Essential Oils and Skin Care

They smell good, they are extracted from plants, so pretty much everyone would agree essential oils are natural. How good are they for your skin?

Despite their name, essential oils are not actually oils – they are not composed of lipids like the vegetal or mineral substances we class as oils. They are, in fact, aromatic volatile substances made of chemical compounds responsible for the distinctive fragrance of the plant they originate from.

Essential oils have been used for hundreds of years in aromatherapy. Their effects are largely due to their smell - relaxing, refreshing, uplifting etc, although some physiological effects have been observed. E.g. linalool, one of the main compounds of lavender essential oil has been shown to decrease systolic blood pressure and slightly lower skin temperature, but these effects were too slight to be noticed by the subjects in this research. More info about this research

The use of essential oils in skin care is a matter of heated debate, with essential oil manufacturers and aromatherapists strongly defending them, while a number of skin care experts argue against all fragrance ingredients in skin care products, essential oils included.

Here are a couple of objections raised against:

  1. Geraniol – one of the main aromatic compounds in rose and geranium essential oils. Geraniol is “a skin sensitizer in humans and mice” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More info about this report
  2. Linalool and limonene – the most common essential oil compounds, present in large proportions in Lavender and all citrus essential oils ( Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Manadarin and Orange). Both linalool and limonene oxidize on air exposure. The pure compounds do not cause any iritation, but “autoxidation of the fragrance terpenes linalool and R-limonene increases irritation” have concluded a group of Swedish researchers. The effects were similar in dermatitis patients and controls. More info about this research 

The irritating potential of these compounds will naturally decrease with concentration. Aromatherapists observe fairly strict limits with regards to the amounts of essential oils in their massage mixtures.  The Cosmetic Safety Regulations do not impose a maximum limit on essential oil compounds in skin care products. All they require is that the aromatic compounds are listed separately at the end of ingredient lists so that consumers are aware of their presence.

Essential oil critics argue that essential oils should be enjoyed for what they are i.e. fragrances, therefore – when it comes to cosmetics – their place is in perfumes and not in moisturisers.

What do you think about essential oil use in skin care products? Do you like cosmetics containing essential oils or do you prefer unscented products?

2 Responses to “Essential Oils and Skin Care”

  1. I used to hate cosmetics that contained oils, now however I don’t mind them. The industry has moved forward so much and the advancements made to skin care products make many of the oil scented products very safe.

  2. Luca Willington says:

    Thank you for your comment Millie. Essential oils are more widespread today as companies have moved to more natural ingredients. And yes, it is an advancement on the safety front. For people with allergies, it is much better to have all potential allergens listed on labels instead of just ‘perfume’, with no indication whatever as to the composition of that perfume.

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