oils revisited

My skin has varied over the years, as has what I’ve used on it. Now, my skin’s been sensitive all my life, for various reasons and in various ways. Some of that sensitivity is inbuilt: that’s how my skin happens to be built: physically thin and with genetic eczema, for starters. The first oil I ever experimented with was jojoba, in my teens. LOL. It was fashionable, what more can I say… In my late 20s to early 30s, my skin was more hormonally-charged. I tended to have better luck and results with oils that were somewhere around about 0-1 on the standard comedogenicity and irritancy indices; had a lower molecular weight; and were lower in oleic acid, lower in alpha-linolenic acid, and higher in linoleic and gamma-linolenic.

Some oils have been constants, from cradle to currently-nearer-the-grave: mineral, sweet almond, sunflower. I’d always prefer to use a plant-derived oil where possible. Not because I’m one of those fools who think mineral oil and petrolatum (Vaseline) are poisonous and evil because they’re actually petrol/gas/crude oil (chemistry 101 ROFL), but for reasons of sustainability. Factoring in costs of production and transportation, too.

Over the last couple of years, my skin’s been changing. It’s become drier. It’s still fussy/reactive and can’t do some oils: especially face, throat, and chest. My main current oil is meadowfoam: stable, zero irritation ever, moisturising, sinks in fast, basically marvellous stuff. It’s local—yay! go Pacific North-West!!—but more expensive than other oils I’ve used. Not crazy expensive; not, say, the price of argan. But I thought: dare I try out olive? Give it more of a try?

Reason 1: While I’ve been using olive oil on hair for quite some time, and on my hands in the kitchen after washing dishes etc., I’d not tried it out elsewhere on skin for a long time. My skin’s changed; so the effects of olive oil might have done too. The only way to find out is to test.

Reason 2: I’d avoided high oleic oils for ages, but the fatty acid balance of meadowfoam is far off the high-LA & GLA sorts of oils I’d favoured previously, and meadowfoam seems to work.

Reason 3: I’ve been able to use moisturizing creams that include olive oil amongst their ingredients.

Reason 4: we always have oodles of extra-virgin olive oil around (for cooking and salads), bought in bulk in large containers (5 litre, or more: depending on which of us is going shopping, and as big as one or two people can carry on the bus). Less packaging, recyclable, and it’s a lot cheaper (we’re usually paying around $25-30 per can, so $5-6/litre).

Reason 4: another trigger for this direction of thinking was something Anna (one of my more regular commenters on here) was saying, a while back, about olive oil.

Therefore: decision to re-test olive oil on skin. And that’s what I’ve been doing, progressively. Started with shaving, moved to body moisturising, then eye make-up removal, then tried it out as a face moisturizer. And keep the experiment going for a full 6-8 weeks, minimum. By the end of which, if all goes well, that would be a new all-over multi-purpose oil. If not, if I can still use it instead of meadowfoam for some purposes, or mixed with it, I’m still saving money compared to just using meadowfoam alone.

Experimental results : so far so good, all over, we’ll see how that continues.

OILS I’M CURRENTLY USING

  1. meadowfoam seed oil
  2. extra-virgin olive oil
  3. a mix of meadowfoam seed oil (50-80%) + olive oil (20-50%)

UPDATE (update to date, still doing this in 2013-01): just using meadowfoam plain and simple.

MEADOWFOAM

How I’m using it:

  • eye makeup remover
  • pre-cleanser / oil cleanser
  • face moisturiser: applied to damp skin, often on top of a hydrating layer (water, witch-hazel hydrosol, or a serum);
    usually in the evening: I prefer something lighter on skin at night; using Chagrin Valley whipped squalene mousse in the morning
  • body moisturiser
  • shaving

Feel etc:

  • medium-weight: not light and runny, not very heavy either; very easy to smooth all over oneself
  • no scent
  • stable: lasts a long time, no need to refrigerate or store in special ways
  • applied to damp skin, sinks in very fast: probably the easiest oil I’ve used in terms of application
  • no greasy feel once it’s on and in, just silky; and not in the “dry oil” way (grapeseed, hazelnut, rosehip) where skin feels dry to the touch and needs more moisture after application
  • holds moisture well
  • no irritation, or clogging, or otherwise breakouts
  • on me, works as well as mineral oil
  • for inhabitants of the western side of North America: eco-sound alternative to mineral oil (and many others), as it’s grown and produced in the Pacific North-West. Sustainable, local, decent labour, lower transport costs.

More on why, rationale, choice of oil, see:

OLIVE

How I’m using it:

  • eye makeup remover (frequently)
  • pre-cleanse, followed by olive oil soap (often)
  • pre-wash conditioner on hair (most times)
  • in-shower body moisturiser (most times)
  • hand moisturiser (when in kitchen: often)
  • nail & cuticle softener, moisturiser, etc. (often)
  • HIGHLY EXPERIMENTAL STAGES: face moisturiser. Not too sure: I prefer meadowfoam seed oil, or a meadowfoam/olive mix, or my Chagrin Valley squalene mousse
    UPDATE (2014): nope on face on me, on later tries. Zits.
  • one component of the DIY multi-purpose balm, along with beeswax and refined shea butter (my skin’s better with the refined version, due to irritation by the cinnamates in the unrefined raw kind; I’m careful to buy non-hexane processed stuff though)

Feel etc.:

  • slightly more viscous / less runny compared to meadowfoam; very slightly more effort needed to apply and distribute it evenly, but we’re talking seconds, nothing drastic
  • moisturises very well: using less, patting it on and pressing it into skin
  • green-ish scent
  • stable, lasts a long time, kept in dark or UV-blocking bottle; I’m using standard cooking stuff bought in a 5 litre drum for $20.00 from a  local Greek deli. Specifically, it’s Cretan extra-virgin olive oil. Used a lot (mainly) for food, so we go through it pretty fast and it doesn’t have time to think about going off
  • amazing on hair

Quick note on EVOO applied to hair: Seriously outstanding. But: only (on my hair anyway) used as a leave-in pre-wash, on slightly damp hair, left on for anything from 15 minutes to 2 hours (hair twisted into a knot in the meantime, with some fabric around it), washed out, hair then conditioned.

I tried several approaches:

1. at the post-wash conditioning stage, mixing olive oil into my conditioner
2. applying it just before conditioner
3. applying it after
(and then rinsing that out): the result was either no difference or, if the conditioner was left on, left my hair lank and greasy.
Also (call this 4-6) tried the same, but as a pre-wash condition: olive oil alone wins over olive oil mixed or layered with conditioner.
Tested with three different conditioners.

Using EVOO first, letting it sit, then washing and conditioning (and that’s conditioning fast, the stuff’s only on for about a minute tops) = great hair. Variations played with:

1. applied to dry hair
2. applied to slightly damp hair (just wetted, with warm water, at the sink)
3. applied to wet hair
And the same as above, but with oil at body temperature (poured out the bottle into hand, hands rubbed together) or warmed up slightly: so that’s 4-6.
And the same two sets of experiments again, but with mixes of olive & meadowfoam oils.

Best results with damp hair; no perceptible difference between body-temperature oil and warmed-up oil. As it’s easier, faster, and also more energy-efficient: body-temperature it is.

By “great hair” I mean soft, smooth, sleek, bouncy, shiny, wavy (no lankness, no frizz); no irritation, itchiness, dryness, flakiness and so on the scalp and surrounding skin (shouldn’t feel anything, basically); and generally looking happy and healthy and Pantene-advert-like.

Some more on olive oil:

UPDATE (2012-12): I’ll still sometimes use this or sweet almond oil for all non-leave-on purposes, as multi-purpose oil #2 because it doesn’t sink in fast, and in some situations, that oily slick on the skin surface is precisely what you need. So I’m using it as a make-up-remover, for shaving, and for deep moisturising then wipe or wash off the excess left over: on hair before washing, and also on hands and feet.
Not using this as a leave-on moisturiser: meadowfoam is more convenient, and feels better on face. Though I have used olive oil all over when staying at friends’ and without anything else to use, and all was well.

And here’s a nice olive-oil-and-chocolate dessert:

Denis Cotter, olive oil chocolate mousse: recipe (click image) at “The Telegraph” (and in Mr Cotter’s splendid cookery books, which any gastronome–vegetarian or otherwise–is heartily encouraged to investigate)

USED RECENTLY

AVOCADO

Now, I know it’s supposed to be great on eczema and other skin conditions. Sometimes that’s happened and worked out in the past. I got another bout of sensitivity on my back recently. Tried the avocado (on hair too). Bad reaction. Definitely this: it was the only change, and the angry blisters were exactly where the avocado oil had been (between the back and my hair lying on my back). On the other hand, it has worked in the past.

*shrug*

UPDATE (2014-03-13): well, that’s skin and its variability for you. My skin is currently drinking this damn stuff up: sinks in, stays there, skin stays velvety peachy all day, nary a zit in sight.

Feel etc.:

  • thick and heavy
  • very moisturising, but slow to penetrate skin: meadowfoam works better
  • sometimes it seems less heavy than olive, sometimes heavier; last time I did a side-by-side test (2014-03), olive was thicker and sank in more slowly, but both oils moisturised pretty equally
  • some don’t smell of much; the food sort (better, cheaper, etc.) smells of avocado
  • a more fragile oil, needs more TLC

See:

And here’s a competing avocado-and-chocolate dessert (recipe etc c/o the post just mentioned above):

chocolate avocado pistachio cake with avocado crème anglaise: image links to recipe at the Tastespotting blog, and they in turn link c/o a lovely patchwork of further pretty picture to more avocado recipes at Tastespotting

SWEET ALMOND

Not really talked about it much. Runnier than the ones above, little to no scent (if it smells like almond essence or marzipan, it’s not plain sweet almond oil… that scent has been added, and might be bitter almond extract), stable / doesn’t go off fast, and pretty cheap. I’ve used it or it’s been used on me for all my life: this and mineral oil were staples when I was a baby. I’ve grown up with it, and maybe take it a bit for granted. It’s wonderful stuff.

See also:

I don’t have a nice recipe and picture of anything involving sweet almond oil and chocolate. I’ve never cooked with SAO, though I’m sure one could, as it’s a bland tasteless scentless nut oil, so why the heck not. Won’t smell of marzipan or otherwise have that “characteristic almond” scent: you’ll need to blanch the almonds to get that, or cook them in milk, and can be enhanced by adding bitter almond essence.

But I digress. Skincare purposes: great stuff. Can, at a pinch, be used on hair too; but it doesn’t penetrate the shaft (ooh err) like olive and avocado do, it’ll just coat the outside (like any other oil does too, and silicones). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it can help to smooth down and seal the hair cuticle, fab if hair’s dry, its cuticles fluffed up, etc.

SUM TOTAL OF ALL OILS EVER USED

(OK, not all: I’m skipping over the ones that didn’t work, broke me out, and were otherwise disastrous; such as coconut oil.)

  • apricot kernel
  • argan
  • avocado
  • borage, a.k.a. starflower seed
  • evening primrose
  • grapeseed
  • hazelnut
  • hemp seed
  • jojoba
  • macadamia nut oil
  • meadowfoam seed
  • mineral
  • olive
  • peanut (refined, heat-treated and filtered)
  • plum kernel
  • rice bran
  • rosehip seed oil / seed oil + fruit extract
  • safflower seed
  • sesame seed
  • sunflower seed
  • sweet almond

See:

10 comments

  1. Sakara

    Ive been reading up on coconut oil’s wonders…i have very dry patches on my elbows and my feet have suddenly decided to join them, but coconut oil has helped so much. Thanks for the info on these other oils.

    • gingerama

      Excellent! My friend “icaria” on MUA is a huge fan of coconut oil; glad it’s helping your elbows too. I must say, I do find elbows the ultimate test of an oil/wax/butter and its moisturisin capabilities.

      Alas, though, I can’t use it on my face; same with some coconut derivatives. Otherwise I get breakout-zits. I don’t have breakout-prone skin, or acne; many people who do have similar inabilities to use coconut oil on their faces, and indeed elsewhere, and many have to be even more careful with coconut-derived ingredients. So as word of warning on using it on face or other more breakout-prone, irritable areas (often corresponds to where there’s thinner more sensitive skin, too). Same for palm oil.

      As ever: patch test, patch test, patch test…

      For much more on oils, which ones do what, fatty-acid composition, etc.: see

      • Sakara

        Thanks for those links! yeah i have oily skin anyway so tend to be careful with what i use on it ( cant use tea tree of all things!) I can use witchhazel though, bloomin marvellous stuff that’s pretty much an all round great thing to have.

      • Icaria

        Love this post Gingy! Coconut oil remains my no1 but recently I’ve been revisiting almond oil as well. From early childhood, I remember my mother using it on me, especially in the summer. My daughter has used it herself a few times on her legs. She doesn’t like using coconut oil when it’s in solid form. Olive oil, unless it’s when I’m in the kitchen, cooking, I just can’t bring myself to use it on skin & hair. Afraid I would start smelling like a salad. Since I cook exclusively with it, it doesn’t appeal to me, never has. Now,meadowfoam is realy interesting. I will try to find this one. I’m intrigued by it, as I am by seabuckthorn.
        Now, have you ever tried coconut oil in your coffee? Sooo good! 😀

        • gingerama

          Oooh, coffee… Tried coconut in it: not my cup of tea, so to speak. Same for soy and rice and oat: I can drink it, but it’s just not to my taste. Though I love coconut milk in food. And I knew you were a big fan of it 🙂

          But a friend introduced me to unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Blue Diamond, more specifically. Yes, of course I also went off and read labels and tried out a few other brands (and sweetened rather than not, unflavoured or other flavour). That quick market research revealed that that particular unsweetened vanilla one is the most ingredient-minimal. Anyway. To cut a long story short: I love this stuff, and LOVE LOVE LOVE it in coffee. And heated up, for latte, chai, and hot chocolate (just grating and melting chocolate into the gently-simmering milk, mmmmm).

          • Icaria

            Oooh thank you! Unsweetened vanilla almond milk! I will try this for my iced coffee. Another great suggestion. 😀

          • gingerama

            At your service!

            Sorry, I glitched on the proper usual name: Almond Breeze (Blue Diamond = the manufacturer):
            Almond Breeze unsweentened vanilla almond milk
            Description link here.
            I see they’re also doing combinations of almond & coconut milks: on which, more here.

            Yum yum yum.

        • gingerama

          I should add: I found that almond milk heats very well, and otherwise cooks well too. The friend who inducted me into the Cult Of The Miracle Of The Milkable Almond also used it to make the batter for some excellent pancakes.

          (Also, remember than wonderful gag about milking cats? Often comes to mind when I’m walking through aisles of “alternative milks” in Whole Foods and suchlike…)

  2. anna3101

    For those who are not fans of oat/rice/soy milks with coffee: try adding some tasty sauce (vanilla, coconut or anything else), it works miracles. I’m normally drinking coffee with cow milk but as I’m trying to use a bit less of milk these days, sometimes I go for vegetable milks. The taste is, well, not the same. But adding homemade vanilla syrop makes it much, much better! I tested these recipes and they are yum: http://annies-eats.com/2011/08/15/diy-flavored-syrups/

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