You know Italians are obsessed with olive oil, right? It’s our go-to oil for cooking. We drizzle it on salads and bruschettas, we use it to make pesto and pasta sauces and cook meat or fish with it. We even put it on our skin when it’s dry. But when it comes down to deep-frying, my mum leaves her beloved olive oil on the kitchen cupboard. Instead, she reaches out for a bottle of sunflower oil. Yes, we Italian cheat on olive oil sometimes. For a good reason. Sunflower oil has a higher smoking point so it’s best for cooking at higher temperatures.
This got me thinking about sunflower oil for skin. It’s a key ingredient in many moisturisers, yet it never gets the spotlight. It’s rare you see “sunflower oil” on the label. Does this mean sunflower oil is second best for skin, an oil you use when you’re looking for a cheap moisturising ingredient. Or is it another little underappreciated gem? Let’s investigate what science says about the benefits of sunflower oil for skin:
- What Is Sunflower Oil?
- Sunflower Oil Benefits For Skin
- Side Effects Of Sunflower Oil
- Can Sunflower Oil Clog Pores?
- Is Sunflower Oil Safe To Use During Pregnancy?
- Is Sunflower Oil Good For Sensitive Skin?
- How to Use It
- Is Sunflower Oil The Same As Safflower Oil?
- What Are The Best Skincare Products With Sunflower Oil?
- The Bottom Line
What Is Sunflower Oil?
Sunflower Oil (or Helianthus Annuus, as scientists like to call it) is a clear to pale gold liquid extracted from sunflower seeds. It’s made up mostly of fatty acids, including Linoleic Acid (48-74%), Oleic Acid (14-40%), Palmitic Acid (4-9%) and Stearic Acid (1-7%). Depending on the type of sunflower oil you use (yes, there’s more than one type of sunflower oil), the ratios change.
For example some types of sunflower oils are high in lineolic acid while others in oleic acid. In case you’re wondering, these differences depend on the genetics of the plant and where it was grown. But they ALL contain a huge dollop of vitamin E, an antioxidant with hydrating properties. Sunflower oil absorbs quickly into your skin and delivers some serious hydration.
Related: What Does Vitamin E Does For Your Skin?
Need help creating the best skincare routine for you dry skin? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Dry Skincare Routine Cheatsheet” (it includes product recommendations, too!).
Sunflower Oil Benefits For Skin
Remember all those fatty acids I’ve just told you about? They are super moisturising and make sunflower oil a great option for dry skin that needs some extra TLC. Here are all the benefits of sunflower oil:
- It moisturises skin: Sunflower oil creates a barrier on the skin that locks in moisture. “Because of its high fatty acid concentration, sunflower oil has great emollient benefits, helping to improve skin barrier function and maintain hydration,” says New York City-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. This makes even the driest of skin types soft and smooth and helps sensitive skin better withstand the assaults of the environment.
- It prevents wrinkles: I’ve already mentioned that sunflower oil is a rich source of Vitamin E. This powerful antioxidants fights off free radicals before they can give you wrinkles.
- It soothes skin: A 2005 study also discovered that sunflower oil lowers the rate of infections in low-birth-weight premature infants. It does this better than Aquaphor (you know, the treatment that uses petrolatum). The skin of premature babies is underdeveloped and more prone to infections. Sunflower oil helps strengthen their skin’s protective barrier, keeping them safe. Plus, “It has been well studied to treat skin conditions like dryness and eczema,” adds Zeichner.
Related: How To Strengthen Your Skin’s Protective Barrier (And Why It Matters)
Side Effects Of Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil is generally considered to be safe. “Because it’s an anti-inflammatory, that’s helping patients that have barrier issues in atopic dermatitis, and it is unlikely to cause a reaction,” says board-certified dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD. “Usually, those ingredients that have that kind of interaction with the body very rarely end up causing any negative impact.”
Can Sunflower Oil Clog Pores?
Like most oils, sunflower oil can clog pores – but that doesn’t mean it will. Whether or not it makes you break out depends on your skin type and how much oil you’re using, i.e. whether sunflower oil is at the top or bottom of the ingredient list. It’s the dose that makes the poison, kids.
You’re more likely to get a breakout if you have oily skin. Some of the fatty acids that deeply moisturise skin can clog pores and give you acne. Dry skin? They’ll moisturise skin without any unpleasant side effects.
Related: What Ingredients Are Comedogenic?
Is Sunflower Oil Safe To Use During Pregnancy?
Yes, sunflower oil is safe to use during pregnancy, especially if the hormones are drying out your skin. There’s no research that shows it poses any risk for mum and baby.
Is Sunflower Oil Good For Sensitive Skin?
Yes, sunflower oil is suitable for sensitive skin for multiple reasons. It helps strengthens the skin’s protective barrier against irritants and environmental aggressors. It soothes irritations. And, although it’s not impossible, it’s highly unlikely to cause a negative reaction.
How to Use It
It depends on whether you’re using sunflower oil alone or in a skincare product. If it’s in a night moisturiser or oil, use it as the last step of your skincare routine at night. If it’s in a serum, use it right before moisturiser.
How Often Should You Use It?
You can use it up to twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Keep in mind, in the morning it can take a while to absorb and could cause pilling under your sunscreen. Once a day is enough too, so don’t stress it if you can’t use it in the morning.
Who Should Use It?
Due to its moisturising and anti-inflammatory properties, sunflower oil is best for dry and sensitive skin that needs extra moisture (without the irritation).
Can You Use Sunflower Oil With Retinoids?
Yes, not only you can. You should. Retinoids are a family of anti-aging ingredients that fight free radicals and boost collagen production. They both reduce the wrinkles you already have and prevent new ones from forming.
But, they’re a double-edged sword. They work, but there’s a cost. They can irritate your skin and cause dryness, especially when used too much too often. Sunflower oil has moisturising and soothing properties that can counteract the drying and irritating effects of retinoids.
Is Sunflower Oil The Same As Safflower Oil?
Sunflower and safflower sound very similar – and there are times when I too confuse them on an ingredient list. But, they’re NOT the same thing! Safflower’s Latin name is Carthamus Tinctorium and is a completely different plant.
Ok, they have some similarities. They both contain unsaturated fats and are deeply moisturising. But they have a different ration of fatty acids. For example, sunflower oil is higher in oleic acid (30% VS 13.75%) and lower in linoleic acid (59% VS 76.22%).
What does this mean for you? Not much. As I mentioned, they’re both very moisturising. Just use the one you like the most, but don’t stress too much about this.
What Are The Best Skincare Products With Sunflower Oil?
- Byoma Hydrating Recovery Oil ($18.99): A lightweight oil with sunflower, macadamia, and jojoba oils to strengthen the skin’s protective barrier and make even the driest of skin types softer and smoother. Available at Boots, Byoma, Cult Beauty, Sephora, and Ulta.
- Murad Resurgence Age-Balancing Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30 / PA+++ ($87.00): A high, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a moisturising base and a sprinkle of soothing ingredients to reduce sun-induced inflammation. Available at Murad and Ulta.
- Pacifica Wake Up Beautiful Retinoid Serum ($18.00): A moisturising serum with Granactive Retinoid, a gentler form of retinoid, to fight wrinkles while making skin softer and smoother. Available at Cult Beauty, Pacifica and Ulta.
The Bottom Line
I can’t see sunflower oil taking the place of olive oil in my skincare routine (I don’t want olive oil to get too jealous 😉 ), but if you’re looking for a natural moisturiser for dry and sensitive skin, this is up for the job.