Botanical oils are among our favorite skincare ingredients, and for good reason: Rich, emollient oils can be highly effective at promoting softer, smoother-looking skin. Depending on the source, some oils also have additional benefits for your skin (and hair). That’s why you’ll find plant oils in so many of our best-selling products for your skin, body, and hair.
Of all of the non-comedogenic oils we use in our formulations, evening primrose oil is undoubtedly one of our favorites. That said, it’s not as well-known as buzzier ingredients, like Cannabis sativa seed oil or even argan oil. And while it features heavily in many of our products, we often field questions from customers about how to use it and what it does (“can you put primrose oil on your face” is one query we hear often). So if you’re not super familiar with what evening primrose oil is—or what it does—you’re not alone.
Ahead, we’re sharing everything we know about evening primrose oil and how to use this powerful ingredient in your skincare routine. You’ll learn about where it comes from and its beauty benefits—plus the best Kiehl’s products with evening primrose oil that you can add to your skincare routine. Read on for your all-in-one guide to evening primrose oil.
What Is Evening Primrose Oil?
Evening primrose oil is a lightweight oil extracted from the seeds of the evening primrose flower (also known as Oenothera biennis). This small, night-blooming flower is native to North and South America and has been used in traditional and folk medicine for centuries, if not longer. Historically, Native Americans used evening primrose to care for bruises and skin irritations. In the 1600s, evening primrose oil made its way to mainland Europe, where it was touted as a cure-all for different issues, including skin concerns.
These days, evening primrose oil is a popular ingredient in both skincare products and oral health supplements. Keep in mind, however, in regards to the latter, claims about primrose oil and health conditions lack evidence. It’s also important to note that you should always consult a doctor before taking any supplements.
Research does support the topical use of evening primrose oil for managing various skin concerns, including dryness and unevenness. These benefits likely stem from the oil’s high concentration of essential fatty acids, including linoleic acid (which plays a critical role in the synthesis of ceramides). Evening primrose oil also contains flavonoids and other antioxidants that can help protect your skin from external stressors.
Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil
You’ll find evening primrose oil in our best-selling Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil. This luxurious oil cleanser gently melts away dirt, oil, and even waterproof makeup without drying the skin. It also helps soothe skin and prepare it for your nightly skincare routine. Though it is oil-based, this indulgent facial cleanser is non-comedogenic and suitable for all skin types, including acne-prone skin. We recommend using it nightly to remove makeup and other impurities for skin that feels soft and supple.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: For an even more thorough cleanse, try double cleansing. This technique involves first washing your face with an oil cleanser, then following up with a traditional foaming cleanser. Learn How To Pick The Best Face Wash For You.
3 Beauty Benefits Of Evening Primrose Oil
Now that you know what evening primrose oil is, we can start getting into what you’re really here for—learning how it can benefit your skin. Ahead, we’ll break down the demonstrated beauty benefits of evening primrose oil and provide tips on including it in your skincare routine. Keep reading to learn three ways evening primrose oil benefits your skin.
Beauty Benefit #1:
Evening Primrose Oil Helps Maintain Skin Hydration
Perhaps one of the best-known beauty benefits of evening primrose oil is its ability to reduce the symptoms of dryness. In skincare formulations, evening primrose oil has emollient properties, meaning it helps soften and smooth the skin, improving the skin’s overall texture. It also helps lock in moisture to minimize water loss. This effectively keeps the skin hydrated and supple and keeps the skin moisture barrier functioning as it should. As such, several studies have concluded that evening primrose oil is a viable treatment for atopic dermatitis—a condition characterized by dry, flaky, itchy skin.
If dryness is your primary concern, incorporating oil-rich moisturizing treatments into your regular skincare routine can help keep the symptoms of dryness at bay. We recommend Avocado Nourishing Hydration Mask, which contains evening primrose oil, avocado oil, and glycerin. This creamy mask helps nourish the skin and seals in moisture to minimize water loss. It’s clinically-demonstrated to improve skin hydration by nearly a third within just 15 minutes.* It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used up to three times per week to promote soft, replenished-feeling skin.
*Hydration and barrier tests on 26 subjects; results vs. baseline.
Midnight Recovery Eye
For dry skin around your eyes, try Midnight Recovery Eye, which stars evening primrose oil and butcher’s broom extract. This luxurious nighttime eye cream helps smooth and restore the delicate skin around the eyes. It also helps improve the appearance of eye-area concerns, including dark circles and puffiness. Apply a thin layer to your under-eye area and along your orbital bone before bed for fresher, younger-looking eyes by morning.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: Hydrating skincare is vital for moisturizing dry, dehydrated skin, but so is drinking water. Pour yourself a glass when you finish reading!
Beauty Benefit #2:
Evening Primrose Oil May Help Protect Against Aging Stressors
As you know, the skin moisture barrier's primary job is to protect your skin from damaging external aggressors, like pollution and ultraviolet radiation. In order to do its job properly, the barrier needs nourishment in the form of essential vitamins, water, and lipid-rich fatty acids, including linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is the most abundant fatty acid in the skin barrier and is responsible for helping maintain the skin’s structure and function. A lack of linoleic acid in the barrier can result in visible skin concerns such as dryness and premature aging. An unhealthy or under-nourished skin moisture barrier is also more vulnerable to stressors that can result in premature skin aging, including fine lines and wrinkles. Studies show that using products rich in linoleic acid, like evening primrose oil, can help ensure the barrier stays strong and better able to resist the visible signs of aging. II
Midnight Recovery Concentrate
Keep your skin youthful and healthy-looking with our best-selling Midnight Recovery Concentrate. This moisturizing face oil contains evening primrose oil, olive-derived squalane, and fragrant lavender essential oil. It helps hydrate the skin and refine skin’s texture after just one night, while continued use promotes smoother firmer-looking skin. The top-rated formula is non-comedogenic and suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Apply two to three drops of this unique oil to cleansed, toned skin before bed for more radiant, younger-looking skin by morning.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: For an extra-pampering routine, you can use your facial oil to give yourself a rejuvenating facial massage.
Beauty Benefit #3:
It Can Help Even Your Skin Tone
Skin discoloration can result from many things, including excessive sun exposure, inflammation (especially acne-related inflammation), and even as a natural result of aging. Skincare products that target discoloration are often formulated with vitamin C. However, vitamin C isn’t the only ingredient that can help even your skin tone: Studies have shown that using skincare products with primrose oil can help reduce the appearance of skin discolorations, as well. III Scientists believe that this effect is due to the high concentration of linoleic acid in evening primrose oil. IV
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: Read our article Understanding Different Types of Skin Discoloration to learn more about the causes of (and treatments for) skin discoloration.
I. Chung, Bo Young et al. “Effect of Evening Primrose Oil on Korean Patients With Mild Atopic Dermatitis: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Study.” Annals of dermatology vol. 30,4 (2018): 409-416. doi:10.5021/ad.2018.30.4.409
II. Gehring, W et al. “Effect of topically applied evening primrose oil on epidermal barrier function in atopic dermatitis as a function of vehicle.” Arzneimittel-Forschung vol. 49,7 (1999): 635-42. doi:10.1055/s-0031-1300475
III. Koo, JH., Lee, I., Yun, SK. et al. Saponified Evening Primrose Oil Reduces Melanogenesis in B16 Melanoma Cells and Reduces UV-Induced Skin Pigmentation in Humans. Lipids 45, 401–407 (2010). doi:10.1007/s11745-010-3405-4
IV. Nasrollahi, Saman Ahmad et al. “Comparison of linoleic acid-containing water-in-oil emulsion with urea-containing water-in-oil emulsion in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: a randomized clinical trial.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology vol. 11 21-28. 5 Jan. 2018, doi:10.2147/CCID.S145561