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How to use essential oils responsibly and which are best for what?

How to use essential oils responsibly and which are best for what?

by Oyéta Kokoroko

In this article, I want to demystify essential oils, their uses and limits. For those who like to read and learn, this  post is meant to provide you with reliable information on essential oils to help you understand how to find high quality essential oils, how to use them safely and how to respect the dermal limits to avoid irritation and skin sensitization. You will also find a list of common essential oils used on the market and our suggestions for different skin types and concerns.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils (EOs) are the volatile aromatic components of plants that have a scent. They are usually extracted (via a process called distillation) from a specific part of the plant (flower, leaf, bark, root, sap, etc.) or of the entire plant. Essential oils are oil soluble and yield excellent active molecules with amazing properties and benefits for the skin.

It is often assumed that essential oils are not dangerous because they are obtained from raw plant materials.

The truth is, essential oils contain 60 to 10,000 biochemical components (all of which may not have been identified yet). Some of these biochemical components such as limonene, linalool and others, when present in very high concentration, can cause irritation, sensitization and phototoxicity explains the IFRA.
According to them, certain essential oils may, in a high %, cause skin reactions or irritate the eyes and mucous membranes; these include oils of Ceylon cinnamon, exotic basil, peppermint, clove, niaouli, thyme,marjoram, savory and lemon grass.

Essential oils are a powerful form of plant-based medicine, therefore they should be used responsibly.

It’s important not to give wrong advice on essential oils because it could affect someone’s health. The key to using essential oils responsibly is educating yourself on their use. And also going through a training or certification to really understand how to use essential oils responsibly.

My personal recommendation is BEFORE using essential oils (EOs), always seek the help and advice of a health care practitioner or a certified aromatherapist.

Did you know?
To obtain approximately one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of essential oil, the following quantity of the fresh plant is required:
7kg (15.4 lbs) of clove buds
20 kg (44 lbs) of lavandin
100 kg (220 lbs) of true lavender
800 kg (1,760 lbs) of geranium leaves
1,000 kg (1.1 ton) of helichrysum
more than 4, 000kg (4.4 tons) of roses
* This is also why helichrysum and rose essential oils are among the most expensive on the market

 Tips for buying high-quality essential oil (part 1)

The popularity of aromatherapy has raised an economic interest in essential oil resulting in a number of by-products. Here is some advice on how to ensure that you are buying a quality product:

Check the source of the plant. Look for words like wild harvested or certified organic. If it was cultivated industrially, it will contain residues of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemical products used during cultivation and harvest. These residues will be concentrated by the process of distillation. (You don’t want that in your finished products).

Check the presence of the full name of the plant, in English or Latin. This allows you to ensure the botanical origin. Depending on the region (country), land, altitude, etc. a plant will not always have the same name and/or properties.

Tips for buying a high-quality essential oil (part 2)

For example, there are different kinds of sage. Sage Officinalis, known as common sage, has different biochemical composition and properties than clary sage (Salvia Sclarea).

Another example is true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or L. Officinalis) and spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) both have different biochemical composition and properties.

Look for the mention of the country of origin of a distilled plant. This is a huge indicator of the rigor and seriousness of the supplier. Having the country of origin shows that the supplier is transparent about their sources, and wants to promote the traceability and the quality of their products.

Rules to using essential oils in skincare and hair care

Check the label to see if the part of the plant that was distilled is mentioned. For example, the EO made from the leaves of a plant does not have the same properties as the as the EO made from its flowers, bark or essence made from the zest.

Avoid using essential oils that can increase photosensitivity (e.g., the essences made from citrus peel and the essential oil of angelica) and those that are irritating to the skin such as essential oils of cinnamon bark and clove, among others.

If you have any allergies, it is recommended to do a patch test by applying a drop on the inside of the arm before using the EO.

Avoid contact with eyes. Keep out of reach of children.

Some EOs should not be used by people with epilepsy or hormone dependent cancer, by very young children or pregnant/nursing women. We suggest that you  work with a health professional or certified aromatherapist before using essential oils for therapeutic use.

We also suggest to always dilute the essential oil in vegetable oils or butters before using. Use in very low amounts.

IFRA guidelines and dermal limits

The The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and European Union (EU) have established dermal limits for certain allergens found in essential oils to ensure consumers safety.

At OKOKO Cosmétiques, we choose to follow the dermal limits recommended by the IFRA & the EU so that our products will not cause irritation/sensitization/phototoxicity.

If dermal limits recommended by the IFRA & EU are respected, it should be safe to use.

  Examples of dermal limits recommended by the IFRA

Angelica Root EO Restriction: 0.8% in leave on products
Bergamot EO (not the bergamot fcf free version)
Restriction: 0.4% in leave on products
Geranium EO Restriction: 0.5% in leave on products

If you are curious to find out more about essential oils restrictions and dermal limits you, check out the IFRA link here

10 popular essential oils used in natural skincare

Lavender true (lavandula angustifolia or L. Officinalis) The EO is extracted from flowering tops. Lavender EO is used in skincare for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, calming, astringent and healing properties.
Tea tree (melaleuca alternifolia) The EO is extracted from the leaves. Tea tree is used in skincare for its strong antibacterial and circulatory properties. This EO is very popular in acne products. It has an unpleasant odor but it’s very effective.
Geranium or rose geranium (pelargonium xasperum) The EO is extracted from the leaves. Geranium EO is used in skincare for its anti-inflammatory, toning, astringent and healing properties.
Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis ct verbenoniferum) The EO is extracted from the flowering tops of the plant. Is it used in skincare for its strong regenerating and healing properties, and excellence at controlling the production of sebum. Also a very powerful antioxidant.
Blue tansy (tanacetum anuum) This very expensive EO is extracted from the flowers. It is used in skincare for its anti-inflammatory, calming, analgesic and anti-allergic properties. It also promotes skin natural healing.

10 popular essential oils used in natural skincare

Sandalwood (santalum album) The EO is extracted from the wood at the core of the tree when the tree is between 40 and 80 years old. It’s used in skincare for its regenerating, astringent, antibacterial, healing, hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties.
Ylang Ylang (cananga odorata var. genuina) The EO is extracted from the flowers. Used in skincare, ylang ylang offers anti-inflammatory benefits and also helps control the production of sebum.
Neroli (citrus aurantium var. amara) The EO is extracted from the flowers (also known as neroli or orange blossoms) and used in perfumery. Neroli EO is very expensive. For that reason, you will often find it diluted in 90% vegetable oil which makes it much more affordable. It’s used in skincare for its regenerating, calming, circulatory and healing benefits.
Patchouli (pogostemon cablin) The EO is extracted from the leaves. Properties are regenerating, anti-inflammatory, circulatory and astringent.
Carrot (daucus carota) The EO is extracted from the seeds. Carrot EO has regenerating, firming, brightening and healing properties. It is great for pigmentation spots when combined with celery essential oil.

Essential oils for sensitive skin

German Chamomille (Matricaria Recutita)
Roman Chamomille (Chamaemelum Nobile)
Blue tansy (Tanacetum Anuum)

Essential oils for mature skin

Cistus (Cistus Landanifer L.)
Helichrysum (Helichrysum Italicum)
Carrot (Daucus Carota)
Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Ho wood (Cinnamomum camphora)

Essential oils for acne prone skin

True Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or L. Officinalis)
Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia)
Helichrysum (Helichrysum Italicum)
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Bitter orange (Citrus aurantiumamara)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata var. genuina)
Geranium Rose (Pelargonium Graveolens / Asperum)
Ravintsara (Cinnamomum Camphora)

Essential oils for hyperpigmentation

Carrot (Daucus Carota)
Celery (Apium Graveolens)

For further reading, I have included some interesting links and books written by reputable names in the industry. If you are a curious consumer, formulator, manufacturer or supplier, read:

  1. Guidance on essential oils in cosmetic products (from the UK Government)
  2. Top 10 Essential Oil Mistakes to Avoid – Dr Josh Axe  (Youtube video)
  3. Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, by Robert Tisserand
  4. For dermal limits, check out the IFRA website