natural beauty: body oils.

October 7, 2015

body oil natural beauty reading my tea leaves
The heat turned on in our apartment over the weekend. We heard the familiar click clank of the radiator first. Then the steam began to whistle out of the vent on the side. We’ve been schooling Faye on the word hot, which she breathes out like a dramatic onomatopoeia to match the sound of the radiator itself.

With a chill in the air and the attending heat, we’ve shifted in mere weeks from the humid sweatiness of summer into the time of year when starting the day properly moisturized feels necessary for basic survival. (An exaggeration to be sure, but don’t get me started on the tyranny of itchy legs under skinny jeans.)

I started using body oils as moisturizer back when we lived in Providence. I was wary of the mile-long ingredient lists I was seeing on the body lotions of even the brands called natural, and overwhelmed by the greasiness of other “lotions” that included too much shea butter or other greasy emollients. I opted for a one-ingredient alternative. Sweet almond oil massaged into my damp, freshly showered skin was absorbed quickly and did a terrific job of keeping me from getting too scaly, even in the middle of a harsh New England winter. 

If you’d prefer something a little bit more complex, but still void of the preservatives and chemical emmolients of many moisturizers, there are some really lovely oil blends that take advantage of all sorts of lovely and healing plant and essential oils. A few favorites are below, plus a tip or two for helping you to ditch dubious moisturizers without getting too greased up (or dried out) in the process.

Do it yourself:

Sweet almond oil:
Consider this a gateway body oil. It’s mild, hypoallergenic, and subtly sweet smelling. As always, unrefined oils will have more “nutrition” and will be more fragrant than refined oils. If you wanted to up the game a bit, you could add a few drops of a soothing essential oil like lavender or sweet orange.

Avocado oil:
I admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the scent of avocado oil, but lots of people swear by it for moisturizing needs. It’s full of vitamins A and E and fatty acids and often used in formulations for what the industry calls mature skin. 

Jojoba oil:
A super stable oil that’s most often lauded for being a close second to the oils we all produce naturally. (Sebum!) Also a common carrier oil for favorite essentials oils. 

I’ve included links to organic body oils above for the curious, but you can find them just about anywhere, including, usually, your neighborhood grocery store.

Have someone else do it for you:

Evan Healy Sweet Blossom Hydrating Body Oil
Light, sweet, and restorative. Scented with neroli and ylang ylang.

One Love Organic’s Gardenia + Tea Body Serum*
I was intimidated by the impressive spray top of this body oil, but won over by the oil itself. A super silky body oil that leaves you glisten-y enough that you feel like you’re moisturized, but not oily. (For those who are fragrance averse, this might not be the oil for you. But the scent is lovely.)

Herbivore Botanical’s Jasmine Body Oil*
I’m a sucker for anything jasmine but a good jasmine scent can be kind of hard to come by. This body oil doesn’t disappoint in scent or efficacy. (Or display-worthy packaging.)

Portland Apothecary’s Hydrating Body Oil*
I used this body oil all spring long and loved it. A rich but still subtle scent of cedar and rose felt luxurious but never overpowering. 

Notes about application:

People are sometimes wary about the…oilyness…of body oils. I’m here to say that save dousing on oil and immediately putting on a pair of tights, I’ve never experienced trouble with grease spots. To avoid the possibility, I apply oil right after my shower in the morning and let it soak in while I do other things around the bathroom like brush my hair and put on deodorant and inspect my eyebrows for stray hairs. For the best results, skinwise, I’d say start your body oil ritual before the worst of the winter weather is upon us so that you’re not trying to turn scales into silk.

What about you guys? Any favorite oils out there? Any favorite blends?

For more natural beauty posts, head HERE.

Disclosure: I am sometimes sent beauty products to review for this series. When I love them and think you might too, I write about them. Items that were sent to me for review are marked with an asterisk. All opinions are my own. 

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32 Comments

  • Reply Molly October 7, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Love this!! I was just about to break into my boyfriend’s beard oil to take care of some dry legs, but these options seem much more appealing. Not that I don’t love woodsy-smelling things, but it could have been weird!

  • Reply Laurel October 7, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Love this list! I started using rosehip oil as a face moisturizer at night and have been very pleasantly surprised with how well it’s worked.
    I’m surprised to see sweet almond oil listed as hypoallergenic? Almonds (nuts in general) are a pretty common allergy.

  • Reply Anna October 7, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Yes, yes. I’m another believer. I also love to use an oil and salt scrub – Trader Joe’s lavender salt scrub is my super cheap and delightful go-to, but I’ve also been known to just mix up a little jar of olive or almond oil with sea salt and a few drops of essential oil and take that into the shower with me. I use it at the very end of my shower and emerge exfoliated AND moisturized – luxurious time-saving extravaganza!

  • Reply Alex October 7, 2015 at 11:48 am

    thank you for posting this! i’m a big fan of oils, and really like the soapwalla luxurious body oil, which has jojoba and grape seed oil (among a bunch of awesome ingredients). but to save money, i think i’m going to stick to sweet almond this fall!

  • Reply Mandy October 7, 2015 at 11:57 am

    I developed a nut allergy in my early 20s, and I was so sad to sweet almond oil go. In the winter I mix together shea butter and coconut oil in a roughly 50/50 ratio to beat the worst of dry skin. I also like apricot kernel oil by itself. I’ve been using my homemade body butter or straight up oil for years, I can’t even imagine trying to use a lotion anymore.

  • Reply Kassia October 7, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Thanks for the list, Erin. I’ve been using coconut oil for years and won’t ever go back. That said, do you have any advice on different oil or extracts I could drop in simply to keep the oil softer during the winter months. I find that once it hits 65 degrees in the house it’s pretty much rock hard which makes my morning routine that much longer as I dance around in my towel while furiously rubbing my hands together to melt the stuff! Thanks again.

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 7, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      hi there: i’ve found that coconut oil isn’t quite moisturizing enough for me in the winter. but! we do use it for faye’s diaper changes all year. i don’t think any additional essential oils will do the trick of keeping it liquid, but keeping your bottle nearby a heat source would!

  • Reply Sarah October 7, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    I’m not sure about the other oils, but jojoba oil makes a GREAT eye makeup remover. I’ve been doing it for years. I buy in bulk and use it to remove eye makeup, cleanse my face (with the help of a clean, rough washcloth), and moisturize. Makes for very easy packing!

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 7, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      Agreed (post on makeup removers coming up!)

  • Reply Julia October 7, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    I am a coconut oil devotee! I keep a little jar right outside the shower and slather it on while still a little damp so it absorbs nicely. Another tip for those concerned about grease stains, if it doesn’t feel like it’s soaked in enough after a couple minutes, just give yourself another quick rub with the towel and it’ll take off any excess. I’ve done that a couple times when I went a little overboard using too much oil and it has worked perfectly 🙂

  • Reply Alie October 7, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    I like Ila’s Face Oil. It smells like sandalwood and roses. So lovely!

  • Reply Kari October 7, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Do the oils work for hands as well, or are they too greasy/not moisturizing enough?

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 7, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      I think this probably depends on the person! Interestingly, I grew up with really dry hands but since I stopped using a lot of harsh cleaners or products I’ve noticed I almost never have to think about giving my hands much in the way of extra moisture.

  • Reply Marissa October 7, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    I’ve been using straight up coconut oil for the last 5 years… But I’ve been splurging on the Beautycounter Lustro Body Oil.

    Golden Jojoba Oil, Sweet Almond Oil*, Meadowfoam Seed Oil, Virgin Grapeseed Oil*, Rosehip Oil, Sea Buckthorn Oil, Marula Oil*, Virgin Argan Nut Oil*, Rose Otto Oil, Apricot Oil, Grapefruit Oil, Sweet Orange Oil, Rosemary Oil. *organic

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 7, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Good list!

  • Reply Claire October 7, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    I love using oils as well! I use a mix of grapeseed, sweet almond and avocado and put in on my face at the beginning of my shower. I think the steam helps it absorb well, just rise off the excess at the end or rub it in. Any recommendations for baby moisturizing? My little one was born in June so this is our first experience with dry-skin causing weather!

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 7, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Can’t say we ever encountered a real need for extra moisturizing for Faye last winter, but we do slather her in coconut oil during diaper changes! (And my nephew had super chapped cheeks that were really helped by the ever-miraculous Egyptian Magic (basically: olive oil, beeswax, honey, and propolis.)

  • Reply Shivani October 7, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    I adore sweet almond oil on the skin; I’ve been using it as a moisturizer for the last few years. I also love jojoba for a face moisturizer and make up remover. Calendula is another favorite!

    In India, warmed coconut or almond oil is used as a scalp massage and hair treatment — when I was a child, my mother used to sit me on a little chair between her knees, heat up some coconut oil in a pan of hot water, and scrub it all over my scalp and work it into the ends of my hair. Brush & braid, wash out the next morning. Nothing quite so relaxing as a really good scalp massage, and my hair was so thick and shiny! Doing it on my own is definitely not the same, but I’ve taken to mixing a bit of rosemary in for some extra scalp love.

    A few other women who do amazing natural oils and other work:
    Marble & Milkweed — I absolutely love her oil-based perfumes (and overall everything!), and she’s local to NYC (http://www.marbleandmilkweed.com/shop/nourishing-body-oil-2-oz)
    Fig & Yarrow (http://figandyarrow.com/collections/body-care) — she also does a hair/scalp oil that is delicious.

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 7, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      Agreed on both recommendations! Have never been steered wrong by Briar at Marble & Milkweed (an RMTL sponsor!); I’ve just never used her body oil. Always impressed by Fig & Yarrow, too! Now I need a good scalp massage!

  • Reply TOLson October 7, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    I began using the oil cleansing method a few years ago, initially with sunflower seed oil, then moving to coconut oil. I rarely use this method anymore, as my skin has improved so drastically. I was using coconut oil for facial and body moisturizing during that time, but found that it’s actually a pretty drying oil! My favorite fat to moisturize with is now tallow- cow’s fat! Of course it’s organic, grassfed tallow, but I have never had an oil moisturize so well! I read that the chemical composition is the closest (I think behind lard) to human sebum. Has anyone else given tallow a try?

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 7, 2015 at 9:10 pm

      Agreed on the coconut oil. Love it for just about everything but it doesn’t work for me as a great moisturizer.

    • Reply Megan October 8, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Love tallow. Although for me, it still smells like beef fat. Do you mix it with essential oils?

  • Reply Kim October 7, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Great list and so timely too! Our heating is starting to dry out my skin in a major way. I’m wondering whether you have any recommendation for face oils? Or do you just use the body oils? I’ve been using the Badger Rose oil of late, which I do like but I am looking to upgrade, or just for a change. Must be the change in the air!

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 7, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      Post to come!

  • Reply Lauren October 7, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    The new website looks amazing! Crisp and clean and perfect for a new season ahead.
    Coconut is my go to oil. I mix it with frankincense essential oil and keep a small jar in the shower. Massaged into my face and the rest of my body, it makes a wonderful moisturizer with a warming and peaceful scent. Sweet almond oil sounds luxurious so I may have to give that a try!

  • Reply Cait October 8, 2015 at 12:37 am

    Those blends sound so lovely…I use olive oil for make up remover, oil cleansing, and moisturizing, though it doesn’t work for everyone face-wise. I need to add essential oils more often when I fill up my little bottle!

  • Reply Kadienne October 8, 2015 at 3:34 am

    Just picked up some peppermint oil at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. (Anyone know of a similar place in Brooklyn?) I usually stay away from oils because of the grease factor, but that stuff absorbs right into skin. After days of traveling, it worked wonders on sore muscles & the smell wakes you right up!

  • Reply jiturka October 8, 2015 at 4:00 am

    With this article I realised that since I’ve moved, I haven’t seen my own oil mix around – made of olive oil, argan oil and castor oil. It is a bit on the heavy side, but I use it over my day cream in winter not to get dry rashes. And on the ends of my hair 🙂 Maybe it stayed in one of the boxes. I used to buy rose oil, and oh my, that was heaven on face. But they changed the packaging, not to my liking. Plus it was quite expensive.
    I still use unscented body lotion for my underarms, before using an antiperspirant, but else I find it doesn’t help much on my dry legs or arms.
    Another thing that hasn’t been mentioned here: I occasionally use aromatherapy-shower oil, which is perfect when you have to shower too many times for my skin’s liking in summer – my skin doesn’t really appreciate showering more than once daily, or when the heating season starts. I use one with melissa.

  • Reply Geraldine October 8, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Oils… I love using them, even if my husband hates the smell and calls them repellents.
    My favourite:
    Calendula oil (perfect when I have some kind of weirdness happening on my face)
    Coconut oil (makeup remover and hair moisturizer and body scrub when mixed with black tea, sugar and salt)
    Argan oil (for hair as well)
    Thanks for the tips and brands, and beautiful new website!

    Cheers
    Géraldine (www.nimportequoipourdesgensbien.com)

  • Reply Jordan October 8, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    I use the One Love Organic’s Gardenia + Tea, and I also was intimidated by the spray handle. But then I started using it and found I was thankful for it due to slippery fingers! It actually makes so much sense during application. Looking forward to trying my own this winter for a change up, great post!

  • Reply Megan October 8, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Emu oil. It doesn’t at all smell like you’d imagine an emu to smell. Ha! Quite neutral, really. And it does glorious things for my skin. Apparently I’m not the only one, there seems to be quite a bit of science around all the good in emu oil. Right now I’m using the Walkabout brand.

  • Reply Erin February 26, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    I recently made a massage oil out of sweet almond and jojoba. Not knowing much about essential oils, I mixed patchouli (which to my delight doesn’t smell nearly as “dirty hippie” when you buy the good stuff as my memories of it in college), eucalyptus, and lavender – it’s an amazingly light and heavenly trio.

    I may have to venture into avocado oil for my “maturing skin” as my 5 year old daughter drew a lovely portrait of me this week with four squiggles over my eyes which she told me were my lines… *sigh*

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