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What is an essential oil? What is their role in skincare?

What is an essential oil? What is their role in skincare?

Essential oils can make skincare products smell fantastic but they are so much more than just a natural fragrance. Essential oils are active ingredients with amazing properties of their own. A typical essential oil is a complex mixture of over a hundred different chemical compounds. These chemical compounds give the oil its therapeutic properties and its aroma. All of the chemical constituents of an essential oil work together in synergy and contribute to the overall effect. The oils harness a plant’s therapeutic properties to restore balance to the mind, body and spirit.

What is an essential oil?

Essential oils are the volatile, organic constituents of fragrant plant matter. Each oil is a mixture of organic compounds originating from one botanical source.

There are around 150 essential oils used in aromatherapy today. Essential oil molecules are oil soluble and very small in size, making them an ideal ingredient for cosmetics as they are easily absorbed into the skin. They can also be inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream via the mucous membranes.

Essential oils are extracted from plants by steam distillation (most frequently) or expression/mechanical pressing (most citrus oils), solvent extraction and more recently, supercritical carbon dioxide extraction. The oils are extracted from many different parts of the plant. For example, Frankincense is extracted from the exudate of the Boswellia carterii tree, Neroli from the flowers of the Bitter Orange tree and Eucalyptus from the leaves and twigs of the Eucalyptus Blue Gum tree.

Synergy

Very often it is found that two or more oils in combination have a greater effect than single oils and also enhance the effects of each other.

The components of essential oils work together synergistically.  Each one possesses an individual profile of properties. For example, all essential oils are to some degree antimicrobial. Some are antiseptic. Many have anti-oxidant properties which make them very useful in cosmetics for skincare rejuvenation. Essential oils can stimulate cell activity and growth, help to heal skin, regenerate tissue, reduce inflammation/redness, stimulate circulation. Essential oils also have properties that affect our emotions. They can be uplifting/stimulating or sedative/relaxing. These mood enhancing properties can enhance the skincare experience, making it more holistic. 

The property of synergy is important from the selecting and blending points of view. For example, the essential oils in our Face Oil work together synergistically to help reduce acne. Lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Frankincense is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory but also has astringent, skin healing and cell regeneration properties. Geranium has antiseptic, astringent, skin healing and anti-inflammatory properties. Lastly, Sweet Orange is antibacterial and astringent. All four essential oils have antiseptic/anti-bacterial properties, helping to prevent acne. Lavender, Frankincense and Geranium have anti-inflammatory properties, so they work together to reduce redness and inflammation caused by acne. Frankincense, Geranium and Sweet Orange are astringent, which means they are great for reducing oiliness and tightening pores. The skin healing and cell regeneration properties of Frankincense help to heal skin that has had a breakout, and helps to reduce acne scarring. So you can see can that the blend of oils in our Face Oil all work together synergistically to help reduce breakouts in acne prone skin.

Essential oils respond to the needs of the individual

Some essential oils have chemical compounds that have many different properties. The essential oil will only perform actions that the body needs at this particular time. This is why the same essential oil may have different effects on different people or on the same person at different times. In the above example on synergy, we explained how the the blend of essential oils work together to fight acne. The antiseptic and anti-inflammatory actions are what acne prone skin needs. However, on a more mature skin type, the properties of astringency and cell regeneration would be more at play, in order to rejuvenate ageing skin. In clinical aromatherapy, for example, Clary Sage has properties that can help the skin, muscular aches and pains, menstrual problems, digestive problems, anxiety, stress and tension. If a client is experiencing menstrual problems, then Clary Sage will perform the action of helping to ease the menstrual problems, as this is what the clients body needs at that particular time.

Fragrant harmony

Essential oils are classified into top, middle and bottom notes. A well balanced fragrance can be achieved using a mixture of top, middle and bottom notes. Our Face Oil contains Sweet Orange (top), Lavender (top/middle), Geranium (middle) and Frankincense (middle/base). In clinical aromatherapy fragrant harmony is not as important, but in skincare it can make the difference between a product to smelling nice or absolutely amazing! When I was formulating our Face oil I spent a LONG time working out the essential oil blend so that it had fragrant harmony, amazing skin and emotional benefits, AND work synergistically. I’m very proud to have achieved this - our customers give our Face Oil rave reviews both for its effectiveness and its smell 🙂

I hope this has been helpful and has sparked your interest into the wonderful world of essential oils. This is the first in a series of blogs on Aromatherapy so look out for number two next month on how smells can trigger long forgotten memories.