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Does oil cause rosacea?

Sarah F says…I’ve had more than one esthetician say this to me.  “Only use oil free products.  Otherwise, you will trigger a rosacea flare.  It’s very bad to use products containing oil when you have rosacea.”  Is there any basis to this?  I asked my dermatologist, and he had no idea what this was about.  Rosacea isn’t typically follicular in origin.  But even for acne vulgaris, I would think that some oils are fine and “oil free” is more of a marketing buzzword.  I’m no expert, but I was under the impression that some oils are not particularly comedogenic, whereas some agents that are not “oils” are.  Anyone care to shed any light?

The Beauty Brains respond:

No one knows for sure what causes rosacea but there are several theories. It could be related to how facial blood vessels cope with being flushed and dilated. Or, it could be that it’s an over active inflammatory response to some unknown pathogen. Though the exact cause is unknown, we do know that it can be worsened by harsh skin treatments, strong acne medications, and even exposure to excessive sunlight.

I could find no reference to “oils” (as if all oils are chemically identical!) being a causative factor for rosacea. But maybe (I repeat maybe) the rumor has a kernel of truth that goes something like this:

We know that over-cleansing the skin can worsen rosacea. If you’re using a lot of oily facial products you’re going to have to work that much harder to get them off your skin. So perhaps this idea came about because of people using oils on their face, and then scrubbing (or just generally using more aggressive or more frequent cleansing) to get their skin clean, which in turn triggered more rosacea.

It’s a stretch but it’s the only thing I could think of.


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  • seattlegirl January 9, 2014, 1:02 am

    google “essential oils” and rosacea, and you will find tons of information out there about it. there are different types of rosacea, so it will be up to you to figure out what’s right for you. I’ve had wonderful results with lavender oil myself. I’ve also experimented with replacing my night moisturizer with straight up oils (jojoba, sweet almond, etc) and although they turned out to be only so-so for moisturizer, none of them caused any adverse effects to my rosacea. so no, I really don’t think oils are bad for this skin condition.

    • Randy Schueller January 9, 2014, 7:05 am

      SeattleGirl: You raise a good point. I assumed that Sarah’s esthetician was referring to moisturizing oils (which is typically the context when you hear the term “oil free.”) However, essential oils (which are fragrant and more reactive than moisturizing oils) certainly can irritate skin and worsen rosacea. Maybe the esthetician meant to tell her to only use fragrance free products.

  • klee January 9, 2014, 9:47 am

    If it’s any help, I have (mild) rosacea, and found that cleansing oil actually helps! The most gentle way to remove makeup is use a cleansing oil (Shu Uemera or Boscia are both great) applied to dry skin, then wet my hands and begin to emulsify the oil. Continue wetting the hands and adding more water as the makeup dissolves and the oil turns into a cream, then milk then splash water until clean. It is much gentler than makeup remover, and doesn’t strip the skin. Depending how sensitive your skin is, you can even add a pinch of turbinado sugar to the oil when applying to make a gentle scrub, but don’t do it until you’ve got your skin under a regular program.

    • Carol Quezada January 9, 2014, 12:00 pm


      That is a great idea! I have super sensitive skin and frequently get eczema. I’ll try your suggestion.

  • Sarah F. January 9, 2014, 12:29 pm

    I did have a reaction to the green shu uemura oil. Not sure what is in it.

    • Randy Schueller January 9, 2014, 1:26 pm

      Looks like the Shu Uemura product contains a number of allergens so fragrance could be the culprit.

      mineral oil, corn germ oil, polysorbate 85, safflower seed oil, cetyl ethylhexanoate, sorbitan trioleate, jojoba seed oil, sea water, squalane, glycerin, macadamia ternifolia seed oil, propylene glycol, tocopherol, limonene, hexyl cinnamal, benzyl salicylate, linalool, butylphenyl methylpropional, alpha-isomethyl ionone, C12-15 alkyl benzoate, dicaprylyl carbonate, isopropyl myristate, ethyl oleate, camellia sinensis leaf extract, parfum/fragrance

  • The 6th Sense Co January 9, 2014, 4:54 pm

    Interesting article and, as oil fans, we thought we’d contribute to the discussion.

    Different oils and blends will have different affects. In actual fact, the right blend of oils will provide not only the most thorough cleanse but it will also be the most gentle cleanse too. In addition, moisturising and treatment oils will have a profound effect on all skin including those suffering from rosacea.

    And of course will certainly flare up any issues. This will be determined by a blend that is difficult to remove, that is over drying or too heavy.

    One must find the base cause of the rosacea in the first instance, and select a routine that works with the skin rather than trying to shut-off or overload oil production. In addition, once the rosacea is under control, a treatment which will help to heal scars and other issues is ideal. All best products can do this very effectively.

    Therefore oil-based products can be perfect all skin types including rosacea sufferers. What is critical is finding the right blend that works with your skin as not all orals are made equal.

  • Sarah F. January 10, 2014, 8:34 pm

    The saga continues. My experience is that powder makeup is more likely to agree with my skin more than liquid when I’m having a rosacea flare up–at least it’s a safer bet than liquid all other things being equal. Sales associate at a cosmetics counter tells me now that by using powder makeup instead of liquid, I am drying out the top layer of my skin and making my rosacea worse. Now, this is a plausible theory, but she was a condescending jerk about it (you know the type with the fake smile thinly disguising an undercurrent of passive aggression) and I am cross:)

    • Randy Schueller January 11, 2014, 7:17 am

      Pedro, that’s a very good point. I suppose the hair of young kid’s gets sweatier and dirtier than that of baby’s.

  • michelle January 12, 2014, 3:00 pm

    I have rosacea that has developed into redness, broken capillaries, skin colored bumps on my nose (mild). I also have large pores and blackheads. I’ve found that the oil cleanse method is one of the best ones (especially in the winter) for cleansing my skin. I alternate it and a very gentle foaming cleanser each day and use a gentle exfoliant once a week.

    Nothing makes the rosacea go away, but this keeps the symptoms of it at a manageable point.

  • Sarah F. January 12, 2014, 6:29 pm

    I noticed that the national rosacea society is recommending oil free makeup. http://www.rosacea.org/patients/skincare/makeuptips.php “Choose oil-free foundation and concealer” Hmm, can’t figure out how this got started.

    • Randy Schueller January 13, 2014, 7:34 am

      That is kind of surprising. If anything you’d think they’d recommend fragrance free products.

  • margaret August 13, 2015, 3:37 pm

    I have waste so much money buying all kinds of product i even went to site what would be the best natural brand to use n nuthin seem to work n my face is so oily it seemed like i put oil on my face i have mild roceasa that what the doc said i have…i even bough concealers n foundation that supposed to be gor roceasa w no old in both n were very expensive. ..now what very disappointed. ..HELP anybody ..

  • Andrea Ramsey February 13, 2017, 9:02 pm

    I’ve done a lot of reading on the topic and found multiple studies that hinted excess oil is a breeding ground for mites. The mites short lifespan is what eventually leads to the flushing and acne. I’ve found that using a drying cleanser and light moisturizer has been best. If I do feel compelled to use an oil because sometimes I can’t help myself, I reach for oils high in linoleic acid.

  • Felix June 22, 2017, 10:49 am

    Just gonna drop my two cents in – anything oil KILLS me. Immediate flare ups, followed by acne. No, just no.

  • Ritika April 10, 2018, 11:08 am

    I have also been told to use oil free products. But there are so many great products out there that I want to try, and a lot of them have seed oil. I am afraid but I kind of want to try to see what will happen. I have had flare ups with other products with oils. But I am wondering if natural oils are better? I know mineral oil can be bad…ugh the struggle!

    • Perry Romanowski April 16, 2018, 9:28 am

      Everyone’s skin is different and all oils are not the same. You may be able to tolerate some oils.

  • Michelle January 13, 2019, 5:51 pm

    I have rosacea and have always tried to use oil free moisturizers. Now that I’m in my 50’s though, my skin feels constantly dehydrated because the oil-free moisturizers just don’t seem to hydrate my mature skin enough. It is very frustrating to try and treat sensitive, ageing, rosacea skin. If I use something oil free my skin is dehydrated–if I use something with oil my rosacea acts up. Also I can’t use anything with fragrance on my skin. I am open to any suggestions. I have spent thousands on skin care products only to throw them away when they make things worse.

  • Amanda December 4, 2019, 12:18 pm

    I have mild rosacea on cheeks, that occasionally breaks out in yellow pus spots which burn,not nice.I’ve tried ‘simple’oil cleanser and it broke out my skin,and after cleansing ,face was red on cheeks for awhile.while it’s lovely and relaxing to massage in,and takes of makeup well,sadly it broke out my skin.I also tried the applying moisteriser to damp skin (nutregena hydra boast oil free)which is meant to be better, made my skin feel dry.I tried cereve hydra cleanser and face/body cream and they were drying.No matter how many times I try something new,I always go back to my cream cleanser Guinot hydrasensitive wipe off cleanser(no water) and No7 essential day/night fragrancefree cream not lotion,I find if I use wash off cleanser every day, my skin dries out.so a couple times a week I use Guinot hydra sensitive face wash just to keep pores clear. I use spf 50 soltan face sensitive cream every day to as rosacea reacts to sun.The cleansers even though have perfum do not cause a reaction for me,I think because there wipe off and not staying on skin.I find No7 stay fondation liquid suits my skin(the normal one not oil free one),it’s fragrancefree ,non pore clogging,good coverage and non drying. I find for me this is my winning combination, it’s alot of trial and error,and not all roscea is the same.I’ve also gave up milk as I noticed I was having a bad flare up after drinking it and the difference it’s made to reddness and breakouts is amazing as it has histamines which aren’t great for sufferers.for me spice,alcohol,steam and milk are my triggers I hope this helps!