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Demystifying essential oils in cosmetics

Essential oils are both praised and decried in the beauty space so it felt timely to address potential concerns consumers may have, whilst debunking some common myths. They have been a healing modality for thousands of years and yet they continue to divide. Multiple companies use the term « EO-free » as a selling point, demonizing them, when in fact, the issue does not necessarily lie in the plant/oil itself. Read on for the lowdown on essential oils and how they can elevate your skin health and overall well-being.

 

What are essential oils?

 

Essential oils are highly hydrophobic natural products with a complex composition. They are extracted from aromatic plants (as in the flowers, roots, bark, resins, leaves, rhizomes, seeds, peel, fruits, wood, and whole plants). They are used in health care, wellness, cosmetics, fragrance, farming, pharmaceutical formulations, and food. 
Depending on their use and formulation, they can act as active substances, fragrance agents, or preservatives in cosmetics. 

Here’s an example of how to break down an essential oil in cosmetics formulations:

Essential oil: Citrus medica (Lemon)
Plant family: Rutaceae
Properties: antibacterial, antiseptic, and antifungal 
Function: anti-acne
Active compounds: citronellol; terpenes such as limonene; linalool etc.

Most common extraction methods include steam distillation, solvent extraction, Supercritical CO2 extraction, Maceration, Cold Press extraction, and water distillation. Some extraction methods are best suited to particular plant types and parts. The distillation of an entire plant may produce only a single drop of essential oil.
« a single essential oil should be considered as a complex mixture of bioactive compounds, with their final compositional profile, and hence their bioactivity, dependent on different factors: method of extraction, drying and storage; time of harvest and climate conditions, and plant species and which part of the plant was used for their isolation » 
Commonly used as active ingredients, with an extensive range of benefits including purifying, soothing, decongesting, brightening, firming, and antioxidant-rich. They are not water-soluble, but they can be mixed with alcohol, ethers, and fats. 
Depending on the type of essential oil benefits you want to have, the concentration varies. Incorporating essential oils is complex, as those are potent active substances and fragile when it comes to stabilization. Some essential oils do not deteriorate and can last for three to five years.
Everything has an impact, from the method of extraction to the storage type. The volatility changes accordingly. 
As a result, high-quality essential oils do come with a cost. They are premium materials, and to meet high standards for purity, it best is to look for organic, local or/and reputable sources. 

"Essential oils have a very high frequency. The frequency of rose essential oil has been measured at 320 MHz (the highest). Lavender is 118 MHz. Positive thoughts raise frequency by 10 MHz. Prayer raises frequency levels by 15 MHz. Negative thoughts lower the frequency by 12 MHz. Essential oils are one of the great, untapped resources of the world.*»

In our post on the limbic system, we have already addressed the impact of essential oils on sensorial perception, memory, and mood through the sense of smell. EOs have a recognized psychological effect thanks to their pharmalogical active molecules that interact with the cells of our body. Inhaling essential oil can enhance your mood, uplift your spirits, and lower your anxiety level, including the cortisol (stress hormone) and we know the impact that stress, and subsequently hormonal changes, can have on the skin. Vered Organic Botanicals has been designed to raise vibration work on the nervous system in addition to tackling skin concerns as all systems are interconnected. In this post, we focus on the cosmetic benefits of EOs. 

Essential oils and their use in topical skincare products.

 

As aforementioned, essential oils are subtle volatile liquids distilled from shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, and seeds. Their chemical structure is similar to that found in human cells and tissues, which makes them compatible with human proteins and enables them to be identified and accepted by the body. They are oxygenating and help transport nutrients to the body cells and maintain good health and skin as they have a positive effect on blood stimulation. 

Good circulation improves the immune system. There’s not a part of the human body or brain that is not helped by good circulation.

Highly concentrated, they differ from plant oils, as they are not greasy and non-comedogenic. Certain EOs can also be incorporated into preservative systems, as they fight off bacteria and fungi. The benefits of applying pure essential oils to the skin are numerous, and there are multiple verifiable, scientific studies, and over time, there’s a growing consensus on their actual benefits in cosmetics.

Essential oils have been used for antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits in various cosmetic formulations: anti-acne, anti-aging, skin brightening, and even to some extent, sun protection. 
Due to their lipophilic character, they contribute to the balance of the skin health, its microbiota and provide a protective film to the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the epidermis. This protective barrier prevents pathological states.
It has been reported that certain essential oils have free radical scavenging activity. Therefore, essential oils can help prevent and reduce excess oxidative damages, caused by pollution, sun, or any harmful substance. 

Specific essential oils can be found in acne-fighting products, because they inhibit the proliferation of Propionibacterium acnes, reduce inflammation, and prevent post-acne scar formation.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), peppermint (Mentha piperita), cajuput (Melaleuca cajuputi), cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), sage (Salvia officinalis), and tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) are notable for their with antimicrobial activity. 

Citronella/lemongrass (cymbopogan nardus) EO, Nigella sativa EO, and Palmarosa oil (Cymbopogan martini) have also been proven to have strong antibacterial activity, with even a higher efficacy than synthetic anti-acne products; the terpenes they contain can also contribute to halting the proliferation of microorganisms implicated in the emergence of acne and eczema and blocking inflammatory processes. Lemongrass is also effective to exfoliate dead skin cells and holds both antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It also serves as a natural antioxidant.

Geranium (pelargonium graveolens) EO is used for dermatitis, eczema and premature aging and has been shown to regulate hydration balance and skin cell renewal: its components, linalool, geranyl formate, citronellol, and geraniol contribute to the restoration of the elasticity and the enhancement of the blood circulation to the skin. Geranium essential oil was also  found to be useful against congested skin and blocked pores, thus being used in anti-acne products to balance the sebum production. Similarly, the presence of citral in neroli essential oil can contribute to maintaining the oil balance of the skin without drying the skin.
Some studies have shown that patchouli, nutmeg, and clove EOs used in topical application may mitigate accelerated skin aging induced by the exposure to UVB radiation, and thus reduce wrinkle formation.

Myrtle EO (myrtus communis) has effects in balancing sebum, removing dead skin cells and an antibacterial activity. Especially, it is confirmed that myrtle essential oil is a safe and effective substance for treating acne with skin-soothing effects.
To go further on the extraordinary properties of certain plants: EOs of Ploughmans spikenard (Pluchea dioscoridis) and Flaxleaf Fleabane (Erigeron bonariensis) were found to induce a strong anti-aging activity in human skin, with sesquiterpenes which present a significant inhibitory activity of different enzymes related to the skin aging, e.g., collagenase, elastase, hyaluronidase, and tyrosinase. 


Some EOs may be also used in brightening formulations. The application of lavender and sage at a reduced dose increases the thickness of the skin hydration layer. Rosehip seed oil (Rosa canina), sandalwood essential oil, or chamomile essential oil with its high content in azulene are used as moisturizing agents. Moreover, rosehip seed oil was found to reduce wrinkles, increasing the skin’s elasticity. 

Rose otto EO (Rosa damascena) - one of the core ingredients in Vered Organic Botanical’s collection - has been reported as the most powerful substance for preventing moisture loss from the skin, essential for keeping skin hydration, lightening dark spots, and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It has superior antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant compounds, which accelerate healing, encourage skin cell renewal, reduce redness, improve texture and tone of the skin. It stimulates blood circulation and collagen synthesis in the skin.  A study even reported that « inhalation of rose essential oil can resist moisture loss from the skin ». Rose EO also calms down and contibutes to decreasing cortisol levels, thus preventing premature skin aging and breakouts linked to stress. It’s an exceptional ingredient, and when aptly formulated can truly make a difference in your skin for a brighter, bouncier, and more youthful appearance.  It is also one of the rarest and most expensive ingredients: it takes approx. 5,000 pounds of rose petals for 1 pound of rose essential oil. 

Neroli (Citrus aurantium) EO is a well-rounded ingredient for all skin types (oily, sensitive, and mature skin). Packed with antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, it is a high source of the compound citral, which provides regeneration of cells, hence why it is effective for preventing and healing stretch marks, fine lines etc. Great for blemish-prone skin, it balances out sebum without drying the skin.

Ylang ylang essential oil (Cananga odorata) is suitable for all skin types. It controls oil production, thus preventing breakouts. Its antioxidant effects facilitate skin cell regeneration and can improve skin elasticity, combat skin pigmentation, and reduce fine lines; it decreases the number of free radicals while repairing damage to the skin’s proteins and fats. 

Jasmine EO (Jasminum grandiflorum) has incredible emollient properties, antiseptic and regenerating properties. Efficient to heal dry, flaky, and peeling skin. It is commonly used for inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis, suitable for both oily and dry complexions. In « anti-aging » formulas, Jasmine soothes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, boosts collagen synthesis and improves the skin texture. 

Coffee beans EO Co2 (coffea arabica), another favorite ingredient of Vered, have been used for thousands of years to stimulate circulation, improve the texture of the face and body, and exfoliate. It is enriched with phytosterols which help in promoting retention of moisture, and better penetration within cosmetic applications. It has a high composition of essential fatty acids which imparts it a moisturizing nature, great for treating, brittle, dry, cracked, and damaged skin. 

The bioactive compounds of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) showcase some strong antibacterial, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory benefits, inhibiting growth of certain bacteria and fungi. So not only can it be used to fight off blemishes for a clearer and brighter complexion; it is also high in Vit. C to boost blood circulation and soften marks and scars. It has natural plumping benefits. 

Davana (artemisia pallens) EO is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine for its tonic, aphrodisiac, and relaxing properties. A high-end oil, it is used in oils to smooth, soothe and soften the skin. Vered incorporated it also because it fights skin infections thanks to its anti-fungal and bactericidal effects. It is also amazing for dry skin to retain moisture from within.

Helichrysum/immortelle (Helichrysum italicum) is one of the most potent EOs with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties effective in skin healing, especially in the case of wounds as well as scars. It contains a substance named, arzanol, which promotes a wound healing process. It appears as one of the most trustworthy essential oils for tackling age spots, scars, wrinkles, infections, and rashes by increasing cell turnover and collagen production. In studies, it has also been found it can impart both anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, particularly beneficial for people undergoing surgery. 

These are just some of the examples of EOs which have been the subjects of studies and tests.
 

What are the risks and if there are some, how to avoid them?

 

Anything that has effects, may have side effects. This does apply to most things, not just essential oils. 
In terms of potential adverse reactions, certain EOs and components may present an allergenic power, in particular those with cinnamic alcohol, aldehyde, eugenol, and baptapene - however, it is often due to contamination, oxidation, and adulteration. 
An improper dosage (aka very high concentrations) is also considered to be the issue, and this is particularly the case if the products are not pure and high-quality! 

The most common adverse reaction associated with the topical use of EOs in cosmetic products are dermal reactions, contact dermatitis, and photosensitivity reactions following sun exposure (the latter primarily applies to citrus oils). 

However studies on EOs and their components have concluded the following:

« despite the potential allergenic character of certain EOs and EOs compounds, it should be noted that the comparison of the number of allergic reactions upon application of these substances with their wide application makes it possible to consider the use of EOs and EOCs in cosmetic products as safe except for a small population of susceptible individuals.**»

This goes to say that there’s much ado about nothing when it comes to essential oils, and the fear-mongering campaigns are not backed by large and substantiated evidence. A particular research paper, also demonstrated that these dilutions penetrate only the most superficial layers of the skin, thus confirming the safety of their use while promoting a statistically significant improvement of various cutaneous properties, including the reinforcement of the epidermal barrier, deep hydration, and biomechanical behavior (tests being done with doses varying from 2- 5% in simple oil dilutions).

Depending on the use of EO, different regulations apply, and there’s no « global » authority or institution that supervises. So naturally, misunderstandings, confusion, and distrust are quick to arise surrounding the use of EOs, and under the wrong hands, they will turn into the root of all issues, when those have been healing modalities for thousands of years. 
As professionals, we bear the liability, so we must establish authority and trust. Quality and formulation are paramount.
 
Formulation is key. Essential oils are extremely complex and powerful and must be formulated professionally.
Here are some important factors to make the most of these powerful extracts and enjoy their benefits to the fullest:

Dose - a professional and trained aromatherapist and/or formulator will be able to assess the proper concentrations which change depending on the type of EOs and its intended use. Usually, less is more, nothing should be used in excess. The percentage of essential oils is significantly higher in perfumes than in skincare, yet very few allergies are being reported, hence why there’s also no absolute rule when it comes to doses.

Application method - Pure EOs are extremely potent and concentrated, and few EOS can be used undiluted. As a result, dilution with a high-quality carrier oil (such as avocado, argan, sweet almond, jojoba, coconut, or pomegranate) is the best way to utilize EOs for topical skincare purposes. In addition to minimizing the risks, dilution allows you to add skin benefits from the carrier oils and make the oils last longer. 

Purity - Cheap essential oils are altered with synthetic chemicals and diluted with low-quality vegetable oil. There are also fake essential oils sold online. As a professional in skincare, you want to ensure to have undiluted, pure, and organic 100% essential oil.

Patch test and start small - Just like any unfamiliar product in general, test it on a Small surface. Before applying a diluted oil with EO to your face or all over your body, apply it to the back of your hand/forearm and see if you react to it (redness, itchiness, or rash).  

You also are the one that intuitively knows what your skin needs and responds to. If you’ve personally experienced issues in the past with EOs, naturally reduce your involvement with them, and investigate whether your previous issues are linked to any of the reasons mentioned in this post. 

Ask away - Don’t hesitate to ask questions, reach out to the brand, and enquire about the quality of the essential oils, (is it organic, where is it sourced, the percentage?) 

High-quality, pure, unadulterated, pristine, essential oil that is not past its shelf life, is very unlikely to be problematic.

 

An overlooked cause of irritation: pesticides, pollutants and the body’s overload of toxins.

 There is an aspect that is often eclipsed, it is easy to « blame » a topical product when sometimes the reaction is caused by environmental pollution and toxic overload; with the load of pesticides, herbicides, plastics, bisphenols, heavy metals, and pollution our body absorb, our body needs to be able to detox properly. In a healthy, functioning body, the detox mechanism activates itself but people with flailing health or chronic/autoimmune issues tend to have trouble detoxing.

When herbs are sprayed with herbicides, it can indeed trigger a reaction: some people do not realize that they are not allergic/reacting to the plant itself but to the quality of the product. 
Pesticide contact dermatitis is actually more common than expected. Most pesticide-related dermatoses are contact dermatitis, both allergic or irritant, and symptoms of skin sensitization may include swelling, redness, itching, pain, and blistering. 

 

Final thoughts 

 

Demonising essential oils has become a marketing strategy for some brands to sell products that are « EO free ». To each their own, but behind that decision, lies also the fact certain EO-free brands are not willing to spend a significant amount of money on high-quality essential oils because EOs can be very costly. For instance, Jasmine and rose essential oils (that we use in our products) have recently doubled in price (half an ounce is now 400 dollars). We have made the conscious decision to never compromise on the quality of our products but for indie companies, it is not an affordable option. Some brands also simply do not know how to formulate with them, and in that case, it is indeed best that they disregard their use. Also, conventional brands claiming to be EO-free, but still use cheap alcohol and synthetic ingredients, are very likely to induce and trigger an allergenic reaction, so EO-free does not necessarily mean that a brand will keep your skin balanced and reaction-free.

Botanical extracts and essential oils, when aptly formulated, are agents of magic. Chemical copies of natural essences simply do not work for medicinal purposes.  Only pure, therapeutic-grade, high-quality, essential oils will and if some companies want to avoid essential oils, it is their choice and it’s fine. But the problem does not lie in essential oils: EOs and their specific components have dermo-cosmetic properties and a real capacity to improve various aspects of the skin and tackle acne, blemishes, psoriasis, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles. They deserve to be known for their components contributing to the optimal balance of physical and mental wellness. 

I have 30 years of experience with essential oils, I was professionally trained and studied their properties as early as in my teens, so I am confident in my work and I do not make any compromises on the quality of the ingredients I am sourcing. If questions persist, feel free to message us and we’ll gladly assist you.

 

With love,

Vered

 

 

 
*  **Guzmán,E.;Lucia,A. Essential Oils and Their Individual Components in Cosmetic Products. Cosmetics2021,8,114. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics8040114
Victor H. P. InfantePatrícia M. B. G. Maia CamposLorena Rigo GasparMaxim E. DarvinJohannes SchleusenerKaren C. RangelMartina C. MeinkeJürgen Lademann First published: 05 January 2022 https://doi.org/10.1111/ics.12761
Nicolle SB, Flavia TTA, Marcia GM. Essential Oils as Preservatives in Cosmetics: An Integrative Review. 2022- 4(1) OAJBS.ID.000387.
Afroza Akter Happy, Ferdoushi Jahan, Md. Abdul Momen, Essential Oils: Magical Ingredients for Skin Care, Journal of Plant Sciences. Volume 9, Issue 2, April 2021 , pp. 54-64. doi: 10.11648/j.jps.20210902.14
Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Dec 27;19(1):70. doi: 10.3390/ijms19010070. PMID: 29280987; PMCID: PMC5796020.
Spiewak R. Pesticides as a cause of occupational skin diseases in farmers. Ann Agric Environ Med. 2001;8(1):1-5. PMID: 11426918.
Sharma A, Mahajan VK, Mehta KS, Chauhan PS, Sharma V, Sharma A, Wadhwa D, Chauhan S. Pesticide contact dermatitis in agricultural workers of Himachal Pradesh (India). Contact Dermatitis. 2018 Oct;79(4):213-217. doi: 10.1111/cod.13049. Epub 2018 Jul 3. PMID: 29974480
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/351586036_Characterizing_the_Mechanism_of_Action_of_Essential_Oils_on_Skin_Homeostasis-Data_from_Sonographic_Imaging_Epidermal_Water_Dynamics_and_Skin_Biomechanics
Abelan US, de Oliveira AC, Cacoci ÉSP, et al. Potential use of essential oils in cosmetic and dermatological hair products: A review. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021;00:1–12  https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.14286
Guzmán, E.; Lucia, A. Essential Oils and Their Individual Components in Cosmetic Products. Cosmetics 2021, 8, 114. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics8040114
Kim, K.Y., Jang, H.H., Lee, S.N. et al. Effects of the myrtle essential oil on the acne skin—clinical trials for Korean women. biomed dermatol 2, 28 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41702-018-0038-3
Safety and efficacy of combined essential oils for the skin barrier properties: In vitro, ex vivo and clinical studies
»Chemical compound found in essential oils improves wound healing." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 December 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191218153447.htm>

1 comment

Barbara

Thank you for this great article full of so much useful information.
I was wondering if you recommend a particular oil for treating actinic keratosis?
And if frankincense is the most powerful treatment for surgical scar healing?
Thank you so much,
Barbara

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