Slide and groom – the best beauty oils
The TikTok trend dubbed “hair slugging” involves applying hair oil and sleeping in it – ideally while wearing some kind of shower cap or, as TikTokers have suggested, by bundling it into a sock. It’s just one of the ways oils – a beauty staple for millennia – are sliding back into the mainstream.
A renewed interest in argan oil, the vitamin E-loaded beauty panacea, kick-started it all. But now there are a number of luxurious-sounding ointments for your skin and haircare regime: including rosehip (rich in linoleic acid and good at protecting the skin from pollutants); marula (high in vitamin C, good for brightening); and camellia (one of the highest concentrations of oleic acid, which is soothing and anti-inflammatory). For when it comes to beauty, oils are good for you. Gleamingly, glisteningly, glidingly so. Without even trying, oils extracted from seeds, leaves or flowers contain the kind of ingredients you might find in a luxury anti-ageing cream, from polyphenols and triglycerides to lipids and fatty acids. But as well as the power of science, they can bring a kind of magic too.
“As you age, maintaining a healthy and resilient skin barrier should be your number one goal. For me, plant oils are the best way to do this,” says Arabella Preston, co-founder of Votary, which has a line of ultra-refined facial oil blends. “But they are also more than that. Massaging a beautiful oil into someone’s skin calms and relaxes them. Oils have a ‘glowing skin’ effect, but they have a ‘shoulder drop’ one, too.”
Professor Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University and author of Sensehacking (Penguin), attributes “the pull of those sensory triggers that are somehow primarily reminiscent of our earlier human history” to our current sensory and technological overload. He believes that returning our attention to our skin, and the sense of touch, can help us find the right balance of sensory stimulation. “We have ignored the skin for too long,” he says. “The latest developments in social, cognitive and affective neuroscience are increasingly highlighting the profoundly beneficial effects of stroking the skin.”
Sensory appeal is something body oils have in abundance. It’s hard to beat Jo Malone London’s new Jasmine & Neroli Luxury Body Oil (£88, sadly limited-edition), which uses Linda Rodin’s Olio Lusso blend as a “carrier” oil. It’s particularly unctuous, but if you are an oil-lover, you need to try it before it goes. Sbtrct’s Vitamin C Booster (£30) is a balm made from a blend of rosehip and sea buckthorn oils that you melt between your fingers. And Susanne Kaufmann’s Marigold Body Oil (£30) has a scent so pretty you won’t want to add perfume.
Indeed, perfumed oil is becoming a more mindful way to wear scent, adding a nourishing and therapeutic element. Dior recently launched a line of perfumed oils, Élixir Précieux, in potent 3g concentrates (£270), and Francisco Costa has added a chic Aroma In Oil to his Costa Brazil line (£105), dispensed by rollerball directly onto pulse points. Italian fragrance house Tocca has released Olio Sublime Profumato ($54), which reworks its bestselling scents as dry body oils, and Alexandra Soveral, who has been creating bespoke scent for 15 years, has now launched a bespoke oil bar.
Hair and scalp oils are also a huge trend, hair slugging or not. The hotel group Aman now has its own perfume and skincare line, and its Purifying Argan Scalp and Hair Oil (£65) is one of the best: it has a heavy, glossy texture that seems to coat every strand. Wash it out come morning, and hair feels both soft and substantial, the oil having swelled the cuticle. It also promises to be good for soothing eczema-prone scalps. For damaged hair (or if you can’t face an overnight treatment), Olaplex’s No7 Bonding Oil works like a styling oil (apply a few drops before blow-drying) but has brilliant softening abilities. And although Shu Uemura has been discontinued in the UK, you can still get its Essence Absolue (£44), a protective camellia oil for hair. I also love the macadamia oil (£25) by Bread, which has a lovely “cushiony” feel; as well as hair, it can be used on the face and body.
It’s perhaps for the face though, that oils have become most exciting. Here, they need to be at their most refined and intense. The best are now so light they barely feel like oils at all, such as the science-led skincare brand QMS’s Advanced Collagen Serum In Oil (£205); La Mer’s The Renewal Oil (£105); and Guerlain’s Abeille Royale Advanced Youth Watery Oil (£48), which is exceptionally light – feels more like water when you apply it – and dries almost instantly, seeming to plump and slightly lift. It also smells incredible. Aesop’s Fabulous Face Oil (£41) is a beauty insider favourite that’s light enough to use under make-up – as is Pai’s Rosehip Bioregenerate Oil (£29).
Of the notable newer face oils, there are those that lean into sustainability, such as the Swedish brand Björk And Berries’ Instant Glow Face Oil (£46), or have a mission, such as The Vitaliser from Kaeā (£125), a multi-omega face oil from New Zealand where all profits go directly to conservation and community projects. Clinical trials also show that it improves firmness by 77 per cent.
Jennifer Hirsch, a botanist who collaborates with beauty brands and is a consultant for Décleor, working with its professional-grade Aromessence oils, believes that the more we research, refine and advance the powers of oils, the better. “That’s when they stop becoming these fuzzy, lovely beauty elixirs with an antique reputation,” she says, and instead are valued for their “specialist benefits and complex chemistry”.