It seems like every couple of months, a new oil emerges as the new darling ingredient of beauty editors and natural-minded skincare folk everywhere. Coconut oil kicked off this trend in the late 2000’s, I think, and since then we’ve seen argan, rosehip oil, grapeseed oil, seabuckthorn oil, and even dilo oil being championed as the next do-it-all oil. My personal favorite skincare oil, which has been popular in Japan for years and is growing in popularity in Korea, will sadly never be popular in the States but that doesn’t mean I can’t rave about it here! Today’s post is entirely dedicated to my winter skincare MVP, horse oil!
First Things First. Am I Killing Horses?
This is probably the first question that pops into everyone’s head, for good reason. The short answer is no, but the oil does come from dead horses.
Allow me to explain. Horses are killed for their meat, which is something many Americans probably aren’t aware of. Horse meat is consumed in Belgium, Japan, Kazakhstan, Italy, and (many) other countries. As a consequence of processing horses, there is a good amount of horse fat that is produced as a byproduct. Initially, this residual horse fat became a cheaper alternative to lard consumed by the poorer classes. At some point, cosmetic companies started buying it up.
If you think about it, horse oil as a skincare ingredient couldn’t really be feasible unless it’s a byproduct of meat production. Horses have very little fat. Pound for pound, they have about 40% as much fat as cows. Coupled with the fact that horses are rather expensive animals to raise, horse oil would be astronomically expensive if horses were killed for their fat. If your desire is to not contribute to the death of horses, you can rest easy. However, if you were hoping horse oil was something like lanolin (which extracted from wool without harming sheep), you may want to skip this ingredient.
As a former (albeit short-lived) vegan and someone who makes a big deal about eating grass fed and/or free range dairy and meats whenever possible, I strangely have zero qualms about using horse oil. My childhood best friend was an equestrian and I’ve ridden horses a few times in my life, but I don’t seem to ever have developed any emotional ties to them. That said, I understand I am likely in the minority here, at last amongst Americans. However, because it is a byproduct, the use of horse oil in skincare is actually reducing the amount of potential horse being wasted. That counts for something, right?
What is Special About Horse Oil
The amount of scientific information about horse oil’s effect on skin is (understandably) limited, but even so there are a few apparent reasons why horse oil is worth paying attention to. Horse oil, by reputation, is known to be very similar to human sebum so I set out to understand why.
Luckily, I was able to find a few research papers comparing the composition of fats of horses to fats of other animals, including humans. One observation that stood out and was pretty consistent through the different papers is that horse oil is comparatively low in palmitic acid and stearic acid content while being comparatively high in linolenic acid content.
Palmitic acid is what excess carbohydrates are converted to in the body. It is the most common saturated fatty acid, followed closely by stearic acid. Horses are unique in that their fat contains far less of these types of fatty acids than other livestock animals. In this way, horse fat is similar to human fat, which also contains relatively small amounts of palmitic acid and stearic acid. Interestingly however, horses actually contain even less than humans.
The second standout observation about horse fat, particularly from pasture-fed horses, contains a notable amount of linolenic acid. By comparison, cows and sheep contain little to none. This is pretty surprising because linolenic acid is actually frequently found in plants and nuts! There are two types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid more commonly associated with flax seed and walnut than barn animals, and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 usually associated with hemp, borage seed, and evening primrose oil. Linolenic acid is an awesome skin conditioning and skin communicating agent and is thought to have barrier repairing and anti-inflammatory properties. One source postulates that although the mechanisms of action of gamma-linolenic acid are only partly understood, GLA could influence epidermal barrier function, modulate the metabolism of eicosanoid (a pro-inflammatory hormone), or modulate cell signaling. Another source demonstrates both linoleic acid and linolenic acid can reduce UVB-induced skin injury in mice.
In addition, I was actually able to dig up some research that directly investigates the effects of topical horse oil on skin. I could only find the abstracts, so the sample size and statistical robustness of these findings are unknown, but the results are promising. This study demonstrates horse oil exerts an anti-bacterial effect on P.acnes and S. aureus and increases expression of type I collagen in human skin fibroblasts. Another study demonstrates horse oil has anti-inflammatory effects and reduces erythema. I definitely would not recommend anyone use horse oil as their main source of acne or anti-inflammatory treatment, but it’s nice to think that in addition to being an awesome moisturizing ingredient, horse oil might have some other skin benefits too!
Personally, my love for horse oil has less to do with science (which I didn’t know anything about until after I had been using horse oil products for awhile to be honest) and more to do with the way it way it easily and seamlessly sinks into my skin. I have a long history of trying to force allegedly dry-skin-appropriate creams (usually very heavy ones) and facial oils to work on my skin. Most of these experiences end with my face looking or feeling like an oil slick while still being as dry as ever.
Horse oil, by contrast, manages to thoroughly moisturize my lizard dry skin without feeling heavy at all. The first couple of times I’ve experienced it, I literally could not believe it. It does exactly what I’ve always hoped moisturizers would do! Even now I am still sometimes surprised at how light and natural horse oil feels. It’s the most effective and pleasant occlusive agent I’ve used!
How to Incorporate Horse Oil Products into your Routine
So now that you know all about horse oil, you may be wondering how to start incorporating it into your routine. To be transparent, these days I mostly just use pure horse oil. It’s fantastic to use directly on my skin and also great for mixing into any number of other products. However, it took months of experimenting with other horse oil containing products before I was comfortable doing so.
The guide below is designed to help you determine what products may be good ones to start with, depending on how comfortable you are with the idea of using horse oil.
For the Horse Oil Skeptics:
Horse Sheet Masks!
This is a great low-commitment way to try a product with horse oil. I’ve tried quite a few, some of which I’ve liked better than others. The ones above all do a good job of moisturizing my skin (if I slap one on at night, my skin is almost guaranteed to be bouncy and soft the next day!) and are blissfully un-sticky. I’ve been developing and deeper and deeper aversion to anything sticky as of late, and these masks have been a great way to get my sheet masks in free of stickiness! Of these, my absolute favorite is the Ciracle From Jeju Mayu anti-aging mask, followed by the Guerisson 9Complex hydrogel. I’ve also been using quite a few Sinma Skin Revitalizing Masks and no:hj Aqua Soothing Mask Pack with Horse Fat, just because I have them, but I likely will not reorder these. Sinma is made of a silky material but does not fit my face very well. I purchased the no:hj masks because the packaging seemed so elegant but the masks have a strange, play-doh like scent.
The Yeon Mayu 8 Cream
The Yeon Mayou8 Multi Care Cream is a body cream that smells a bit aggressively like orange flavored PEZ candy (which would be a huge problem if this were a face product but is tolerable as a body product) and contains 3% horse oil. This is a good occlusive but not a great hydrator, so I find it to be most effective if I use it immediately after showering. When I do, it glides on easily, without the annoying tug that some lotions have, and leaves my skin buttery and soft.
The Horse Oil Overachiever
You know how there are tons of those no-nonsense serums on amazon all with the title “Best Anti-Aging Product EVER!!!” and contain every superstar ingredient under the sun? I feel like this Reishi Shop Spa Cream is the Japanese/Rakuten equivalent but instead of Vit C, retinol, and hyaluronic acid, it’s full of Reishi and Cordyceps mushroom extract, Horse oil, Spa Water, Astaxanthin, and a mishmash of other ingredients. This was a totally random find but turned out to be really interesting! This cream is very light and soft, but has the texture of something between a gel and a balm. It’s bizarre but kind of awesome! When I start rubbing it into my skin, water droplets seem to emerge out of no where. It’s really fun to use and because it is both a great occlusive but also full of hydration, one of my go-to products on days I am in a rush and trying to consolidate my routine into as few steps as possible. A little bit goes a long way!
For Horse Oil Purists
Sonbahyu 100% Horse Oil
I had known for awhile that I wanted to try an 100% horse oil product but was scared. Apparently, some of the lower quality products can smell like a barnyard, which I did NOT want to deal with! Sonbahyu seemed like a safe bet because their products are so prevalent on Rakuten and overwhelmingly positively reviewed. As it turns out, this oil is 100% scent free- it smells gloriously like nothing!
I use this horse oil both on my face and body. On my face, I will either use it by itself, or I will mix it into other creams. Even adding a tiny amount to my other moisturizers makes that moisturizer so much better! I actually have a ton of creams that I do not frequently use because I don’t like the way they feel on my skin, but with this Sonbahyu horse oil, I’ve been able to salvage quite a few of them!
When I use this oil directly on my face, I sometimes make the mistake of applying too much (a little bit goes a long, long way). When this happens, I am shocked at how light and breathable this oil feels. Even when my face looks like greasy, it doesn’t feel that way. And over time, my skin manages to absorb all of the horse oil. After application, my skin is soft, pliable, smooth, and unrecognizably not-dry and stays that way for hours. I’m in LOVE with this oil and never want to be without it! ❤
What do you guys think? Have any of you tried horse oil? Also, if I’ve convinced any of you to give horse oil a try, do let me know how it goes!
Also, you can also see my other ingredient spotlight on ginseng here. There will be more to come!
Disclosures: All products mentioned here were purchased by me. This post contains affiliate links. See here for my full disclosure policy.