American Journal of Clinical Dermatology

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 103–117 | Cite as

Natural Oils for Skin-Barrier Repair: Ancient Compounds Now Backed by Modern Science

  • Alexandra R. Vaughn
  • Ashley K. Clark
  • Raja K. Sivamani
  • Vivian Y. ShiEmail author
Review Article


Natural plant oils are commonly used as topical therapy worldwide. They are usually easily accessible and are relatively inexpensive options for skin care. Many natural oils possess specific compounds with antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-itch properties, making them attractive alternative and complementary treatments for xerotic and inflammatory dermatoses associated with skin-barrier disruption. Unique characteristics of various oils are important when considering their use for topical skin care. Differing ratios of essential fatty acids are major determinants of the barrier repair benefits of natural oils. Oils with a higher linoleic acid to oleic acid ratio have better barrier repair potential, whereas oils with higher amounts of irritating oleic acid may be detrimental to skin-barrier function. Various extraction methods for oils exist, including cold pressing to make unrefined oils, heat and chemical distillation to make essential oils, and the addition of various chemicals to simulate a specific scent to make fragranced oils. The method of oil processing and refinement is an important component of selecting oil for skin care, and cold pressing is the preferred method of oil extraction as the heat- and chemical-free process preserves beneficial lipids and limits irritating byproducts. This review summarizes evidence on utility of natural plant-based oils in dermatology, particularly in repairing the natural skin-barrier function, with the focus on natural oils, including Olea europaea (olive oil), Helianthus annus (sunflower seed oil), Cocos nucifera (coconut oil), Simmondsia chinesis (jojoba oil), Avena sativa (oat oil), and Argania spinosa (argan oil).


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

ARV, AKC, RKS and VYS report no relevant conflicts of interest.


There were no sources of funding for this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of DermatologyUniversity of California–DavisSacramentoUSA
  2. 2.Drexel University College of MedicinePhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesCalifornia State UniversitySacramentoUSA
  4. 4.Department of Medicine, Dermatology DivisionArizona Cancer Center, University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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