My Traumatic Experience With the Oil Cleansing Method

Two words: huge disaster.
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Michelle Villett
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Two words: huge disaster.
Woman washing face

My goodness, I've come a long way in the past few years. There was a time when I shuddered at even the thought of applying oil to my skin, for fear that I'd become a walking, talking oil slick—or worse, erupt in breakouts.

Now, I not only endorse oils as moisturizers (Décleor's Neroli Serum, Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate and the recent discovery Aïny Nourishing Radiance Serum are all favourites), but I've actually CLEANSED my skin with oils. Yes.

If you've ever heard of the Oil Cleansing Method then you know what I'm talking about.

bottles_with_essential_oils

The whole idea behind oil cleansing is that like attracts like. Oil dissolves oil—and so it's supposed to be the very best thing for removing ALL traces of makeup, grime and sebum without stripping or irritating your skin. Because if you've ever used a toner, you know that most regular cleansers tend to fail on the job.

In the beauty mainstream, probably the most famous example of an oil cleansing product is Shu Uemura's Cleansing Oil, which was first introduced in 1960 and now comes in all kinds of variations for different skin types.

Shu-Uemura-cleansing-oils

People go CRAZY for this stuff—I can still recall a press trip to New York where my PR companion was on a mission to buy some, since Holt Renfrew was out of stock here in Canada—but as far as I can tell, it's really just mineral oil. And while I don't doubt that it works for removing makeup, mineral oil is not something I want to put on my face, thankyouverymuch. (Pretty much every facialist has told me that it clogs pores... and I've even read that it can accelerate aging.)

Fast forward to 2006, 2007. There have been other cleansing oils on the market but it was Dermalogica who created a mini-sensation amongst beauty editors with PreCleanse:

Dermalogica-PreCleanse

This product is different to the Shu stuff because it contains botanical oils like apricot, sunflower, orange and lavender instead of the nasty mineral oil.

But both products basically work the same way: you massage the oil into dry skin to remove all the grime, etc., and then gradually add some water to emulsify (it will turn white). Then you rinse with water—but Dermalogica actually encourages you to wash again with your regular cleanser. (Not sure if this is a marketing thing designed to make you buy another separate product... or because some people don't get all the oil off and need to wash again.)

Anyway, I have used the Dermalogica product and like it much, much better than the Shu. It also smells terrific.

BUT! Ever in pursuit of clearer, glow-ier, more poreless and perfect skin... I recently came across a new discovery...

woman washing face

Did you know that there is actually an older, cheaper, all-natural and some say even more effective way of cleansing called the Oil Cleansing Method (or OCM)?

It's a bit of a cult secret but extremely popular on several beauty forums (see: here, here and here). And what it's supposed to do is not only clean your skin but also dissolve blackheads and clogged pores, improve cystic acne, tighten pores and even improve the appearance of wrinkles.

Sounds amazing, right? Here's what it involves:

1. To dry skin apply a blend of castor oil and either olive, jojoba, grapeseed or sunflower oil.

castor-oil

You need to play around with the ratios to find one that works for your skin, but because castor oil is very deep-cleansing it should only comprise 50 percent or less of your mixture. The castor oil is the stuff that really draws out the blockages in your pores. (Ewww...)

2. Massage the oil into your skin for 5-10 minutes.

massaging face

Here's where things get grody. As you continue to massage, you start to feel little grainy bits... which I understand are the clogs coming out of your pores!

Gross! Cool! Fascinating, right?

3. Drape a hot, wet towel over your face and let the steam sink into your pores until it cools down.

woman washing face towel

Then wipe your face, rinse the towel and repeat a few times. There's no emulsification step—you're just steaming and then wiping away the oil several times. At this point all of it (along with the dirt) should be gone, so you shouldn't have to wash your face with a regular cleanser or toner. But if in doubt, I'd wash again, since it's very, very important not to leave any trace of that now-dirty oil on your skin.

How often you cleanse this way is up to you... but here's what happened to me when I tried this for just a week or so:

woman with acne

To say it was a total disaster would not be an understatement. A

t first, I loved the idea that I was deep-cleansing my face—who wouldn't? I used a combination of castor oil and plain old extra-virgin olive oil. But within a couple of days, my skin got dry—like, incredibly dry and flaky.

I dropped down my percentage of castor oil to about 25 percent, and continued. But then it was like I had a rash all over my chin. Almost like an allergic reaction—I think I developed what's known as comedogenic acne. Except then the rash turned, in places, into the worst cystic breakout I've ever had. Who knows if that was caused by the dryness (since a layer of dead skin can clog pores) or the oils, or a combination of both?

But at that point I had to say sayonara to the Oil Cleansing Method. And now I'm kicking myself for overreaching, because with my cod liver oil and this great stuff for rogue pigmentation issues, everything was going SO WELL. [UPDATE: I no longer recommend cod liver oil and instead prefer this.] Now, I'm working on trying to heal these little (okay, maybe not so little) suckers the OCM left as a goodbye present on my chin.

Will I try it again? Maybe. I know I definitely removed all traces of the oil, so that wasn't what made my skin freak out. I'm wondering if I just used the wrong type of oil (olive is supposed to be more comedogenic than jojoba, for example). And overall, I'm a bit frustrated, because the testimonials I've read about how the OCM has transformed people's skin are simply aMAZing. I want some of that skincare goodness!

Get the products

In the meantime, I'll stick to my over-the-counter oils...

Have your say

Have you ever tried the Oil Cleansing Method?
If not—have I intrigued you or scared the living daylights out of you?
Got your own skincare overreaching story? Please share. (And lemme know what stuff you swear by NOW...)