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Posted on Mar 13, 2013 in Dear Diary | 30 comments

Oil Cleansing with Coconut Oil

Hi friends — thanks for bearing with me through yesterday’s Debbie Downer post. The sun did end up coming out (both literally and metaphorically) and I’m in a much, much better mood today. In fact, my bad mood was pretty eradicated by around 8 PM last night. I’m about 83% positive it’s thanks to the combination with getting dinner with my good friend Reema, and the fact that I own a ukulele. Seriously, impossible to stay emo when strumming one of those things.

Heh. Also, I think generally any song by Alan Menken is pretty much a guaranteed mood killer (the song in the video above, for those who can’t watch, is from the movie Tangled.

Anyway, my mood lifted, I’m back to deliver on my promise to talk about my recent experiments with the oil cleansing method.


For those of you unfamiliar with the term, oil cleansing is the idea that you can use oil — the kind you cook with — to clean your face. There’s a much more detailed explanation if you click the link above, but the general idea is that man-made cleansers actually strip our faces of ALL oils, even the good kinds. So then our skin overcompensates by producing MORE oil because it thinks our skin is dry, which leads to oily, or combination, complexions.

A little bit about my skin history: I’m actually extremely fortunate in that I’ve never really had to deal with “acne” as most people think of it. When I was in high school, my version of a breakout consisted of one, maybe two, pimples forming on my chin or nose. Of course, I had plenty of other issues to deal with in high school, but I know I’m lucky in that my skin was not one of them. Now that I’m an adult, my skin tends to stray to the drier side (especially in my cheeks) and it’s pretty much the same story — a stray pimple every once in a while, no big thang.

That said, it’s not like I’ve had magically perfect skin all my life either. “Acne” as we tend to think of it has never been a problem, but I’ve had issues of my own. I’ve always had a propensity for EXTREME redness in my cheeks. Seriously, like, most people’s cheeks get red when they’re exerting themselves, or maybe when it’s cold out, but my cheeks are ALWAYS red. When it’s cold, when it’s hot, when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m trying on an unflattering outfit in the dressing room… red, red, red. And, in addition to that, I often get small bumps on my cheeks as well. Sometimes they’re flesh-colored, sometimes they’re pink or red. They’re not whiteheads or pimples, and thus not “poppable” (heh, gross), but seem to exist purely for the sake of annoyance.


This photo probably doesn’t provide the most accurate picture, but it is the only makeup-free closeup shot of my face I have in my entire Flickr photostream. You can see some of the redness and a few of the little bumps if you look closely (though you may not want to look TOO closely, ha!).

So in my ongoing quest to rid myself of my bumpy, red cheeks, I have pretty much tried ALL THE PRODUCTS. Seriously. Neutrogena, Biore, Ponds, Clearisil, Clean & Clear, BeautyMint, Clarisonic, Mary Kay, Fresh… and every single cleanser sample that I’ve received in my BirchBox over the past 6 months. Some certainly worked better than others, but none seemed to fully eradicate the problem. So last year when I started freaking out about skin cancer being a “young person’s cancer”, and went to the dermatologist, I finally had some light shed on the situation.

“Looks like you’ve got a touch of rosacea,” he said casually as he wrote out my bill.
“OHHHHHHHHHH,” said my brain. “Of course! Sense is made.” (We’ll ignore the part where I went on to look up rosacea on WebMD and it informed me that it’s a condition that affects people over the age of 30, lending further credence to the theory that I’m actually an old woman trapped in a 20-something body. Or just that I’m wise beyond my years. Pick one?)

So he crammed a dozen trial-sized tubes of, uh, rosacea cream? in my hands and told me I could leave my co-pay with the receptionist. Which I, in turn, dumped into a bathroom drawer went I got home and promptly forgot about.

Flash forward to about a week ago when my skin started TOTALLY FREAKING OUT (perhaps due in part to having experimented with yet another new cleansing product? Who knows?), and in a panic I started digging through my bathroom drawers in search of something that would help. I found the cream and started to use it in accordance with the directions — a thin layer on the affected areas twice a day.

Now. You’re probably wondering at this point what this entire digression has to do with oil cleansing, eh? Well, no to worry, we’ve arrived at the tie-in! See, the rosacea cream stuff (azelaic acid) helps with the blood vessels that run close to the skin, giving me the super red polka dotted look, but it is also SUPER drying. I’ve already mentioned that my skin tends to stray to the dry side anyway, so I wanted to find a cleansing method that wouldn’t exacerbate things. Pretty much every single cleanser I own seemed to make things worse, even when using moisturizer, so I decided to go back to the drawing board.

Enter: Oil Cleansing.

So the principals of oil cleansing are very simple. You pick your oil and massage it into your face dry for a minute. Then, cover your face with a hot washcloth, let the steam do its thing, and wipe off. Easy as (coconut) pie!


Most guides I found online recommend a combination of castor oil and an additional oil, like olive, sunflower, or almond. But of course, I wanted to be a rebel, and I was also too lazy to go out and buy castor oil, and I had literally JUST ordered a new jar of extra virgin coconut oil off Amazon (to use as moisturizer). So I’ve been using that instead. Fair warning, I have read some stuff about coconut oil being pore clogging. Though I’ve also read it has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, so I’m not really sure how it can be both? But either way, all I know is that in the past week of using it, I haven’t seen any blackheads or new pimples pop up.

So my consensus after a week of doing this? I might just be a convert. I’m not saying I’ll never go back to traditional cleaners (let’s be honest, I’m a product whore) but I can attest that my skin gets clean AND it feels softer than it has in YEARS. And whether it’s due to the rosacea medication, the coconut oil, or perhaps a bit of both, the bumps on my cheeks are almost non-existent already. And while my cheeks are still quite pink, I am noticing a distinct reduction of the redness. Hooray!

If you don’t believe that washing your face with oil can actually clean your skin, I challenge you to try it out just once. You can do it the traditional way, with the castor/olive oil combo, or you can give coconut oil a try. The oil is a seriously fantastic makeup remover, and honestly, it feels luxurious to massage your face for a minute every night and follow it up with a nice steam. After I dry my face (and note, it doesn’t feel greasy at all, but it doesn’t feel tight and squeaky clean like you might used to either — though that should be a good thing!) I apply the azelaic acid to my cheeks, and follow it up with another small dab of coconut oil (to moisturize).

Have you ever tried oil cleansing? Would you try it? If you’re against the idea, I’d love to know what skincare products you do swear by! 🙂


  1. oil cleansing sounds interesting, may need to give it a try. I love products from Lush – http://www.lushusa.com/ – they use fresh organic ingredients in all of their homemade products. I have been using their face cleansers and moisturizers for about a year and my skin looks better than it ever has…plus recently folks can’t believe that I am as old as I am so that is a huge bonus! If you can stop by a store, they will give you a sample of anything to try out. Love it!

  2. Be careful if you do decide to add castor to your oil cleansing as I’ve read that it can exacerbate hair growth on the face in those who have some(don’t know that you do, but just in case!)….

    • Interesting! Good to know!

  3. OK, well, apparently I have a lot to say on this subject (!!):

    I tried coconut oil myself after reading glowing testimonials from people who claim never to use anything else. Like you I never really had problem skin — just some hormonal breakouts every now and then, some dryness — so what did I have to lose?

    Well, as it turned out, like you my first week or two using it as a moisturizer were great. My skin felt so soft and nourished! I was being so frugal and green! — but it was not to last. I developed little bumps all along my forehead that had never been there before, and my skin started to feel somewhat congested, not smooth and soft anymore. Weird, I thought, but on I went.

    I eventually decided to try oil cleansing with castor oil and olive oil. In all of the (ecstatic, glowing) reviews I read online, many people said your skin might have a “purging” period where all the impurities come to the surface thanks to the deep clean you’re giving your skin. Well, when my skin freaked out — and by freaked out I mean I started breaking out in places I had NEVER had breakouts before and this was not the hormonal once-in-a-while type of acne, but true “cosmetic”, my-pores-are-congested acne. I had, and have, never experienced anything like this. I assumed it was just the purging period, but when it lasted and lasted and lasted far longer than any reviewer’s had, from what I could see, I started to wonder.

    I took a break from oil cleansing after experimenting a bit with the ratio of castor oil to EVOO, and then resumed again after a few weeks, this time with jojoba + castor oils. Same thing happened, and if I increased the castor oil the result was just dry skin. Too little castor oil and my face wasn’t clean. And my skin was still freaking out. I’m 33, and this was the worst my skin had looked in years. Something wasn’t right.

    I read more about coconut oil, and I found many testimonials from people who said the same thing you and I did after a week or two — but then came back to claim that after a few weeks, the same thing happened and their skin became congested and the coconut oil was clogging their pores! I can’t say for certain what went wrong in my quest to conquer oil cleansing, but I do think that using coconut oil was a mistake on my part. I would not have said that a week into my coconut oil regiment, though.

    However, I do think I am somewhat of an anomaly for whatever reason. I can find very few negative reviews of oil cleansing in general and most people who try it never go back. I probably just hadn’t stumbled upon the right oils for my skin, or the right ratio of those oils. But in the end I had to switch (at least temporarily) to Mario Badescu’s glycolic foaming cleanser just to get my skin to calm down and actually feel clean! Two weeks of using this cleanser and my skin is almost back to normal. Will I court misery again and give oil cleansing another chance? Maybe. But I might just leave well enough alone. 🙂 And I definitely will not use coconut oil on my face anymore!

    That being said, EVERYONE’S skin is different so you may have stumbled upon your own miracle product. I hope so! But be on the lookout for congestion and irritation and stop or switch oils if that’s the case. Don’t go through six months of trial and error only to throw up the white flag like I did. 🙂 Thankfully my skin’s healing process has been much quicker than I thought it would be, but I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and misery if I hadn’t tried to stick with it for long (or hadn’t used the coconut oil to begin with).

    By the way, what did you think of the Clarisonic? I am thinking about getting one.

    Heh. Sorry this was so long.

    • No, thank you so much for talking about your experience! I will definitely keep a wary eye out based on what you said you experienced with coconut oil!

      I do like my Clarisonic, but (again this boils down to laziness) I need to replace the brushhead and just haven’t yet. Doing the washcloth steaming thing honestly feels like it’s exfoliating my skin just as well, but we’ll see. I’ll probably go back to using it once I ball up and order some replacement heads, hahaha.

    • I’m getting little bumps now too using coconut oil and castor oil and I hardly ever breakout. This is discouraging 🙁 these are not acne bumps just small little tiny bumps on my brown skin

    • I use Grape seed oil, it’s very light. Maybe your cloth wasn’t warm enough or maybe you didn’t get all of the Coconut oil off your skin?

    • how long is too long for the purging period when using coconut oil for acne

  4. I’ve been using Josie Maran’s argan oil for about a year now and this winter started using her oil cleanser, which I LOVE. http://www.sephora.com/argan-cleansing-oil-P283501

    My skin has been extremely dry this winter – I think the water in my new place is harder than at my old one – but it’s getting better since I switched to a richer moisturizer (Say Yes to Carrots!) and exfoliating.

  5. I couldn’t have been more happy when I spotted the sun coming through yesterday! This sounds interesting to say the least, I am quite lucky and my skin is basically fine, it is a little dry from wind burn but that is all. Whatever lotion I can find typically does the trick!

  6. I am a bit behind the times with this oil cleansing business, but I can tell you that I have recently started using tea tree oil.
    About two months ago, I was talking with my aunt about skin care products and she told me her dermatologist told her to use tea tree oil. She said it cleared up any imperfections really fast. I was skeptical, but she said that the tea tree oil has some sort of property (Sorry! I forget what it was) that helps clear up skin.
    So, I was browsing Trader Joe’s shortly thereafter and saw they had a tea tree oil face wash. Since it was only $5-something, I figured it was worth a shot. I have tried numerous face washes, from drug store brands to stuff from Sephora/Bluemercury. And nothing has come close to how good the tea tree oil face wash is. It literally makes my face squeaky clean. I do use a Clarasonic with it, so, I am sure that helps, too, but my skin is so clear and much brighter than before.
    If you haven’t tried it before, I highly recommend giving it a shot.

  7. I haven’t used oil for cleansing, but I tried using coconut oil as a moisturizer and ended up breaking out even more! For the last couple of months I have used a cheap version of the Clarisonic brush (Oil of Olay’s) along with Cetaphil. Then I moisturize with plain old olive oil. My skin has looked fantastic since then. So I’m not sure if it’s the brush or the olive oil, or maybe the combination. I have a few breakouts now, mostly from hormones (I have a long history of acne), but they are not the cystic, big, painful bumps I’ve had before.
    Oh I only use the olive oil at night. I use an spf moisturizer during the day.
    I do use olive oil as my eye makeup remover, and would highly recommend that too.

  8. Rosacea can also be caused by a persons diet and also from what Ive read be controlled by ones diet. Worth a shot.

  9. I love the oil cleansing method, but it took me a while to get the right combination for my skin. I never used coconut oil because I am allergic. 🙁 The castor oil can be drying and some of the other oils (olive, grapeseed, almond) didn’t work for me. I have super dry skin in the winter, but super oily skin in the summer. I also have a problem with blackheads (ewww) and uneven skin tone. Oil cleansing is the only thing that has helped my skin.

    Currently I combine my oils in a 3 oz travel sized bottle. I do just over half of sunflower oil and just under half of castor oil. I also add three to four drops of tea tree essential oil. My skin feels great. I wash it three times a week with an extra steamy session once per week. I found that if I washed everyday, I exacerbated by uneven skin tone.

  10. I’ve also used the oil cleansing method and it worked out alright for me. I’ve always had acne issues, so I was definitely using it for different reasons than you. I used a mix of castor, sunflower, and jojoba oils with a few drops tea tree oil. My skin went through a major ‘purging’ phase and I had to wait two months for it to get better, but it did eventually get mostly better (I still had a spot here and there but it was much better than it can be).

    That said, my skin never looks better than when I’m eating a very clean, fresh diet. As soon as I start to eat crap, my skin looks like crap, so I try to focus more on my diet than my cleansing rituals (which is hard, because, you know, crap food is DELICIOUS).

  11. You are adorable! And that is my favorite song that pops up on Disney Pandora all the time- I sing it really loudly to my 11 month old. Love!

  12. Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts harvested from the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). Throughout the tropical world, it has provided the primary source of fat in the diets of millions of people for generations. It has various applications in food, medicine, and industry. Because of its stability, it is slow to oxidize and, thus, resistant to rancidity, lasting up to two years owing to the high saturated fat content.:

    I’ll see you in a bit

  13. I tried the coconut oil last fall, with full, giddy optimism. About a month later, I was getting these fatty deposits forming mostly under the skin, but they were still unsightly and I would squeeze the hard waxiness out, leaving really unsightly. I also have had very good luck with my skin concerning acne, whiteheads and such. Took me some time, to my shame, to make the connection to the coconut oil. My skin is fine now, once my blemishes healed. I think part of my problem was, that I left the oil on overnight, rather that washing it off

  14. hey all, started using oils to moisturize a couple of weeks ago. Started with Argan oil with drops of essential oils, my skin does not like Argan oil! never had breakouts in my life and im 28 but my neck even has pimples, my forhead is bumpy, cheek has big spots. Ive started using coconut oil past few days,skin is clearing up a bit. just wondering how everyone ele uses these oils? ive literally been replacing my moisturizer with them, maybe im using them too much? i slapped the Argan oil on to my face dry, not a good idea and i dont know why I done that lol

    • Best for oil cleansing is sesame oil. It has been used for eons in India. It is also used for something called oil pulling…(you squish about 2-3 spoons of oil in your mouth for about 3-5 minutes – it becomes tough after that for the mouth to handle the pressure of squishing). Also, sandalwood oil (quite expensive) has been scientifically studied to be of benefit to skin (should not be used excessively) and for its very nice fragrance.

  15. Best for oil cleansing is sesame oil. It has been used for eons in India. It is also used for something called oil pulling…(you squish about 2-3 spoons of oil in your mouth for about 3-5 minutes – it becomes tough after that for the mouth to handle the pressure of squishing).

  16. I use the coconut oil as a cleanser as well, and I noticed that if you do a scrub twice a week by adding baking soda to your coconut oil, it helps keep your pores unclogged! Hope I helped!

  17. My apologies for commenting so late. I’ve been oil cleansing with coconut and castor oil for a little over a month now. I have moderate rosacea with acne and I’ve seen noticeable improvements in my skin’s clarity. However, I do gently wash my face with tradition soap (Philosophy’s Purity Made Simple) afterwards. So far, I feel like this is giving me the benefits of the oil while reducing the possibility of clogged pores and oil buildup. Maybe this combination approach will work for others who didn’t succeed with pure oil?

  18. Love your post! I’m doing oil cleansing too and I also have rosacea. It’s definitely helped, but I did have a reaction to coconut oil– tiny clusters of pimples! Yuck! It also didn’t do all that much for my red cheeks! I did find a product that helped– it’s a DIY aloe based moisturizer with added natural oils (http://srg123.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-diyers-natural-moisturizer-for-dry.html). It calmed my skin down soooo much! I’m also finding better results with the redness using jojoba oil instead of coconut oil for the oil cleansing method.

  19. I love the oil cleansing method. I use a mixture of Castor oil and Grapeseed oil. The reason being that Castor oil very easily penetrates the pores and will dissolve the gunk/oil in them. Coconut oil actually has a very high Comedogenic rating and I never use it anywhere near my face. As I am in my twenties, the castor oil and grapeseed oil is a great combo, but for older skin I would suggest using castor oil and sunflower/olive oil as the latter oils are less drying. In my experience, the skin actually goes through a period after beginning this cleansing method where it detoxes and may break out more, since the impurities are being drawn to the surface of the skin by the oil and the steam from a washcloth.

    As far as moisturizing only with an oil, oils don’t actually “moisturize” as they are not and do not contain humectants. They simply create a barrier that helps keep already present moisture in your skin. Although oils have fatty acids, which are certainly necessary to maintaining and repairing skin, not all of them contain Ceramides and Cholesterol. And they certainly don’t contain Hyaluronic acid (these begin to diminish as early as your 20s). All of which are necessary to prevent wrinkles and keep skin healthy.

  20. I’ve been doing the ocm with just coconut oil for about 5 days now, with no problems. In the morning I usually just rinse my face with water and follow up with witch hazel toner nd I use a ponds cream. Now this cream has been ok to my skin but I’d rather go with a much more natural moisturizer, would you guys recommend anything to use in the mornings?

  21. I have been using coconut oil as a makeup remover for about 2 years now, ever since I first heard about it and decided I didn’t want to keep spending $15-$30 on makeup remover every couple of months. Coconut oil is the best at taking off any and all makeup off your face and eyes, even waterproof! I had also been using it as a moisturizer when I get out of the shower, because it smells so good and soaks into my skin instantly, making it soft and smooth. Then one day a few months ago, I saw a video on YouTube about how someone (pinksofoxy is her channel) cleanses using oil and a hot washcloth, and I decided to try it with coconut oil. I have been doing it now for almost 4 months, and I don’t know if I will ever buy another cleanser again! Now my skin does usually tend to run dry, with only the odd breakout here and there on my forehead/eyebrow area. After about 2 weeks of using only coconut oil for cleansing/moisturizing, I noticed several small, flesh-toned or reddish bumps along my hairline and cheek area, so I made a scrub of coconut oil and sugar and exfoliated twice a week with it for a couple of weeks. The bumps went away and my 39 year old skin is now softer and smoother than it was in my 20s! And today, I learned you can also use coconut oil to brush/clean your teeth (google ‘oil pulling’, which I will be trying next) and to make a DIY deodorant! And you can also use it for baking, cooking and to flavor coffee! Seriously, what CAN’T one do with coconut oil??? Awesome stuff! Just make sure you get raw, unrefined organic virgin coconut oil to get all the health benefits from it. The more processed it is, the more stripped of nutrients it will be, and the more likely you could be allergic to one of the fillers they potentially add to it. The Nutiva brand works for me!

  22. Was looking for coconut oil cleansing and bopped into your site. Good info, but I just had to play the video…

    You are awesome! Such a great voice and look at those fingers go! From a fellow strummer(guitar)


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