Essential oils have taken centre stage in recent years across skin care, being touted for their healing, cleansing and soothing capabilities. While synthetic fragrances are less popular, we have embraced fragrant plant oils like eucalyptus or citrus (often included in acne-targeted products), lavender (advertised to soothe and relax skin) or peppermint (for a tingle in lip balm).
At VSC, we approach skin care with a clear view on fragrance: save it for your perfumes, colognes and body mists. Highly fragrant ingredients have no place in your skin care and do not provide any benefits that won’t be quickly negated by the damage they also cause.
Known as “essential oil toxicity”, this kind of skin damage is detailed in a 2017 article in “Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine”, noting: “Plants used for therapeutic purposes are normally assumed to be safe and free of toxicity…mainly due to the long-term usage of medicinal plants for the treatment of diseases based on basic knowledge accumulated and shared from generation to generation over many centuries. However, scientific studies and reports have highlighted the toxic effects of essential oils used to treat skin ailments, which are known to produce adverse effects such as allergic contact dermatitis, skin irritation, or photosensitization.”
This article refers to the 2010 “Botanicals in dermatology: an evidence-based review” in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, where it is noted that bergamot and peppermint oils have been reported to cause dermal irritation, and in the 2004 “Cytotoxicity of lavender oil and its major components to human skin cells” in Cell Proliferation we find “it has been shown in an in vitro study that L. angustifolia (known as lavender) oil and linalool (one of the main compounds) are cytotoxic to human fibroblast and endothelial cells.”
Cytotoxic here refers to what is toxic to living cells, fibroblast being our connective tissue which produces collagen in our skin and endothelial being those cells that line our blood and lymphatic vessels.
If you love essential oils, aim to enjoy them without applying directly to skin, or find vegan formulas where this fragrant plant oil is low on the ingredient list (meaning a smaller amount of it will be used, with less change to irritate your skin).
Have you found your skin becomes irritated when using fragrant plant oils? Do you find alternative ways to enjoy them?