Do-it-yourself skin care: from your kitchen cabinet to your bathroom sink

Written by donna t. beerman
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A look at the oil cleansing method

Do-it-yourself skin care: from your kitchen cabinet to your bathroom sink
Oil won't necessarily make your face more oily. In fact, extra-virgin olive oil and castor oil are basic ingredients for cleaning your face. (Getty Thinkstock)

[Olive oil] adds hydration and has a little bit of antibacterial qualities. It is a great hypoallergenic skin moisturiser.

— Cynthia Bailey, a dermatologist

The health and beauty aisles of the pharmacy are filled with colourful bottles of skin care products whose labels boast of how well they work. But many women are bypassing name brands in favour of making their own facial cleansers from common household products, often with excellent results. One such homemade cleansing regimen is the oil cleansing method, often referred to as OCM, which works in a way that might seem surprising. It removes oil from your skin by using other oils, primarily olive oil.

Cleansing with oil

After years of using commercial skin care products, Ally Bishop, 33, of central Pennsylvania, found her skin dry and damaged. Little did she know that the solution was something she’d been using in the kitchen all along.

Bishop found others discussing oil cleansing methods on several online forums, and in May 2010 she found a recipe that worked. In 2011, she was seeing radiant results.

“My skin is really soft. It’s awesome,” Bishop said. “I see a significant difference, and my makeup stays in place all day.”

OCM involves cleansing your face with a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and castor oil, a natural laxative. You apply the mixture – usually 75 percent olive oil and 25 percent castor oil – and gently massage it into your face. Then, you press a hot washcloth to your face until the towel reaches room temperature to steam out your pores.

“It’s such an odd thing to tell people,” Bishop said of removing oil with oil. “But my skin is perfect.”

What the experts say

It may not be that far-fetched an idea, according to the blog post at Simple Mom, where Bishop found her recipe. But what do skin care professionals and other experts say?

“Oil glands do what they do; you can’t dial them up and down per se,” said Cynthia Bailey, a dermatologist. In other words, we must deal with the skin that we were genetically dealt. But not everyone cares for their skin properly.

“Many people overcleanse their skin – with good intentions,” Bailey said, citing foaming cleansers as a common culprit of dry skin. These cleansers can cause a rash that is often mistaken as dry skin.

While Bailey hasn’t recommended this exact extra-virgin olive oil cleansing method to patients at her Northern California practice or on her skin care blog, she has instructed those with severely dry or sensitive skin to moisturise with the oil after using water. She notes that the oil skin-cleansing treatment as described on Simple Mom offers several benefits.

“You are definitely avoiding irritating cleansers, and there are so many of those. [Olive oil] adds hydration and has a little bit of antibacterial qualities,” she said. “It is a great hypoallergenic skin moisturiser.”

She cautioned those prone to severe acne, because some oils can cause breakouts and blackheads.

The science behind the oil cleansing method

Bailey supported OCM proponents’ claims that washing with oil doesn’t cause oily skin. So did James MacKay, an assistant professor of chemistry at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.

“Soap is used for cleansing due to its unique chemical properties,” MacKay said. “It has a polar – or water-loving – head group and a nonpolar – hydrophobic or oil-loving – tail.

“When put into water, the soap molecules arrange themselves into little clusters called micelles, which are basically spherical clumps of molecules with all the tails pointing toward the middle of the sphere: The hydrophobic component wants to be together and away from the water.

“Most dirt is of an oily nature and thus attracts to the tail of the soap,” MacKay continued. “Since the head of the soap is polar and stays in water, rinsing away with more water pulls the dirt away. However, as you know, soap can dry out your face. This is because it is pulling away anything that is oily on your face, some of which gives your face its shine.”

The oil cleansing method, MacKay explained, will remove the “bad” oil from your face and replace it with “good” oil.

“This will help remove dirt and your body’s natural oils – even make-up, which is often oil-based – from your skin,” he said. “The fact that it is an oil itself won’t dry out your skin because you are basically replacing one oil with another.

“The method also talks about using warm water to open your pores. This also makes sense, as the heat will help expand the pores in your skin and thus allow you to pull out oil that is lodged deeper in your skin.”

Economical and effective

Despite the healthy skin of those who religiously use extra-virgin olive oil, it does have its skeptics. Bishop says she has one friend who refuses to do anything different from what her dermatologist recommends. But Bishop’s glowing reviews and glowing skin have persuaded other friends to try.

“People who do not have skin issues will blow off [OCM] but I find most people are open to it if they haven’t found something that works,” she said.

In addition to its natural health benefits, OCM is economical. You can bypass the beauty aisle and instead use an item likely already in your kitchen cabinet. Add castor oil, available at any drug store, and reuse a small plastic bottle to mix it in, and you have an inexpensive alternative skin care solution.

“It’s cheap, it’s easy, it takes off make-up and I don’t have to wash my face two times a day,” Bishop said.

Tips and warnings

  • Everybody's skin is different. Pay attention to how your own skin reacts. Adjust the ratio of olive oil and castor oil accordingly. Before starting on this program, consult your family doctor or a dermatologist.

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