As counterintuitive as it sounds, plant-based facial oils can keep oily skin healthier and clearer, according to some users and dermatologists.


As someone who’d been battling acne for ages, I wouldn’t touch any facial products containing oil with a ten-foot pole. But after months of research, I’m now a convert. In fact, applying oil on my face has become part of my skincare routine.


Dr Gavin Ong, a trained dermatologist and the Medical Director at The Skin Specialist, is one expert who helped to change my perception. He said oil plays a supportive but important role: it helps protect the skin from a variety of insults, including those who might be going through acne treatments, which sometimes comprise harsh chemical and light treatment.


According to a 1986 study in the US, people who suffer from acne tend to have a lower level of linoleic acid as compared to oleic acid in their skin surface lipid. It was then suggested that the deficit in linoleic acid is the culprit of acne. In 1998, another study done in Belgium found that participants with mild acne who used linoleic acid on their skin saw their pimples reduced in size. In 2010, a study in Italy also concluded from their research that acne-prone skin tends to have linoleic acid deficiency which causes their sebum to be hard, sticky and pore-clogging.


The great news is, those of us who have acne-prone skin don’t have to search high and low for this seemingly magical linoleic acid. A high percentage of it can be found in some plant-based oils that are widely available for sale.


Briana Hall, 36, can vouch for how effective neem oil has been in reducing her cystic acne. Neem oil is a vegetable oil containing linoleic acid (6-16%) which is pressed from the fruits and seeds of neem trees in India.

Within 2 weeks of application, Brianna Hall’s acne have considerably shrunk in redness and swelling


“Within two days of my first application, I was able to see and feel a significant difference in the redness and swelling of my acne,” said Ms Hall. She added that she chose the natural route instead of other treatments because of her chronic illness. “I did not want to pursue treatments such as Accutane or antibiotics that could interfere with my other medications.”


Accutane (Isotretinoin)  or antibiotics are often prescribed to treat severe cases of acne. However, these professional treatments can come with many side effects such as skin dryness, irritation and bacteria resistance to antibiotics.


Now, if you would like to give plant-based oils a try, here are some suggestions to get you started.


Tea Tree Oil


Tea tree oil is an essential oil which does not contain linoleic acid. Dr Ong said tea tree oil has astringent and antiseptic properties which make it an effective spot treatment for some individuals. However, he said tea tree oil may cause skin irritation. So, always remember to do a patch test first. You could also use water or coconut oil to help dilute the tea tree oil before application.


Argan Oil


Argan oil is rated 0 on the comedogenic scale, which means it does not clog pores. In fact, Dr Hristo Dobrev from Medical University of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, concluded from his 2007 research that argan oil is found to be effective in reducing sebum production. It has a high percentage of linoleic acid, which allows it to act as an anti-inflammatory, moisturizing and healing agent. Its rich vitamin E and minerals content also help lighten acne scar.


Grapeseed Oil


Grapeseed oil is another non-comedogenic oil packed with vitamin E and linoleic acid. Its mild astringent property makes it a top pick for application on acne-prone skin. When used as a moisturiser, it’s fast absorbed by the skin.


These recommended oils can be found at many health and wellness stores in Singapore.


If you’re troubled by severe acne, it’s still advisable to seek medical help. Otherwise, try fighting oiliness with oil. You may become a convert just like me.