Years have passed, research has been made, and people still to this day are debating whether essential oils belong in skincare and whether they are beneficial for the skin.
Die-hard naturopaths will convince you with all they have and swear that essential oils work better than other “chemicals” as they like to call them.
However, is this the truth? Are you really a few drops of essential oil away from achieving clear skin? Can you safely use essential oils on acne? Or is it all just a big fat marketing lie?
But, in order to get the answer to all these questions, we need to dive a bit deeper into the very essence of these claims. Let’s crack on it.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the volatile aromatic compounds of plants. They are the plant’s scent or “essence”, hence the name. Essential oils can be extracted from any plant’s flowers, bark, stem, leaves, roots, and sometimes its fruits.
No matter the source, essential oils are complex mixtures, often containing over 50 different substances. However, essential oils don’t provide any type of nutrition to the plant, so why do plants make them then?
Essential oils have two main purposes in the natural world:
A plant’s strong essence will attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies, etc. On the other hand, they will deter herbivores and other potential dangers.
Does this sound familiar?
Yes, these do the same thing to you, the consumer. They attract you with a nice scent and that’s why you end up buying products that smell nice and stay away from wasting your money on products that don’t.
Can Essential Oils Help With Acne?
Many companies that sell products that contain essential oils brag that they have been used for aromatherapy for thousands of years.
Well, guys, I hate being the one to break it to you, but we live in a modern world, where modern science has revealed the truth about how fragrant oils can cause problems for the skin.
And also, why would you even want to get your skin care advice from ancient cultures? Why do you think that ancient is somehow better than what we have these days?
Ancient civilizations didn’t have a lab or the technology we have at our disposal today, so it is only natural that they worked with what they had. But, who’s to know how their skin looked like back in those days?
But enough of that. Can essential oils help with acne?
Essential oils like tea tree oil have a decent amount of skincare benefits including anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-microbial properties, therefore, it is safe to say that this is why tea tree oil is loved by acne-prone skins.
Tea tree oil used in small quantities as an additive in cleansers may very well be beneficial for acne-prone skins. But that doesn’t mean that you need to go on Amazon, buy a bottle of tea tree oil and deliberately spot treat your pimples at home.
What I’m getting at is that I can see the appeal of using essential oils to tackle different skin concerns. They are natural and smell nice. And if you are someone that just wants to get clear skin without having to do a ton of research, you are likely to go for something like that.
But this isn’t the best way to go around it as essential oils are still marked as a common irritant that can potentially make that same skin concern much worse rather than help it in any way.
Can Essential Oil Cause Acne?
The short answer to this is Yes! However, the long answer is a tad bit more complicated than that. First of all, anything can cause your skin to break out if you repeatedly treat it with irritating and sensitizing ingredients.
And oily, breakout-prone skin is especially susceptible to the effects of sensitizing ingredients such as essential oils. Why?
Because these common irritants such as essential oils can dehydrate and sensitize the skin’s surface, leading to a chain reaction that results in making the already oily skin even oilier, thus possibly triggering more breakouts.
Not treating oily, breakout-prone skin gently is a guarantee of making matters worse. All you really want to do is to control excess oil, therefore, control breakouts and clogged pores, but repeatedly using the wrong products can make this impossible for you.
Essential oils, for example, contain no vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fatty acids, and triglycerides. They are literally present in a skincare product to mask the natural (often bad) odor of the formulation and make the product smell nice, thus sell better.
So, unless you are trying to detract an herbivore from eating you, essential oils are pretty much useless in your skincare products. Not only they provide you with no benefits at all, but they are potentially causing more damage that can take time to show on your skin.
Then you wake up one fine day with a face full of acne and you have no idea how did that even happen.
Can Essential Oils Burn Skin?
Most definitely yes! But, if you are a naturopath and a die-hard believer in essential oils, please take the time to read what I have to say before you prepare to sh*t on my life in the comments.
Now, we mentioned that essential oils don’t offer any skin benefits besides being relentlessly packed in products to mask the odor of the formulation and make the product smell pleasant.
But that isn’t all. Besides being devoid of skin benefits, essential oils have the potential to even add insult to the injury by causing allergic reactions, severe sensitization, as well as moderate to severe inflammation.
Essential oils are recognized and identified as being among the top allergens in skincare products. Even if your favorite skincare product has one essential oil present in the formulation, you are potentially setting yourself up for irritation or an allergic reaction.
But cosmetic companies don’t just stop at one, do they?
Unfortunately, they don’t, therefore, you will often find nice-smelling products packed with more than one essential oil. On top of it all, these are often combined with other fragrant ingredients to make up what the manufacturers collectively identify as “fragrance/parfum”.
Since companies are not required to disclose what ingredients make up for their “fragrance”, you may very well be putting something on your skin that can cause an allergic reaction and you will not have a clue what that is.
Furthermore, here’s the most tricky part:
Skin irritation caused by sensitizing and fragrant ingredients such as essential oils may be obvious, but it may also be subtle.
When skin irritation is obvious, the skin will appear pink or red, there may be some peeling going on, a rash may form, or it may just be puffy and inflamed.
One good example of obvious skin irritation is contact dermatitis.
The reason why contact dermatitis and other skin ailments occur from essential oils is that essential oils have the ability to break down the cell.
The inflammatory response elicited from the topical application of essential oils breaks down the cell’s outer membrane, causing the nucleus (the cell’s brain) to die out, thus causing the cell to die.
Another really important fact is that our skin is very good at hiding when it’s being irritated. So, even if you don’t notice an immediate reaction, chances are that the damage is still occurring beneath the skin’s surface, leading to problems you will see much later.
Both of these are a cause for concern, however, you can completely eliminate that cause of concern if you just stay away from potential allergens and known irritants in skincare products.
What To Use Instead?
There are many wonderful, gentle, and non-fragrant oils and plant extracts you can consider using for various skin types and concerns.
Non-fragrant plant oils or NFPOs are typically non-volatile, meaning that they don’t significantly evaporate at room temperature as opposed to essential oils that are volatile.
Furthermore, they all exist as a blend of mostly fatty acids, with a dash of squalane and various other compounds.
These various compounds can have some promising capabilities that induce meaningful positive changes on the skin such as antioxidant protection as well as anti-inflammatory effects.
These typically mimic our natural sebum (skin oil), thus can help relieve inflammatory conditions such as acne, can stand a fight against severe irritations such as contact dermatitis, and can moisturize the skin in order to prevent it from drying out.
So, what are my final thoughts? Phew!
I know that people are more likely to go for something that is presented to them as natural because they like to think that since it’s natural, the chances of having a bad reaction to it are slim to none.
However, this is hardly the case when it comes to natural essential oils in skincare products.
Many other things we tend to reach for and are marketed as natural are also kinda unnecessary and potentially harmful bullshit, so if you’d like to learn a bit more about it, check out my article on why natural remedies are a scam.
And to your burning “can you use essential oils on acne” question, the answer is simply: No. It’s just not worth it.
- Paula’s Choice – Essential Oils For Skin
- Paula’s Choice – How Sensitizing Ingredients Hurt the Skin
- Oumere – Essential Oils: The Fragrant Danger In Your Skin Care
- Trattner, A., David, M. and Lazarov, A – Occupational Contact Dermatitis Due To Essential Oils
- Larson, D. Jacob, S.E – Tea Tree Oil
- Future Derm – Non-Fragrant Plant Oils vs Essential Oils
Trying to cope with my obnoxious acne breakouts forced me into finding a solution to my problem by pursuing a career in the beauty industry. Today, I’m a certified esthetician & I’m passionate about sharing what I know to help you achieve healthy, glowing skin. You can learn more about me here.