Banishing breakouts: Why cleansing oil is perfect for acne-prone skin

Diving into what cleansing oil is and how it works.

Written by
Tori Crowther
Medically reviewed by
min read
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When it comes to oily and breakout-prone skin, it’s not outrageous to avoid the one thing there is an excess of, right? Although fixing oil with oil sounds counterintuitive, it might just be the ticket to banishing breakouts. Enter: cleansing oil. 

Often in skincare, the simplest products and routines are the most effective. This is particularly true when discussing acne, which can be a tricky condition to manage.

Today, we’re stripping it back to basics, talking about the product that can be truly game-changing for those with acne and oily skin. We’re diving into exactly what cleansing oil is, how it works and why it’s excellent for acne-prone skin. Let’s get into it! 

What is cleansing oil?

Cleansing oil is pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s a facial cleanser that comes in an oil-based formula that works to break down makeup and grime to leave skin feeling fresh and clean. 

Oil cleansers have a lightweight consistency and usually come in a pump bottle or as an oil balm that’s housed in a tub, which has a slightly heavier consistency. The type you choose all comes down to personal preference, both work in the same way. 

Commonly used cleansing oil ingredients include: 

  • Caprylic/capric triglyceride: This is derived from coconut oil but is not to be confused with pore-clogging coconut oil. Caprylic/capric triglyceride is non-comedogenic and is a great addition to a cleansing oil for acne-prone skin. 
  • Mineral oil: This is a tricky one because it’s been linked to an increase in clogging pores, but this is purely anecdotal. So, it might be a case of trial and error because often people find mineral oil can be great, especially if you have combination skin. 
  • Sunflower seed oil: Made from exactly as the name suggests, sunflower seeds, this oil works for all skin types (including sensitive skin) and is a great non-irritating ingredient. 
  • Rice bran oil: Rich in vitamins, rice bran oil is great for breakout-prone skin and helps soften the skin making it a popular choice for cleanser. 
  • Grapeseed oil: Grapeseed oil contains vitamins (such as vitamin E) and fatty acids making it an asset to any cleansing oil. 
  • Avocado oil: Packed full of skin-loving antioxidants, avocado oil is a favourite thanks to its moisturising properties. 
  • Jojoba oil: Jojoba oil isn’t actually an oil, it’s a wax ester that mimics the skin’s natural sebum, making it an excellent hydrator without clogging your pores and worsening breakouts. This makes it a wonderful addition to an acne-prone and oily skin routine. 
  • Apricot kernel oil: Now, although apricot kernel oil is a great ingredient for dry, mature and sensitive skin types, it’s not always the best for acne-prone skin as it’s said to be mildly comedogenic. 

Other oils in cleansing include (this list is by no means exhaustive, there are a lot of oils used in skincare): Evening primrose oil, safflower oil, camellia oil, sweet almond oil.

How does cleansing oil work?

The chemical principle is pretty simple: like dissolves like. Because oil is lipophilic, it means that they attract each other; in the case of an oil cleanser: oil dissolves oil. This means that the oils in the cleanser work hard to dissolve all of the leftover grime from your face, including removing makeup and controlling excess sebum, too.

Then, there’s a surfactant (emulsifier) in the cleanser formula that works to lather it up or turn it into a milky substance when water is added. This then washes away along with the leftover makeup and sunscreen, leaving your skin feeling soft, cleansed and free from an oily film. 

What are the benefits of oil cleansing?

No matter your skin type, there are many benefits to cleansing oils. 

Cleanses well

Of course, the most simple benefit is that it effectively cleanses — and does so quickly. It expertly removes even the most stubborn makeup like mascaras, foundation and eye makeup — including waterproof makeup. This is all without any harsh scrubbing, which can aggravate blemishes and cause further inflammation. 

Removes sunscreen

Sunscreen, like Software's Daily Sun Defence SPF50+, is an everyday essential but it can be a nuisance to properly remove. A cleansing oil has been shown to be the optimal method of removing sunscreen, especially water-resistant formulas [1].

If SPF is left on the skin overnight, it can increase the chance of clogged pores, congestion and subsequently more breakouts.

Doesn’t dry the skin out

Drying the skin out can cause sebaceous glands to go into overdrive and produce more oil [2]. This is why a cleansing oil is great because it removes leftover makeup without drying the skin out and causing irritation. In fact, cleansing oils can add some much-needed moisture back into the skin. 

Regulates oil production

Remember what we talked about earlier, stripping oils out of the skin can actually cause your skin to produce more of it?

Well, an oil cleanse helps to regulate this oil production so that your skin doesn’t create an excess of it. In turn, this regulation of oil leads to less clogged pores and breakouts. 

They’re a joy to use

No, seriously. Cleansing oils are such an enjoyable step in a skincare routine, particularly if you find one that has a scent you like.

It gives you the excuse to pause after a busy day and enjoy a facial massage; even if it’s just for 60 seconds.

Is cleansing oil good for acne-prone skin?

The language often surrounding acne when it comes to skin is likened to that of heading into battle. Spoken as though it should be fought and attacked. Yet, the most successful skincare routines for breakouts are those that are gentle and kind to the skin.

Cleansing is a really important part of any acne-prone skincare routine, helping with skin barrier repair and sebum regulation [3]. Now, combine a gentle approach and the importance of cleansing and you’ve got cleansing oil. 

It’s not filled with breakout-reducing acids (that comes later with your second cleanse) but rather kind-to-skin oils that nourish whilst gently clearing grime, excess oil and makeup from the day. So in short: is cleansing oil good for acne-prone skin? Yes! And here’s why: 

Cleanses well yet gently

As discussed earlier, for acne-prone skin in particular, cleansing is incredibly important. Your skin needs a clean canvas in order for your blemish products to get to work. A cleansing oil works quickly and effectively to get the job done.


Your blemishes still need moisture, don’t deprive them of this! A cleansing oil is a great way to get this moisture in. 

Reduces inflammation

Many cleansing oils also work to reduce irritated skin and inflammation, which is common with blemish-prone complexions. You’ll find after using a cleansing oil consistently that your skin looks and feels less angry and is softer. 

Balances sebum production

When it comes to blemishes and congestion, sebum control is important and that’s exactly what an oil cleanser helps with.

How do you double-cleanse acne-prone skin?

Cleansing oil is best used with the double-cleanse method. The first step (or first cleanse) involves applying your chosen cleansing oil or balm to dry skin and massaging it in for 60 seconds.

This oil is either washed off, or for best results, gently removed with a damp muslin cloth. Next up is your second step using a cream, foam or jelly cleanser, which is worked into damp skin and then washed off. 

The first step is all about removing SPF, makeup and grime from the skin; which is light work with the right oil cleanser. The second step helps ensure all of this is removed, but it also tackles the concern in hand.

For acne-prone skin, your second cleanser is likely to contain active ingredients like salicylic acid, which works to clear pores, rid dead skin cells, and minimise inflammation. Using 2 products creates a clean canvas before moving on to applying your targeted serum and moisturiser. 

If you have active acne, it’s important to double-cleanse gently to avoid unnecessary irritation. 

Double cleansing is done at nighttime and isn’t necessary in the morning.

Can I use a DIY cleansing oil?

It’s often best not to use homemade skincare, including oil cleansers, especially when it comes to acne. That's because these products are specifically designed to work well on removing makeup, not causing irritation (this is even more important for sensitive skin types) and most importantly, not going off or mouldy.

If you’re making skincare at home there are no guarantees you’ve got these under control. And you could then worsen your breakouts because of it.

In addition to this, a homemade oil cleanser won't contain the emulsifier so it’ll likely be tricky to wash it off. This means it’ll leave an oily film on the skin and cause further congestion.

Leave it to the pros to create the skincare products, including cleansing oil, so you can enjoy them without worry at home. 

Photo credit: Ron Lach / Pexels

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