Aromatherapy practitioners explain that when inhaled or applied directly to skin, the oils of certain aromatic plants have the power to relieve a number of emotional and physical problems. This may explain why scented body lotions or facial cleansers claim to "calm the nerves with the relaxing aroma of lavender" or "revitalize you with the reviving scent peppermint." What many don’t realize is there is more to these essential oils than meets the nose.
There are over 1,000 essential oils, and all are extracted from the flowers, leaves, fruit, bark, resins and roots of plants growing around the world. Each drop of oil can be 50 to 100 times stronger than the original herb from which it is derived. What does this mean for the skin? Simply that powerful benefits can be obtained, and enjoyed, with the smallest amount of these elixirs.
Using essential oils
Here’s how to use essential oils safely:
- The number one rule for using essential oils is: dilute, dilute, dilute! While many of the oils smell sweet and harmless, they are extremely strong and can irritate the skin or worse, burn or cause an allergic reaction. As a general rule, use only 10 to 12 drops of essential oil in one ounce of unscented moisturizer, body lotion, toner, or carrier oil, such as wheat germ, grapeseed, sweet almond or apricot kernel oil. Exceptions to the dilution rule are lavender and tea tree, which can be applied directly, or neat, to the skin.
- Never take essential oils internally. If you wish to investigate the medicinal application of essential oils, it is imperative you seek out the advice of a qualified professional as some oils can be toxic if ingested.
- Always perform a patch test before applying oils to the skin (either undiluted or diluted) to ensure you are not allergic or suffer negative side effects.
- Keep essential oils away from the eyes, ears, mouth, nose or other sensitive areas unless directed by a healthcare professional.
- Consult a doctor about using essential oils while pregnant; certain oils are not safe for use by pregnant women, even topically.
- Use oils cautiously if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, epilepsy, cancer, or other major health conditions. Consult your doctor prior to use to ensure the oils do not produce any unwanted side-effects.
Six essential oils to keep on hand
The following essential oils produce dramatic results when applied topically to the skin. Consider keeping them in your medicine chest for overall skin well-being.
With the power to relieve depression, insomnia, headaches, PMS, and fatigue, its no wonder that the spiky, pungent scent of lavender is one of the most widely beloved (and used) essential oils, however; lavender is not only useful for its ability to improve your mood. One of the few essential oils that can be applied directly to the skin without dilution, lavender is extremely effective against sun damage, infections and in particular, burns of any kind. Lavender oil has been known to take away redness and burning almost instantly when applied to burned skin.
- How to use: Apply one or two drops of oil directly to areas of concern to bestow the wonderful side effects of tranquility and peace. For an extra peaceful sleep, tuck cotton balls soaked with two or three drops of lavender oil in the linen closet to imbue sheets and towels with a soothing scent.
2. Carrot seed
While carrots are usually recognized for their nutritional value, the essential oil produced from carrot seed is found in many skincare products and is known to improve the tone and firmness of skin. In addition, carrot seed oil is rich in beta carotene, vitamins and minerals, making it an excellent treatment for acneic skin.
- How to use: Add one drop to your daily moisturizer or body cream for an improvement in skin tone and texture.
Fans of chamomile tea will be happy to know that the delectable and soothing little flowers are also equally as beneficial when used as essential oil. This essential oil is surprisingly bright cobalt blue and has a very pungent odor. Known for its ability to calm nerves and relieve migraines and PMS, chamomile oil can also be used in skin care to reduce inflammation and puffiness.
- How to use: Mix one drop in your moisturizer on a daily basis to help minimize puffiness or inflammation.
Made from the delectably fragrant leaves of the rose geranium plant, geranium oil is known for treating depression, the effects of menopause, diabetes and blood disorders, but the benefits don’t stop there. When applied to the skin, geranium oil also has the ability to treat acne, eczema, inflammation and infected wounds.
- How to use: Add one-two drops to moisturizer or body cream daily.
5. Tea tree
One of the most well-known of all essential oils, tea tree is characterized by a pungent, minty scent. An excellent acne fighter, tea tree is anti-viral, antibacterial and anti-fungal, and is extremely useful for treating dandruff, candidiasis, ring worm and sunburn.
- How to use: While the scent of tea tree may seem strong, the oil itself is quite gentle and can be applied directly onto blemishes or other infected areas of the skin. For best results, massage one drop into affected areas daily.
Also referred to as strawflower, immortelle or everlasting, helichrysum oil is famous for its ability to protect and repair the skin after injury.
- How to use: Dilute in a carrier oil or mix with one or two drops of evening primrose oil to reduce pain, minimize bruising, and potentially regenerate tissue, preventing or minimizing the chance of scars.
Incorporating essential oils into skincare is a great way to improve your complexion without chemicals while boosting your well being and benefiting your entire body. But remember — don’t cut corners with essential oils; some will be far more costly than others and this price discrepancy is actually a mark of quality. Always use 100 percent essential oils, and avoid fragrance oils or scented oils as these may not be pure enough to use as skincare.