I don’t know about you, but I enjoy using essential oils. I know, it’s all very New Age woo-woo. I’m not really that invested in the New Age movement, but I like my essential oils. Always have for years and years. I like them primarily because they smell so good, and well, to a degree, I believe that some oils can work on my temperament better than others. Lavender for one, soothes me and helps me sleep. Peppermint rejuvenates me and makes me feel refreshed.
But I think people have been lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to the use of essential oils, because of the fact that they’ve been around a long time and they are natural. This was brought home to me when I came across a piece of news on Twitter this week.
No, it’s not just any piece of news on Twitter, it was reported in the Independent (UK), which I’d like to believe isn’t fake news :P
In a nutshell, the lady in the piece of news, applied essential oils directly to her skin, before going for a hot yoga class and then using a tanning bed. She suffered second and third-degree burns on the parts where she applied the essential oils which was attributed to the exposure to UV light. As much as I sympathize with her predicament, I felt that it was also timely for us to remind ourselves, with essential oils enjoying a bit of a renaissance, that essential oils aren’t play things.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are distilled or expressed from plants, fruits and flowers and represent a concentrate of the plant, fruit or flower in question. These oils contain certain chemical structures that not only usually smell good, they also contain certain properties that may be beneficial to us when ingested, inhaled or applied to skin. Read more.
The key thing to note is that essential oils are really very concentrated oils extracted from the plant, fruit or flowers and can have a higher concentration of ingredients or chemicals than naturally occurs in an individual fruit, plant or flower. The high quality ones anyway. It takes a large quantity of plant, fruit or flowers from which to extract essential oils, which is why a good one never comes cheap and which is also why they come in small little bottles. So, if you’ve been buying them for RM5 a bottle as I know can be found, just be warned that it might just be chemicals and artificial fragrance and not a true essential oil at all. I’ve been there! When you’ve smelled a true essential oil, you’ll know the difference.
Essential Oils should not be used directly on skin
Because essential oils are such highly concentrated products, they should not be used directly on skin. The key reason is because it can irritate your skin and really, cause your skin to react. Yes, I know there will be those who say “But essential oils are natural and natural things are good for you!” Well, yes. So is poison ivy. I don’t see you rushing to apply that to your skin do you?
So, before using essential oils, it is recommended to dilute it, usually in an oil for use on skin, or in water for use as a diffuser or in a bath.
There are 3 recommended ways with which to use an essential oil (or more here):-
- In an oil burner or diffuser – drop a few drops of oil into water and heat the water or turn on the diffuser to diffuse the scent into the air.
- Mixed with a carrier oil or lotion – Drop a few drops of oil into an unscented carrier oil (e.g. sweet almond oil) or body lotion, before you apply to your skin. This helps dilute the potency of the oil and helps your skin tolerate it better.
- In a bath – Drop a few drops of your favourite essential oils into a warm bath before relaxing in the bath. This used to be my favourite thing to do when I go to a hotel (no bath at home LOL!) and it really helps you relax, especially if you’ve had a long flight or a tiring journey.
I’ve tried them all, and usually use my essential oils in a burner or diffuser or in a bath. I have done the oil in carrier oil thing for body massages, but I soon realised that there is more to it than just dropping oils into carrier oil and enjoying the scent. You have to see how it reacts to your skin as well, and I didn’t trust myself enough to not cause harm to myself one way or another. I sometimes also drop lavender oil on a piece of tissue to help me sleep better but I don’t place it too close to my nose.
If you have been wondering, this is one of the reasons I don’t DIY my own skincare nor do I plan to. I know it’s possible because essential oils are easy to source as well as carrier oils, and you can find all sorts of information online that can help you. But I would rather just let someone else do it for me. Kudos, if you DIY :)
Essential oils can make skin photo sensitive or irritate skin
This relates directly to that news article I linked to above. Some oils, especially citrus oils, can make skin photosensitive when exposed to UV rays or sunlight. This is why, if you have a skincare product that contains citrus oils, they usually recommend that you apply a good sunscreen and avoid the sun while using the product.
The other thing is that citrus oils are also known to irritate the skin. This is why websites like Beautypedia usually downgrade a product that contains citrus oils, because they are known irritants, in particular for those with sensitive skin.
I personally cannot use a product that has very high concentrations of lavender oil. A previous experience many years ago, left me combating contact dermatitits and I’ve been very careful ever since. I can tolerate products that contain lavender, just not in high concentrations.
Some essential oils can be used directly on the skin
There are however, some essential oils that can be used on the skin, a non-exhaustive list of which is as follows, as extracted from this site.
- Lavender e.g on insect bites
- Tea Tree Oil e.g. on acne spots (This one I’ve tried)
- Roman Chamomile
Yet it is cautioned that you only use 1-2 little drops. Remember, these are highly concentrated, potent, distilled products. You don’t know how it’ll react with your skin. You can also read more at this site about the risks associated with using essential oils. I think of essential oils like whisky or brandy, both of which are distilled – gives you a warm fuzz in small doses, but potent when you overdo it. Hic! :D
When in doubt, don’t
I know essential oils are a hot topic right now. There are many brands in the market, and many sold directly as well. I have nothing against them. I personally enjoy using essential oils, and I like playing around with them.
But I always bear in mind that essential oils, while looking and smelling innocuous, aren’t. They are natural, which means it comes with the attendant issues of dealing with natural ingredients. Natural is not necessarily safe. Natural is not necessarily good or better. Natural simply means it comes from nature and so does poison ivy, tarantulas and snakes :)
What I will say here is that no matter what anyone or any company tells me, I will not ingest essential oils neat, nor will I use them directly on my skin neat. When in doubt, don’t.
Do you use essential oils?
I love them, but I am very careful of them. I did my research back in the day, and anyone who’s spoken to me about essential oils recently will have noted the scepticism with which I’ve viewed them when told I can imbibe them or use them directly on the skin. I just won’t, but please don’t let me stop you – just be sure you’ve done your research thoroughly.