Oils have been used as skin remedies for thousands of years — be it Cleopatra’s oil obsessions of lore or Ayurvedic cures that have been around for 5,000 years. With consumers getting more and more finicky about what exactly they put on their skin these days — and with companies becoming more transparent about their formulas in response — there’s naturally been an oil resurgence. Products touting just a handful of potent botanicals in each bottle are now becoming the choice serums, toners, cleansers and moisturisers to keep in the bathroom arsenal.
Packed with natural antioxidants and fatty acids, oils naturally help with signs of aging and protect the skin from free radicals and other environmental stressors. They also replenish the skin from within without drying it out, and in many cases, are excellent bases for makeup.
For Votary, a boutique London brand that centres on its hero cleansing oil, founder and former beauty editor Arabella Preston champions oils as a way to combat the over-cleansing culture that’s been sold to us for decades.
“It is contrary to everything we’ve been taught,” she told Lifestyle Asia at her brand’s recent launch at Joyce Beauty. “I grew up in the 80s where you had a foaming cleanser, an alcohol-based toner (it was all about drying the skin out) and then you pile an incredibly thick moisturiser. That’s how we’ve been told to care for our skin. For me, healthy skin is all about balance, and not disrupting the skin’s mantle too much — particularly blemishes: if you dry a blemish out, you are encouraging scarring.”
“Think of it as — you’re meant to have oil on your skin, right? And as you age, you lose these oils, natural lipids, and the moisture in your skin. I don’t think anyone should ever use anything foaming on their skin — because it’s drying — why you’d want to strip your skin of those oils is a mystery to me.”
As a makeup artist (notably teaching Kate Middleton how to ace her wedding day look), Preston also religiously reaches for oils to prep her clients’ skin. “Instead of using a moisturising cream, I would massage beautifully smelling natural plant oil into their skin, which makes the skin glow,” said Preston. While most finishing creams tend to have a barrier, sitting on top of the skin, natural plant oils sink into the skin and absorb properly, making it a fantastic base for foundation. With emollient creams, your makeup can slide more easily, not to mention clog pores, making them appear larger than they are.
There’s a controversial debate about mineral oils being occlusive — sitting on top of the skin while preventing moisture loss — and they aren’t for everybody. Similarly, there’s a misconception that face and body oils can be too cloying or comedogenic for your pores. Rather, this isn’t the case if you’re certain you’re using high quality plant oils — and you know exactly what is the right oil for your skin type or concern.
Uma is an Ayurvedic brand that sources from a family estate that has been providing its most exquisite botanicals for the Indian Royal Family for 800 years, where its founder Shrankhla Holecek has been adamant on educating the world on such natural oil-based remedies. “Not all oils are the same. It’s only a matter of education and understanding, and a better proliferation of products. For instance these days, everyone’s using face oil to deal with acne. But you don’t want to use olive oil for acne-prone skin, it’s too comedogenic. You want to use grapeseed oil,” Holecek told us during her recent visit to Hong Kong.
Despite only being two years young, Uma’s products are built on family formulas that have been around for generations, all based on traditional cures, and exclusively known only to four or five family members at any given time. Great oils are sold at a premium price point, and for Uma, this is simply because these were actual portfolios made fit for hundreds of queens and princesses throughout the ages.
People are just rediscovering the equally potent benefits of going all-natural. “Many of our ingredients — neem, turmeric, pomegranate and so on — are untraditional to the west, but people are finding that they are able to use something 100% organic like this and see results like you get with an acid peel,” said Holecek.
“It’s been a powerful conversation and shift in the way the world sees anti-ageing and brightening — it’s not lasers and things like that. It’s with things such as for instance our rose toner, which has ingredients such as watermelon, tomato for vitamin C, papaya for skin turnover. Our products are very intuitive, all concern-based, to allow people to dip their toes into the world of Ayurveda. For fad reasons, people have stopped listening to their bodies and what they need. Uma is very much about breaking that barrier.”
Ready for a bathroom counter overhaul? Check out our five favourite face and body oils below: