Busting the myth of face oil: Should you actually apply it before or after moisturiser?

Every single problem in the world of skincare can be distilled into one simple question…

What products should I put on my face to make it look bloody awesome?

We hear you, we see you and honestly… SAME. But there’s something we’ve been doing wrong and it’s getting in the way of the baby-butt skin we oh-so crave. Chances are if you’re a fan of face oil, than you’re probably using it after your serum and before your moisturiser. If so, then according to The Cut, you’re doing it wrong.

Mamamia roadtests multi-masking. The skincare trend that’s supposed to give you perfect skin:

Video by MMC

Last week the publication shared an Instagram post which claimed face oil should be used after your moisturiser, stating that “you cannot moisturise your skin with an oil”.

“Moisturising with an oil is like sitting in a car while it’s raining and expecting to get wet: It will never happen”.

“Oils are only the *gatekeepers,* not producers, of hydration, so load up on humectants (ingredients that draw in water from products like moisturisers) first, and then pile on the oil afterwards to keep moisture from escaping.”


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Cue: the alarm, confusion and distress of face oil lovers worldwide.

The thing is, similar to a lot of things related to skincare, the truth is both more complicated than what can be conveyed through an Instagram post, but we are here to guide you through the process.


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To help, we asked Alpha-H’s Education and Training Manager, Leeanne Leslie, and Skinstitut Expert, Zoe Devine for their professional opinion on how to best utilise face oil in our skincare routine. This is what they said.

So… remind me what’s the point of face oil again?

To answer this question, we need a primer on the two reasons why we moisturise our faces in the first place, whether that’s through a toner, serum, face oil or cream.

  1. To combat dehydration by using humectants (think hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, honey) to draw in water which hydrates our skin. This keeps your complexion looking glowy and ‘plump’ and is done through serums and moisturisers.
  2. To boost your skin’s hydration-retaining barrier through lipids like squalene, oils, fatty acids and ceramides, which ensure you keep the moisture stuff in. Your skin naturally does this by excreting sebum and sweat, but face oils also mimic this.

Another caveat: dehydrated skin and dry skin are not the same thing.

Dehydrated skin is a condition which you can change through water-based-hydration (i.e. serums and oils which contain humectants), while dry skin is a ‘skin type’ which can be caused by conditions like dermatitis, or because your sebaceous glands aren’t producing enough sebum. If you sit in the latter category, face oils can help, however, they will not boost the water-content of your skin.

Now back to face oil…

Speaking to Mamamia, Leeanne says a balanced skin needs a mix of oil and water-based hydration, in order to look its best.

“Face oils which are rich in fatty acids will mimic the skin’s own natural sebum and help to strengthen its natural barrier function, so if you’re lipid dry (lacking in oil), an oil could help,” she says.

“However, if your skin is lacking in water, then you’re probably going to be better off applying something like a hyaluronic acid based serum first (she recommends the Alpha H, Hyaluronic 8 Treatment Serum, $69.95), and then following it with an oil or cream afterwards.”

So please explain why we’re now all of a sudden being told to apply face oil after moisturiser?

Great question!

The belief behind using your face oil after your moisturiser comes from the fact that oils are richer and thicker in consistency than moisturisers. Thus applying them before moisturiser will obstruct the humectants from penetrating into your skin. However, this is only true to an extent, says Zoe.

“The order of products can completely depend on the composition of your oil and moisturiser,” says the Skinstitut expert.

“Some oils are more readily absorbed than others, however, if you’re using a very lightweight moisturiser and your oil is quite heavy this could work more efficiently if applied afterwards.”

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But do I really need to use a face oil and a moisturiser?

Definitely not, and you probably won't want to if you have oily skin, or if you already use a hydrating serum. In that case you might find you're fine with just using a moisturiser or face oil, not both.

Not to complicate things ever further, but there's also a third option for you to ponder. If you find the feeling of using a face oil and moisturiser just too heavy, than you can also mix your oil into your go to face cream. This can be a particularly nourishing option for the Winter months, says Zoe.

"Many people find they're more susceptible to moisture loss in their skin throughout winter (eg. from heating, increased caffeine intake, cool dry winds etc)," she says. "So winter may be the time of year you decide to bump up the nourishing element of your moisturiser by adding a few drops of oil into it."

However, both Zoe and Leeanne state this combination could be too heavy for people with oily skin.

"It needs to be for the right skin," says Leeanne.

Hannah agrees, adding that: "A skin which is already oily would likely find this unsuitable."

Now, what oils can you apply before your moisturiser and what oils should you apply after?

Again, although some oils are more readily absorbed than others, this will greatly depend on the quality and formulation of your oil.

As a basic guide, Zoe says jojoba oils and rosehip oil work better to "prevent moisture loss," whereas avocado and almond oils have "higher penetration rates".


"Avocado particularly can be used as a carrier oil to transport actives substances into the skin."


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So tell it to me straight... do I use face oil before or after my moisturiser?

We know you just want to be told what to do, BUT IT'S COMPLICATED. AND WE ARE SO SO SORRY.

The thing is, it's all up to personal preference and we can't tell you. However, if you're set on doing this one way and aren't happy with the results you're seeing, than it's not going to hurt if you switch it up.

As Zoe says, "As long as you've been following the recommendations from the product manufacturers, then you should be on the right track. Although, a question would always be; are you achieving the results that are looking for? If not, maybe it’s worthy of investigating."

So, for the love of dewy, glowing and baby-butt smooth skin, don't let that analysis paralysis get you down. Save that for lunch.

Do you use a face oil in your skincare routine? Do you apply it before or after moisturiser? Tell us in a comment below.