The Essence of Loveliness
Plant-based essential oils can add aromatic benefits to your skincare routine.
by Sandra Gordon
Relaxing with a whiff of lavender before bed is one popular way to use essential oils. But you don’t have to stop there: These powerful elixirs have other therapeutic benefits, including beautifying your skin.
“Essential oils, which are distilled or extracted directly from plants, have the potential to boost your skincare routine—to correct a problem you need help with, or to add an additional benefit beyond what your current products are imparting,” says David Bank, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Mount Kisco, New York, and author of Beautiful Skin (Adams).
Essential Oil Basics
Despite the name, essential oils don’t consist of lipid, or fat. Instead, they are “concentrated constituents from plants that have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties,” Bank explains. Essential oils are typically mixed with carrier oils, such as argon, sweet almond, jojoba, coconut, rose hip or olive. You can also apply essential oils in mist form, using one ounce of distilled water, two droppers of vodka (to help the oil and water mix) and 45 drops of any essential oil, single or in combination.
No matter what form you use, always play it safe. “Essential oils can have side effects if you use them incorrectly,” says Mary Pancoast, a registered aromatherapist (RA) in Pacifica, California, who creates essential oil preparations for her clients. (You can find an RA through the Aromatherapy Registration Council, aromatherapycouncil.org.) Don’t use them without a carrier oil. If you’re allergic to grasses or nuts, avoid essential or carrier oils related to trees or grasses. Finally, do a test by applying a tiny drop to the inside of your arm. If you don’t get a skin reaction, that’s a green light.
Easing Skin Woes
Sarah Sherwood, 49, a publicist from San Mateo, California, had chronically parched skin. “My skin was so dry that if I scratched my arm with my fingernail, lots of white stuff would always flake off. My dermatologist told me it was sun damage and there was nothing I could do,” she says.
After trying several different moisturizers, Sherwood met with an RA who recommended a homemade facial moisturizer with rose essential oil and a lavender oil-based body butter.“My skin is noticeably better,” Sherwood says. “Not only does it not flake anymore, I can even skip my morning moisturizer on some days because I just don’t need it.”
In addition to alleviating itchiness, essential oils can be used in a broad array of skincare applications. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular essential oils and the most effective ways to use them.
All-Over Aid: Lavender. Lavender is a go-to essential oil that helps calm the skin and reduce inflammation associated with acne, redness and sunspots. “It’s also one of the few essential oils that can be safely applied neat,” says Heather Tobin, a certified aromatherapist in Kingston, New Hampshire. (Tea tree oil, a remedy for burns, insect bites and skin irritations, is also used either neat or in various formulations. As with any oil, do test spots with neat lavender or tea tree before use.)
To apply: Dab lavender essential oil on a blemish or whip up your own moisturizer by mixing one ounce of a carrier oil, such as argon (for mature skin) or jojoba (if you’re acne-prone) with 10 drops of lavender essential oil in an amber glass bottle that has a roll-on applicator. Apply morning and night after cleansing. (In general, a one-ounce bottle of any oil can last for one to two years and cover multiple applications.)
Dryness: Sandalwood or Rose Geranium. These oils help take the sting from very dry skin, which is prevalent in fall and winter.
To apply: Add 10 to 30 drops of either oil to one ounce of almond oil and smooth it on your skin. For a rehydrating soak, add 30 drops of either oil and a half-cup of Epsom or Dead Sea salts to the tub. “Essential oils are wonderful for the bath,” Tobin says.
Rejuvenation: German Chamomile. This beautiful sapphire-blue essential oil contains azulene, which helps cool the skin and reduce inflammation associated with acne and rosacea. “It’s also fabulous for reducing the appearance of brown spots,” says Pancoast. Even though it’s blue, German chamomile won’t stain your skin or your sheets.
To apply: Mix 10 to 30 drops with one ounce of argon oil in a roller bottle and use it as a moisturizer.
Wrinkles: Lavender and Rose Geranium or Rose Damascus. For younger-looking skin on your face, neck and décolletage area, combine up to 30 drops in total of lavender, rose geranium or pure rose Damascus essential oil with one ounce of evening primrose oil and two cut-and-squeezed capsules of pure vitamin E oil in an amber glass bottle with a roller applicator. “Rose Damascus oil can be expensive. Feel free to use just five drops of the rose Damascus with 25 drops of lavender,” Tobin says.
To apply: Smooth on your face, neck and chest area at bedtime.
Massage: Frankincense and Myrrh. “Frankincense and myrrh have been used since Biblical times for ulcers and boils. But they also work together as a massage oil, to keep the skin supple and young,” Tobin says.
To apply: For one massage, add 15 drops each of frankincense and myrrh to one ounce of sweet almond oil.
Feel free to experiment. “To come up with a blend of two or three oils that are right for you, smell each essential oil first,” Pancoast says. “If you don’t like the scent, aromatherapists have a common belief that you probably don’t need it.”