Anything that is delicate, pure, and has value in this world eventually gets taken advantage of. When there is a demand for something, an adulterated version will always come along. Whether it’s green tea, honey, agave, nut and seed oils, spices, or any essential oil.
Essential oils are a hot topic — there's an enormous amount of misinformation surrounding them and it's become very damaging to essential oils, skincare, and natural medicine. It's also very harmful to humans - there are many people that need the therapeutic, medicinal, and beauty benefits of essential oils. Essential oils are powerful and extremely effective but they can also be used wrong or be adulterated and be harmful.
With the popularity of natural and organic products, some brands are also jumping on a marketing opportunity to differentiate themselves and trying to pull customers away from the booming green beauty industry that typically formulates with EO's by telling consumers, "we don't use essential oils - they aren't good for you" – or worse, statements saying "essential oils are toxic." Which is absolutely not true and misleading.
Pure, organic essential oils formulated professionally assist the skin in proper function and health. Essential oils contain a vast array of healing and skin-supporting benefits and are characterized by the most important antioxidant properties. They must be used at specific concentrations, they must be pure, organic, and unadulterated, and they must not be past their shelf life. This is where many brands and products go wrong and essential oils are incorrectly blamed. When EO's are used in too high of a concentration, or if an impure, oxidized, or fake essential oil is used, they can be sensitizing, dangerous, and damaging to your health. Essential oils that have been adulterated, are not essential oils.
Essential oils do contain potential allergens. But they are not sensitizing to all people - in fact, most people have no issue with pure, organic, and unadulterated EO’s, and find pure, organic EO's extremely therapeutic, anti-inflammatory and regenerating, to the skin as well as acne skin conditions. The molecules that are a potential trigger for some are the same molecules that deliver the extraordinary benefit to most. Essential oils may not be for absolutely everyone - but no skincare ingredient in the world is for everyone.
Essential oils are extremely complex and powerful and must be formulated professionally.
Yes, there are essential oils that can be dangerous when used wrong or certain ones that should be avoided during pregnancy, this applies mainly to these essential oils being taken internally (which should not be done) or when certain essential oils are used inappropriately topically, or "neat."
Essential oils are whole, complete plant compounds. They contain the life force of the plant, which makes them beneficial and powerful. Within their dynamic mixture, the extremely beneficial molecules are also what can cause sensitivity and possible irritation.
For those people who have extremely sensitive skin and/or skin issues, yes, EO’s should be avoided at first to find out what is going on with the skin. Sensitive skin is not a type, it's a condition, which can ultimately be healed, but many ingredients should be avoided when the condition is active to determine what is going on internally and on the surface of the skin. This is why, as with any new product, you should do a skin patch test first.
Quality and formulation are queen. Always. As we've discussed, essential oils being effective in skincare relates to several aspects; the purity/quality, shelf-life/stability/oxidization, and the EO's dilution in the formulation. Many essential oils are anti-inflammatory with antioxidant benefits, but they must be used in precise concentrations to be beneficial for the skin. Inexperienced brands may increase the amount of EO’s to cover the natural nut and seed aromas, often making the concentration too high for topical therapeutic benefits. It's a slippery slope out there with brands making “natural” products however suits them without the proper formulation or experience in natural cosmetic development. When some brands do incorporate high quality, organic essential oils, they might still be poorly formulated, which can cause the EO to crossover from being beneficial to sensitizing or irritating. The EO's aren't always to blame. It can be the formulation of the EO's, the poor quality, and/or oxidized/expired EO's.
Industry professional, Sandra Chiu LAC, an herbalist and acupuncturist who focuses on holistic dermatology, shares her opinion:
ESSENTIAL OILS DO HAVE A SHELF LIFE
EO’s, just like any pure oil, have a shelf-life and degrade over time, with the rare exception of patchouli, vetiver, and sandalwood, which actually improve with age. Essential oils should be stored in a cool, dark place or even refrigerated. Exposure to spoiled essential oils may cause skin rashes and more serious allergic reactions.
These are some common allergens within essential oils, but can also be found as "isolates," which are molecules removed/isolated from a natural fragrance material and can be added to products for fragrance and preservation:
Linalool, found naturally in lavender and helichrysum and very stable, Limonene, Geraniol, found naturally in geranium and grapefruit and less stable, Farnesol, Benzyl Benzoate - when noted on labels as “natural constituents within essential oils," these are legal notations required by the EU that the allergens stated are already WITHIN the essential oils, not isolates added to the formulation.
In addition to additives, many companies (usually for cost-effective reasons) pass off one essential oil for another. This not only affects the integrity of the EO and it’s potential in being therapeutic, but it can actually increase the possibility of sensitivity and allergic reaction.
Hope Gillerman of Hope Gillerman Organics contributed her professional thoughts as well:
- The formulator and the manufacturer must be knowledgeable - and the retail seller manages their inventory properly so they don’t sell products past the shelf life.
- Properly, professionally formulated - using only .25 for sensitive skin, and up to 1.5% for oily skin, and by avoiding oils that are prone to irritate the skin.
- The essential oils have been sourced properly and are unadulterated and not contaminated.
- Proper storage - Oils that are past their shelf life, or subject to prolonged heat and light exposure have oxidized and may even be rancid making them possible skin irritants and they lose their potency.
Hope is the author of the book Essential Oils Every Day and she expresses her thoughts on Essential Oils in skincare - here are a few highlights:
First, the more diluted an essential oil product, the safer it is to use.
Second, the closer essential oils get to your face, the more they will affect your health and wellbeing.
THE PROVEN BENEFITS OF UNADULTERATED ESSENTIAL OILS
The benefits of applying pure essential oils to the skin are numerous. There are hundreds of verifiable, scientific studies. Rose oil for example, as discussed in a recent paper published January 12, 2018 - “Essential Oils And Their Single Compounds In Cosmetics - A Critical Review” By Asja Sarkic and Iris Stappen, from the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Vienna, has antimicrobial, anti-HIV, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. And due to its antibacterial properties, Rose EO is incredibly effective as a moisturizing treatment to support congestion.
The same paper discussed a study conducted to compare the effects of a German chamomile extract and 1% topical hydrocortisone ointment in colostomy patients diagnosed with peristomal skin lesions. And the results implicated that chamomile oil is just as an effective treatment for skin lesions, showing anflammation support and antipruritic effects.
In addition to healing scar tissue, essential oils have also been proven to have sun-blocking and wrinkle-reducing effects. With all the positive research around the use of pure, unadulterated essential oils, it’s really unfortunate how brands that choose not to use EO’s are influencing people and the negativity in the market surrounding truly incredible, therapeutic botanicals. I urge everyone to do proper research on brands and products that claim to use essential oils because when they are pure, fresh, unadulterated, and formulated professionally, they can be incredibly effective for so many skin issues and slowing skin aging and decline.
 Aruoma O.I. Free radicals, oxidative stress, and antioxidants in human health and disease. J. Am. Oil Chem. Soc. 1998;75:199–212. doi: 10.1007/s11746-998-0032-9.
 1/12/18 Essential Oils And Their Single Compounds In Cosmetics - A Critical Review- Asja Sarkic and Iris Stappen, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Vienna