Essential Oils in Personal Care Products

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are complex compounds derived by distilling plant parts into a VERY CONCENTRATED liquid. (Citrus oils may be cold-pressed rather than distilled.) EOs are not really oils, like vegetable oil, but are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), meaning they evaporate very easily.

Why do people use essential oils on the skin?

Essential oils have therapeutic properties and we use them in many of our products because certain essential oils are fantastic at helping to repair the skin barrier. Essential oils have been proven to address concerns like:

APPEARANCE: acne, inflammation, redness, dryness, oily skin, and dark spots

HEALING: wounds

EMOTIONAL EFFECT: calm, alertness, sleep

PAIN & ITCH: insect bites and muscle pain

The weekly rotation of essential oils in Corum Barrier Repair Natural Face Oil Serum has helped to transform my skin completely. 

Beyond function, manufacturers put essential oils in personal care products to make them smell good. Most personal care products in the US include fragrances. Unfortunately, most of those use synthetic fragrance blends that more and more people find irritating. Essential oils can provide a pleasant fragrance without the risk of irritation when diluted properly.

Even though there are some risks, there are also good reasons to consider using essential oils on the skin in appropriate dilutions.

How are essential oils used in skincare?

Essential oils are not used straight from the bottle. A little goes a long way, which is why they are usually sold in very small bottles! Consider spices you might put on your food. You might enjoy a bit of black pepper on your veggies, but you don’t want to eat a spoonful of black pepper.

At very low concentrations, essential oils can be applied to the skin after diluting them in a fixed plant oil (carrier oil) such as jojoba or meadowfoam. Carrier oils are non-volatile oils mainly composed of fatty acid triglycerides.

In order to apply essential oils to the skin in a water-based solution or a bath, they first must be dissolved in a solubiliser or emulsifier, which will allow them to mix with water. Many substances recommended on the internet as emulsifiers, don’t work. Don’t try to dissolve essential oils using water-based products like milk, witch hazel, glycerin, alcohol, aloe vera gel or juice, cornstarch, baking soda, table salt, or Epsom salt!

Because essential oils mix with oil but not water, essential oils put into bath water float undiluted on the surface of the water. When entering the bath, the skin touches the essential oil droplets at 100% concentration! Touching even one undiluted drop of most essential oils is a bad idea! Please don’t do this!

Are essential oils in skincare products bad or good?

Like most chemicals, natural or synthetic, essential oils can be beneficial or they may cause harm. Fortunately, most people who use essential oils never experience an adverse reaction. Most adverse reactions to essential oils are the result of using oils that are not sufficiently diluted. Be careful when looking for essential oil skincare recipes on the internet!

Insufficiently diluted essential oils can cause temporary skin irritation, difficulty breathing, or a reaction to the sun. This kind of response will show up very soon after using an essential oil, and symptoms may include redness, inflammation, itching, pain, a drop in blood pressure, and/or tiny blisters (hives). These symptoms may persist for a few hours.

Sometimes essential oils can cause a long-lasting allergic response or sensitization. This kind of response may not show up immediately or the first time you use an essential oil. Allergic reactions may last a few days or even weeks. If your body produces an immune response to an essential oil, it is likely you may never be able to use that EO or one with similar constituents again. We definitely want to avoid triggering this kind of response!

Some oils are safe to use topically or to inhale but not safe to ingest. When not diluted properly, some essential oils can cause a phototoxic or photoallergy reaction, meaning they can cause serious burns, skin discoloration, or rash if they are not sufficiently diluted and the skin is exposed to the sun. (This kind of reaction can also occur from certain medications, some sunscreen ingredients, from handling certain vegetables outdoors, and from squeezing lemons and limes in the sun. Be careful of making margaritas on the beach!)

Essential oils definitely need to be used with caution to avoid adverse reactions, but by limiting the concentration or dose, we can minimize the risk. 

If you plan to use essential oils on your skin, in a diffuser, internally, or in a bath, please study how to do so safely! Here’s where I would recommend you start: Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition) by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young.

All issues that pertain to your physical or mental health should be discussed with and supervised by a licensed health care professional. We recommend you consult a trained aromatherapist before using essential oils with children under 16 years of age.

Always keep essential oils out of the reach of children!

Is using essential oils in personal care products risky for ME?

Essential oils should usually be used in very tiny concentrations. Most people who apply diluted essential oils to the skin can do so safely. But safe concentrations can vary depending on where on the body you want to apply the oil and how often.

Other risk factors might include:

  • pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • age (children and the elderly may react differently than average adults)
  • poor health
  • interaction with medications
  • seasonal allergies
  • skin disease 
  • stress
  • prior reaction to an essential oil or synthetic fragrance
  • gender (women are more susceptible to skin allergies)
  • genetics (some skin reactions can be inherited)

If you are concerned about these risk factors, consult your licensed healthcare professional or trained aromatherapist or consider our skincare products without essential oils.

The use of essential oils in a skincare routine should be determined by evaluating the potential benefits compared to the potential risk. For most adults, the reward of using very low concentrations of essential oils on the skin will far outweigh the risk of harm. For those, I recommend trying our products that DO use properly diluted essential oils.

What if I have an adverse reaction?

You are very unlikely to have an adverse reaction to any Corum personal care product because we choose low-risk ingredients and we properly dilute any essential oils that we include.

If you experience burning, itching, pain, or hives from anything you put on your skin, rinse the area where you applied the product, and expose the skin to the air but not direct sunlight. Do not use the product that you suspect caused the reaction.

Apply an oatmeal paste for the itch. Oral antihistamines may help reduce itching. Do not use a topical antihistamine.

If symptoms persist for more than a few hours, seek medical attention.

If you experience swelling of the lips, tongue and throat, difficulty breathing or light-headedness, seek medical attention immediately. For urgent care in the US call 911 or 1-800-222-1222 (poison control).

Report adverse events associated with essential oils to FDA’s Medwatch site.

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