To be or not to be? Essential Oils in skincare

Hello All,

Like most people, I have some beliefs that are not always supported by science. Recently I was challenged by one of the members of the forum for my take on alcohol in skincare, which made me start double checking my views. One of my beliefs is that essential oils are bad for the skin. They are irritants and some are even phototoxic. My google search didn't give me much though. I found a couple of articles on Forbes and New York Times, and I don't think those are legit sources for the skincare science. I would appreciate the views (and maybe links to serious researches) of the experienced members of the forum.

Thank you all in advance!

Comments

  • Hello,

    Essential oils are are very complicated raw material, they are constituted of thousands of molecules, and change their composition between different species, and for the same species but from year to year. So as far as I know there is no general study on essential oils. But you can take the essential oils that interest you, research their chemical composition, take the names of the molecules you find, and look for each molecule, this is the best way to find toxicological info about essential oils.
  • Hi @ChemicalPyros,

    So, your point is that we can't look at them as a group the same way we look at silicones and parabens?
  • well silicones and parabens are well defined molecules that constitute the majority of the raw material, even the impurities that may be present are well defined and quantified. Essential oils on the other hand are much more complex, they are a mixture of molecules that can each have certain effects, and that can interact with each other to produce effects different from the effects of each molecule alone, which makes them extremely hard to study and to understand, especially with their ever changing composition.
    You can find a lot of scientific literature on the Limonene for example (a major component of the citrus oils), or a-pinene (a major component of pine oil). But always keep in mind that the information is highly limited.
  • DASDAS Member
    The three reasons I don't formulate with EOs:
    1) Price
    2) Price
    3) Stability

    And yes, some could be irritant. And that's why perfumists take home big fat checks, for formulating a sub that will be affordable, much more stable and with less allergens.
  • I tried to look at fragrances but most of them don't have INCI name and not consistent from supplier to supplier, so it's very difficult to order them online. You have no idea what you are going to get and have to rely on the supplier 's statement that "it smells like an orange". I guess big companies must have a separate department that develops fragrances that they use in skincare.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    Parabens are added to formulas for one purpose, preservation. So, it does make sense to categorize them, although there are significant differences.

    However, it's not fair to look at silicones as a group. The wide variety of molecules and functions of those molecules makes the term "silicones" no less broad than the category "hydrocarbons."

    For your question, here is a recent review of the biological effects of essential oils published in a peer reviewed journal on toxicology. 

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/hqg5nqs4vbqvf63/essential-oil-review.pdf?dl=0

    Of note..."Depending on type and concentration, they exhibit cytotoxic effects on living cells..."  

    Of course, this effect can be good if it is attacking parasites and problematic microbes, it can be bad if it is attacking human cells.

    -------
    Big companies hire fragrances houses like IFF, Givaudan, or Firmenich to make their fragrances. 
  • Thank you @Perry!
  • SibechSibech Member, Professional Chemist
    @ngarayeva001 When working with essential oils in formulations you really need to consider the constituents for compatibility.

    When working within safe levels of essential oils, as determined on a case-by-case basis, and remembering that essential oils can function as a dermal penetration enhancer, I personally like following the "As much as needed, as little as possible" approach.

    The reason you won't see statements on the composition (expect well-known allergens or which they should state) of perfumes is that they are considered trade secrets (from a regulatory standpoint and therefore does not need to be divulged) in both the US and EU - I presume elsewhere too, but don't know for certain.

    I do however agree that when buying a predefined perfume "the scent of an orange" can be frustrating because, like with colours, organoleptic properties is perceived differently.

    2 books I find interesting on the subject of perfume and essential oils are:
    Perfume: The biology and Psychology of fragrance
    https://www.springer.com/us/book/9789400912151

    It's a tad old, but I find it interesting and knowledge never gets old, only superseded. 

    Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications
    https://www.crcpress.com/Handbook-of-Essential-Oils-Science-Technology-and-Applications-Second/Baser-Buchbauer/p/book/9781466590465
    Dabbling Formulator — Qualified Cosmetic Safety Assessor — experienced in claim substantiation & EU regulatory affairs.
  • ngarayeva001ngarayeva001 Member
    edited August 2018
    Thank you @Sibech !
  • @Microformulation I was hoping you could weigh in on this conversation after just reading some of your recent comments on other threads and you seem to formulate a large majority of products to a natural standard. I’m caught between cosmetics don’t penetrate the skin and have physiological effects (or claim to anyway) and are (some) essential oils penetrating and therefore not good to use in skincare? 
  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    @Biochemist I have read about Essential Oils perhaps increasing penetration and there are actually some good studies out there. Now, since I make Cosmetics, I am resolute that there are few Formulations where I could or should use this effect responsibly. In my opinion, when you start looking at aiding absorption of actives, you really are starting to get into the realm of Pharmaceuticals and/or OTC products.

    There is an interesting side note on this discussion though. The CBD Industry is beginning to look at terpenes, a component of essential oils as an aid to increase absorption in pain relief topical products. The research is promising,
    markfuller@microformulation.com Microformulation.com Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    Also, I see a lot of questions about the safety of Essential Oils. One of your best resources would be the International Fragrance Association (http://www.ifraorg.org/).

    markfuller@microformulation.com Microformulation.com Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • Thanks @Microformulation interesting. What about some of the above potentially negative effects and whether this could be significant when used topically- your thoughts? (MW, constituent dependent, concentration... too many variables?)
  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    Too many variables to cite regarding safety. We are really beginning to segue into toxicology and safety.

    I do know that in my experience I have seen some adverse incidents with Essential oils. What sticks most to mind is the fact that many are a respiratory irritant. If you read some of the credible research, there has been an increase in this adverse effect due to some feel the increase of Essential oils in the home due to MLM programs (DoTerra, YL). You will hear people say that "Lavender makes it hard for me to breathe."

    In the end, this is all academic. When seeking guidance refer to the IFRA guidelines. Pragmatically I see the real benefit of Essential oils as alternatives to fragrance in my client's products. You gain a "natural" market advantage but you lose a great deal of flexibility in the scent options. Unless you can afford to outsource to a Perfumist, it is rudimentary. In this case, your biggest concern should be staying within the IFRA recommended ranges.

    I know many people will make claims towards the Essential oils, especially in Aromatherapy. I have consulted on many of these products. In that case, I opt out of any claims and only concentrate on getting THEIR Essential oils into a stable product. The limits to claims in Aromatherapy are loose and that whole regulatory issue could take up its own thread.

    markfuller@microformulation.com Microformulation.com Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • BelassiBelassi Member, PCF student
    Pragmatically I see the real benefit of Essential oils as alternatives to fragrance in my client's products.
    I used to think that way. More recently I have discovered that using EOs instead of fragrance ruins the products. EG, I made some body shampoo a few days ago and it was completely destabilised (ruined) by the addition of 0.5% lavender EO.
    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    @Belassi I couldn't agree more. I am forced by the client's rigid marketing standard to use EO's. In the US Market, there is a big marketing bias against "fragrance" partially due to the concern of Phthalates and the demand for "No synthetic fragrance." The fragrance houses have come up with safer products, but still, many lines insist on EO's. It is the nature of the beast.
    markfuller@microformulation.com Microformulation.com Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • @Belassi I have the same experience with a shower gel and lavender EO (also 0.5%). I assumed that I did something wrong with my formula but when I made it without EO it didn’t change viscosity.
  • @Microformulation the UK is not different. Natural/Vegan/Gluten-free/Sulfates free/Parabens free/Cruelty free products rule the market. I especially ‘love’ claims of one well known UK brand that they don’t test on animals. Regarding EO, as I mentioned before it’s much easier for the beginners to use EO, because it is hard to get good synthetic fragrances, so probably that’s the driver. I was careful with  EOs before but after reading the article that Perry shared above I will go ‘fragrance free’
  • DASDAS Member
    I have been seeing a lot of hydrosols lately, kind of a solution in some water based formulas. And yes, there is also a green, eco, natural tendency brought by some fragrance manufacturers. I have been receiving feeds about it since last year.

    Still the most dangerous thing about EOs are bees. I've heard scary and funny stories about labs overrun and people hiding in the bathroom because of it.
  • Thanks @Microformulation and others, interesting thread. I do use EOs for their fragrance and will continue to wait for credible evidence thay they do more than scent the product. @DAS bees wow!! That’s a good test for a perfumer.. do the bees think it’s real?!   :D :D
  • My entire life (I'm now pushing 70) I have stayed away from synthetic fragrance. You won't find them in my home or work environment.

    We produce body wash, face wash, shampoo, soap. The function of these products is to cleanse and not much else. In our opinion EOs provide a more pleasant fragrance sensation. Our customers agree. Many appreciate something different to synthetic fragrances.

    Yes, EO's are pricy. At the end of the day it really depends where you position your product and your brand message.



    Dr. Mike Thair
    Cofounder & Chief Formulator
    Indochine Natural
  • @mikethair I agree about more pleasant fragrance sensation especially if you are not Dior and don’t have a signature fragrance developed for your products, but the standards applied to wash off products and leave on products are different. I think most of comments here were made with leave on products in mind.
  • nice thread.
    i personally do not like the smell of almost all the lavender eo i have ever smelled. it kind of gave me a smile thinking about how awful it is, it even ruins formulas.

    some citrus essential oils are phototoxic when applied neat

    there are loads of studies regarding essential oils and their efficacy

    try researchgate, nhci, or any peer reviewed database of articles- i usually use the most technical terms and add the word "study" at the end of my search and find all the published articles i need regarding essential oils and how effective they are at signaling, or direct mechanism for topical application. but smelling stuff is a subtle science and a different beast. natural oils never give me a headache but fragrance oils will, as well as a skin allergy. the only essential oil that gave me an allergy was sweet birch and that was with constant application of a strong dilution on my arm.



  • This is for mikethair,,,do u also apply essential oils on our face..and how well does or has it worked for u..Ive been back n forth formulating my own serums,swell body wash, and soaps made with coconut oil and olive oil,but sometimis in in doubt,,i feel my serums don't work,and think maybe eo don't work on wrinkles as much as synthetic. ..or chemicals ..can u give me some advice please thank u in advance ..
  • mikethairmikethair Member
    edited August 2018
    @Normasegovia55    I can only relate our experience and that of customers. For some years now we have produced a face oil formulation under our own brand plus a few Private Label brands. These formulations include essential oils. We do not make too many any claims about wrinkles etc. We see some plumping and smoothing of the skin, and that's about it. However, across all brands, the formulation has been very successful and sells well.

    My advice, do a lot of research and select your oils carefully. And don't over promise on the benefits.
    Dr. Mike Thair
    Cofounder & Chief Formulator
    Indochine Natural
  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    It all depends on the market you are trying to address and the essential oils you select.  I generally recommend to clients to make a "fragrance-free" version of the product to cater to consumers who have skin sensitivities/allergies.

    However, the first thing a consumer will usually do when they open a container of a new skin care product is smell it.  Fragrance is simply an important component of the consumer experience, for most.  

    You can try hydrosols or essential oils, but I've found that hydrosols, with the exception of Rose, are too weak to impart an acceptable fragrance and they smell "hay-like".  Carrubba has a line of natural, water-soluble fragrances that I find to be a good option in lieu of essential oils.  But, if you choose your essential oils properly (there are non-sensitizing EO's on the market), you can generally create a nice fragrance profile w/o irritation or allergic reactions.
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details www.desertinbloomcosmeticslab.com
  • Guys, I just want to emphasize, the research paper shared by Perry above says that all EOs are either citotoxic or phototoxic or both. And some of them reduce sensitivity to antibiotics. Which means they are not ok for leave on products. They might have some benefits but it doesn’t compensate for the side effects.
  • SibechSibech Member, Professional Chemist
    @ngarayeva001 It's great to take the safety of your products seriously, and while there is a hazard in cytotoxicity, there is not necessarily a risk.

    as @perry said when he linked the article:
    Of note..."Depending on type and concentration, they exhibit cytotoxic effects on living cells..."  


    Think of it this way (overly simplified) Hazard x Exposure = Risk.

    If you take 1 drop of essential oil directly onto the skin, you are likely to experience irritant contact dermatitis (in part due to cytotoxicity) but if that same drop is diluted in a cup of oil, that drop is perfectly safe to use because the exposure is much less.
    Dabbling Formulator — Qualified Cosmetic Safety Assessor — experienced in claim substantiation & EU regulatory affairs.
  • Bill_TogeBill_Toge Member, Professional Chemist
    @ngarayeva001 by that logic, nobody should ever drive a motor vehicle or cross the road, because there is a possibility they'll be involved in a road traffic accident
    UK based formulation chemist. Strongest subjects: hair styling, hair bleaches, hair dyes (oxidative and non-oxidative) I know some stuff about: EU regulations, emulsions (O/W and W/O), toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoos, other toiletries
  • @Bill_Toge I am not saying that EOs should not be used at all. I am adding them to shower gels and (Less concentration) to body product. But I don’t think that it is worth taking the risk and add them to face products. The safe concentration would be so low that they won’t have any benefits anyway. Again it’s just my opinion.
  • BelassiBelassi Member, PCF student
    Problem I have is safety. Is lavender e.o. even safe? I won't use it any more because even though I love the complexity of the aroma, it wrecks shampoo and emulsions. Tea Tree is a useful e.o. for its antibacterial properties, and unlike lavender it does not destabilise shampoo.
    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
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