Are Essential Oils Safe For Skin?

The topic of Essential Oils (Aromaceuticals) being incorporated into skincare formulations is rather polarising topic in the world of Green Beauty. In this post my aim is to explain why I have chosen to incorporate Aromaceuticals into my formulations, detailing which ones along with their individual therapeutic properties. My personal view is to be transparent and offer detailed information about each and every incorporated into my formulations, this provides you my friend with the opportunity to then make an informed decision over what you choose to apply to your beautiful body (our bodies no matter what shape, size, colour, or age are pretty amazing - just think of all the things you can do because you have one!)

Essential oils

Essential oils are natural aromatic substances extracted from plants. Although they are oil-soluble, they are strictly not ‘oils’ since they do not contain the fatty acids of a plant-derived oil. Compounds found in essential oils perform the same protective functions in humans as they do in the plant from which they were extracted, including alcohols, phenols, ketones, along with antibacterial, antiviral, analgesic, sedative, antifungal and antiparasitic and insecticidal properties. 

The two most common methods of extracting essential oils from plants are: 

Steam Distillation // This method involves passing steam through plant material, which vaporises volatile compounds from the plant. The resulting vapour is then collected and separated into the water fraction, which is termed a ‘hydrosol’, and the non water-soluble part which contains the essential oil.

CO2 (or carbon dioxide) // Extracts are derived from a unique extraction process known as supercritical carbon dioxide extraction. The plant material has been extracted for the time it requires to remove all oily, lipophilic compounds, including vegetable oils, waxes, etc. The totality of the plant is extracted because the most active ingredients require a longer extraction to remove and would be too heavy to extract using steam distillation. Because the plant material is not exposed to air (oxygen) or heat, as compared to steam distillation, none of the compounds change or oxidise during extraction. Hence, the final extract is just the same as in the plant - the same composition and aroma.

How essential oils penetrate the skin

Once applied to the skin, essential oil compounds rapidly penetrate the tissues and enter the bloodstream quickly, circulating throughout the body. Scientists suspect that compounds below 500 to 600 Daltons in molecular weight readily cross the skin layers and are absorbed by the body. Most essential oil compounds are well below 500 Daltons. Because cells are surrounded with a lipid membrane, essential oils are attracted to and able to penetrate the cell membrane to deliver nutrients to the cell nucleus.

QUALITY & PURITY

High quality, preferably therapeutic grade essential oils are generally used in skincare. Adulteration is particularly rife in essential oils as they are a valuable plant-based ingredient. To prevent this potential issue of adulterated essential oils from contaminating my formulations I have two screen process:

ONE // I only purchase Certified Organic Essential Oils, as part of my own Organic Certification process each ingredient must have a current up-to-date recognised Organic Certificate. All Certified Organic produce is grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, or GMOs with a focus on environmentally sustainable practices through soil and land health, and balanced eco-systems. These oils have each been produced from the named Botanical species, from one single origin, and by the specified method of extraction. They contain no inputs or other technical additions. They have not been blended, nor formulated. Research demonstrates organically grown fruits and vegetables may contain as much as 18 - 69% more antioxidants than pesticide-treated produce. Antioxidants play a critical role in the prevention of damage in the skin, they help to prevent a loss of firmness and elasticity which in turn help prevent wrinkles.

TWO // I purchase my Essential Oils from a manufacturer who undertakes testing with technology known as GC/MS. Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) is the gold standard in quantitative analytical lab testing, meaning it can identify exact percentages of volatile compounds. It is a two-part technological system to scientifically prove purity. 
GC/MS // Separates compounds found in the essential oil, then mass spectrometry identifies these compounds. The separation process is utilised to identify, not to extract from, oil. Results are then generated onto a graph that a botanical chemist reads to decipher if an essential oil matches the oil’s authentic profile and if any adulterants, diluents, or contaminants are present. 

CORRECT FORMULATION 

I do not formulate just for the aroma essential oils offer. What??! Let me explain... My absolute priority is the therapeutic benefits they offer, to add an Essential Oil to mask the natural aroma of other ingredients incorporated into formulations, or to create a pleasant smelling product is not a good enough reason (for me) to incorporate an essential oil into my products. 

Skincare Efficacy is QueenEfficacy = how well your skincare product works, in other words efficacy is the term used for saying the product does it's intended job. (Efficacy is a blog post in its self which is coming soon!) Each ingredient is throughly considered, undergoing many trails before it makes the cut into the final formulation. This is a slow process, time consuming and in monetary terms expensive. This is my personal approach to product design, as a formulator of high performance, pro-ageing products to enhance your skincare routine and lives. Essential oils easily penetrate the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, and from there enter the bloodstream. Because tiny quantities of essential oils act rapidly on the body, they need to be used in carefully measured quantities, and most cannot be safely applied to the skin unless diluted, correctly. 

SKIN IRRITATION
Some Essential Oils are known skin irritants, causing inflammation and itchiness when applied to the skin. This is seen most commonly in Essential Oils containing high levels of aldehydes or phenols. Examples include: Cinnamon, Clove, Oregano and Thyme. (Read more about Dermal Limits for Essential Oils here.)

PHOTOSENSITIVITY
Compounds known as furanocoumarins present in some essential oils are known to react with the skin in the presence of ultraviolet light, resulting in varying degrees of redness, and occasionally hyper-pigmentation and vesicle formation. These compounds are present in high concentrations in citrus essential oils, the most potent of these being bergamot, as well as angelica root, lemon verbena, coriander  and cumin essential oils. I choose not to include Essential Oils with photosensitive properties (Read my BLOG Skin Phototoxicity & Citrus Oils here

CONTACT SENSITISATION 
Some Essential Oils that are innocuous on initial contact with the skin produce irritation after repeated application. These essential oils induce an immune response which may result in redness, irritation and sometimes vesiculation following subsequent contact with the skin. Essential Oils which are frequently implicated as sensitisers include: Cinnamon, Bergamot, Clove and Verbena. I choose to take a cautious approach, using Essential Oils at a maximum concentration of 0.5% reducing the risks associated with excessive exposure.

It is also very important to note that anyone can have a reaction, to well anything! This is why is it always best practice is to undertake a patch test on an invisible portion of your leg or arm, such as behind your knee or inside your elbow. If that application produces no reaction within 24 hours, it's time to assess how the product will perform on your face, select a small area of your face that's easily covered - such as the underside of your jaw—and apply the product. If there's no reaction, the product is probably safe for you to use. 

THE ESSENTIAL OILS WE DO INCORPORATE INTO OUR FORMULATIONS

BLUE TANSY
Botanical Name //
Tanacetum annuum 
Method or Extraction //
Steam Distilled
Allergens //
Limonene
Amount present in formulation //
0.004% (Hero product launching soon)
Dermal Limit //
Not applicable. Peroxides within this Essential Oil should be kept to a minimum by the addition of and antioxidant (Vitamin E)
Pregnancy // Considered safe during pregnancy and nursing
Skincare Benefits //
Antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory actions.

CHAMOMILE ROMAN
Botanical Name // Anthemis nobilis 
Method or Extraction // Steam Distilled
Allergens // Limonene
Amount present in formulation // 0.006% (Hero product launching soon)
Dermal Limit // Not applicable. Peroxides within this Essential Oil should be kept to a minimum by the addition of and antioxidant (Vitamin E)
Pregnancy // Considered safe during pregnancy and nursing
Skincare Benefits // Anti-inflammatory activity.

TURMERIC ROOT
Botanical Name //
Curcuma longa 
Method or Extraction // 
CO2 
Allergens //
Farnesol 
Amount present in formulation //
0.002%
Dermal Limit // 
0.6%
Pregnancy // Considered safe during pregnancy and nursing
Skincare Benefits //
Anti-inflammatory and 
anti-oxidant activity.

A NOTE ON ALLERGENS

Essential oils are highly concentrated potent plant extracts that offer rapid correction, regeneration, and balance, with little or no side effects, if used correctly and the essential oils are pure and unadulterated. This is why essential oils are heavily diluted, it is recommended that for leave on products no more that 1% for the face and body no more that 5% of the total product formulation. I will state this again - I only purchase both GC/MS screened and Certified Organic essential oils, additional I follow and comply with the safety guidelines set by The International Fragrance Association (IFRA). Safety is paramount.

Limonene - Essential oil compounds (especially monoterpenes like limonene) are more prone to oxidation than others. When these oils are exposed to the air they combine with oxygen to form skin allergens known as peroxides or hydroperoxides. This risk is greater as the essential oil ages. In other words, the essential oils are not allergenic themselves but are activated in the skin or before skin contact to become powerful sensitizers and contact allergens.
Farnesol - Can cause skin sensitisation, it is a natural sesquiterpene alcohol in essential oils. Farnesol has a sensitization potential but more data is required to determine whether farnesol alone is the main causative allergen in personal care and cosmetic products.

The key features I am looking for with these three Essential Oils are for their Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory properties.

Antioxidants // Tone down signs of inflammation, and restore the appearance of suppleness and improved elasticity to skin. Antioxidants protect the skin and reduce the negative effect of photo-ageing, prevent further environmental damage causing the early signs of skin ageing.

Anti-inflammatory // Calm down any skin inflammation, showing up as redness pain or swelling. Some botanical ingredients reduce inflammation in the skin by suppressing the development of inflammatory agents or by reducing free radicals.

Blue Tansy - Is a flower in the chamomile family, Its bold hue comes from oil extracted from the flower itself, through the chemical reaction that occurs when the flower steam distilled. With a high chamazulene content 8.24% this compound helps alleviate redness, irritation, rashes and burns, coupled with it’s calming properties as a natural anti-histamine make chamazulene a hero ingredient!
Read more about Blue Tansy here.

German Chamomile - This is a deep blue oil due to its high chamazulene content (2-5%) and it contains a high percentage of alcohols such as bisabolol. Bisabolol is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-irritant, anti-fungal and non-allergenic. It penetrates deep into the layers of your skin where its potent anti-inflammatory and anti-allergen actions, restoring and soothing irritated skin, burns, bruises, and other skin conditions.

Turmeric Root - This herb has been widely researched it has impressive wound healing activity, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. The active ingredient curcumin present in turmeric possesses anti-inflammatory and bactericidal properties which helps to treat inflammation of skin, by decreasing inflammation by strongly inhibiting the 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX) enzyme that is involved in the inflammation response according to in vitro research. Turmeric’s potent antioxidants have been shown to protect healthy cells and neutralize free radicals by stabilising them, thus delaying the appearance of ageing or skin damage. Skin tonic - it controls excess oil, unclogs pores, and brightens your complexion.

 

Until next time..

Be human, be kind, be you.

 

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES:

  • Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014)
    http://tisserandinstitute.org
  • Evidence-Based Essential Oil Therapy: The Ultimate Guide to the Therapeutic and Clinical Application of Essential Oils - Dr. Scott A. Johnson
  • The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy - Salvatore Battaglia (Second Edition
  • The International Fragrance Association (IFRA)
    http://www.ifraorg.org/en-us/search/s/lemon_essential_oil#.WNDjKhhh1UM
  • Wiesenthal A, Hunter L, Wang S, et al. Nanoparticles: small and mighty. Int J Dermatol. 2011 Mar; 50( 3): 247-54.

  • Mowitz, M.; Svedman, C.; Zimerson, E.; Isaksson, M.; Pontén, A.; Bruze, M. Simultaneous patch testing with fragrance mix I, fragrance mix II and their ingredients in southern Sweden between 2009 and 2015. Contact Dermat. 2017, 77, 280–287.

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