How to Use Essential Oils Safely in Skincare

With so many conflicting opinions about essential oils, we thought it was time to discuss with skincare experts how to use them safely.

Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. They have become increasingly popular in beauty and wellness products. Essential oils are natural stress reducers because they can influence how we feel.

According to dermatologists, most people do not have adverse effects using essential oils and can enjoy their therapeutic benefits. In skincare products, the right essential oils can be:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Regenerating to the skin
  • Beneficial for acne conditions

Essential Oil Dilution is Important

It turns out that dilution of essential oils is the most important factor for safe use on skin. Essential oils are beneficial for the skin in the right concentrations and for the right people.

The concentration of essential oil being used on the skin is important to prevent irritation. Essential oil concentration in facial skin care should be between 0.25% and 1.5%. Sensitive skin types should use concentrations in the lower range.

To make an essential oil, the leaves or flowers of the plant are distilled or extracted by a process that concentrates the plant into a potent oil. This is why is very important to use pure, organic, unaltered essential oils.

Essential Oil Allergies

Most people that use essential oils in a diluted form never experience an adverse reaction. A small number of people may experience irritation or allergic reactions to essential oils when applied to the skin. Symptoms include burning, itching, redness, and hives.

For people with hypersensitive skin, some dermatologists recommend avoiding essential oils for several weeks, then reintroducing oils one at a time. As plant oils with a multitude of components, essential oils do contain potential allergens.

Allergens are substances that are harmless in most people but can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Allergic reactions occur when the immune system overreacts to an allergen and produces symptoms in the sinuses, skin, throat, and stomach.

Experts report that women are more likely to experience an allergic reaction to essential oils than are men, possibly due to hormonal reasons.

Just as everyone’s body reacts differently to antibiotics and medications, everyone reacts differently to personal care products and essential oils. This is why dermatologists recommend doing a patch test on a small portion of your skin before applying a new product to your skin.

Avoid Using These Essential Oils on Skin

Some hair and skin products contain oils that can cause photosensitization and should not be used on the skin. Aromatherapy is a good way to enjoy the benefits of these oils without applying them to the skin. These particular oils contain molecules that can sensitize your skin to the sun or cause skin irritation. Here are some of the essential oils we recommend avoiding for use in the bath or in haircare or skincare products:

  • Citrus oils, including bergamot
  • Mint oils, including peppermint
  • Oregano oil
  • Cinnamon bark oil
  • Ginger oil
  • Jasmine oil
  • Lemongrass oil
  • Ylang-ylang oil
  • Patchouli oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Clove oil

Essential Oil Expiration

Another important factor for essential oil safety is shelf life. Do not use essential oils beyond their shelf life, which can vary from two to fifteen years, depending on the oil’s chemical composition.

Check your particular oil before use to ensure safety. Using rancid essential oils can lead to allergic reactions and skin rashes. Tea tree oil and lavender oil, for example, are known to cause irritation once they undergo oxidation.

Patch Tests and Concentration are Key

How to use Essential Oils Safely for Skincare

While essential oils might not be beneficial for everyone, there are ways to enjoy their benefits in your skin care products. Patch test new hair and skin care products that contain essential oils to check for any potential sensitivities.

Aromatherapy is an alternative method of using essential oils that cause photosensitivity or skin irritation. Make sure your skin care products do not exceed 1.5% essential oils total for use on the face. With the appropriate dilutions and safety precautions, essential oils can be used to reduce inflammation and acne, as well as help to support skin regeneration.


Southwell, I., Freeman, S., & Rubel, D. (1997). Skin Irritancy of Tea Tree Oil. Journal Of Essential Oil Research, 9(1):47-52.

Rutherford, T., Nixon, R., Tam, M., & Tate, B. (2007). Allergy to tea tree oil: Retrospective review of 41 cases with positive patch tests over 4.5 years. Australas J Dermatol., 48(2):83-87.

Irritation and allergic reactions.


Rudazki, E., Grzywa, Z., & Bruo, W. (1976). Sensitivity to 35 essential oils. Contact Dermatitis, 2(4):196-200. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0536.1976.tb03026.x

Aromatherapy: Do Essential Oils Really Work? Hopkins Medicine.

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