There was a time, not too long ago, in the western world when beauty needed oil like a fish needs a bicycle. Now we're all slathering ourselves in the stuff – argan oil on our hair, Bio Oil on our bodies and countless oil-based concoctions on our faces.
Why? We've finally cottoned on to oil's unrivalled ability to cleanse away make-up and grime, help skin stay hydrated and give us the biggest beauty buzzword of them all – that sought-after 'glow'. And if you're naturally oily, you're in luck. Chances are your skin will stay firmer and smoother than your drier skinned friends.
“Oily skin is well lubricated all the time, so it’s likely to age better and less likely to have lines,” explains facialist and Skin Matters Founder, Joanne Evans. “Sebum is high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, and it’s an occlusive moisturiser – which means it boosts hydration by forming a barrier on the skin, thus preventing water loss.”
Yes, contrary to old beliefs, your oily skin can be a good thing – a blessing to be worked with, not an affliction to wage daily war against.
As to what makes some skins oilier than others, the causes can be hard to pinpoint. Aesthetician Dr Jonquille Chantrey says in most cases it comes down to genetics, which are often exacerbated by other factors like fluctuations in temperature (air conditioning and central heating are major culprits), medication like the Pill or HRT, hormonal imbalances, dietary allergies, stress and – most easily remedied – what skincare we use.
Perhaps one of the biggest beauty myths, only debunked in recent years, is that oily skin benefits from aggressive skincare. Salicylic acid and sulphur have been used as excess oil remedies for decades (sulphur since the days of Ancient Rome) but had a heavily-marketed makeover in the early 90s when Clearasil and Clean & Clear – both of which list salicylic acid and sulphur as key ingredients – were snapped up by megabrands and targeted at teenagers.
Would you catch me putting either of those lines on my skin anymore? Fat chance. Filled with alcohol, benzoyl peroxide, witch hazel and cinnamon bark oil, the products are far too astringent for me. ‘Squeaky clean’ skin = more oil production = a load of extra spots. I’ve been there, done that, bought a last-resort trip to the dermatologist.
Thanks to accessible science, we know more now than ever – how stripping skin can change its pH, compromise its lipid barrier and disrupt its microbiome; leaving it prone to inflammation and infection. But back in my teens, in the early 2000s, only during that dermatologist appointment did I realise oily skin could be sensitive too – that it didn’t need one step short of a flamethrower chucked at it and would fare far better with a bit of TLC.
Perhaps the antithesis of harsh foaming cleansers and the like, facial oils were once dismissed as counter-intuitive. But research shows we could all do with using them – including those with oily skin. Firstly, they can balance sebaceous glands. “When applied, the brain thinks there’s enough oil on the skin so doesn’t activate the hormone which stimulates oil production,” Evans explains. And when it comes to targeting blocked pores, they’re pretty useful too: “Oils are lipophilic (they dissolve in fats), so you need oil to combat oil."
I know what you're thinking – the oily elephant in the room here – produce excess oil and you're at higher risk of breakouts, clogged pores and acne. Keeping oily skin in check is key, but gentle acid exfoliants and light hydrating serums alongside those oils will always prevail over skin-stripping products. Avoid mineral and comedogenic oils and you shouldn’t see breakouts (keep coconut and olive oil for roasting your veg), and apply the same rule to foundation: always check the ingredients.
When it comes to cosmetics, we’re moving on too. At last, a light in the tunnel of Instagram make-up and the indistinguishable faces it creates; same drawn-on brows, contoured noses and mask-like, airbrushed skin. Full-coverage foundations are being rivalled by lightweight counterparts like new-gen BB/CC/DD creams, illuminating tinted moisturisers and barely-there breathable formulas – a veritable victory for oily skin (not only is the dewy look unavoidable for most, heavy matte foundations have a habit of unflatteringly separating at that afternoon mark).
‘Real’ skin has been a catwalk mainstay in recent seasons, with the likes of influential make-up artists Val Garland and Terry Barber championing a less-is-more approach; ditching heavy foundations and powder products in the quest for a natural glow. It’s no real surprise when you read the beauty headlines: Britain’s lusting after reflective Korean ‘glass skin’ and more than doubling our annual spend on highlighters.
Barber – MAC’s Director of Make-Up Artistry – uses oils, gels and glosses to recreate the sweaty skin trend (still going strong from SS15), or as he calls it, “rainforest radiance”. In Barber’s world, shine is reframed as all-positive: glossy eyelids are “lid lingerie”; glazing cheeks, lips and temples is “glow blocking”; amping up dewiness is “a lot quicker than contour”.
Of course, when it comes to skin, balance is the aim of the game – but in our age of illumination, where a little five o’ clock sheen is finally seen as a good thing, perhaps we’ll be more likely to treat our oily skin with kindness (and can we take this an opportunity to ditch the word ‘greasy’ from our vocabs forever?).
If you needed any more convincing to embrace your oily skin, Rihanna’s got you. In the words of the superstar herself, she’s made blotting paper “sexy” – Fenty Beauty Invisimatte Blotting Paper is designed for “blotting on the fly”, is pale powder pink and comes in a chic mirrored compact you’ll actually want to show off. Dry skin, eat your heart out.