Essential Oils May Be Wreaking Havoc on Your Skin


“I immediately took it off, and my skin was more red and irritated than ever before,” Ms. Puig said. After reviewing the ingredient list, she became convinced that the peppermint and citrus oils were the culprits.

In January, Summer Fridays posted an apology to customers after receiving a slew of negative reviews that mentioned rashes and hives as side effects. While the brand attributed the reactions to a product batch being compromised by a third-party manufacturer, it noted that it would be working to remove essential oils from its products “to mitigate any future potential for irritation.”

Why Essential Oils Are So Risky

To understand why essential oils can be risky for skin, it helps to understand what they are and are not. Extracted from flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots and select fruits via either distillation or cold-pressing, essential oils are highly concentrated chemical components that contain a plant’s essence or smell.

“They require a high amount of plant material for processing, so they usually have much higher active ingredient concentrations than we’re used to,” said David Petrillo, a cosmetic chemist in Los Angeles. They are much more concentrated than popular oils like coconut and argan, for instance, which are considered “carrier” oils that are milder and are often used to dilute stronger essential oils.

While inhaling certain essential oils has been shown to affect the central nervous system and stimulate the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin that help with mood regulation, they’ve also been shown to disrupt the normal functioning of hormones. When it comes to the skin, some experts say that in small concentrations they offer antibacterial benefits, but many believe that beyond giving a product a nice scent, they do more harm than good.

“Using them on your skin almost insures that some of it will get into your bloodstream,” Dr. Petrillo said, listing a skin-crawling list of common side effects, including redness, chemical burns, headaches, swelling and blisters. And although many brands maintain that the antibacterial properties of essential oils aid in fighting acne, they can actually worsen breakouts.

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