Essential oils aren't new.
In fact, the allure of radiant, healthy skin has captivated us for centuries.
In the pursuit of achieving that coveted glow, we've explored countless concoctions and regimes. And history tells us some of these are a tad questionable to say the very least, and in some cases down right dangerous.
Lead, mercury and arsenic anyone? I kid you not.
There's even a suggestion that Elizabeth I's death may have been linked to chronic lead poisoning from the white face powder she was so keen on.
But what about the potent power of nature's tiny treasures -essential oils?
After all, essential oils are everywhere; their aromatic and therapeutic properties mean making them extremely sought after in the world of wellbeing, wellness and skin care.
This increased interest in essential oils has given rise to a proliferation of misinformation and half truths about their use, and the appearance of adulterated oils appearing on the market for unsuspecting consumers to find. More than that, with the interest in natural skin care and wellness, we are now seeing new players in the green beauty market differentiating themselves with 'essential oil free' formulations with the suggestion that these are better for us.
So what is the truth about essential oils in skin care? Let's start with what essential oils are.
What are Essential Oils?
Extracted from various parts of plants like flowers, leaves, and bark, essential oils are highly concentrated liquids containing the plant's volatile aromatic compounds.
These oils deliver potent therapeutic benefits due to their unique blend of natural chemicals, each offering specific properties for addressing various skin concerns.
Essential oils are sometimes described romantically as the 'life force' of the plant or the 'spirit'. What we do know about essential oils is that they are extremely complex organic compounds and many other molecules, including ketones, terpenes, esters and aldehydes. And from within these complex molecules comes a plethora of benefits, aromatically and therapeutically.
The Heritage of Essential Oils and Historical Use in Skin Care.
Essential oils hold a rich history, with their use in skincare documented for millennia. From the fragrant baths of Cleopatra to the medicinal salves of ancient healers, these potent essences have played a significant role in promoting skin health and beauty.
Their popularity continues to surge in the modern era, thanks to their natural and often more gentle approach to skincare compared to many synthetic ingredients.
Do Essential Oils Help Skin?
Pure, high quality, essential oils can play a significant part in supporting skin care, both from a therapeutic perspective and aromatic perspective.
The benefits of essential oils for skin are multifaceted. They can:
Soothe inflammation and irritation: Essential oils like lavender and chamomile possess anti-inflammatory properties, making them excellent for calming redness and reducing the discomfort of conditions like eczema or psoriasis.
Combat acne and breakout prone skin: Essential oils with antibacterial and astringent properties include rosemary and bergamot which can help fight acne-causing bacteria and cleanse pores, reducing breakouts and promoting clearer skin.
Promote cell regeneration: Frankincense, rose and neroli essential oils amongst others, with their potent antioxidants, can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines by encouraging collagen production and cell renewal.
Balance sebum production: Essential oils like geranium and rosemary can help regulate sebum production, keeping oily skin in check and preventing dryness in sensitive skin.
The caveat here is that this assumes proper usage of essential oils and that they meet a number of criteria, including purity, freshness and being used in appropriate concentrations.
Essential Oils and Skin Sensitivity.
While generally safe for most people when used properly, it's crucial to remember that essential oils are potent substances.
Just because they are natural and familiar, they are
They are not designed to be used neat on the skin with one or two exceptions.
Almost all of my customers suffer with sensitive skin to some degree and most do very well using products that contain essential oils.
That said if you know you are sensitive to specific essential oils you should avoid them. The other caveat is that with sensitive skin and any new product or ingredient, it makes sense to do a patch test and see if your skin reacts.
My personal experience is that for 99% of my sensitive skin customers, they do very well with skin care containing essential oils.
Not to mention the therapeutic and aromatic benefits you get.
All professional skin care formulators will use essential oils extremely carefully - abiding by dermal limits for each essential oil. Not to mention that the UK as some of the most stringent legislation relating to safe limits for all ingredients, natural or otherwise and a verification process before any product is placed on the UK market.
That said, patch testing is your friend if you are not sure how your skin will react to any new product.
While there will always be people who are sensitive to specific essential oils, there will be many more who can safely use and benefit from essential oils, whether that be in skin care or simply their aromatic benefits.
Essential Oils & Allergens
The complex chemical compounds that make up essential oils are what bring a host of skin care benefits, but can also cause problems for a small number of people.
Today, in the UK, there are 26 fragrance allergens that have to be declared on product labels. You will have seen these on labels with ingredients such as geraniol, linalol, limonene etc.
Skin care formulators need to identify which of these fragrance allergens are contained within their ingredients and product, and the exact percentage. These allergens are declared based on the percentage they are present in, for example for a leave on product, they must appear on the label if they are present at a higher percentage than 0.001% and for a wash off product at a higher percentage than 0.01%.
This can be helpful for individuals that know they are sensitive to a specific allergen, but in my experience it is rare for someone to know what trigger ingredients they react to, which is why patch testing is always a good idea if you suffer with sensitive skin.
Are Essential Oils Safe to Use?
When used with caution and proper awareness, essential oils can be a safe and effective addition to your skincare routine.
If you are mixing your own essential oils, always follow recommended dilutions, consult a healthcare professional if you have any underlying health conditions, and exercise caution during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Choose therapeutic-grade oils from reputable sources to ensure quality and safety. Sadly, adulterated oils are available on the market, and because essential oils are expensive, there are always unscrupulous individuals pedalling adulterated oils as the real thing.
My personal experience is that for 99% of my sensitive skin customers, they do very well with skin care containing essential oils. But if you suffer with sensitive skin, a patch test is always a good idea with a new product.
I firmly believe that there are many benefits to using essential oils, and when used responsibly and formulated professionally, they can benefit all skin types with their calming and regenerating properties, irrespective of whether you have dry, sensitive, ageing or combination skin or a combination thereof.
I also believe that in these times when so many of us feel under pressure and stressed, the aromatic properties of essential oils bring a welcome respite to the daily stresses, and can play a positive part on our everyday wellness.
What are your experiences of essential oils, I'd love to hear?