba bath & massage oil
  • E45 shower oil
  • Elave baby oil and adult body oil (mineral oil)
  • Lavera Babies & Kids Neutral oil
  • Neutrogena (a looooong time ago, before they were bought by J&J and became Untouchable)
  • Nivea shower oil
  • Oilatum
  • Save-on-Foods “Western Family” own-brand light mineral oil
  • Shoppers’ Drug Mart “Life” brand unscented baby oil (mineral oil)
  • Weleda Baby Calendula
I should add to these: Lafe’s, and probably others lurking in the Whole Foods baby department.

Mythbusting: click image for link, see also…

…a most improving and illuminating historical discussion at “the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation” (on their old board, here)

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