Use of Essential Oils in Skin Care
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years in many different cultures and civilizations, everywhere from Ancient Egypt to Bali. Doctors and healers have used these precious extracts to aid in healing, softening, disinfecting, fragrancing and beautifying the skin.
The term ‘aromatherapy’ was formally introduced by a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1928 after he discovered that topical application of lavender healed a burn on his hand.
Dr. Jean Valnet was next in line, studying the use of essential oils to successfully treat psychological disorders in 1964, and Marguerite Maury followed him to establish the reputation of that practice.
There are two main ways we use essential oils therapeutically:
- Topical application: The tiny molecular weight of an essential oil allows it to travel very easily through the pores of the skin and into the body. The essential oil will have a specific effect on a system of the body, or on the skin itself. Since essential oils are soluble in oil and alcohol, they are perfect for use in skincare products (like creams and lotions)
for general health or specific disorders of the skin.
- Inhalation: Odor signals are passed to the limbic system of the brain, causing an immediate emotional or psychological response. Aromatic molecules enter the lungs and are absorbed into the blood, then carried to the heart and transported throughout the body.
Essential oils are made using various methods, depending on the plant, flower, resin or fruit:
- Distillation: Raw plant material, consisting of the flowers, leaves, wood, bark, roots, seeds, or peel, is put into an alembic (distillation apparatus) over water. Water is heated and the steam passes through the plant material, vaporizing the volatile compounds. The vapors flow through a coil where they condense back to liquid, which is then collected in the receiving vessel. Most oils are distilled in a single process. One exception is Ylang-ylang, which takes 22 hours to complete through a fractional distillation.
- Solvent extraction: Most flowers contain very little volatile oil to undergo expression and their chemical components are too delicate and easily denatured by the high heat used in steam distillation. Instead, a solvent such as hexane or super critical carbon dioxide is used to extract the oils. Extracts from hexane and other hydrophobic solvent are called concretes, which is mixture of essential oil, waxes, resins, and other lipophilic (oil soluble) plant material. Ethyl alcohol, which only dissolves the fragrant low-molecular weight compounds, is also used to extract the fragrant oil from the concrete. The alcohol is removed by a second distillation, leaving behind the absolute.
- Expression: Prior to the discovery of distillation, essential oils were extracted by pressing. Expression, also known as cold pressing, is done exclusively with citrus oils. In this method, the oil-containing outer layer of the fruit is pressed and filtered to yield pure essential oil. *Cold pressing preserves the essence at a higher level due to the lack of heat used, making it a preferred method for skin care practitioners. Due to the large quantities of oil in citrus peel and the relatively low cost to grow and harvest the raw materials, citrus-fruit oils are cheaper than most other essential oils. Lemon or sweet orange oils that are obtained as by-products of the commercial citrus industry are even cheaper.
Essential Oils in Skin Care:
Essential oils beautifully and naturally fragrance skin care products, but this is just one reason they are so helpful to us in the skin care industry. The use of essential oils in skin care and professional spa treatments is beneficial because the small molecular structure of the essential oil moves easily into the deeper layers of the skin without causing any irritation – as it is recognized by the skin as nutrition.
Be sure to look for some of these favorite essential oils in your skin care products or facial treatments:
Tangerine has been known to alleviate a bad mood and encourage waking up in a good one. The Vitamin C in this extract is also wonderful antioxidant support for the skin.
Tea Tree is used predominantly for its antibacterial effect on the skin, making it a great choice for blemish-prone skin conditions.
Peppermint is best used on the body, or for inhalation due to its stimulating ability, This oil is great for tied muscles and feet!
Geranium is a gentle antiseptic, balancing both oily and dry skin.
Carrot Seed revitalizes pallid skin, or skin that may be dull from exposure to poor environments (like smog, sun damage, poor diet, stress, etc.
German Chamomile is anti-inflammatory for irritated, dry or itchy skin.
Clary Sage is highly recommended for aging skin; its estrogenic (or estrogen-mimicking ability) effects stimulate skin health.
Rosemary is effective for restoring the skin’s natural metabolism
Lavender can is popular for its anti-stress, balancing and regenerative actions.
Neroli is wonderfully soothing to counter the effects of stress.
Rose Otto is a great tonic for mature skin, hydrating, emollient, softening, stimulating and antiseptic.
Each facial treatment at bien-être spa includes a custom-blended essential oil massage using many of these same oils targeted for your specific skin needs!
written by Jennifer Laz, Licensed Esthetician, bien-être spa
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, by Julia Lawless