Skin Barrier Oils

Plant Oils for Wound Healing and Skin Barrier

Oils have been used in skin care for centuries. They are beloved for their hydrating and nourishing properties, and are a part of most estheticians’ professional skin care kits. But, have you ever wondered exactly how plant oils function on the skin, and whether they do anything other than form an occlusive, protective barrier? How exactly do plant oils nourish, protect and hydrate the surface of the skin? Are all plant oils created equally? Here is a breakdown of 11 plant oils and how exactly they benefit the skin.


Every plant oil contains a different chemical constitution of various compounds. These compounds include triglycerides, fatty acids, tocopherols, phospholipids, waxes, squalene and phenolic compounds. Each compound affects the skin differently when applied topically. What’s more, each plant oil differs in the type and amount of each compound present.

A good overall strategy is to seek oils much higher in linoleic than oleic acid.

In order to understand why certain plant oils are better for barrier repair or wounding healing than others, we must first understand two key players in the formulation of an oil, and how they work with and against each other. Meet Linoleic and Oleic Acids.

Linoleic Acid – Linoleic acid plays a large role in maintaining the integrity of the water permeability barrier of the skin.

Oleic Acid – On the other hand, oleic acid disrupts the skin barrier, eventually causing dermatitis with continual application.

How a particular oil affects the skin comes down to the ratio, or balance, between the oil’s linoleic acid and oleic acid concentrations. A good overall strategy is to seek oils much higher in linoleic than oleic acid, but it ultimately depends on the result you are seeking. For example, some oils higher in oleic acid have been shown to possess wound-healing benefits.

Let’s review several popular plant oils and how their linoleic and oleic acid ratios compare:

1. Olive Oil

Olive oil comes from the fruits of the olive tree, Olea europaea. It consists primarily of oleic acid and has a lesser concentration of linoleic acid. Olive oil is abundant in antioxidants, arming olive oil with anti-inflammatory properties. Due to its high oleic acid concentration, olive oil has been shown to have superior wound healing capabilities, reducing oxidative damage and promoting dermal reconstruction. However, topically applied olive oil has a negative effect on the stratum corneum and skin barrier function. There is evidence of increased trans-epidermal water loss after topical olive oil application. Researchers believe the reason olive is so great at wound healing is that the oleic acid may help facilitate the earliest stages of healing, such as inflammation and stimulating skin reconstruction.

Overall, olive oil is a good choice for clients with damaged skin after invasive lasers and peels.

2. Sunflower Seed Oil

Sunflower oil is derived from the seeds of the Helianthus annus plant. Like olive oil, sunflower oil also has a higher concentration of oleic acid than linoleic acid, but the linoleic acid is present in a high enough quantity to have some skin barrier benefits. In fact, sunflower seed oil has been shown to protect the stratum corneum and improve skin hydration without causing irritation. Sunflower seed oil is also skin barrier enhancing and promotes homeostasis.

3. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is harvested from the meat of ripe coconuts. It is comprised of several fatty acids, including lauric acid, palmitic acid, and mystic acid. Coconut oil has a low concentration of both oleic and linoleic acids. Studies have shown that coconut oil is effective at improving the skin barrier and decreasing trans epidermal water loss.

4. Safflower Seed Oil

Safflower seed oil comes from Carthamus tinctorius. It is comprised of 70 percent linoleic acid and only 10 percent oleic acid. Safflower seed oil is a great anti-inflammatory oil, and studies have shown that it has several benefits including antioxidation and melanin production inhibition.

5. Argan Oil

Argan oil is derived from the kernels of Argania spinosa. Argan oil is made up of about 80 percent mono-unsaturated fatty acids, and 20 percent fatty acids, as well as compounds such as tocopherols, sterols and squalene. Topical application of argan oil has been shown to improve skin elasticity, hydration and barrier function. It does this by improving the skin’s water-holding capacity. Argan oil is a great oil for dehydrated skin in need of skin barrier strengthening.

6. Avocado Oil

Avocado oil comes from the fruit of the Persea americana. It is comprised of oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids, in order of abundance. It is also a good source of vitamins A, C, D, E and minerals. Avocado oil is an effective wound healing oil and is a good source of nourishement for dry and damaged skin. Offer avocado oil to clients experiencing wind burn or chapped skin during the winter.

7. Borage Seed Oil

Derived from the seeds of Borago officinalis, borage seed oil contains high levels of linoleic acid, making it effective at soothing conditions like atopic dermatitis. Studies have also shown that borage seed oil is excellent at decreasing trans epidermal water loss on the skin.

8. Jojoba Seed Oil

Jojoba seed oil is popular and a widely used oil. Harvested from the Simmondsia chinensis, Jojoba is a highly stable and resistant oil, making it ideal for use in cosmetics. Studies have shown that the high content of wax esters in jojoba oil make it suitable for skin barrier repair and for healing conditions such as dermatitis, eczema and acne. Jojoba is also an effective anti-inflammatory and is good for all skin types.

9. Oat Oil

Oat oal, derived from Avena sativa, consists of about 40 percent linoleic acid and approximately 30 percent oleic acid. Although the oleic acid may distrupt the skin barrier, the superior amount of linoleic acid ultimately renders oat oil great for skin rashes, eczema, and burns. Studies have also shown oat oil to be effective at increasing ceramide levels in the skin.

10. Rose Hip Seed Oil

Extracted from the seeds of Rosa canina, rose hip seed oil is an abundant source of linoleic acid. It is high in antioxidants, tocopherols and carotenoids. This oil is great for decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress.

11. Shea Butter

From the kernels of the Vitellaria paradoxa tree, shea butter is rich in tocopherols, phenols, sterols and triterpenes. It is frequently used in cosmetic products and is a potent anti-inflammatory. Shea butter has also been shown to have some influence in producing ceramides precursors, which may lead to skin barrier repair and strengthening.