What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are natural, chemical compounds extracted from plants. The oils capture the plant's unique scent and essence. Aromatic compounds give each essential oil its own characteristic properties, many of which have been closely studied and cited as beneficial for a range of health conditions including skin problems. Essential oils are most commonly obtained through a process of steam distillation or using alternative methods, such as cold pressing.
Which Oil Should I Choose?
Certain compounds within essential oils can prove particularly beneficial for specific skin conditions. Studies often show the benefits of these specific oils, but our skin is delicate and it's therefore really important to consider a few important points before liberally applying oil to sensitive skin. What may be deemed suitable in a scientific study, could still trigger an allergic reaction if you're intolerant to natural compounds in specific oils such as linalol or citronella.
Essential Oil Dosage
Whilst essential oils are natural, they can sometimes be problematic in the wrong dosage. It's therefore really important to understand dilution correctly so as not to further aggravate skin. Oils such as oregano can be really strong and even cause small burns to the skin if applied neat with no dilution. You will need to use a carrier oil to dilute your essential oil to avoid skin reactions: irritation, sensitisation, and phototoxicity.
Most carrier oils are unscented or lightly scented and therefore won't interfere with an essential oils therapeutic properties. My favourite carrier oils include;
- Coconut oil
- Jojoba oil
- Apricot kernel oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Olive oil
- Argan oil
This rate is recommended for children over the age of 2, if you're applying oil to your face, prolonged use, daily use, and benefiting from the subtle energetic effects of the oil.
- 10ml (2 tsp) = 3 drops
- 15ml (3 tsp or 1 tbsp) = 4 drops
- 30ml (6 tsp or 2 tbsp) = 9 drops
Great if you're adding oils to your bath regularly or massaging into your body on a daily basis.
- 10ml (2 tsp) = 6 drops
- 15ml (3 tsp or 1 tbsp) = 9 drops
- 30ml (6 tsp or 2 tbsp) = 18 drops
This ratio is recommended for short term use (ie 2 weeks). Particularly if you're applying topically to treat an area of particular concern.
- 10ml (2 tsp) = 15 drops
- 15ml (3 tsp or 1 tbsp) = 22 drops
- 30ml (6 tsp or 2 tbsp) = 45 drops
Make sure you're getting what you pay for! Essential oils can vary quite considerably in price, depending upon which particular plant they're sourced from. Sometimes essential oils are themselves diluted by adding cheaper vegetable oil. The natural fragrance in unscrupulous brands is sometimes enhanced by adding synthetic chemicals. You don't want to be paying a high price for an oil that is not the genuine article. Always read product reviews or look for language indicating purity on the label.
If you're still uncertain as to whether a particular oil suits your skin type, I'd highly recommend a patch test. Apply a few drops of essential oil (at the correct dilution) on the inside of your arm joint or wrist. Skin here is particularly thin and sensitive. Place a bandage wrapped gently but securely over the patch. If you begin to feel the onset of irritation or if a reaction occurs, immediately remove the bandage and carefully wash the area with mild soap and water. If no irritation occurs after 48 hours, you're good to go!
It's important to remember that skin changes all the time, so conducting this patch test one week is no guarantee that you might not develop sensitisation, irritation or allergy to the oil over time. If you haven't used a specific oil in a while, retest to ensure it's safe for you.
When I talk about essential oils being of benefit for specific skin conditions, I'm referring here to massaging oils directly into the skin, but it's important to consider that not every oil is safe for every form of application. Some oils are considered perfectly fine if inhaled for example, but might be irritating when applied topically, even in correct concentrations as low as 2%. Thyme, clove, cinnamon and oregano essential oils are good examples of particularly strong oils that should be applied with extreme caution. They're incredibly potent and can cause minor burns and skin irritation.
There isn't a great deal of research when it comes to natural essential oils and drug interactions, but we do know via this study for example that eucalyptus oil can significantly increase the skin's absorption of 5-fluorouracil (an anti-cancer drug) In fact it increased skin permeability by 95 times! So, if you're taking regular medication, it's definitely worth consulting your doctor or naturopath to ensure the oils you're wanting to apply don't interfere with your meds.
Choosing Your Oil
Hopefully all the warning information above hasn't put you off trying essential oils. Whilst the above are sensible considerations, they can sound a little bit daunting. It's important to remember that essential oils, applied at the correct dilution, are mostly very safe and offer a whole range of benefits.
Essential Oils for Psoriasis
When it comes to psoriasis, my favourite essential oils of choice are Oregon Grape Seed Oil, Black Seed Oil and Turmeric Oil.
Oregon Grape is the state flower of Oregon in the USA. The shrub is usually around one metre tall and features little yellow flower clusters in the spring. These clusters eventually develop into waxy blue-berries, from which the plant gets its 'grape' name.
In terms of a natural psoriasis treatment, you might have heard the plant referred to by its botanical title Mahonia aquifolium. This botanical has been used medicinally for over one hundred years, particularly in cases of severe eczema, where it was reported to produce great therapeutic success. Historically it was also considered the most reliable remedy for psoriasis. An 1896 research paper indicates that when alternated with other natural remedies, in long-standing cases of psoriasis, Oregon grape root seemed to initiate skin improvement.
Modern research helps explain the reason for Mahonia aquifolium's effectiveness in treating psoriasis - namely the brilliant antioxidant properties of its alkaloids. Studies also show that these properties are effective when applied topically, just as they can be when taken as a supplement. In fact this recent clinical trial, assessing only its topical application, confirms its modern usefulness when massaged into psoriasis patches.
According to several recent studies, turmeric might be a powerful, natural option for treating psoriasis. Best known for adding a slightly bitter, peppery flavour to curries, this bright yellow spice comes with some incredible benefits for psoriasis prone skin.
Used as a healing spice for centuries in Eastern medicine, turmeric features natural anti-inflammatory properties that can be beneficial for inflammatory skin complaints. According to the Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications, turmeric applied topically might help relieve psoriasis. The study reveals that after four months, 72% of participants were no longer displaying symptoms of psoriasis.
If you're wanting to consider a topical application of turmeric for your psoriasis, check out my Natural Body Cream, which features both beneficial Chia Seed and Turmeric Oils.
Essential Oils for Eczema
Essential oils featuring anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, are a great shout when it comes to alleviating eczema symptoms. According to this study, over ninety different botanical essential oils can be beneficial when it comes to treating skin conditions. My favourites for eczema are Chamomile and Borage.
Chamomile has long been studied for its anti-inflammatory properties. Traditionally used for soothing skin irritation, this study highlights its benefits when it comes to treating eczema. Roman chamomile is widely used in cosmetic preparations for its calming and softening effects on the skin. The study promotes its use in the treatment of atopic eczema, where it was able to offer more than half the positive effect of 0.25% hydrocortisone cream - without the worrying side effects of using topical steroids.
Borage Oil is another option I often recommend to parents treating eczema in little ones. Some studies have considered the topical use of borage oil for calming and soothing eczema-prone skin with positive results. Borage oil contains fatty compounds that our bodies convert to a hormone-like substance which in turn feature anti-inflammatory properties.
My final recommendation for eczema is Calendula oil. Calendula is a natural oil extracted from marigold flowers (Calendula officinalis). Studies show it can offer antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, which might make it beneficial in soothing skin rashes and treating children's sore bottoms.
Essential Oils for Acne
I'll always remember the strong scent of tea-tree oil from my years as an acne troubled teen. This study highlights the benefits of topical Tea Tree Oil as an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne vulgaris. The randomised trial saw two groups of patients with acne, one given a tea tree oil topical and the other a placebo. The results revealed a significant difference between the use of the tea tree oil gel and the placebo in terms of the improvement of their skin, highlighting the benefits of using a natural Tea Tree Oil in treating both teenage spots and adult acne.
Bergamot Oil has also shown to be beneficial when it comes to treating acne, especially if you're dealing with raised pimples. This study reveals the benefits of bergamot on skin, proving it has the ability to reduce swelling and shrink those irritating spots.
Essential Oils for Rosacea
Rosacea is characterised by redness, most commonly seen around the nose and cheeks. Just as in cases of eczema, Chamomile Oil is a great shout because of its anti-inflammatory, calming properties. Chamomile is also one of the gentlest essential oils available, making it great for treating a variety of sensitive skin issues, and studies such as this one support its success as a natural rosacea remedy.
Out of the hundreds of essential oils available for treating sensitive skin, Lavender Oil is another popular choice with studies to back-up its therapeutic benefits. This study highlights its positive results, especially when combined with other naturals including chamomile, tea-tree and zinc.
Essential Oils for Chicken Pox
Whilst chickenpox is thankfully only temporary, the itching associated with it can drive children insane! Chickenpox is one of those conditions that almost all children will catch at some stage, and as parents we're constantly reminding kids not to scratch when those spots arise, to avoid scarring delicate skin. My Skin Soothing Spray contains a blend of Sunflower, Ballon and Blackcurrant Oils, which work together to stop that irritating itch.
Whilst studies on essential oils specifically to treat chickenpox are still somewhat lacking, researchers have found that certain oils have antiviral and pain-relieving properties which you might find helpful. My favourite option when it comes to treating the symptoms of chickenpox is Geranium Oil, which promotes healthy skin and can calm those red, irritated skin lesions. This 2017 review of studies specifically conducted on geranium and other oils, indicated that its antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiseptic properties make geranium very beneficial for treating skin irritation and infections when applied topically.
If your child has suffered marks as a result of itching their chickenpox, using a natural blend of essential oils, suitable for delicate skin, such as this one, can help to reduce those pesky scars.
Essential Oils for Scarring
Taking of anti-scar treatments, the beneficial component in essential oils that helps to naturally treat scars is called linoelic acid. Essential oils high in linoelic acid include:
- Argan oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Rosehip oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sesame oil
- Pumpkin seed oil
- Sweet almond oil
The reason I particularly love rosehip is because its linoleic acid content isn't the only beneficial aspect of this essential oil. You'll also get a decent dose of vitamin A and antioxidants. I enjoy picking rosehips in the summer as they make a fantastic syrup, rich in vitamin C. In fact, rosehips are thought to have more vitamin C than oranges or lemons and studies show that vitamin C may improve wound healing and help to prevent dry skin.
My other favourite essential oil when it comes to preventing or treating scar tissue, is avocado oil. Avocado oil has something called 'lysyl oxidase inhibitory activity' which studies show can block the formation of excess collagen in scar tissue. This is thought to be particularly beneficial in treating burns and other skin damage.
If you struggle with acne scars, hyperpigmentation patches or other wounds as a result of your skin condition, I would highly recommend using a natural blend of essential oils such as this one. My Scar Minimising Oil contains Rosehip, Vitamin E and Avocado Oils, which combined offer a powerful treatment to help to renew skin cells and reduce the marks left behind by scarring.
Which is your favourite essential oil? Post in the comments below.