The Beauty of Essential Oils

A whiff of lavender before bed to make you drowsy is a popular way to use essential oils. But don’t stop there. The powerful elixirs have other benefits, including beautifying your skin.

“Essential oils, which are distilled or extracted directly from plants, have the potential to boost your skin care routine,” says David Bank, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman’s Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age. “They can correct a problem or add an additional benefit beyond what your current skincare products are imparting.”

Despite their name, however, essential oils aren’t an oil (fat). Rather, “they’re concentrated constituents from plants that have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties,” Dr. Banks says. They’re so potent, in fact, that essential oils are typically mixed with a nourishing carrier oil, such as argon, sweet almond, jojoba, coconut, rose hip or even olive oil before they’re applied to your skin. You can also apply essential oils to your skin as a mist, using one ounce of distilled water, two droppers of vodka (to help the oil and water mix), and 45 drops of any essential oil, single or in combination.

By themselves, essential oils can cause chronic allergic contact dermatitis, an irritating skin condition. Lavender oil is an exception to the rule. “It’s one of the few essential oils that can be safely applied ‘neat,’” says Heather Tobin, a certified aromatherapist in Kingston, N.H., which is aromatherapy-speak for straight up.

Here’s a rundown of the most beneficial essential oils, which are available at Whole Foods and health food stores, and the best ways to use them in your daily routine.

All-Over Skincare:

Lavender

Lavender is a go-to essential oil that helps calm the skin and reduce the inflammation associated with acne blemishes, redness and sunspots.

To apply: Dab lavender essential oil on a blemish or make your own day and night moisturizer by mixing 1 ounce of a carrier oil, such as argon oil (for mature skin) or jojoba oil (if you’re acne prone) with 10 drops of lavender essential oil in an amber glass bottle with roll-on applicator. Apply it in the morning and at night, after cleansing. In general, a 1-ounce bottle of any essential/carrier oil can last for one to two years and cover multiple applications.

Soothing Dry Skin:

Sandalwood or Rose Geranium

Sandalwood or rose geranium oil helps take the sting from very dry skin.

To apply: Add 10 to 30 drops of sandalwood or rose geranium essential oil to 1 ounce of almond oil as the carrier oil and smooth it on your skin. “Essential oils are also wonderful for the bath,” Tobin says. For a luxurious, rehydrating soak, add 30 drops of sandalwood or rose geranium oil (or your favorite essential oil) and ½ cup of Epsom salts or Dead Sea salts to the tub.

Rejuvenating Mature Skin:

German Chamomile

This beautiful Safire blue essential oil contains azulene, a component that helps cool the skin and reduce inflammation associated with acne and rosacea. “It’s also fabulous for reducing the appearance of brown spots,” says Mary Pancoast, a registered aromatherapist in Pacifica, Calif. who hand formulates essential oil preparations for her clients. Even though it’s blue, German chamomile won’t stain your skin or your sheets.

To apply: Mix 10 to 30 drops of German chamomile essential oil with 1 ounce of argon oil in a roller bottle and use it as a day and night moisturizer.

Reducing Wrinkles:

Lavender and Rose Geranium or Rose Damascus

For younger looking skin on your face, neck and décolletage area, combine up to 30 drops in total of lavender, rose geranium or pure rose Damascus essential oil with 1 ounce of evening primrose oil (the carrier oil) and two capsules of pure vitamin E oil (cut and squeeze the capsules) in an amber glass bottle with a roller applicator. “Rose Damascus oil can be expensive. Feel free to use just 5 drops of the rose Damascus with 25 drops of lavender,” Tobin says. “The overall combination is incredible.”

To apply: Smooth on your face, neck and chest area at bedtime, during your nighttime skincare routine.

Stress Rx:

Frankincense and Myrrh

“Frankincense and myrrh have been used since biblical times for ulcers and boils. But they also work together as a massage oil, to keep the skin supple and young,” Tobin says.

To apply: For one massage, add 15 drops each of Frankincense and myrrh to 1 ounce of sweet almond oil.

Feel free to experiment with essential oils and carrier oils, to make your own synergistic recipe. “To come up with a blend of two or three oils that are right for you and your skincare issue, smell each essential oil first,” Pancoast says. “If you don’t like the scent, aromatherapists have a common belief that you probably don’t need it.”

And even though essential oils are natural, they’re not risk free. If you’re allergic to grasses or nuts, avoid essential oils or carrier oils related to grasses or trees, such as lemon grass essential oil or sweet almond oil. And before first use, apply a tiny drop of an essential oil mixed with a carrier oil to the inside of your arm. If you don’t get a skin reaction, that’s a green light that the essential oil is safe to use.

Sandra Gordon is an award-winning writer who delivers expert advice and the latest developments in health, nutrition, parenting and consumer issues. For more information, visit www.sandrajgordon.com.

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