Oil + Water: Why Your Skin Needs Both (Our Holistic Esthetician Explains)
Today I'm debunking the myth that oil and water don't mix. Because when it comes to skin health, that's where the magic really happens.
But depending on different skin conditions, preconceived notions about products or adopting a minimalist approach to skincare, you may be more drawn to using only one component of this duo: oil or water.
Except, that’s only half of the healthy skin equation.
Hydration (water) + moisture (oil) = The optimal combo for combatting both dryness and dehydration to create skin that’s clear, resilient and seriously glows.
Hydration and moisture are words often used interchangeably, however, they’re actually different components (and foundational elements) for balanced skin. And if you’re not getting both, your skin's not getting the full range of nutrients it needs - while making it more susceptible to sensitivities, premature aging and breakouts.
Let’s break it down.
It all starts with understanding your skin’s needs, how it’s been created to function, the difference between dryness and dehydration, and how oil + water work synergistically to completely transform not only the efficacy of your skincare routine, but your skin itself.
Our bodies, including our skin, are made up of almost entirely water so this is an essential component for skin to function optimally.
When you think water, think hydration - just like you would when it comes to your overall health. Whether it's in the body or on the skin, lack of water leads to dehydration. Dehydrated skin is considered a skin condition (as opposed to a skin state - even oil-rich skin can experience dehydration!) and can be impacted by our internal/external environments:
- climate changes
- physical movement
- water intake from food + bevs (or lack thereof)
- alcohol and caffeine consumption
- environmental pollution
- topical skincare products (ineffective formulas or routines)
One of the skin's main jobs is to be a defensive barrier: keeping out chemicals, bacteria and harmful substances, while ensuring water and other necessary nutrients stay intact – preventing dehydration, injury and sun damage. Without water, skin's ability to provide protection (and appear vibrant and youthful) becomes seriously compromised.
Our body and our skin barrier need water to thrive (even oil-rich skin states!) - but it's not just about getting more water into your body or onto your skin, it's all about absorption. Effectively absorbing the water you're giving your skin is everything.
For boosting hydration in the body, we know that adding fresh herbs or lemon (plant materials) or even sea salt (minerals) significantly helps, and the same goes for your water-based skincare products.
Natural face toners incorporate floral waters (aka hydrosols) which provide a drink of water for your skin cells, lock in hydration plus provide vitamins and vital nutrients to boost absorption and benefits. Plant waters prep the skin to easily absorb additional moisture and help deliver nutrients more deeply from oil-based serums/creams.
Here are a few of our favs to increase water content in the skin:
- Lavender hydrosol: This antibacterial botanical calms sensitivities, restores hydration and expedites the healing process for compromised skin barriers.
- Neroli hydrosol: Packed with antioxidants, this exotic blossom stimulates cell renewal along with anti-inflammatory compounds to minimize acne/scarring and balance oil production.
- Rose hydrosol: This beautifying plant protects skin from water loss by locking in hydration along with vitamins A + C to even skin tone and create a firmer, more dewy complexion.
Rebuilding healthier, hydrated skin starts with a spritz. So if you're skipping this crucial step, you’re missing out a major component of a balanced, glowing complexion.
Water Warning: When water is listed on a skincare product label (often it's the very first), it comes with some strings attached: preservatives. The presence of water requires some sort of preservative to protect it from bacteria growth, but the majority of preservatives in skincare today are hormone disruptors, skin irritants and carcinogenic. Instead, opt for a natural preservative like radish root ferment filtrate that also infuses the skin with healing properties. Win win.
Now that we're familiar with how water can make or break your skin health, let's look at this layer of oil that hasn’t had the greatest reputation over the years - but thankfully (for the sake of your skin) the oil-free myth is finally being debunked.
When you think oil, think moisture - and lack of oil leads to dryness. Dry skin is considered a skin state as it’s more closely connected to the inherent makeup of your skin. But that doesn’t mean tight, flaky skin is your fate - just like with hydration, there are lifestyle factors and topical products that can improve how your skin behaves and help restore that happy balance.
Another job our skin’s got on its plate is to produce lipids naturally (it’s actually a healthy and very necessary function of the skin called: secretion) with the goal of keeping skin moisturized, resilient and elastic. However, too much or too little oil can create an identity crisis for your skin - from congestion to reactive skin to premature aging.
Just like with our body’s water content, internal/external factors can cause this skin’s function to be in flux and contribute to imbalances like these below:
- Over-stimulation of sebum = buildup, congestion + problematic breakouts
- Decrease in oil = dryness, signs of aging + sensitivities
Typically, the approach to balance oil is by over cleansing, chronic exfoliation and stocking up on oil-free products. But clear, glowing skin isn’t created by stripping away every last ounce of oil, but by establishing a healthy relationship with your sebaceous glands.
How does that happen? A steady diet of essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants found in skin-loving oils that actually feed the skin, reinforcing its delicate acid mantle and strengthening its lipid barrier to keep these nutrients intact.
Here are some of our favorite oils that feed the skin - and could be the missing link in your moisture levels:
- Prickly Pear Seed Oil: This desert dwelling plant is packed with fatty acids, acne-fighting minerals like zinc along with vitamins E (the highest of any plant source!) and K to balance oil production, restore elasticity and repair sun-induced pigmentation.
- Marula Oil: Native to South Africa, its healing and hydrating powers are potent in vitamins C and E and quickly absorbed by the skin (good news for our oil-rich friends!) to reduce inflammation, heal scarring and balance the skin barrier.
- Squalane Oil: Sourced from olives, squalane is easily recognized by the skin and deeply absorbs to protect the delicate acid mantle, improve moisture balance and restore reactive skin states.
Remember the topic of proper absorption from above? Well, without the prep work from your plant waters to replenish hydration first, all of this superfood goodness in your oil-based serums will simply sit on top of your skin instead of deeply penetrating to feed it on a cellular level.
As we think of water as a much-needed drink for the skin, think of oil as feeding the skin - and both are essential for a well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet, I mean, skincare routine. ;)
Oil-Rich? Read this: Even skin with overactive sebaceous glands (like acne-prone/oil-rich complexions) needs a healthy balance of water and oil to keep the skin’s barrier happy. The whole “oil-free” approach isn’t actually the best way to beat breakouts or keep skin clear. By withholding water and oil from your skin, you’re stripping its own natural sebum and on your way to creating a complexion that’s *more* prone to acne and oil production that spirals out of control. The solution? A steady diet of both water and oil (and a whole-food diet, too!).
Oil + Water: How To Use Both For Best Results
Step 1: Double Cleansing - The very first, and foundational, step in your skincare routine also incorporates the magic combo of oil + water to ensure a completely clean, balanced complexion.
- First cleanse: Cleansing Oils purify excess sebum (remember science class 101: like attracts like), dissolve buildup and melt away makeup while maintaining the skin’s natural lipid barrier. Massage oil onto dry skin, remove with warm/wet washcloth and voila!
- Second cleanse: Suds up with a second cleanser that contains properties that are customized to your skin’s specific needs. Splash skin with water, lather and lift away impurities, rinse and then mist.
Step 2: Spritz Mist - Pair a natural face toner with an oil-based serum/cream for a combo that combats all signs of dehydration and dryness - no matter your skin state. Because hydration and moisture are both necessary for balanced skin, your toner/serum combo are the duo that’s going to make the biggest difference in your skin’s texture, clarity and tone.
Step 3: Skin-Specific Serum - Layer an oil-based serum over your hydrosol (while skin is still damp) to retain skin’s hydration levels, seal in moisture, infuse nutrients more deeply and support a layer of healthy lipids on the skin barrier. Skin Tip: Oil quality is everything - look for cold-pressed, organic oils to create the most nutrient-rich serum.
Step 4: Skin-Specific Cream - Want to take hydration and healing one step further? Apply a cream over your serum to seal in active ingredients and protect the outermost layer of your skin. Then, add a final mist of facial toner.
Step 5: Spritz Mist - This step is optional, but highly suggested for another surge of hydration and healing.
Whether your skin is typically tight/dry after cleansing or you’re struggling with red/reactive skin or you reach for oil blotting sheets midday, this magic duo of oil + water might just be the missing link you’ve been looking for.
Get our free guide:
12 Ways to Support Radiant Skin, a Healthy Body + a Happy Self