If you’ve ever wondered what the deal is with shower oils, we can assure you that you are not alone. It’s clear that it’s for showering, but does it actually clean your skin? Should you use soap and then follow up with the oil? You might also be asking, “Why would I want to put oil on my body in the first place when I’m trying to rinse off?” Because the very concept of shower oil raises more questions than answers, you likely ignored using one in favor of your usual gel or bar soap. But the confusion ends today. We tapped some skincare experts to explain everything about shower oils and why you might actually benefit from using them.
What does shower oil do?
Dr. Lily Talakoub, a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Board of Dermatology, says shower oil is a soap-free cleanser made without a surfactant, which works like an emulsifier. Most are formulated with an ingredient that allows the oil to transform into a milky texture as soon as it hits water, and you can use it in lieu of soap or body wash. Though they may seem indulgent (and some are), they are also a handy tool in stopping dry, itchy skin before it starts, which is especially important during colder fall and winter months.
Los Angeles-based esthetician Cynthia Franco says they help build a layer of moisture on your skin and maintain its natural oils. (Hello, skin barrier.) For these reasons, many are great for those who have eczema or have other dry skin conditions. Dr. Talakoub agrees, and says those with sensitive skin would also benefit, although she suggests avoiding shower oils if you have body or back acne. Instead, it’s best to use body washes with salicylic acid and hyaluronic acid that are specifically formulated to target breakouts.
Is shower oil the same as body wash or soap?
Shower oils do not usually whip into a lather like soaps and body washes, but they still cleanse without stripping the skin of moisture. According to Dr. Talakoub, soap is an alkaline salt that lathers with water (basically a detergent for your skin). It effectively removes grime, but can also leave you dry and tight — or even damage your skin barrier. A shower gel or body wash is a water-based cleanser and is usually less stripping than bar soaps.
Pro tip: Shower oils happen to be a great alternative to shaving cream. “I love to use shower oils instead of shaving foams and gels on my legs, particularly in the winter,” says Dr. Talakoub. “It helps shave my legs without causing my skin to dry out.” Franco also recommends applying Saint Jane’s Nourishing Body Serum post-shower for even softer skin.
Here, we rounded up nine of the best shower oils — according to Franco, Dr. Talakoub, and online reviews — that are worthy of your dollars.
The Overall Best Shower Oil
Franco and Dr. Talakoub both recommend this oil that’s hypoallergenic and dermatologist tested. It’s also non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t block any pores, and the healthy amount of glycerin restores your skin barrier so your body feels clean without being stripped of moisture. With the big bottle, you really get the most out of your purchase — this will last you ages before you even think about needing a restock.
The Floral Shower Oil
This shower oil is the most “liquid-y” of the bunch thanks to an apricot seed oil that lathers into a milky broth. Its tuberose fragrance is so intense that we guarantee people will inquire about your perfume. If you’re a tuberose fan, you’ll love the scent-clinging factor, but if you prefer a less fragranced experience, you’ve been warned. You could also try Diptyque’s L’Ombre dans l’Eau, which the brand helpfully describes as “the story of daydreams, a calm river, a summer slumber under a weeping willow.” (Hou loves this one too, especially in the Philosykos or Fig scent.)
The Subtly Scented Shower Oil
This Jo Malone shower oil smells so good — like a field flush with roses. Similar to a candle, it can scent your entire apartment after a morning wash, and yet the fragrance isn’t overwhelming on your skin. Like most of the others, the oil doesn’t foam; it simply lathers into a creamy lather. Reviewers on the website have said it’s “luxury in a bottle” and “simply divine” if you needed any more convincing.
The Extra Foamy Shower Oil
Creme de Corps shower oil is definitely worthy of praise. It’s got a smooth vanilla-and-almond scent that is grown-up but not boring. The fragrance didn’t last, but that makes it perfect if you don’t want to be draped in one particular scent for eight hours straight. Your skin will also feel very soft post-shower — no surprise, as there are close to a dozen different oils in each bottle.
The Semi-Sudsy Shower Oil
This shower oil was so good we already wrote a separate review, so here are the Cliffs Notes. The fragrance is subtle, yet tinged with an adult, baby-powder scent. You can whip up a few small bubbles, but it mostly emulsifies into a milk. Of course it feels good and isn’t drying, but have you checked out its bottle? Put it in your shower, and you’ll want to leave the curtain open when guests come over.
The Skin-Softening Shower Oil
This oil isn’t too runny, so it’s easy to maneuver in the shower, and it smells like almond cookies. If you don’t mind smelling faintly of dessert in the morning, there’s no better shower oil to plop in your cart, especially for the results of super soft skin. (Beauty Director Kathleen Hou is a longtime fan too).
The Eczema-Approved Shower Oil
Lather this product in your hands before washing in the shower for a soothing cleanse that nourishes flaky, dehydrated, and irritated skin. If you and fragrance don’t get along, this has zero scent, and it’s also approved by the National Eczema Association. According to reviewers, it also works as a gentle cleanser for your face that effectively removes makeup without leaving behind any dryness.
The Vegan Shower Oil
Formulated with natural ingredients like coconut, avocado, and hibiscus-seed oil — and without silicones, parabens, and phthalates — your skin will feel so soft after using this oil-to-foam wash. It’s also packed with vitamin c, which helps brighten, hydrate, and even out your skin tone. Moisture is maintained all day long after using this shower oil, and reviewers especially love the light coconut scent.
The Luxe Shower Oil
Talk about a centerpiece for your shower. Like a jumbo version of the J’adore perfume, this fancy Dior shower oil has the same scent without being overbearing. Reviewers note that this leaves their skin incredibly smooth without drying it out or leaving residue. Most say they use it in their bathtub for a more luxurious, relaxing experience, but it does lather in the shower if you’re not a bath person.
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