Comparing Topical Body Care Oils

Just as some culinary oils are more nourishing than others, the right body care oils will do the most to keep your skin soft, elastic, and glowing.


  • Oils are not moisturizers; when applied over damp skin, they seal in the moisture and help slow inherent evaporation.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/NiDerLander
  • These nutritive vegetable oils are effective for topical, natural skin care: sunflower, coconut, kukui nut, sweet almond, grapeseed, sesame seed, extra-virgin olive, and avocado oils.
    Photo by Queren King-Orozco
  • Sweet almond oil is particularly recommended for inflamed, itchy, cracked, and sensitive skin.
    Photo by Getty Images/5PH
  • This fragile, light rosehip seed oil is an amazing skin-cell regenerative and anti-inflammatory agent.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/kellyreekolibry
  • Orange-red sea buckthorn oil may stain skin, so it is often included only up to ten percent in oil blends.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Yinkgo
  • Brownish-green tamanu oil can help fade scars, heal burns, and soothe bruised skin.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/serge simo
  • Medicinal in its own right, extra-virgin olive oil is a perfect base for healing herbal infusions.
    Photo by Getty Images/ChamilleWhite

To many, the dizzying array of body care oils neatly arranged on store shelves make it impossible to find the right one for your skin type. “Why would I choose one over the other?” you might ask yourself. Well, that’s why I’m here. As a licensed herbalist, holistic aesthetician, and author of 12 books on the topics of natural skin and body care, I know a thing or two about using oils topically.

First, a little education: “Vegetable oil” is a generic term often used to distinguish between an oil that derives from a plant and one that derives from petrochemicals (such as mineral oil), fish (such as cod-liver oil), or animal fats (such as lanolin or lard). Sourced from plants, the oils used for body care are commonly referred to as carrier, base, unctuous, or fixed oils. They are characteristically slippery to the touch, smooth in texture, and lighter than water, with an extremely low evaporation rate.

Contrary to what you may have heard, oils are not moisturizers. Only water and watery ingredients, such as aloe vera, hydrosols, flower waters, and water-based herb extracts, can actually hydrate and plump your skin’s tissues when applied topically. Oils, when applied over skin still damp from a bath or shower, will seal in the moisture that the skin absorbed and add a protective barrier, thus helping to prevent or slow inherent moisture evaporation.

Quality is important, so choose your oil wisely. The best therapeutic body oils are naturally extracted from organic sources and minimally processed. The key words on the bottle’s label will be organic, cold- or expeller-pressed, and unrefined — these have not been exposed to extraction procedures using petroleum-derived solvents, nor to extremely high heat, bleaching, or deodorizing. Though these refining processes can certainly lengthen shelf life, they also destroy or alter an oil’s natural molecular state, thereby affecting aromas, flavors, colors, consistency, antioxidant properties, and the vitamin, mineral, and essential fatty acid content. For high-quality oils, expect to pay more. It’s worth it for the health of your skin and body.



Body Oil Profiles

The following commercially available, nutritive vegetable oils are some of the most popular and effective for topically applied, natural skin and body care. If you have a nut sensitivity, conduct a skin-patch test prior to more extensive use of almond, coconut, or kukui nut oil.

1. Sunflower Oil (Helianthus annuus)

sprielipp
2/22/2018 6:02:30 PM

This was extremely helpful. Apricot kernel oil wasn't listed. I was told it was a good oil for dry mature skin. Is there any reason it wasn't included in your article? I don't want to use something that isn't going to be beneficial. Much appreciated, Stephanie




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