Since the beginning of time, people have used essential oils for medicinal purposes, hydration and scent. They’re still being used thousands of years later, with aromatherapists creating different oil blends to massage into the skin for relaxation and wellness benefits.
To date, there still hasn’t been enough large-scale peer-reviewed studies in people to prove the benefits of essential oils. Much of what we know about them is anecdotal or based on folklore.
Let’s take it back to basics and talk about what we know about essential oils so far:
What is an essential oil and what are they used for?
Essential oils are the oils created by fragrant plants. The name ‘essential’ is a nod to this as they’re created from the ‘essence of’ the plant’s scent. In scientific terms, essential oils are classed as a volatile aromatic compound.
They’re used in skincare, aromatherapy and other beauty products. Often, they’re added in simply to enhance or improve the scent of a product and to mask the scent of some ‘smelly’ natural oils. Think about that for a second, how often have you been compelled to buy a skin or hair care product solely based on the way it smells?
Essential oils are mainly used in aromatherapy, where they’re inhaled (they should never be ingested) or applied to the skin on different parts of the body. Sometimes heat is used to help the oil absorb into the skin.
The aroma from essential oils can stimulate your limbic system - a part of the brain that relates to emotions, behaviour and long-term memory. The limbic system also controls things like breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, which is where the links between health and oils come in.
What do different essential oils do?
Different types of essential oils are said to have different effects on health, different parts of the body and various conditions including stress, anxiety, sleep quality, migraines and headaches, reducing inflammation and bacterial infections.
There are almost a hundred different types of essential oils that are associated with different health claims. Here are some of the most popular essential oils and what they’re used for:
- Bergamot: used to reduce stress
- Chamomile: used to improve mood and relaxation
- Jasmine: used to help with depression, childbirth, and libido
- Lavender: used to relieve stress
- Rose: used to improve mood and reduce anxiety
- Sandalwood: used to calm nerves and help with focus
- Tea Tree: used to fight infections and boost immunity
- Ylang-Ylang: used to treat headaches, nausea, and skin conditions
Essential oils and skincare
As we mentioned above, essential oils are used in skincare, they’re often used in different quantities too. There’s no legal standardisation when it comes to essential oils in skincare, though there are some regulations that manufacturers need to adhere to. Two products that include the same essential oil may contain completely different quantities.
Essential oils usually only make up a small amount of the product (never more than 5%, usually between 0.1-3%). This can vary even further between products that stay on the skin vs products that you rinse off. In the EU and UK, cosmetic brands and skincare manufacturers are expected to comply with guidelines set by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).
IFRA is responsible for the fragrance industry and has created voluntary standards for the use of fragrances in skincare and cosmetics. Again, there’s no legal framework that skincare and beauty brands have to adhere to when it comes to essential oils, however the cosmetic product safety assessor will have the final say.
The voluntary standards that IFRA has developed exist as sometimes plant-based chemical compounds can cause skin reactions.
Main skin reactions to essential oils:
- Irritation – this reaction is quick to manifest and will act as soon as your skin is exposed to the essential oil. You may experience discomfort, warmth and redness in the area where your skin has had a reaction.
- Sensitisation – an allergic reaction that’s quick to happen, though you may not notice it straight away. If you keep exposing yourself to the cause of your sensitivity (or something similar) then your skin might start to appear inflamed. It’s your body’s way of trying to fight off what it sees as a problem.
- Phototoxicity – this causes rapid tanning of the skin and is caused by specific chemicals. This can be reddening of the skin right through to changes in pigment such as dark spots or freckles.
These reactions can vary depending on the concentration of oil applied to the skin. You should never apply undiluted oil to the skin because of this, and never apply essential oils to compromised skin. Essential oils can penetrate through to your bloodstream, so it’s important to take precautions.
You also need to be really careful when it comes to DIY skincare, as you don’t know exactly how much of a particular essential oil you’re adding and if you’re exceeding the dermal limits. Our advice is, if you don’t know the limits, don’t add them in!
Out of twenty-six possible allergenic fragrances that have been defined by IFRA, sixteen can be found in essential oils. As a result, they need to be declared on packaging if they pass certain thresholds - 0.01% for rinse-off products and higher than 0.001% in leave on products
You will often identify the allergens on the label right at the end of the ingredients list with an asterix (*) with the note ‘naturally occurring in essential oils’ or ‘naturally occurring’. These are the allergens!
Is fragrance in skincare necessary?
The short answer is no! Scent makes up such a big part of how we interact with the world around us, and impacts on our other senses. Scent and essential oils really do go hand-in-hand. One of the biggest reasons essential oils are used in skincare is for their beautiful scent. They’re also regularly used in aromatherapy and may have therapeutic benefits.
However, if you have sensitive, reactive or damaged skin then essential oils and fragrances may cause an adverse reaction and you may want to reconsider using them in your skincare.
Building a skincare ritual based on efficacy
As beautiful as essential oils smell, at Creature of Habit, we made the decision not to include fragrance or essential oils into our products. We want to offer effective skincare that everyone can enjoy, regardless of skin sensitivity or condition, which means removing any ingredient that may cause a reaction. The effect of the essential oil on different skin is truly unknown.
We believe in building a skincare ritual that makes a beneficial difference to your skin, mood and wellbeing.
Build your skincare ritual with Creature of Habit.