The case against essential oils for dry skin

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on essential oils for the skin.

It’s for a book I’m putting together on the topic.

And after a long preliminary section, I am finally getting to the practical recipes.

The first on the list is essential oils for dry skin.

The only problem is, I’m not convinced yet essential oils are a good idea for this use case, contrary to what many aromatherapy blogs out there will tell you.

Here are 3 reasons why:

# 1. It’s mostly about the carriers

Your typical carriers — fixed oils, creams, and lotions — are great for dry skin.

They all have occlusive properties, meaning they keep water that’s already in your skin from evaporating.

Creams and lotions additionally put some water into your skin, plus they might contain humectants, substances which attract moisture from deeper down inside your skin.

The short of it is, if you have dry skin and you apply a carrier oil or a lotion, your skin will be better.

And this probably explains 99% of the effectiveness of any dry skin recipe you might find online.

But what if you add essential oils?

Do they do anything?

# 2. Essential oils might actually dry your skin out more

There’s a video of Dr. Rob Pappas on YouTube, applying undiluted orange essential oil to his skin.

Within a few minutes of application, the oil evaporates, leaving the skin on Rob’s fingers visibly white, cracked, and dry.

Essential oils evaporate quickly by definition, and there’s a good chance that their evaporation can contribute to skin dryness.

And this is not just if you use essential oils undiluted.

I’ve just read a study that showed increased trans-epidermal water loss for essential oils used at just a 5% dilution.

# 3. Essential oils might not do anything for dry skin otherwise

Normal skin peeling is a very complex process.

It’s possible that out of the hundreds of essential oil components out there, some have an impact on this complex process.

But at this stage, we simply don’t know, because except for a couple of papers, the research is simply not there.

And as I mentioned before, the normal way of using essential oils, with a fixed oil carrier, is likely to help because of the carrier itself.

So that’s the case against using essential oils for dry skin.

Can anything be said for using essential oils for dry skin?

Well, there is a bit of research that suggests sometimes essential oils might help.

There’s a paper that shows that at quite low dilutions (0.1% or 1%) some oils can reduce skin water loss in a lab setting.

Also, in his complete skin series, Robert Tisserand mentions a study that shows blue chamomile and mandarin oil increased skin hydration compared to using a carrier alone.

Unfortunaly, I haven’t been able to read this paper directly, and it hasn’t been cited in any other supporting research.

Finally, essential oils might be useful for other reasons.

They might reduce inflammation that can go along with conditions that are characterized by dry skin.

Or they might simply make a blend more pleasant-smelling and usable.

So what’s the conclusion?

At this point, all we can confidently say is that using concentrations of essential oils over 1% is probably not a great idea when it comes to dry skin.

Beyond that, your fixed oils or your creams or lotions are a much safer bet for helping with dry skin.

2 thoughts on “The case against essential oils for dry skin

  • February 12, 2018 at 8:55 am

    I agree very low dilutions are probably wisest for any skin let alone dry.

    The orange oil example might serve as an addendum…this would hold for anyone not to put a strong citrus oil that will burn skin more than other oils. Like, lavender, frankincense, tea tree, will not have an effect like orange or lemon. Many oils I’ve not diluted because I’m lazy and have not burned myself. They were blended though. I have spilled straight up eucalyptus , not an Amazon brand, and completely burned my skin.

    Now I recall I broke out in what I thought was hives but was orange oil I had put too liberally in my body butter.

    Lastly and most importantly: the verdict is still out on water and skin hydration. Some say it’s about preserving the epidermal layer that has protective sebum which strips away with aggravating concentrated substances. (That includes about 95-98% of products on the market)

    So people found Evian facial most was drying. Water evaporates and dries skin out more. Especially tap water. (Haven’t confirmed the science on tap water vs filtered).

    The anti-inflammatory effect is probably the best point of virtue. I feel carrier oils absorb better with essential oils. I feel this but I don’t know why this should be the case. It could be the anti microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant value of diterpenes, and oils like Frankincense carteri have been studied and concluded to “help rejuvenate skin” implying it increased cell turnover. I decided to trust this because passed down remedies are considered effective amongst people who do show beautiful skin/hair, lower incidences of certain disorders, etc. other factors could be involved of course. However I have used “traditional” remedies definitely not clinically approved but they work. Later on the alternative medicine gurus will acknowledge this and thus the explosion of supplements and oils, etc. it’s a matter of trial and error so it’s good you raise the question to open the discussion.

    To add to the fact of natural products having no clinical evidence is because of their lack of commercial value (natural products can’t be patented. Something I found out through someone studying nicotine for depression and nobody would find nicotine because they couldn’t patent it. Now we have Wellbutrin ;-))
    Also the FDA is not going to approve it. So why bother? The only money to be made is if it’s for disease research aka cancer or if a supplement company designs a proprietary blend which still won’t get FDA approval and will get knocked off in a second. In which case a ton of money will have to be spent on marketing.

    —Still, your post has me wonder about the evaporation of essential oil. The irritation of epidermis by strong concentrations will weaken cells and destroy sebum (like soap but maybe even more , depending). One clue might be in the way oil cleansing is more effective if hydrosols and toner sprays are put on after, to seal the oil.

    The skin is also a result of so many other factors including emotional and endocrinology. Essential oils impact these areas important for sebum regulation.
    Flora levels also affect skin balance and essential oils help maintain flora –the exact mechanism of this I do not know.

    I do think this raises the need for more companies like Aromatics i recently came across shows all the chemistry and what affects what.

    The percentage dilutions are not that handy for consumers either. People are likely to wing it rather than do math or measure. 🙆🏻😳

    • February 12, 2018 at 7:36 pm

      You raise a lot of good points Suzie.

      I agree that skin is very complex and what we don’t know is much bigger than what we do know. That’s why I think “traditional” remedies (based on outcomes) have their place as well as clinical studies.

      About carriers absorbing better with essential oils: it’s definitely possible. I know there’s been some research that essential oils help with absorption of substances like vitamins. I don’t remember seeing something about the absorption of fixed oils, but it’s seems probable.

      And about water and drying: yeah, I don’t think just putting some water on the skin will hydrate it, and like you say, it may even dry it out somehow. But I think things change if you have an oil-water lotion where there is an occlusive part that keeps the water from evaporating.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Free 10-Day Course... on Using Essential Oils Safely. No Hype. Lots of Research.

Sign up below to get started: