The challenge from The Telegraph’s beauty team was clear and succinct: abandon your usual skincare products - all of them, even the Niod copper amino isolate serum that I and so many others have sworn by for the past two years - and replace them with oils, and only oils.
For six weeks.
This didn’t sound like too big a stretch, especially when a heap of new oils arrived on my desk. What could go wrong?
I’ve been a fan of facial oils ever since being introduced to them by skin guru Alexandra Soveral over a decade ago. I like the way they feel and smell. I like the way you can massage your face and body using oils for lubrication – unlike cream moisturisers, which contain hefty amounts of water, they don’t evaporate into the skin instantly. I like the way they sink in, visibly nourishing the skin, plumping out fine lines and, at the same time leave a sheeny residue on the surface. I’ve been using Soveral’s Angel Balm Cleanser – not strictly an oil, since it’s not liquid, but oil rich – for years.
You will gather from this that I’m not an aficionado of matt complexion, which can look very ageing. But I also understand why so many women are wary of oils. Won’t they make your skin greasy? (Yes if you over do it, a few drops really do suffice.) Block pores? Encourage rapidly expanding colonies of spots? Seep into your hair and wreck your blow-dry? And while it’s more or less obvious how oils can deliver nutrients deeply and effectively, it’s more of a leap to understand how you can efficiently clean your skin with oils.
For that you have to get to grips with the science of like attracting like. Pure oil will draw oil (or sebum) out of the skin, if used correctly. Then you have to find an oil you like. I alternated between de Mamiel’s Pure Calm Cleansing Dew, Tata Harper’s Nourishing Oil Cleanser, both below, and MV’s Organic 9 Oil Cleansing tonic (£62 for 65 ml, Cult Beauty). Spot the link? That’s right. None of them is cheap. However, they’re all gorgeous, with expensive plant ingredients (unlike some of the cheaper oils that use polymers, mineral-based ingredients and cheap fragrance).
All of the above turned the usually dull process of cleansing at the end of the day into a treat. It’s hard to nominate a favourite. De Mamiel’s is quite thick and takes slightly longer to work into the skin, but it’s all down to personal preference. To confuse things, late into the experiment, I was sent Romilly Wilde’s Light+Energy Cleanser (£54 for 100ml, Romilly Wilde) which may just be my personal number one. For oil virgins, it has the advantage of being mixed with manuka honey and saffron, which makes it feel a bit more like a conventional creamer cleanser albeit an oil one.
With all of them you need a flannel and water that’s hot enough to produce some steam. Massage the cleansing oil into your skin for ten seconds or so, then, carefully apply your damp hot flannel over, but not touching, the skin. Allow the steam to open the pores, and wait for the flannel to cool a little before using it to wipe away the oil and dirt. I often do this twice – partly because I love the smell of oils, and also because a small section of my brain still doesn’t truly believe that oils can cleanse.
But they can. Using oil is an extremely efficient method of removing make-up while caring for the texture and overall health of your skin. Unlike some other cleansers, even supposedly gentle ones, oils never leave skin feeling tight.
So much for the oil cleansers. When it came to replenishing oils, I love the following: Alexandra Soveral’s Midnight Oil (£41 for 15ml) and Forever Young Oil (£51 for 15ml), Votary’s Jasmine Facial Oil (£65 for 30ml, Space NK) and Neal’s Yard Rejuvenating Frankincense Oil (£32 for 30ml, Neals Yard Remedies). I was less enamoured of Dr Lancer’s Omega Hydrating oil which felt thin and insubstantial, and abandoned Rituals’ Anti-ageing Face Oil because of the smell.
I broke rank with the beauty team’s moisturising creams embargo – and here’s why: “of course you need to use moisturizer on top of oils, especially in winter,“ Alexandra Soveral said when I explained my mission. “Oils don't retain moisture and for as long as the central heating is on, moisture will evaporate from the skin (since there's none in the air). The fundamental mistake that many people make is that dry skin and dehydrated skin are the same thing. Dehydrated skin needs moisture. Dry skin needs oil.” Some need both.
For the same reason, I sunk an eye cream into the mix – Soveral’s Forever Young eye cream (£39). Apart from that, I stuck religiously to the brief. No serums, no high-tech anti-ageing potions, no retinols (ever).
Guess what? My skin has never looked better. But I don’t think it’s just the oils. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Hay’ou jade facial massage tool (£35, Hayou Method), which uses Chinese pressure strokes (it’s called gua sha) to increase circulation to the skin (by as much as 400 per cent apparently) and improve lymphatic drainage. There isn’t room here to go into more detail, but suffice to say, this little implement is a skin changer, especially used with oils. Will I go back to all those high-tech formulae? It’s part of my job to test them out, but let’s just say, I’m not rushing.