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Beauty's Aromatic Allies: Five Essential Oils that Support Beautiful Skin

Throughout time people have turned to plants to help beautify, soothe, and enhance the appearance of their skin and hair.

A perfect example is with essential oils. Ancient Egyptians reportedly used aromatic oils in cosmetics and ointments as early as 4500 BC. In traditional Chinese and Indian medicine their use has been recorded between 3000 and 2000 BC.

And Greek history has documented the use of different essential oils between 500 and 400 BC.

Being trained as an aromatheapist and dabbling in herbalism, I appreciate the anecdotal and historical knowledge of plant based ingredients, but as a molecular biologist with training in cosmetic chemistry, I also appreciate an understanding of the science behind how an ingredient works. And I personally think that as scientists we can learn a-lot from ancient wisdom of those who came before us. After all we are all part of nature. Let's explore five essential oils that support beautiful skin and a bit about their history and science.

Boswellia carterii or Frankincense essential oil: Before I discuss the benefits of frankincense essential oil in skincare I must note that it is vital to use an essential oil that is sustainably sourced. Frankincense essential oil is distilled from the resin of its namesake tree. There are actually over 25 species of frankincense trees and most commonly you'll see either B. carterii, B. sacra, or B. frereana and sometimes B. serrata, B. thurifera and B. papyrifera available as essential oils.

B. sacra is listed as low risk/near threatened on the The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and there has concern over the decline in the B. papyrifera population due to fire and insect infestations, but with strict harvesting regulations and mindful use of the essential oil we can help preserve these trees and support the fair trade of this beautiful plant. (1)

Frankincense essential oil contains aromatic compounds that have been shown to offer anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-bacterial properties, which are thought to contribute to the skin's regenerative processes. (2) (3)

Additionally frankincense is noted to ease stress, support sleep, and act as a tonic to the body. By soothing and supporting the body, the natural regenerative processes of the body are supported. (4)

Frankly speaking (no pun intended), frankincense essential oil has been used in skincare for centuries and is believed to have various benefits. While anecdotal evidence and traditional practices suggest its efficacy, the scientific research on the specific effects of frankincense essential oil in skincare is limited.

But the fact that it has stood the test of time as a highly revered and honored plant speaks volumes. And interestingly a study on the use of essential oils during the immediate and extended postoperative periods following reconstructive or cosmetic surgery found that α-pinene and limonene, tested alone and in mixture, showed inhibitory activity on both collagenase and elastase. (5)

Pelargonium graveolens or Geranium essential oil: While scientific research is limited on the use of geranium essential oil in skincare its anecdotal use suggests it can be helpful in many different ways.

Geranium essential oil is believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, balancing, astringent, and rejuvenating properties.

So in other words geranium essential oil can be helpful in products to reduce redness, in products geared towards reducing blemishes, and in products that are geared towards supporting skin as it ages.

Helichrysum italicum or Helichrysum essential oil: Helichrysum essential oil is also know as "everlasting" and has a history of being a potent ally in skin care and skin healing.

After cosmetic surgery the oil was found to help reduce inflammation, swelling, and bruising. In vitro studies suggest the essential oil has tissue remodeling properties and inhibited collagenase and elastase activity. (5, 6, 7)

The essential oil also is said to offer analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-spasmodic properties and has been shown to be useful not only in skincare but also in preparations for musculoskeletal issues and to add in support of soothing injuries.

Citrus limon or Lemon essential oil: Beautiful and uplifting lemon may not be an oil one thinks of for skin care but it offers some interesting properties that are very beneficial to the skin.

Lemon, like other citrus oils, is rich in d-limonene which has been shown to enhance skin-penetration. (8) This property may help improve the penetration of actives into the skin. It was found to "significantly enhance the trans-epidermal release" of Vitamin E (α-tocopherol), Vitamin A (retinyl acetate), Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) from topically applied emulsions making it a welcome addition to skincare that supports the skin as it ages. (8)

Like many essential oils C. limon offers analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antioxidant properties as well as astringent properties, which may support health skin in a variety of ways. These properties make lemon essential oil a welcome addition to products geared towards soothing blemishes.

Cold pressed lemon essential oil however, is phototoxic and should be used in low dilutions (less than 2%) on areas that may be exposed to sunlight. If the oil is distilled it is NOT phototoxic.

The oil is also easily oxidized and may cause sensitivity issues which is another good reason to use it in low dilutions.

Cymbopogon martinii var. Motia or Palmarosa essential oil: Palmarosa essential oil may be less well known but is a beautiful addition to skin care. It offers analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-microbial benefits. It is cooling and has a lovely rose like, herbaceous aroma.

Palmarosa has been traditionally used for a variety of skin issues including dry skin, eczema, psoraiasis, bacterial and fungal infections. It is thought to balance sebum production and promotes cell renewal.

Of particular interest are finding regarding its use to manage acne and its use along with sophorolipids to create a self-preserving cosmetic for use against acne-causing bacteria.

How much to use?

Aromatherapy and cosmetic formulation have different end goals in mind. While neither can make therapeutic claims, aromatherapy is the use of plant extracts such as essential oil, carrier oils, and hydrosols in a variety of ways to support the health and well-being of the mind, body, and spirit. The use of essential oils in aromatherapy may be higher than the amount typically used in cosmetic formulations.

Cosmetics are "articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body...for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance." Included in this definition are products such as skin moisturizers, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail polishes, eye and facial makeup preparations, shampoos, permanent waves, hair colors, toothpastes, and deodorants, as well as any material intended for use as a component of a cosmetic product.

When using essential oils in aromatherapy many suppliers have safety data and suggested use guidelines as well as gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) data to help guide your use of an essential oil. An excellent safety guide for essential oil is "Essential Oil Safety" by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young.

When using essential oils in cosmetic formulations usage rates involve other considerations as well that vary from country to country. We'll just touch on the topic in this blog post.

For example, if you are formulating products that will be sold in Europe, you must make sure to check for and list any allergens from the allergen/sensitizer list that are present in more than 0.001% in leave on products or more than 0.01% in rinse off products.

Additionally the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has standards for maximum use levels for essential oils and fragrances. You can often find these on suppliers websites or you can visit the IFRA website.

As a rule of thumb typical maximum use of essential oils in cosmetic products is as follows:

Face products: up to 0.5% (w/w)

Body products: up to 1.5% (w/w)

Wash off products (body and hair): up to 1.8% (w/w)

Around eyes and mucous membranes: up to 0.3% (w/w)

Baby products: up to 0.3% (w/w)

That being said it is up to the formulator to do the homework to verify safe usage amounts for a particular essential oil but in general if you are creating products for your own personal use the supplier's usage guidelines can help ensure you use the essential oil in safe amounts.

If you are creating a product you intend to sell educate yourself or work with a knowledgable cosmetic formulator or cosmetic chemist.

If you are looking to work with an aromatherapist or cosmetic formulator to create an aromatherapy or cosmetic formulation for yourself or your spa or salon contact me for a consult or product formulation services.

Or if you'd like to purchase an aromatic product to support your skin or hair be sure to visit our online store or shop our in person locations at Adore Boutique at the Temecula Promenade Mall (enter by Cheesecake Factory and turn left next to Nestle's Cookies) or shop at Be Kekoa Apothecary and Salon in Old Town Temecula.

Aromatic blessings,


1. IUCN website, Boswellia sacra, from:

2. Yang SA, Jeon SK, Lee EJ, Shim CH, Lee IS. Comparative study of the chemical composition and antioxidant activity of six essential oils and their components. Nat Prod Res. 2010;24(2):140-51. doi: 10.1080/14786410802496598. PMID: 20077307. Accessed from:

3. Camarda L, Dayton T, Di Stefano V, Pitonzo R, Schillaci D. Chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of some oleogum resin essential oils from Boswellia spp. (Burseraceae). Ann Chim. 2007 Sep;97(9):837-44. doi: 10.1002/adic.200790068. PMID: 17970299. Accessed from:

4. Okano S, Honda Y, Kodama T, Kimura M. The Effects of Frankincense Essential Oil on Stress in Rats. J Oleo Sci. 2019;68(10):1003-1009. doi: 10.5650/jos.ess19114. PMID: 31582666. Accessed from:

5. Fraternale D, Flamini G, Ascrizzi R. (2019) In Vitro Anticollagenase and Antielastase Activities of Essential Oil of Helichrysum italicum subsp. italicum (Roth) G. Don. J Med Food. 22, 10, 1041-1046. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2019.0054. Epub 2019 Jun 14. PMID: 31199702.

6. Voinchet, V. and Giraud-Robert, A.-M. (2007) Utilisation de l’huile essentielle d’hélichryse italienne et de l’huile végétale de rose musquée après intervention de chirurgie plastique réparatrice et esthétique. Phytothérapie 2, 67-72.

7. Han, X., Beaumont, C., & Stevens, N. (2017). Chemical composition analysis and in vitro biological activities of ten essential oils in human skin cells. Biochimie open, 5, 1–7.

8. Takayama, K., Nagai, T. (1994) Limonene and related compounds as potential skin penetration promoters. Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy 20, 4, 677-684.

9. Mahant, S., Sahajpal, N.S., Nanda, S. (2021) Insights into the mechanism of Cymbopogan martinii essential oil in topical therapy of acne vulgaris. Future Microbiol. 16,1181-1193.

10.Filipe, G.A., Bigotto, B.G., Baldo, C., Gonçalves, M.C., Kobayashi, R.K.T., Lonni, A.A.S.G., Celligoi, M.A.P.C. (2022) Development of a multifunctional and self-preserving cosmetic formulation using sophorolipids and palmarosa essential oil against acne-causing bacteria. J Appl Microbiol. 133, 3,1534-1542. doi: 10.1111/jam.15659. Epub 2022 Jun 22. PMID: 35686654.



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