For most of my adult life, my skin has been fairly problem-free (take hope, 15-year-old self…). It’s not too dry, not too oily, and any skin issues are mostly uneventful. But once I hit my mid-thirties, my skin also started becoming… blah. Kinda dull. Losing its vibrancy. More dry and tight after washing, and moisturizing wasn’t helping much.
I wasn’t really concerned about it until I read about a new-to-me face cleansing method. I had been going shampoo-free for a few weeks so I was eager to try this out, too, since it also uses no harsh soaps or expensive ingredients. I’d try it out and if I didn't like it, I’d just go back to my tried-and-true method. Nothing to lose.
Over a decade later, and I’ll never go back. I'm in my forties, and my skin is staring at the second half of life saying, Come at me, bro.
Here's how it works for me.
The Oil-Cleansing Method (OCM)
It sounds weird to clean your face with oil, especially if you have oily skin. But oil actually doesn’t cause oily skin or acne; the culprit is usually a combination of hormones, trapped bacteria, and dirt.
Like your hair, the sebum your skin secretes is actually good for your skin — it’s there to protect it from the outside environment and to keep harmful things from seeping in. Since water doesn’t break up oil, most commercial cleansers are marketed with the “oil-free” stamp of approval, making them easy to splash off.
But when skin’s natural oils are removed, the body’s reaction is to compensate by producing more oil, much like shampoo does with our hair. If your skin is dry, it’s because all the oil has been stripped away and your body isn't compensating by replenishing it (this was my case).
Here’s a direct quote from acne.org:
“Oil dissolves oil. One of the most basic principles of chemistry is that like dissolves like. The best way to dissolve a non-polar solvent like sebum/oil is by using another non-polar solvent similar in composition: other oils. By using the right oils, you can cleanse your pores of dirt and bacteria naturally, gently and effectively, while replacing the dirty oil with beneficial ones extracted from natural botanicals, vegetables, and fruit that heal, protect and nourish your skin.”
Good-quality oil is the perfect substance for cleaning sensitive skin (like on our face) because it removes dirty oil and replaces it with good, nourishing, healing oil.
Here’s how to get started.
1. Make Your Cleaner
Mix your oils together in a small bottle, give it a little shake, and you’ve got yourself a homemade, frugal facial cleanser. The most common blend of oils for OCM is castor oil + extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). Castor oil draws out dirt and other gunk from your pores, and EVOO is a fantastic moisturizer, helping heal and nourish your skin.
You might also add a few drops of skin-safe essential oils. I like grapefruit, frankincense, or tea tree, depending on my needs. Plant Therapy is a fantastic, affordable brand.
- For normal skin: Start with a one-to-one ratio of castor oil and EVOO.
- For acne-prone or oily skin: Reduce the EVOO and try three parts castor oil to one part EVOO.
- For drier skin: Start with one part castor oil to three parts EVOO.
A decade later, I now just use straight EVOO (usually with grapefruit) —no castor oil at all. It works great for me.
Experiment and find what ratio works for you. Start with a tiny amount, then try a mix for a few days and adjust as necessary.
2. Gently Rub In
Pour a quarter-sized amount of the oil mix into your palm, rub your hands together, and slowly massage your skin with your fingertips. Don’t splash your face with water first — apply it dry.
Work the oil into your skin for about a minute and enjoy the massage. Don’t scrub, just rub.
3. Steam Your Face
Next, wet a washcloth with hot (but not scalding!) water and rest it over your face for just a few seconds. This steams your pores, removing impurities and dead skin cells. Enjoy the nearly-free facial.
4. Wipe Off The Oil
Rinse and wring the washcloth, then gently wipe off the oil. Done. Sometimes I finish with a splash of cold water on my face.
A Few Thoughts:
• If you’re like me, your skin will feel softer and look a bit brighter. It won’t feel tight, but it won’t be greasy, either. Olive oil has the same pH as human skin, so it’s the perfect cleansing balancer.
• The OCM also brilliantly removes makeup. It works better than any store-bought makeup remover I’ve tried. Cheaper, too.
• You most likely won’t need to do this more than once per day. I do this at night, just before bed, then follow up with a light coat of almond oil. In the morning, I simply splash my face with cold water to wake up, then moisturize with the same almond oil.
Castor oil and EVOO work brilliantly as carrier oils, but other people love their OCM with jojoba, avocado, and grape seed oils as well. Experiment and see if you find a favorite combo.
Years later, and I’m still a massive fan of OCM for my face. It’s great for travel, too! (Olive oil is everywhere.)