9 Popular Natural Oils Explained


There are a lot (and I mean a lot!) of oils used in beauty products these days. Every time I flip open a magazine, some article is extolling the virtues of argan or apricot kernel or almond oil. Natural ingredients! Secret age fighters! Which is all good, but I always want to know what the heck they actually do!  

So we decided to explore the virtues of different plant-based oils, and covered the big ones like jojoba, coconut, olive, etc., in Part I of this story. This time around, we’ll feature some lesser-known but still common oils found in beauty products. (Note: even with two parts, our list isn’t comprehensive. There are so many oils out there that we know we’re just scratching the surface!)

Borage Seed Oil

aka Borago officinalis

Derived from a pretty deep-blue wildflower, borage seed oil contains a fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid, which is sometimes used to fight skin inflammation and problems such as eczema and atopic dermatitis. It’s been in use for more than 1,500 years! (Hooray for anything that might help with eczema.)

Try it in: Weleda Pomegranate Firming Night Cream | $37.50

Lavender Oil

aka Lavandula, Lavandula angustifolia

Along with smelling like heaven itself, lavender oil is a big hitter in the natural remedies world. An anti-viral, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory, it has tons of uses. It’s great during an aromatherapy massage and can help heal bug bites, acne, and eczema. Plus it’s a natural relaxant that can help you sleep, and it may help ward off colds. Go get some lavender oil, already!

Try it in: Indie Lee, Moisturizing Oil- Lavender Chamomile | $36

Rose or Wild Rose Oil

aka Rosa, Rosa Moschata

Rose oil is so, so glamorous. And expensive: it takes about 60,000 rose petals to produce an ounce of rose oil! Not only does it smell incredible—it’s also good for cleansing and moisturizing dry, sensitive, or mature skin. And for treating yourself like royalty.

Try it in: Korres Wild Rose 24-Hour Moisturizing & Brightening Cream | $38

Strawberry Oil

aka Fragaria, Fragaria vesca

Strawberry oil has the essence of fresh berries and summer—and exfoliates and brightens in the most gentle way possible. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, its natural fruit acids renew the complexion—no scratchy granules required.

Try it in: Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser | $32

Orange Peel Oil

aka Citrus, Citrus sinensis

Orange peel oil is easy to obtain and used in tons of products—it’s excellent at treating cracked, dry, and dull skin, and helps fight acne. And because it’s a natural degreaser and has been shown to have antifungal and antibacterial properties, it’s common in household products and our favorite makeup brush cleaner, Parian Spirit. You can even try orange oil as an insect repellent!

Try it in: Parian Spirit, Brush Cleaning System | $23

Neem Oil

aka Azadirachta indica

Neem oil comes from the fruits and seeds of the neem, an evergreen tree that grows in India and other tropical climates. The oil has a growing cult following, because it can help to combat acne and other skin problems. Because it’s good for soothing and nurturing sensitive spots like the scalp, neem is popular in hair products, too. (Strange fact: neem has also been used to treat leprosy.)

Try it in: Dr. Hauschka Neem Hair Oil | $39.95

Safflower Oil

aka Carthamus tinctorius

Linoleic acid, a powerful dirt- and oil-removing fatty acid, makes safflower a versatile ingredient in cleansers, creams, and conditioners. Moreover, it’s a superstar moisturizer that prevents water from leaving the skin.

Try it in: Too Faced Royal Oil | $35

Palm Oil

aka Elaeis, Elaeis oleifera

A true multi-tasker, palm oil has been used for more than 5,000 years in concoctions designed to help hair and skin look its best. Today, you’ll find it in everything from soaps and shampoos to lotions and foundations. Palm oil contains tocotrienols, a type of vitamin E added to many anti-aging products, and a refatting agent, meaning it helps restore natural oils stripped from skin and hair by using certain cleansers and shampoos. Controversy surrounds the harvest of palm oil, including claims of deforestation to make way for palm oil plantations, so look for products with sustainably harvested oil.

Try it in: Bliss Firm Baby Firm | $75

Soy or Soybean Oil

aka Glycine Soja

An oil extracted from the seeds of the soybean, soy oil can be used to even out skin tone and help fight the signs of aging. It’s easily absorbed into the skin and helps to smooth skin texture. What doesn’t soy do?

Try it in: Korres Quercetin & Oak Anti-wrinkle Night Cream | $52

Photo: Eduardo da Costa, Angela Lumsden, Quatre Saisons, Peter Lourenco, AlexandraR, DircinhaSW

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