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Essential oils: an all-natural cure-all capable of helping with any and all health concerns? An unregulated irritant that you should avoid at all costs? Maybe a little bit of both?
Here’s what you should know about essential oils and incorporating them into your skincare routine.
Essential oils, as the name suggests, are the essences of plants that can be extracted from its flowers, bark, leaves, stems, roots, and fruit.
No matter what plant they come from, these oils are always a complex mix of compounds - and these compounds can cause both positive and negative reactions in the human body.
On one hand, the fragrances have been known to be quite therapeutic. That’s why essential oils have been used for aromatherapy for thousands of years. In fact, the first uses of essential oils are documented to go back to 3000-2500 B.C. in India, China, and Egypt. The Egyptians, in particular, used essential oils for medicinal benefits, beauty care, spiritual enhancement, and in literally all aspects of their daily life.
Today, some studiessuggest that aromatherapy can help with:
And while there isn’t much science to give a definitivetherapeutic diagnosis here, most physicians agree that aromatherapy, at the very least, doesn’t hurt.
That said, things get a little bit more complicated when it comes to essential oils applied topically to the skin.
Some essential oils have been found to be beneficial for the skin. Essential oils for acne-prone skin, in particular - like rosemary, lemongrass, thyme, cinnamon, and tea tree - have been shown to effectively address acne-related concerns.
This has to do with the fact that essential oils are rich sources of antioxidants (like caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid) and antibacterial ingredientsthat protect against fungal, yeast, and bacterial skin issues.
Unfortunately, though, it’s not all great news. Many of these compounds can also significantly irritate and damage the skin - particularly those that are highly fragrant. Doctors also see significant issues with citrus oils - including lemon, lime, tangerine, grapefruit, mandarin, and bergamot - and mint oils such as peppermint, wintergreen, pennyroyal, and balm mint. What’s worse - the skin can hide this irritation so you won’t be able to see that there’s a problem.
That’s why many experts maintain that the cons are much more substantial than the pros and that essential oils should not be used as face products.
That said, we don’t think that you should add essential oils to your list of no-no ingredients altogether. As we said, some essential oils - like tea tree, rosemary, and lemongrass - have been shown to help with inflammation and blemish-prone skin (which is why many skincare companies incorporate them into their products). The key is to find high-quality, pure oils and to ensure that they’re present in small quantities - less than 1%.
That means you can’t go to your local health food store and slather 100% pure tea tree oil on your face. It will be too strong and irritate your skin. Instead, look for clean products that have essential oils at the bottom of their ingredient lists. That way, you should get the benefits without any irritating drawbacks.