Your pantry may contain the not-so-secret ingredients to glowing skin, says Barbara Close, author of "Pure Skin: Organic Beauty Basics." Vegetable oils, especially those that are all-natural, organic and cold-pressed, contain many phytochemicals and nutrients that help moisturize, protect and strengthen your skin. In general, if an oil is safe to eat, it's ok to put on your skin, but you should never apply anything to broken or infected skin. If you have chronic dry skin, eczema, acne or another skin condition, talk to your doctor before using any treatments on your skin.
Vegetable oils are emollients, substances which soothe and soften skin. Oils that are high in linoleic acid, such as sunflower oil, work by forming a barrier, either on the surface of your skin, or in the upper layers of your skin. The barrier works in two ways -- it keeps moisture from leaving your skin and evaporating into air and it prevents chemicals, such as uric acid, from damaging skin cells. Other oils, such as olive, mustard and soy oil, reduce your skin's barrier capacity, allowing more moisture -- and other moisturizer ingredients -- to penetrate your skin.
Some vegetable oils may have anti-bacterial properties. Researchers at two outpatient clinics in the Philippines had adults with atopic dermatitis apply virgin coconut oil or virgin olive oil to skin that was positive for Staphylococcus aureus. At the end of a four-week period, 50 percent of those using olive oil, and all but one -- 5 percent -- of those using coconut oil tested negative for Staphylococcus aureus. The study group was small, but the researchers noted that previous studies also showed antibacterial effects for virgin coconut oil and a derivative of virgin olive oil.
Many vegetable oils contain phytochemicals and antioxidants which may benefit skin. Olive oil, for example, contains vitamin E in the form of alpha-tocopherol, as well as squalene, phenols and phytosterols, according to an article published in the March-April 2009 issue of Clinics in Dermatology. Many cosmetics and skin care products contain squalene because it is almost identical to human sebum -- the oil that your own body makes to lubricate your skin. Dermatologists use chemicals derived from plant phenols and sterols for skin treatment, including as chemical peel agents. The phytochemicals included in commercial cosmetics and supplements, however, have been isolated, processed and standardized for specific chemicals. Olive oil and other vegetable oils won't necessarily have the same effect on your skin.