Facial Oils for Acne-Prone Skin: The Science

By Sophia Ruiz, Founder/CEO

My acne journey started when I was super young - all of 11-years-old.

As my acne progressed, simply covering up the small spots on my chin with my mom’s MAC concealer quickly evolved into experimenting with many different treatments. And when many of these acne treatments (sadly) just didn’t work for me, this experimentation morphed into an avid passion for research and determination to find answers.

Ultimately, like many of you reading this, this research rabbit hole led me to the incredible world of holistic healing + wellness.

I was fascinated (to say the least) by all of the information I had come upon. So much of it was completely revolutionary and contrary to what I had known about my body, the world around me, and (what was most important to me at the time) what this meant for the cystic acne I had struggled with for years.

Naturally, these discoveries were also my gateway into the world of natural skincare (and facial oils).

Suddenly, I was reading articles and blog posts, watching videos, and reading testimonials that completely flipped what I thought I knew about facial oils and acne-prone skin on its head…

Not only were oils I previously feared getting anywhere near my acne-prone skin (rightfully so, after a horrible experiment with coconut oil) nothing to be afraid of, they might even be the answer to finally clearing up my skin.

So, I did what any of us do when we feel that inkling of hope after finding a possible solution: I marched on down to Target and picked up as many facial oils I could find (except for coconut oil - thankfully, that was already a lesson learned).

At the time (it was 2015, I think), holistic health and natural skincare were only just gaining traction, so my options were limited. Even still, I walked out of that Target that day with some sweet almond oil and castor oil in tow, hopeful for results.

As you can probably guess (because, if you’re reading this, you probably had the same experience), I broke out terribly. I mean - really bad. Not only was my cystic acne more inflamed, but my whole entire face turned beet red. It was an awful experience.

Still hopeful, I determined that maybe the issue was the quality of the oils I was using. So, after some more research, I ended up at my local health food store with some more expensive, organic oils.

And yet, even still, a few weeks of experimentation later: the oils either did nothing for me or made things worse.

I was stumped! What made my skin any different to these girls who were getting incredible results just by adding an oil to their skincare routine?

I couldn’t figure it out. So, I swore off facial oils altogether…

…Until, I started digging deep into skin research a few years later.

How published research transformed my perspective on facial oils

At this point, I had been through esthetician training, discovered the world of scholarly journals (where all scientific research is published), and had become much more well-versed in understanding skin physiology and biology on a molecular level.

After spending every of hour of free time learning everything I possibly could about the skin, I realized something profound:

My skin was intelligent. It knew how to be healthy and clear and radiant. The problem wasn’t my skin’s ability to heal. Instead, it was that my acne-prone skin was in a very specific biochemical state that meant my skin didn’t have the nutrients and co-factors it needed to make that happen.

Nothing was wrong with my skin, I just needed to give it what it was asking for.

This understanding then helped me realize why the oils I had previously used had never worked:

  1. The reason the oils I had tried were breaking me out wasn’t anything to do with the fact that I was using an oil - I was just using the wrong oils for my skin. 
  2. Even the best, most compatible-with-your-acne-prone-skin oils aren’t always potent enough to create dramatic differences in acne-prone skin  (especially when acne is more severe, like mine was).

Similarly, I realized that the right oils with the right ingredients had the potential to create dramatic change in my skin. 

Now, that sounds like a lofty statement. But, when you look at the science of skin physiology and biology and what it looks like on a molecular level. You start to realize: the idea of oils as a healing agent for the skin doesn't seem so far-fetched.

Here’s the run-down:

  1. Acne-prone skin is documented to be deficient in a fatty acid called linoleic acid. Studies suggest linoleic acid plays a few roles in the skin: keeping bacteria + fungi at bay, blocking inflammation, reducing comedones, and repairing the skin barrier (without linoleic acid, we can’t make ceramides necessary for a healthy skin barrier). Linoleic acid also gives some “fluidity” to our sebum, reducing the chances that it gets clogged up in the pore, where it can cause an acne spot.
  2. Acne-prone skin makes too much of a fatty compound called squalene — about 2.2x more. Normally, squalene is an emollient, moisturizing lipid that supports overall skin moisture + health. However, at higher levels, more squalene is available to be modified by reactive molecules called free radicals. When these free radicals interact with squalene (through a process called oxidation), they create a new compound: squalene peroxide. Researchers note that squalene peroxide is extremely comedogenic, inflammatory, oxidative (acts as a free radical), and plays a significant role as an acne trigger. (Note the “e” in squalEne — squalene is very different to squalane. While squalene is very susceptible to free radical oxidation, squalane is not - a result of its saturated carbon chain. Squalane is actually great for acne-prone skin and a common skincare ingredient.)
  3. Acne-prone skin is deficient in vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that has significant antioxidant properties — simply meaning it prevents free radicals from causing damage. Because our sebum is technically a “fat” (made up of oils, cholesterol, and other fatty compounds), vitamin E plays an important role in preventing sebum from being modified by free radicals. Related to the last point, vitamin E also prevents squalene from being oxidized. As a result, this vitamin E depletion also contributes to increasing squalene peroxide levels.

Altogether, we can see that the imbalances + deficiencies of acne-prone skin directly increase the chances of:

  1. Inflammation
  2. Free radical damage
  3. Pore-clogging
  4. An impaired skin barrier repair
  5. Bacterial overgrowth

In fact, research tells us that each and every one of these “consequences” are present in acne prone skin. And without getting too nitty-gritty into the molecular details, studies show they directly contribute to the acne formation process.

So, what does this have to do with facial oils?

Well, it just so happens that oils are some of the best topical options for correcting the imbalanced biochemical state of acne-prone skin. Not only do oils provide acne-prone skin with nutrients it needs like linoleic acid and vitamin E, they’re one of the best delivery vehicles for compounds + nutrients that help directly correct imbalances.

This is because your oily sebum is your skin’s natural “delivery system” for nutrients. Because oils are similar in composition to sebum, your skin knows exactly how to absorb, assimilate, and utilize the nutrients delivered in this way!

But, not all oils are created equal, especially when it comes to acne-prone skin. Here’s why:

Oils are made up of fatty acids, in a structure called a triglyceride. As of right now, researchers have identified more than 300 fatty acids and believe that there could be far more.

Every single oil in nature contains many different kinds of fatty acids, all at varying percentages. Some of these fatty acids are suitable for acne-prone skin (better at higher levels), while some are not (and can even be an acne trigger, so, better at lower levels!). I'll explain why:

  • Linoleic acid demonstrates benefits for acne and is a documented deficiency in acne (as we've already covered), so it stands to reason that linoleic acid is a fatty acid we want to look for and emphasize in the oils we choose for our skin.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid found in flax and chia seed oil, has less of a direct role in benefiting acne, however, studies suggest topically-applied alpha-linolenic acid may help lighten hyperpigmentation (which is helpful for post-acne mark support), support wound healing (aka making acne spots heal faster), increase skin hydration, and promote smoother skin.
  • Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), found in high levels in borage, evening primrose, and blackcurrant oils, displays significant anti-inflammatory as well as some modest antimicrobial effects, indicating it could be helpful for addressing the biochemical state that leads to acne. Topically, GLA relieves inflammation, supports the efficacy of rosacea treatments
  • Oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid, has been used in research studies to induce acne, suggesting that oleic acid is an acne trigger. Oleic acid has also been used as a “penetration enhancer” in science experiments, attributed to its skin barrier disrupting effects. This suggests oils containing high levels of oleic acid may act as a trigger for some of the acne formation processes. Some studies have shown that palmitoleic may have a similar effect.
  • Studies have implicated palmitic acid directly in the acne process. Palmitic acid can also prevent the conversion of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid into their anti-inflammatory long-chain fatty acids, blunting opportunities for further reducing inflammation.
  • Stearic acid is a relatively benign fatty acid itself when it comes to acne. However, it can “occupy” enzymes that prevent the metabolism of palmitic acid. As a result, application of too much stearic acid to the skin may lead to an accumulation of palmitic acid. This same enzyme also converts stearic acid to oleic acid, possibly resulting in a relative increase in oleic acid, which is implicated in acne.

From this, we can clearly see that the types and amounts of fatty acids present in the oils we use on our skin can either favor the acne environment or counteract it. This is exactly why some oils can trigger major acne flare-ups (like sweet almond and castor oil did for me), while others can demonstrate profound benefits for the skin! It’s all determined by the fatty acid profile of the oil in question.

Oil quality also plays into this: oils that have been highly processed, heat or solvent extracted, and refined are not as nutrient-dense as unrefined oils that are cold-pressed or, even better, extracted via a supercritical CO2 process (which produces a virtually raw, highly-nutrient dense oil). As a result, the quality of the oils does play into its ability to provide the nourishment acne-prone skin needs.

But, it's important to note: even the best oils for acne-prone skin aren’t always enough to address blemishes for every single person dealing with acne.

Oils with a compatible fatty acid profile provide a foundational support, especially when it comes to providing all of the benefits that linoleic acid has to offer (antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and skin barrier-repairing). As a result, using oils can make your skin look and feel incredible (hydrated, smooth, and plump) while also supporting clearer skin.

But, oils alone aren’t always powerful enough to address all the biochemical imbalances in acne — simply because even the most nutrient-dense oils aren’t always potent enough to correct the deficits of acne-prone skin. This is especially true for more severe acne, where there is a greater degree of free radical damage (and as a result, squalene oxidation) and inflammation that needs to be addressed before the skin can begin its healing process.

For this, potent, easily-assimilated, active ingredients are needed to effectively combat squalene peroxide levels, vitamin E deficiency, and prevent free radicals + inflammation from leading to acne.

And so, altogether, this became the lens that I saw the skin and its skincare products through. Using this criteria for products, I set out to find the remedy that fit.


When the Clarity facial oil was born

In all my searching, I could never find anything that fulfilled my criteria.

Either the products weren’t active enough to correct the imbalances that were triggering my breakouts...

...Or their great active ingredients were overshadowed by oils that weren’t suitable for my acne-prone skin.

Moreover, it seemed that a lot of the companies focusing on effective, active ingredients didn’t seem to have oil quality or sourcing at the forefront of their company values.

It was this, alongside many other experiences in my journey, that ultimately culminated in me deciding it was time formulate my own product. So, with all the knowledge I had gathered, I got to formulating!

To make a (very) long story short: in my testing, the results were almost immediate. In just a few weeks, my skin was completely different - clear, calm, and healing. It was so clear to me that my skin was responding to the biocompatibility - giving my skin exactly what it was asking for in the most easily-absorbable form - of the formula.

Soon after, I released the product on my very own website, where the formula has since been used by thousands of women all over the world. With over 200 5-star reviews, I couldn’t be more proud of how far we’ve come.

Clarity has been through some changes since that very first launch day. A few packaging changes and two (and a half) formula updates: a small change to the ratios of ingredients to make it more compatible with a full skincare regimen, one update to upgrade the aromatherapeutic value of the formula, and another to maximize absorption + bioavailability with our access to higher-tech ingredients as a bigger brand.

I believe that these upgrades to the product, together with the research-inspired philosophy that is and always will be the crux of the formula have resulted in a one-of-a-kind product — one that you’ll feel the effects of the moment you first apply it to your skin.

Interested in learning more about the Clarity formula? See the full ingredients list, key ingredients, and benefits by clicking here.

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