Which facial oil to choose? A budget-friendly solution for skin barrier | Sunflower seed oil

Sunflower seed oil might not be the most glamorous or exotic of skincare oils, but it could actually be the best for your skin. It's got a nourishing and comforting consistency that can help treat dryness and irritation more effectively than other popular plant-based alternatives like marula, argan, jojoba or rosehip. Plus sunflower seed oil is also far cheaper and easier to get hold of - making it an ideal product for anyone looking to care for their skin barrier on a budget.

Dermatological studies have compared the skincare effects of sunflower seed oil with that of other oils like olive oil, and results show that it can produce far better results. In one study volunteers applied olive oil on one arm and sunflower seed oil on another. The skin treated with sunflower seed oil showed improved hydration levels whereas the “olive oil” arm worsened in its barrier function - showing how some skincare oils can worsen dryness over time rather than remedy it.

So why is sunflower seed oil so much better?

It all comes down to its high levels of linoleic acid, a fatty acid that works well to protect the skin barrier and keeps it hydrated. Unfortunately other skincare oils have lower levels of this acid. That's why they often fail to produce good results, while sunflower seed oil has been proven to be an effective moisturizer in multiple studies.

Sunflower seed oil is a powerhouse for our skin, due to its high content of linoleic acid. This essential fatty acid helps address the root cause of dryness and can soften the upper layer while reducing water loss from its surface. It can also help reduce inflammation, making it a great ingredient for acne-prone and sensitive skin.

Another benefit of sunflower seed oil is its safety: unless you are allergic to sunflowers, you can apply it on your skin without fear of irritation. The safety of unoxidized sunflower seed oil in skincare is comparable to the dermatological cold standard mineral oil. Studies have shown that sunflower seed oil is safe and helpful, even for the vulnerable skin of prematurely born infants (the same holds true for mineral oil, of course).

What makes sunflower seed oil stand out even more among other plant oils is its affordability. In fact, it is one of the cheapest moisturizing ingredients available and often costs less than petroleum-derived moisturizers.

A caveat

Still, while sunflower seed oil is without doubt one of the best skincare gifts of nature, there is one important caveat. As with all plant oils, sunflower seed oil is prone to oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical process. When a plant oil comes into contact with oxygen or sunlight, it starts a chemical reaction. As a result of this, the original compounds of the oil degrade and so you cannot expect the same benefits from an oxidized oil compared to the original. What is even worse is that oxidation produces new chemicals, such as peroxides, which are harmful and irritating to the skin. Unfortunately, the same compound -- linoleic acid -- that makes sunflower seed oil helpful to the skin's barrier function also makes it more prone to oxidation. The higher the linoleic acid content of an oil, the quicker it oxidizes.

In fact, for industrial purposes (including food), people typically use sunflower plants that have been modified (through breeding or gene editing) to produce seeds with lower linoleic acid content - sometimes as little as half of the linoleic acid content of a seed from a “conventional” sunflower. This helps improve the oil stability and make it both more affordable and convenient for food consumption. However, this means that using the sunflower seed oil from your kitchen cabinet, even if it is not oxidized, might not be as beneficial to your skin as shown in studies.

All in all, sunflower seed oil is an excellent moisturizing ingredient. It is probably the best commonly available plant oil for your skin. There are two things to keep in mind for making the best out of this oily plant goodness for the skin:

  1. Linoleic acid content: Not all sunflower seed oils are created equal. The type that is sold for cooking almost certainly has less linoleic acid and will not work well as a skin moisturizer.

  2. Oxidation risk: Sunflower seed oil can oxidize quickly. To reduce the risk of oxidation, it is better to avoid "pure" oil products (100% sunflower seed oil) and opt for products with a solid antioxidant and preservative system in them. Lotions and creams that have sunflower seed oil only as one of their ingredients are also more likely to oxidize less quickly. Do not be tempted to use sunflower seed oil (or any other plant oil) that you think might be oxidized; it will harm, rather than benefit, your skin.

If you're searching for a great, economical oil to nourish your face that provides plenty of skin-soothing and healing benefits, look no further than sunflower seed oil! This great ingredient can help alleviate dryness or irritation and also helping reduce acne. Additionally, even those with sensitive skin types (even babies!) can benefit from its gentle properties. However, be sure to purchase it in the beauty aisle rather than using the one found in your kitchen cupboard.


Effect of Olive and Sunflower Seed Oil on the Adult Skin Barrier: Implications for Neonatal Skin Care https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1525-1470.2012.01865.x

Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/19/1/70

Use of “natural” oils for moisturization: Review of olive, coconut, and sunflower seed oil https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/pde.13621