- Written by Ben Fuchs
Essential oils (EOs) are volatile chemicals that concentrate and contribute aromas and medicinal properties to plants. They’re found in all vegetation and can be extracted via distillation techniques to exploit the pharmacological and fragrance features.
While EOs have many health benefits for various bodily systems, throughout history they’ve been particularly valued for their ability to treat skin health issues and to help maintain the health and beauty of the body’s largest organ. They’ve been topically applied to accelerate healing from burns and wounds, included in skin preparations that claimed to prevent wrinkles and visible signs of aging and they have been exploited for their supposed antimicrobial effects too.
Some of these benefits are associated with a skin cell’s ability to, in effect, “smell” essential oils. As it turns out there are actually little spaces on the outside of a skin cell that can precisely fit with essential oil molecules. These little spaces are similar to the little spaces on the cells that line the nasal cavity. They’re called olfactory (smell) receptors and they allow us to distinguish the smell of an onion form an orange or mocha from manure. Recently it’s been discovered that skin cells also have olfactory receptors and some of these can hook up with components of essential oils. When this occurs various elements of skin chemistry can be initiated which may include the growth of cells to speed healing, extrusion of collagen fibers to prevent wrinkles and stimulation of hydration factors to help maintain moisturization.
Essential oils have another interesting property. They can help improve the penetration of active and medicinal ingredients in topical preparations through the skin surface. Under ordinary circumstance the outermost portion of the skin, the stratum corneum acts as an effective barrier to the penetration of these types of substances. Yet the driving of materials through the skin (scientists call this property “transdermal delivery”) offers many advantages over oral or intravenous dosage forms. For one thing, medication delivered into the blood through the skin bypasses liver detoxification which can reduce the potency of medication. For another, such delivery allows medication to get into the body without depending on absorption through the digestive tract which is oftentimes compromised.
Improving the penetration of active skin care ingredients can also make it easier for non-medicinal active ingredients like vitamins and peptides to provide skin health benefits. And the transdermal effects of essential oils are not insignificant. In an article published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics some were found to increase the penetration of topically applied medications into the blood by 30 times.
If you want to take advantage of essential oil’s transdermal penetration try squeezing the liquid out of a Vitamin A or E capsule, mixing it with a little lavender or lemon EO in the palm of your hand and applying it to your face after washing. You’ll get skin health benefits from essential oil and you’ll improve the activity of the blended vitamins. By the same token you may want to be careful about using EOs in creams or lotions that contain preservatives as the penetration of those potentially toxic materials can be enhanced too.
7 Interesting Essential Oils for Skin Health
- Lavender – helps heal burns, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, soothing and calming
- Germanium – dry and aging skin
- Patchouli - oily hair and skin
- Violet- anti-inflammatory, anti-acne
- Sandalwood- healing especially effective for cracked chapped skin
- Bergamot – anti viral properties can help prevent and heal cold sores
- Rose- soothing, ideal for sensitive skin
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