Laced with a new versatility and luxuriousness, oils are making a comeback
If ever there were beauty ingredients whose reputation needed revising, it surely must be oils. Although revered by the Ancient Egyptians for their mysterious powers to heal the skin in the searing heat beside the Nile, many of us shy away from oils, fearful of complexions becoming spotty, our hair greasy. Yet now, fuelled by progressive science and a gradual change in consumer attitudes, the trade winds of their reputation are shifting once again. For it is their ability to stimulate the senses, soothe the psyche, regenerate the skin and, according to market researchers NPD Group, form the suspension for smart new make-up formulations that makes them the new driving force behind the prestige beauty industry.
But is it any wonder? Oils are ritualistic, laden with cultural associations and an exoticism that speaks of the sun-soaked shores from which many originate. So let the most modern of oily concoctions drip decadently through your fingers in pursuit of their potent beauty benefits.
We talk of the placatory effects of ‘pouring oil on troubled waters’. Behind the biblical connotation lies the very definition of oil in its chemical sense: a substance that refuses to dissolve in water. As aromatherapist and facialist Annee de Mamiel says, this quality not only imbues oils with unique properties, but also means there’s one for every skin type. ‘While oils are hydrophobic, their fundamental chemistry is similar to that of human sebum, lending them a natural affinity with the skin,’ she explains. ‘Each oil also has its own personality, capable of delivering different skin benefits. So even oily skin types can reap the rewards of using antiseptic, anti-inflammatory ylang-ylang or decongesting grapefruit oil.’ Indeed, in her new Autumn Facial Oil, de Mamiel has added softening sea buckthorn oil and immune-boosting elderberry to make two spot-reducing varieties, perfect for sensitive skin in winter.
Elsewhere, merging essential skin sustenance with a sense of opulence, Aromatherapy Associates’ signature oils for Mandarin Oriental are inspired by the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water). With names such as Awaken, Bloom, Flourish, Release and Reflect, they allow you to continue your holistic spa journey at home.
That someone may be deemed ‘no oil painting’, if they fall short of today’s rigorous beauty aesthetic, is indicative of the beautifying effects of oleaginous delights. Arabella Preston, make-up artist and creator of the Votary Jasmine and Calendula Facial Oil, likes to press a smidgen of oil onto cheekbones after applying foundation to highlight and define them, or run it through brows to condition and add shine. Like de Mamiel, Preston is keen to refute some of the common misconceptions about oils. ‘Many women are aghast at the idea of using an oil beneath make-up, for fear it would make them look greasy,’ she says. 'Yet applying just three drops of oil encourages you to massage it into the face, thereby avoiding greasiness while boosting circulation. Plumped-up, dewy skin needs less make-up to look radiant.'
Between the traditionally accepted natural and high-tech beauty camps, oils have seemingly drizzled automatically into the former. Yet with new scientifically advanced hybrids emerging, the gap is drawing ever closer. Inspired by the feel of organza against the skin, Giorgio Armani’s Maestro Fusion Makeup foundation is a suspension of volatile oils that evaporate at different rates, leaving a veil of pigment for flawless yet naked-looking skin. Similarly, the presence of oil has allowed the formulators of Estée Lauder’s Genuine Glow Reviving Oil Lip Tint to create a luxurious new texture. Upon contact, lips are drenched in a delicious butteriness as the translucent formula cleverly heightens their natural tone. Even lashes have struck oil thanks to Yves Saint Laurent’s Mascara Vinyl Couture. According to the brand’s Scientific Communications Director, Caroline Nègre, its ‘liquid technology’ allows a complex of four oils to mix with intense colour pigments, nurturing strong glossy lashes in shades of electric blue, violet or jade green.
This fascination with using oils to burnish all elements of the face is typical of what catwalk make-up artists would refer to as ‘gym skin’ or a ‘post-spa glow’, both of which are offshoots of the grander lifestyle movement that has turned healthy into the new beauty ideal. The same trend has made eating avocado on toast and wearing one’s Lululemon leggings inside and outside the gym the aspirational must-do for high-flying women.
Cue Jessica Lemarié-Pirès (wife of footballer Robert Pirès), French model and founder of the high-performance haircare brand Onira Organics, whose collection marries the respect for wellness with science to regenerate hair from deep within the inner cortex. The hero is the multitasking The Oil, a pre-shampoo treatment, post-wash leave-in conditioner and glossing product post blow-drying. Composed of seven oils, including the rare buriti variety from the Tree of Life in the Amazon, it promises to bestow nothing less than eternal beauty upon hair. How’s that for character rehabilitation?