Essential oils or aromatic extracts from plants are not exactly new. They’ve been used for decades in cosmetics and for therapeutic uses. But the recent surge in research has propelled their popularity as we discover more and more uses in health and beauty.
How to use essential oils for skin
The importance of using essential oils for skincare the right way cannot be overemphasised. Here are a few rules:
A little goes a long way
These are very concentrated plant materials. In almost all cases, a single drop is plenty, and in many cases, less than a drop is needed to nourish, soothe or protect your skin.
Always test for sensitivity
Everyone is different and what may be the most popular essential oil may actually be irritating to your particular skin. If you are using the highest quality available and still experiencing issues, try switching to another brand. The good thing about essential oils is that you can always find one with similar compounds and properties, so there is always a substitute.
Dilution is important
You may be able to use some oils undiluted, especially if they are pure, but doing so can increase your risk of skin sensitivity, both now and down the road. And dilution is actually extremely helpful. Because of the small molecules of essential oils, they have a tendency to evaporate quickly on the skin. Dilution helps diminish evaporation, and increase absorption, getting more benefit to your skin. At the same time, depending on the type of dilution you choose, it can also moisturise and nourish your skin. [Coconut oil, for instance, is great for the skin and works great as a carrier oil for your essential oils, too]
Choose the right carrier oil for you
Coconut oil, jojoba oil, and almond oil tend to be the favourites for diluting essential oils for skin, but everyone’s skin is different. You can also add your essential oil to your moisturiser, sunscreen, or aloe vera. Those last three may be tricky though. Basically you want a lipid [a fat] to mix with the essential oil and not all moisturisers and creams are lipids. This means that they may not mix well or protect your skin. You must experiment and be sure to only use fat solubles with “hot” oils.
Essential types for skincare
Let’s understand which essential oils are suited for different skincare needs.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is widely used to soothe minor skin irritations and redness. Because it has a calming effect on the emotions, it can be a good oil to use for any skin concerns that show up when we’re under stress. And its properties help keep the problem areas clean. You can try the following:
- Add a drop of lavender to your mascara to encourage lash health
- Dilute 1 drop in about a teaspoon of your favourite carrier oil or lipid-based moisturiser to dab on blemishes
- Add to witch hazel (about a drop per ounce) to make your own toner.
Frankincense Essential Oil
Frankincense is a favourite of many, probably because of its ability to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and even older scars. This might be because of its monoterpene content and its ability to promote healthy cellular function. The best way to use frankincense is to add it to your daily moisturiser. You can pre-mix this in some moisturisers or add a small dab to your daily routine.
Helichrysum Essential Oil
Helichrysum is another essential oil renowned for its skincare properties. It helps to soothe your skin after a long day in the sun, improves complexion, and is known to reduce the appearance of both wrinkles and blemishes. Many people like apply a small dab of this on problem areas, but you can also mix a drop in aloe vera, coconut oil, or your favorite moisturiser, and apply where needed.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Melaleuca, or tea tree, has a cleansing and rejuvenating effect on skin, and is especially popular for breakouts. It can also help to clean and promote healthy skin, especially with minor irritations. However, use caution with this oil. Tea Tree is most likely to be synthetic, adulterated, or contaminated, and because of this, many people may actually experience skin irritation from it. Try dabbing some high-quality tea tree oil directly on blemishes, or add it to your daily face wash regimen.
Sandalwood Essential Oil
Sandalwood is another precious [and also, expensive] essential oil for the skin. It’s calming, soothing, and often used in anti-aging blends. I love to apply a small dab over my forehead to help calm my mind before bed, since this is right over my “thinking lines,” too. If mixed with a carrier oil such as almond, jojoba, or coconut, it can make a great moisturiser for dry, itchy skin. You can also mix a small amount in lotion or aloe vera to make your own after-shave cream or gel.
Oregano Essential Oil
Oregano’s high levels of antioxidants are great for two things: keeping the skin clean and clearing up minor skin concerns and boosting the immune and digestive systems. You may have noticed that your immune and digestive systems often cause skin problems in the form of blemishes, complexion, lack of colour or vibrancy, and even minor irritations, dryness, or other concerns. Oregano is a very hot oil though and therefore you should never use it undiluted. Start by adding one drop to a teaspoon of carrier oil and working your way up from there as needed. Try dabbing the diluted mix onto blemishes on your feet, hands, or nails, or apply the dilution over skin irritation. Avoid the face though, as even in diluted form, it may still be too strong for sensitive areas [besides, you don’t’ want to come away smelling like an Italian restaurant!].
Lemon Essential Oil
Using lemon essential oil topically comes with a different precaution. Most citrus oils are known to be “photosensitive”. This means that going out into the sun after their application can cause irritation or even extreme sunburns, depending on various factors [even if you apply sunscreen]. That said, lemon makes a great astringent to take care of oily skin, improve complexion, and can even be dabbed on problem areas on the skin to help promote healthy tissue and cleansing. Try mixing several drops per ounce in something like witch hazel and using it on problem spots on your back.
As with all things, your unique skin and its needs will mean that certain oils will work great for you, while others won’t. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but don’t go crazy either. Be sure to follow the guidelines and precautions above and be a conscientious consumer by learning as much as you can about the oil you’re using.
Bonus: Guide to buying essential oils
When you’re looking for essential oils, it’s important to note that not all oils are created equal. As there is no regulation and very few standards in the industry, anyone can use the words “pure” or “therapeutic”, because under the law, those terms don’t have a definition. And the industry is wrought with issues of contamination, adulteration, and ineffective essential oils. Dr. Robert Pappas, of Essential Oil University, is a chemist who works with many oil producers and has shown us time and again that the essential oils we find at the stores [even the health food stores, but most especially drug stores] use plant material not disclosed on the label, synthetics added to mask a poor aroma, or adulterants used to cut costs.
This is especially important when you consider that essential oils for skincare are being applied to your largest organ, which just happens to be highly absorbent. [Yes, your skin absorbs anything that is applied to it. This is how nicotine patches work.] Not only do these synthetics increase your risk of sensitisation, but they diminish the powerful properties of the oil compounds, making them less effective.
When looking for essential oils for your skin, look for companies with strict standards and a solid name and reputation in the industry. The plants should be grown in sustainable, biologically appropriate regions, which lead to healthier growth and more potent oils; third-party testing should be done on all their oils to ensure no contaminants or adulterants make their way in.
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