Contributors: Isabel Gillies
Law & Order: SVU actress-turned-writer Gillies found a
new beauty stable in her essay "The Magic of Oils"
How I got my start: "I wanted to be a painter,
so I went to the Rhode Island School of Design. But halfway through my freshman year, I got a part in the movie Metropolitan.
After that experience, I transferred to NYU to study film. I thought being an actress was going to be easy, but it took me
10 years to make a living at it. Then after 22 years of acting, I started writing. Writing is similiar to acting because it's
about getting out what's inside. Now, I'm writing my third book, Starry Night, a young-adult novel due next fall."
The Magic of Oils
Writer and actress Isabel Gillies has a glow about her. The secret, she says,
is something simple, ancient, and powerful. Have you tried the sexiest product in history?
Photographed by Jon Paterson
I never thought oil would change my life. Falling in love? Life changing.
Being pregnant? Certainly. Writing a book? Yup. A beauty product? No. Really, no. But one did.
It started a year ago, when
I gathered on my bathroom shelf a few glass bottles filled with oils, like grape-seed, sea-buckthorn, black-currant, argan,
camellia-seed, and almond. They looked enchanting, old-fashioned, and sexy in front of the white tiles. While now there seems
to be a trend of mainstream beauty companies offering cleansing and moisturizing oils, when I began to use them, I felt like
I had found an old, rusty key to a beauty secret of ages past. But at the same time, when I unscrewed that first bottle, mixed
in with its ancient scent was a brand-new spark of excitement.
First, you have to forget what you've been taught: that
you need bubbles in order to clean your skin. You don't need foam. I promise. I haven't had bubbles on my face for almost
a year. The ritual of washing and moisturizing your face and body with oil is counterintuitive, but the act is almost as beguiling
as the results. It's not easy to slather your face with oil. It requires a little bit of work to smooth it on and rub it in.
You become more familiar with the feel of your own skin and face.
The DHC Deep Cleansing Oil ($28, dhccare.com) that I
use to wash my face is made with olive and rosemary oils—it looks and feels the same as what I pour into my pasta water
and cleans my skin of grub better than anything else. As the months passed, I saw a difference. There was a lightening of
fine lines and a general luminosity. The clogged pores on my nose—there since I was a teenager—magically disappeared.
was not an illusion. I was not under an essential-oil spell. There are scientific reasons behind the miracle work of oil,
explained Diane C. Madfes, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in NYC.
As cleansers, oils
dissolve the denser sebum that collects in our pores (aka blackheads). As moisturizers, oils rapidly penetrate the deeper
layers of the skin, protecting against the breakdown of proteins in the cell wall with fatty and linoleic acids, mimicking
what our bodies produce naturally. The oils also function as humectants, which help our skin retain moisture.
After I clean
my face, I use combinations of sweet-almond, meadowfoam, grape-seed, coconut, black-currant, and argan oils to hydrate. Argan
is probably my favorite for my face. Ironically, the lush oil comes from trees that grow in the dry and sometimes harsh conditions
of North Africa. The use of oils in beauty is ancient and universal—Cleopatra used them more than 2,000 years ago. I
like to think I'm summoning all that history when I squeeze drops of the elixirs into my palm.
Some of the oils are light,
fine fairy mists that disappear instantly into the layers of your skin. Others have a thicker consistency. They feel rich
and oily in the best, most luxurious way. The viscosity means you need to spend a few minutes circling the oil into your skin.
I carry out this process in front of the mirror. At first, I see only what is happening to my skin—does it look softer,
healthier?—but soon my thoughts drift to deeper reflections about my life. What was the day like? Did I make good decisions?
Do I feel happy? Distraught? Is there a way to make a change, or should things stay the same? Daily musings that I can get
lost in as I smooth oils under my eyes, into my temples, up and down my neck, and onto my shoulders. While the oils do their
work mending, softening, and improving, you are given a brief respite in your day to consider everything.
I love watching
my 10-year-old stepdaughter crack open vials filled with sepia-colored hot oil for her locks. Her smile widens as she feels
the warmth in her palms increase. "It's hot!" she announces and then plunges her hands into her hair, mashing it all in. Then
she sinks deep into the tub, relaxing as the oil works its magic. Just watching her do the treatment feels soothing to me.
was not the first to discover this beauty treasure. Recently, I was walking in New York with my friend, the great Czech beauty
(and former Cosmo cover girl) Paulina Porizkova, and told her of my newfound love affair with oil. She looked at me—her
skin actually glows—and said, "I have been using oil to wash my face since I was a child." Proof is in the pudding,
Oils are economical. You can invest in a bottle from a high-end brand (one of my favorites: Josie Maran 100 percent
Argan Oil, $48,sephora.com), and it will last. I also love clear, pure coconut oil (pressed from non-GMO coconut), which I
get at Whole Foods on the cheap and use copiously on my body. My husband is attracted to its faint, sweet smell. And this
particular coconut oil happens to be fun to use in the bedroom after the kids are asleep.
While some oils smell neutral,
others smell so good, they set off a primal reaction. It rocks my world that I get to use something so fragrant and beautiful
in my daily life. Sprinkling drops of lavender and clary-sage oil into a bath is a totally simple yet complex pleasure.
it's more than the aromatic indulgence and softened water. It's more than just a luxurious diversion or chance to unwind.
I am taking care of myself, and once that is done, I'm better able to take care of others. Those oil-infused baths transform
me into a gentler, more understanding person…and possibly a quieter, more confident one too.
Apply oils before your regular
Beauty brands are flooding the shelves with oils for every complexion and concern.
With their incredible textures, they'll turn your daily beauty routine into a full-on ritual.
1. Algenist Anti-Aging
Repairing Oil, $79, sephora.com
Microalgae oil helps improve skin's texture, quickly drying to a matte finish.
2. MUN No. 1 Aknari, $95, munskin.com
Massage this on before bed. It's blended with brightening prickly-pear-seed oil.
3. Origins Plantscription Youth-Renewing
face oil, $49.50, origins.com
Breakout-prone? You'll appreciate this lush yet non-acnegenic formula.
4. Nuxe limited edition Huile Prodigieuse, $45,
A cult classic, this scented multitasker turns your face, body, and hair into silk.
5. Estée Lauder Radiant Vitality Essence
Oil, $45, esteelauder.com
Its pomegranate infusion fights free radicals and imparts radiance.