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The School of UnLearning: Wellness

Oils are the New Soap

Why it’s time to ditch your cleanser

By Dr. Caroline Lewis, MSc ND

There’s a new wave of skincare to level-up your skin routine. Want to boost your skin barrier and microbiome for that youthful, healthy glow? Let’s talk oils.

First, let’s cover some skin basics.

The 411 on your Skin Microbiome 

Your skin has over 1 trillion bacteria living on it - I know, right? Our good skin bacteria make important enzymes and molecules we need for clear skin and a strong army against the thousands of toxins it’s exposed to daily. We want to keep these bugs in happy harmony by helping good bacteria grow, and minimizing bacteria that may harm our glow. Otherwise, our microbiome can be tipped out of balance - this is called dysbiosis, which happens in our gut microbiome, too! When dysbiosis affects our skin, you might suffer from stubborn breakouts, inflammation (redness, irritation, dryness), or even eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis. Maybe you also see a dull, drab complexion in the mirror, rather than a radiant glow.

Your go-to Cleanser might need to go

Cleansers can help clear our skin of bad bacteria, but they can also destroy our good bacteria. I’m not just talking about face cleansers - we’re talking body wash, too. This happens by:

1. Disrupting our skin barrier

The skin barrier is made up of different proteins (like collagen, filaggrin, keratin), enzymes, ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol. And, let’s not forget hyaluronic acid. This is what keeps our skin plump, hydrated, and soft. It also protects our microbiome from bad bacteria, inflammation, chemicals from our makeup, UV rays, and pollution. Just like our gut lining, our skin barrier has proteins called tight junctions that keep hydration IN and bad bacteria OUT. When the skin barrier’s compromised, tight junctions spread apart, so water escapes and bacteria enter. This can trigger our skin’s immune cells, causing inflammation and irritation. 

Bottom Line: Losing our skin’s defense can leave us with dry, dehydrated skin.

2. Changing our skin pH

Our skin pH is naturally more acidic, which strengthens our skin barrier. Many cleansers have higher (alkaline) pH, which can allow bad bacteria to grow, and cause redness, breakouts, and clogged pores. At a higher pH, we also lose enzymes that help our skin retain moisture, and gain enzymes that cause dryness.

Oils to the Rescue! Don’t be scared.

You might think oils and skincare don’t mix. Will they clog your pores? Make your skin oilier? Let’s bust some myths.

Plant-based oils are naturally anti-inflammatory and soothe our skin, while stimulating skin cell regeneration. Oils support a healthy skin barrier and won’t disrupt your skin pH. No added chemicals means your skin’s natural oils and hydrating compounds (like hyaluronic acid) won’t be stripped. Oils are also anti-microbial, which supports our skin microbiome and fights bad bacteria that cause acne and clogged pores. The fatty acids in oils can repair our skin barrier, especially those higher in linoleic acid (like sunflower seed). Whereas oils like jojoba prevent water loss, for hydration and plumpness. Oils may just be the fountain of youth - they are packed with polyphenols for an anti-oxidant punch!

Oil Checklist: What to look for

  • Organic
  • Non-comedogenic: so it won’t clog pores.
  • Un-refined (aka. virgin or cold-pressed): These are the most nutrient-dense oils that don’t undergo processing (no added chemicals or heat)
  • Minimal ingredients: Aside from botanical names (which - let’s be real - are impossible to pronounce), you should understand the ingredient list.

So, what are you waiting for?

Run, don’t walk to your skincare cupboard to toss the soap, and make room for some oils.

About the author

Dr. Caroline Lewis is a Naturopathic Doctor from Toronto, obsessed with all things gut health, skincare, and mental wellness. Check out Dr. Lewis on Instagram @healthwithcare for more.

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