Why Plant-Based Oils are Actually Good For Acne

Botanic Organic Essential Oils

Many of our customers ask me to suggest skincare products for their teen or young adult children who struggle with acne. Usually I recommend the same oil serum that they've been using with great results for their own mature and sun-damaged skin. It may seem counter-intuitive, but plant based oils can actually be extremely therapeutic for problems with acne.

Those contending with acne oftentimes have inadequate levels of essential fatty acids in their skin, which can exacerbate the severity of their condition¹. Topical application of botanical oils like borage seed, hemp seed, rose hip seed, apricot seed, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed – all contain high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids – can actually improve acne conditions².

Old school thinking about acne ran with the assumption that acne suffers wouldn't need to apply any oils to their skin because the majority of people with acne already have high levels of sebum production. It was thought that adding oil products to their daily regime would only exacerbate their condition, clogging pores and leading to increased and further breakouts. It is true that there are some oils that can irritate skin, and cause these types of problems, but many botanical oils can provide important benefits. Not only can they fight inflammation and bacteria, but they can work as humectants to bind moisture to the skin. Keep in mind that aggressively drying out oily and acne prone skin may cause oil glands to overcompensate by producing an excessive amount of sebum, which may induce future breakouts.

Below we point out some of the commonly recognized causes of acne and how plant-based oils containing essential fatty acids can help.

Abnormal keratinization:  In acne-prone individuals, pores clog with dead skin cells much faster than normal. Healthy pores shed about one layer of dead skin cells per day inside the pore, but acne-prone pores shed up to five layers of dead skin cells per day. The body just can't keep up with this much shedding to keep pores clear and the oil-producing gland becomes blocked, thus causing blackheads.

Immune response and inflammation: As the dead skin cells begin to accumulate inside the pore, the cells become sticky and get stuck inside the pore forming a plug. Medically, this is called a microcomedone which is basically the precursor to all acne. The inflammatory response to microcomedones and sebum produces papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts in acne prone individuals.

Bacteria: As the oil and the dead skin cells build up, they put pressure on the cells surrounding the pore. With enough pressure, the sides of the pore rupture and the contents of the pore spread into the surrounding skin. Because this sebaceous material contains a lot of P. acnes bacteria, the surrounding skin now becomes infected, creating a red bump that we know as a pimple.

Abnormal sebum (oil) production: Acne-prone individuals have swollen sebaceous glands that overproduce oil. Additionally, the composition of essential fatty acids secreted by acne sufferers differs from those in acne-free individuals in that they exhibit lower levels of essential fatty acids in their skin surface oils, which in turn exacerbates their condition¹.

How can plant based oils help?

The use of  topical anti-inflammatory ingredients both soothes the irritation and helps stave off future inflammation. Calendula herbal oil has excellent anti-inflammatory properties that will also fight bacteria when applied topically, thereby simultaneously addressing two of the causes of acne³.  Studies have shown that calendula stimulates cell regeneration which can also help to clear acne lesions.

Topical application of oils containing linoleic acids (borage, sunflower, rose hip seed, hemp seed, pumpkin seed) can help sebum become more liquid and soothing to the skin. It also helps sebum to clear more easily from the follicles which in turn reduces inflammation inside the follicle.

Rather than battling oily skin by using harsh cleansers and astringents, which in turn may cause oil glands to overcompensate by producing an excessive amount of sebum, try using a moisturizer containing jojoba seed oil. Jojoba is composed of liquid wax esters and has a structure that closely resembles natural sebum. Topical use can assist in reducing oil production in the skin4. This reduction of sebum can help alleviate acne because sebum, unlike jojoba oil, can block pores. If there is a buildup of natural oils present in the skin, jojoba can dissolve and remove the excess sebum.

Using a blend of appropriately selected oils in your daily skincare products can help fight acne's inflammation and bacterial proliferation. The right blend of oils will also increase moisture content to create a soothing and well-tolerated approach to the treatment of acne. We recommend our Pomegranate & Argan Antioxidant Oil Serum, an intensive serum that provides a rich blend of oils high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids plus calendula and jojoba seed oils. Try mixing the perfect amount of serum for your needs with our Cucumber & Calendula Nutrient Mist to create a truly potent “on the spot” emulsion that will increase moisture, balance oil production and repair irritated skin.

Let us know how it works for you!


  1. Klouchek-Popova E, Popov A, Pavlova N, et al. Influence of the physiological regeneration and epithelialization using fractions isolated from Calendula officinalis. Acta Physiol Pharmacol Bulg.1982;8:63-67.
  2. Letawe C, Boone M, Piérard GE. Digital image analysis of the effect of topically applied linoleic acid on acne microcomedones. Clin Exp Dermatol. 1998;23:56-58. 
  3. Ukiya M, Akihisa T, Yasukawa K, et al. Anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor-promoting, and cytotoxic activities of constituents of marigold (Calendula officinalis) flowers. J Nat Prod. 2006;69: 1692-1696. 
  4. Sims J. Jojoba oil. In: Krapp K, Longe JL, eds. Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Detroit, MI: Gale Group; 2001:991-993.

Nancy Newsom
Nancy Newsom


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