When it comes to essential oils, one thing in particular comes to mind – fragrance. And its fair to say, whether its in skincare, aromatherapy, massage, or perfumes – essential oils and their prominence across industries is growing at a rapid rate. It’s also no coincidence that as the natural skincare market continues to surge and we’re all becoming more conscious of what we’re actually applying to our skin, essential oils have been at the forefront, hailed as the answer to finding a natural alternative to synthetic fragrance. But, as we increasingly see the inclusion of many different essential oils in skincare, it begs the question – what impact might they be having on our bodies and Earth and is there perhaps a more favourable alternative?
What Are Essential Oils?
Otherwise known as ‘fragrant oils’, essential oils are quite simply the fragrant essence of a plant which is extracted from leaves, flowers and even the bark, stem, and roots of the plant. This is usually done through the process of distillation, which involves the use of water or steam to extract the essence or can sometimes be done through a cold pressing method instead. These highly concentrated plant extracts are able to retain the smell and flavour of their original source. All essential oils have a unique chemical composition – this can vary from within the same species of plant, right down to differences plant to plant – the impact of this will affect the smell, absorption levels and effects on the body. In essence, no two essential oils are the same for this reason. Nonetheless, the poignant aroma they give off are quite often easily distinguishable –a few examples of some very popular essential oils are Lavender Oil, Jasmine Oil and Tea Tree Oil.
The Impact on the Skin
Did you know essential oils have been found to be one of the leading causes of allergic contact dermatitis? In fact, during the pandemic as many of us found ourselves locked down and delving further into forms of self-care, more and more people began experimenting with undiluted forms of essential oils in their skincare routines to induce relaxation and see some skin transformations, and yet it was reported that skin reactions were on the rise. Most of this comes down to the widespread misunderstanding about the properties of essential oils. Whilst you may have heard that certain essential oils can be antifungal and antibacterial, we aren’t often aware of the bigger picture. The truth is, although they might be antibacterial, the high active ingredient concentrations are simply far beyond what we’re used to. Because of this, continued use of essential oils can make the skin sensitised over time. Perhaps one of the most common examples of this is Tea Tree Oil. Most acne sufferers have probably stumbled across Tea Tree Oil at some point – and have been made to believe it will eliminate all acne breakouts practically overnight – and yet after trying it out find themselves with a reaction not only worse than the acne they were originally struggling with, but also now with a compromised skin barrier. The harsh and damaging affect it has on the skin can leave it in a far more vulnerable state than it was prior to application.
Citrus Oils and Phototoxicity
When it comes to citrus oils, like Lemon Oil and Bergamot Oil, there are other reasons we might want to avoid applying them to the skin, particularly in the summer months. This is because citrus oils contain components which are potentially photosensitising, meaning some compounds in citrus oils can undergo changes when they are exposed to UV light. The impact of this is damage to the skin in the form of itching, burning, redness and even blistering and hyperpigmentation. Of course, as with most things, not all citrus oils are created equally – so some will be more phototoxic than others. This will come down to the extraction method (where it has been found that cold pressed methods can be more phototoxic than steam distilled methods) the presence of certain compounds and the concentration levels of the oil. So, whilst these components are produced by the plant as a defence mechanism against insects and pathogens, they aren’t quite as beneficial for healing or soothing the skin.
How Are Essential Oils Impacting Our Environment?
Essential oils impact the environment in many ways, from the actual production of the oil to the disposal and risk to aquatic life. Firstly, to produce one pound of essential oil, huge quantities of plants are needed (that’s 1500 lemons, 10,000 pounds of rose petals or 250 pounds of lavender!). This can be because of the difficulties accessing the oil from deep within the plant, right down to the impact the weather has on the plants – these factors can all affect how difficult it is to obtain the oil in the first place. The result of this is companies turning to large corporate farms to source the plants, where there is heavy use of pesticides. Beyond the production process, essential oils come with their own risks. As well as being highly flammable, most essential oils are toxic to aquatic life and can have long term implications on marine ecosystems.
What To Look for Instead!
Fortunately, many companies are committing to creating fragrance and essential oil free products, which is great news for our skin barriers! This means you can find some beautifully scented products to get that luxury and relaxing feel without jeopardising your skin progress. Take the Vemel Advanced Protective Serum as the perfect example. A luxurious serum packed with goodness and naturally scented with the gentle scent of plum kernel – so you can find yourself in a haze of natural aroma, without compromise. With a commitment to no synthetic or essential oil fragrance, we opted to include only the purest raw ingredients, in this instance Amaranth Extract and Plum Kernel Oil help to enhance an already relaxing experience. Or for a targeted treatment like the Vemel Intense Age Repair Eye and Lip Cream, you can preserve your youth, whilst enjoying the sweet, delicate scent of coconut and amaranth as you carry out your evening routine.
So, when looking for an aromatically pleasing product without the sensitising side effects, know that you do have options. Because at the end of it, your skin care routine should be bringing out the best in your skin and your mind – no sacrificing necessary.