There’s a lot of polarity surrounding essential oils. You’ve probably heard two conflicting perspectives: one, that they are amazing powerhouses of phytonutrients for our skin, bodies, and olfactory senses; and two, that they are too concentrated, inflammatory, and reactive.
Annie Tevelin, founder of SkinOwl and host of the podcast Off the Record, is just the essential oil expert we needed to weigh in on this botanical quandary. While she herself had struggled for years with cystic acne, finally taking matters into her own hands and healing her skin with essential oils, she recognizes that essential oils can also do harm. So both perspectives are right.
Now that you’re thoroughly confused, we’ll break it down. “There are hundreds of essential oils. With benefits ranging from clearing up acne, lessening the appearance of dark marks, and smoothing out uneven texture and tone, there is a proper way to use them so that your skin is protected from unsafe dilution and allergenic responses.” While they are a powerful ally for your complexion, Tevelin acknowledges that not all essential oils are good for the skin.
The first rule of thumb is to always, always dilute. “Dilute with pure plant carrier oils such as argan oil, baobab oil, black currant seed, or tamanu oil,” Tevelin shares. All of these are very healing, moisturizing, and cleansing, by the way. “Stick to oils that are noncomedogenic, meaning they can penetrate a pore. Comedogenic oils, such as coconut oil and jojoba oil, do not act like oils, but more like waxes. They are prone to causing breakouts and are highly allergenic, despite their ‘trend’ appeal.”
If you’re wondering which essential oils you should be using for your own skin needs (because there are a LOT), Tevelin has us covered. It can be overwhelming staring at the sheer volume of different essential oils on the shelf at the health food store, and they don’t typically advertise their touted benefits on the package, so start with this knowledge mic drop.
Tevelin spills that geranium oil is your go-to for these types of problem areas. “With its alkaline properties, geranium helps balance the skin’s sebum, evening out moisture levels where needed. It is phenomenal for its antibacterial and antiseptic properties, and is used holistically as a scent to treat anxiety and depression.”
Not only are the properties of clary sage useful for skin health when you need a boost or are feeling dull or dry, but the aroma is also a powerful tool. “The scent of clary sage essential oil helps with tension headaches and acts as an internal coolant for women experiencing hot flashes during menopause.” However, Tevelin warns that while not proven, “Clary sage should not be used if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as it is linked to early term labor and an overproduction of breast milk in nursing mothers.”
Lavender is known for its calming, relaxing properties, so it’s perfect in a bath before bed, or diluted and applied to the temples. It’s also powerfully antimicrobial, so it works wonderfully diluted in a carrier oil and applied to blemishes or fungal skin or scalp disorders like certain types of dandruff.
Rose is the queen bee of all botanical essential oils, and typically works well for every skin type. The scent is powerfully grounding and feminine, and it is deeply hydrating to help combat fine lines and wrinkles and over-active sebaceous glands.