Essential Oils - Harmful or Helpful in Natural skincare products?

I've heard conflicting stories. Some say essential oils are beneficial for skin while others are adamant they break down collagen and increase the speed of wrinkles. Is there any scientific proof either way?  Thank you in advance. 


  • Different oils have different chemical properties so it's impossible to give one generic answer. 
  • I don't know where I heard this, but I heard that fragrance ingredients from natural essential oils can be more irritating to a lot of people over synthetic fragrance ingredients.  Kind of makes sense given the amounts of allergies people have to certain plants and such, also I would expect a lab to test the product on many people.

    This brings a question to mind, what "are" synthetic fragrances? 

  • They're just aromatic chemicals that smell good (at least when properly combined. Some fragrance ingredients smell terrible by themselves in high concentration.) 
  • Thank you for the responses.  

    Randy, although oils have different chemical properties, there is conflicting evidence that 'all' essential oils used in Natural products are harmful.  Drunken Elephant is one skincare line that makes that claim and Paulas Choice skincare web site has come down hard on L'Occitan for using essential oils in their products.  Is there any place I can find sound scientific evidence concerning essential oils?  It's a dilemma given most Natural skincare lines do use essential oils and praise their virtues.  Drunken Elephant may be using the opposite as a marketing tool.  

  • In general this is a good place to look for safety data. I'm not sure how many essential oils are included but you can take a look:
  • @RandyS

    But Randy what do you think, some companies are really against fragrance, saying it's irritating to skin and that it can increase hyperpigmentation, but when I start searching for articles on NCBI most are talking about the high risk of allergy, and then the percentage of people of the test groups that react are not even that large. If you are not allergic to fragrance or essential oils, is it really bad for skin, or is it just a marketing trick from companies like Paula Choice, Clinique etc? What would the bad effect of fragrance be on skin?
  • I have not seen convincing evidence that fragrance is bad for skin. (Other than allergies, as you point out.)
  • edited March 2017
    Thank you for sharing.
  • @RandyS

    Thank you for sharing your point of view.

    My concern is the minuscule reaction to fragrance that is not visible to the naked eye.

    personally i don't react to fragrances but the type of skincare i use now don't contain fragrances.

    particularly concerned about Limonene, Citronellol, Linalool which are linked to citrus and am not sure if it is photo-sensitive or photo-toxic
  • @preciousia

    At least fragrance isn't beneficial for skin I think, and there are some negative articles about it:

    "While on the shelf or in the warehouse, limonene breaks down to form potent sensitizers (Karlberg 1997; Topham 2003)"

    "limonene can react readily with ozone, both indoors and outdoors, to generate a range of hazardous pollutants such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and ultrafine particles. (Nazaroff 2004; Singer 2006)"

    "Another common sensitizer is the lavender oil component linalool and its derivatives linalyl acetate and linalyl anthranilate, which form contact allergens when exposed to air (Hagvall, 2008; Skold, 2008)." If you are not allergic, this wouldn't be a problem I guess.

    "Benzyl salicylate, benzyl benzoate and scent chemical lilial (butylphenyl methylpropional) have been demonstrated estrogenic activity in a recent study with human breast cancer cells (Charles 2009)."

    "Moderate UVA-induced haemolysis (5-11%) was found with benzyl alcohol, bergamot oil, costus root oil, lime oil, orange oil, alpha-amyl cinnamic aldehyde and laurel leaf oil. Moderate UVB-induced haemolysis was induced by hydroxy citronellal, cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic aldehyde, alpha-amyl cinnamic aldehyde and laurel leaf oil. The phototoxic effects depended on the concentration of the compounds and the UV doses administered. (Placzek,2007)"

    "Lemon oil contains furocoumarin derivatives and is known to cause phototoxicity. In this study, lemon oil was fractionated, and its phototoxic activity was measured by means of a biological assay. The substances producing phototoxicity were identified by high-performance liquid chromatography as being oxypeucedanin and bergapten. Among various other citrus-essential oils investigated, lime oil and bitter-orange oil also contained large amounts of oxypeucedanin. Oxypeucedanin was found to elicit photopigmentation on colored-guinea-pig skin without preceding visible erythema (Naganuma, 1985)"

    "Sensitizing plants in cosmetics are tea tree oil, arnica, chamomile, yarrow, citrus extracts, common ivy, aloe, lavender, peppermint, and others. However, the sensitizing potential of these plants varies. Most of the sensitizing substances are sesquiterpene lactones or terpenes (Schempp, 2002)"

    "Phytophotodermatitis, happens when a certain plant compound comes in contact with the skin, making that one area light sensitive. Lime juice is the common cause for this condition. The photosensitizing compound is also found in plants such as celery, parsley and even Queen Anne's Lac (Baylor college of Medicine).
  • @Peter


    After your teaching and awareness... i spoke to Skin Actives. I am avoiding fragrances and in particular citrus derived ingredients esp during the day.
  • It's difficult to find any real evidence one way or the other.  Essential oils can cause photosensitivity and allergic reactions in some.  My question was more to do with the theory (because I can't find any scientific evidence) that essential oils break down collagen.  There is a lot of documentation on the benefits of essential oils for treating skin, take Frankincense for instance. It's the new 'it' for all that ails your skin and can shrink your cancerous tutors to boot.  I got to believe there has been research done on the good, bad and ugly of essentials oils, but I have not been able to find it.  Thank you everyone for contributing to this conversation.  
Sign In or Register to comment.

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!