Are essential oils safe?
Essential oils have been used for medicinal and skincare purposes for thousands of years in many different cultures. Today, essential oils are often used in skin care products to add fragrance or instill aromatherapeutic benefits. Some essential oils have been clinically proven to possess antifungal, antibacterial, antioxidant, and insect-repelling properties. For example, research has shown that tea tree oil, when applied properly, can help treat acne by killing the bacteria that causes it.
These natural oils can be rich in antioxidants and contain antibacterial ingredients that protect against skin issues. However, “Most of the components in oils can significantly irritate and damage the skin. Common examples include fragrant ingredients like limonene, citronellol, and eugenol, which are all present in fragrant plant oils. The positives just don’t outweigh the negatives,” says Paula Begoun, the founder of sensitive skincare specialists Paula’s Choice.
How essential oils can hurt your skin?
Some components of these oils are indeed beneficial for the skin. For example, many of them are rich sources of potent antioxidants like caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid (among many others). Others contain antibacterial ingredients that protect against visible skin problems related to fungi, yeast, and other topical troublemakers.
Sounds good, right? But in the long run, it’s not good for the skin because most of those compounds can also significantly irritate and damage the skin. Common examples include fragrance ingredients like limonene, citronellol, eugenol, and linalool, all present in many fragrant plant oils. The positives just don’t outweigh the negatives.
Some essential oils for acne-prone skin such as rosemary, lemongrass, thyme, cinnamon, citronella, and tea tree oils do have research showing them to be helpful. But they also cause significant irritation and haven’t proven to be as effective as the gold standard active ingredient for acne, benzoyl peroxide (which research shows can even reduce redness!).
In terms of essential oils for aging skin, none can successfully deal with the appearance of wrinkles, brown spots, loss of firmness, or address the need to exfoliate the skin, especially in comparison to the hundreds of beneficial, non-fragrant plant extracts and vitamins that have no risk of causing irritation.
It’s important to know which oils are good for the skin and the others that simply aren’t. Ksenia Selivanova and Claudia Felton, founders of Lion/ne skincare consultancy, say: “There are some oils that have been ‘proven’ to take down the inflammation and help blemish-prone skin; a few of these are tea tree oil, rosemary oil, and lemongrass.”
“However, we would not recommend these essential oils as a ‘go-to’ due to their volatility and potential to cause more harm than good to the skin. If you do choose to use tea tree oil, make sure not to apply directly on an open wound or spot that has been picked!”
To be continued…