Maintaining a fabulous face requires a good moisturizer. But over-the-counter face creams can leave you with sticker shock. And that isn’t their only problem; many are also filled with questionable synthetic ingredients that aren’t good for you or the planet.

That’s why natural face oils are becoming the new go-to moisturizer for women (and men) seeking a healthier, more affordable skin-care routine. Derived from plants, these oils — everything from old standbys like olive oil and coconut oil to new options like argan oil and marula oil — typically contain few toxins or added ingredients.

Granted, not all beauty oils are cheap, but few are as ultra-pricey as specialty moisturizers. And some are downright bargains. Even better, you may already have a few on hand in your kitchen.

While there’s not (yet) a ton of scientific evidence on their benefits, many reports suggest they can be effective against dry skin and other skin ailments. The best way to decide is to try them for yourself. Just be sure to conduct a patch test first by rubbing oil onto a small area of skin and waiting at least 48 hours to make sure there are no adverse reactions.

That said, here are eight oils that may deserve a spot in your beauty regimen.

Coconut oil

This trendy kitchen staple isn’t just for cooking. It also moisturizes skin and has cleansing and therapeutic properties to boot. Available widely in grocery and drug stores, as well as online, this tropical treat is reasonably priced and easy to apply. Coconut oil usually comes in solid form with a consistency akin to lard, unless the outside temperature is above 76 degrees F, then it turns to oil.

You can help prevent dry, itchy and scaling skin by taking a small amount of coconut oil in your palm, rubbing your hands together to melt it, and massaging it into your face and other desired areas. Let it soak in for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove the excess with a tissue or rinse with warm water. Coconut oil also works as a makeup remover, facial scrub and may help prevent wrinkles and signs of aging. In addition, it has antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory benefits that can make it effective against eczema, psoriasis, skin infections, acne and sunburn symptoms.

coconut oil Don’t let coconut oil’s lard-like consistency deter you from exploring its skin beauty benefits. (Photo: sunny mama/flickr)

FYI: Coconut oil also comes in liquid form resembling regular cooking oil. Experts recommend sticking with the solid stuff, though, because liquid coconut oil is processed. Meaning it’s stripped of much of its lauric acid — the stuff that provides all that bacteria- and inflammation-fighting power, as well as its moisturizing ability. Coconut oil may not be for everyone. Some acne-prone users complain of increased breakouts and those with extremely dry skin sometimes notice it gets even drier with use.

Olive oil

This kitchen must-have isn’t just a key ingredient in the ultra-healthy Mediterranean diet; it also bolsters your skin. And like coconut oil it’s reasonably priced. Granted, there’s not yet a vast amount of research on olive oil’s skin benefits, but a lot is promising. For one thing, it contains important vitamins like A, D, E and K that keep skin healthy. It also offers antioxidant protection against damaging free radicals that can cause premature aging and protects skin after sun exposure. Olive oil has antibacterial properties as well, though early research suggests it may not work quite as effectively as coconut oil in fighting skin bacteria. Use it as a moisturizer and wrinkle reducer, removing excess with a tissue so it doesn’t clog pores. Or mix it with sea salt to make an exfoliating scrub.

FYI: A recent study shows that olive oil can cause redness and damage to infants and some adults with atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema). When buying olive oil, look for high-quality brands (those with certification from the International Olive Council). Stick with cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils that aren’t heavily processed and don’t contain chemicals or additives that may hurt skin.

Argan oil

Morocco is home to the argan tree (Argania spinosa L.), which produces nuts containing kernels that are ground and pressed to create this versatile oil. Used for centuries and packed with vitamins A and E, as well as antioxidants and fatty acids like omega 9 (oleic) and omega 6 (linoleic), argan oil is brimming with anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antimicrobial properties that make it particularly powerful at fighting acne, skin infections, bug bites and skin rashes. It also makes a great facial anti-aging moisturizer and skin toner. Best of all, it does all this without clogging pores.

women's argan oil cooperative Women in an argan oil cooperative in Essaouira, Morocco. (Photo: ZiLiv/flickr)

FYI: Argan oil can be pricey because it’s rare and difficult to produce. Read the label to make sure it’s 100 percent pure. That said, if price isn’t an issue, using argan oil allows you to help the environment and promote social justice. Argan trees prevent soil erosion and protect water reserves in Morocco’s desert, and are so ecologically vital that the country’s argan forest was named a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco in 1998. The trees are threatened from overuse and deforestation, but the rising popularity of argan oil has boosted demand and is actually working to protect the trees. In addition, women’s cooperatives have sprung up to produce argan oil, which provides them with income, as well as autonomy and higher status in their male-dominated society.

Marula oil

This oil shares a lot of similarities with argan oil. For one thing, it’s derived from tree nuts — in this case from the marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea), which is native to southern Africa. Likewise, it contains skin-enhancing vitamins, fatty acids and antioxidants, and has been used for hundreds of years to protect skin and treat various conditions. Light, quickly absorbed, and brimming with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, it can help reverse sun damage, build collagen to prevent aging, boost skin cell growth, prevent eczema, and moisturize and protect skin from environmental wear and tear.

FYI: Marula oil (like argan oil) can take a bite out of your budget, though you only need a few drops to moisturize your face. Look for 100 percent pure oil. It’s also mostly harvested by female-run collectives, so using it helps these women gain economic and social independence.

Jojoba oil

This waxy oil comes from the nut of the jojoba plant (Simmondsia chinensis), a shrub that grows wild in the arid southwestern United States and Mexico. It closely resembles human sebum (a waxy substance produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands) and seems to have many beauty benefits due to its multitude of nourishing vitamins and minerals. It moisturizes skin without feeling greasy and soothes sunburns, plus its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties can help fight eczema and psoriasis. And because it modulates sebum production, which clogs pores and causes oily skin, jojoba oil may also be an effective acne fighter.

jojoba nut Jojoba oil is extracted from the nut of the jojoba plant, an indigenous shrub from arid regions in the U.S. and Mexico. (Photo: Katja Schulz/Wikimedia Commons)

FYI: Widely available, this multipurpose oil won’t break the bank. It also appears to be fairly safe, though some people report rashes and allergic reactions. Watch that you don’t ingest it, though, because jojoba contains erucic acid, a chemical that can prompt severe side effects, including heart damage.

Vitamin E oil

Easy to find in stores and online — and at a reasonable price — natural vitamin E oil is derived from vegetable oils, including soybean oil. And similar to other face oils, it offers a treasure trove of skin benefits due to its free-radical- and inflammation-fighting antioxidants. It’s been shown to moisturize skin, promote wound healing, ease sunburns, and relieve itching and dry skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. However, other claims, such as preventing skin cancer and reducing wrinkles, haven’t panned out in research.

FYI: Some people have allergic reactions to vitamin E oil, and it may make some skin conditions worse. Always try the patch test first. Pure vitamin E oil can be thick and sticky — and is therefore often mixed with other oils and additives. Be sure to read the label before buying to see what it contains.

Avocado oil

Derived from the edible pulp inside avocados, this oil contains a rich assortment of fatty acids, as well as antioxidant-rich vitamins and minerals that benefit the skin. It can be used to hydrate, plus its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects help heal problem areas such as wounds, sunburns, psoriasis and acne. One thing to consider is its consistency. Pure avocado oil is very thick and heavy. On the plus side, it absorbs quickly without leaving a greasy feeling, but it may be best for dry, chapped and dehydrated skin and not for use on oilier skin.

avocado oil Avocado oil is pressed from the creamy pulp inside that surrounds the pit. (Photo: liz west/flickr)

FYI: Avocado oil is fairly affordable and can be found online and in stores. Like olive oil, stick with brands that are cold-pressed and extra virgin — meaning they undergo only minimal processing and retain more of their nutrients and antioxidants. Look for avocado oils packaged in opaque or dark bottles that protect it from light exposure.

Rosehip oil

Also called rosehip seed oil, this increasingly popular beauty aid contains an abundance of antioxidants, vitamins and essential fatty acids. Made from the seeds of wild rose bushes found mainly in Chile (specifically from the fruit called rosehips that are left once the rose petals have fallen off), this oil has a long history of use as a healing agent by the Mayans, Native Americans and other cultures. It seems to work on all skin types (except maybe acne-prone skin) and not only hydrates but may improve skin tone, stimulate collagen production, soothe sun damage, minimize age spots, and reduce acne scarring, eczema and possibly even rosacea. Massage it gently into your face two times a days. Rosehip oil absorbs quickly and you only need a few drops to keep your face soft and supple.

FYI: Rosehip oil is budget-friendly. However, you may want to invest in a slightly pricier cold-pressed brand that retains more nutrients. Because it’s delicate, keep it in the refrigerator or a dark, cool location to prevent it from going rancid.

8 face oils for smoother, healthier skin
Natural face oils are the new go-to moisturizer. Here are eight oils that deserve a spot in your beauty regimen.