This is a guest blog entry from a good friend of mine, Mary Anne Leary, who has avidly studied the art and science of essential oils, and teaches it through in-class as well as online classes at Skyline College in San Mateo, CA. New students can apply to the college and get started here…and click on the courses for 2014.
Essential Oils for Sensitive Skin
When considering essential oils for sensitive skin one would immediately think of Blue Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) which is also known as German Chamomile. It is very calming for irritated skin that is hypersensitive to its inner and/or outer environment. Blue Chamomile can address issues whether the inflammatory condition is due to a poor skin barrier, sensitivity to environmental conditions, or to excess heat and/or inflammation within the body. It can be used on acneic skin in a gel or aqueous solution. For dry skin, I will discuss a few carrier oils to consider.
The reason for the name Blue Chamomile is due to the oil’s beautiful color produced by its azulene content, a constituent of the essential oil known for its soothing qualities. Azulene is present but not active in the chamomile plant as it appears in nature, but is created from a precursor within the steam distillation process. The heat and pressure required for the distillation of the chamomile flowers combine to produce the azulene. The longer the oil is distilled the brighter the blue color.
Interestingly, Blue Chamomile has four chemotypes that have been distinguished. A chemotype occurs when the same genus and species of a plant produces different proportions of aromatic molecules. Chemotypes occur when there are variations in weather conditions, altitude, the composition of the soil, and variations in light wave-lengths.
Of the four Blue Chamomile chemotypes, the (-)alpha-bisabolol type is prized for being strongly anti-inflammatory and has a fast-acting effect for all types of skin inflammation. This essential oil can be helpful for contact dermatitis, burns, irritated, and highly sensitive skin. It is a non-toxic oil that has wide-reaching effects for healing the skin. (If interested, you can find this Blue Chamomile chemotype at Original Swiss Aromatics)
Another essential oil with strong anti-inflammatory qualities is Helichrysm (Helichrysum italicum) commonly known as Everlasting, Everlast, or Immortelle. It comes from the Asteraceae or daisy/sunflower family, just as Blue Chamomile does. Helichrysum has cell regenerative qualities, due to its diketone content (the components responsible for the antioxidant and tissue protective qualities) and therefore can assist with repair of the skin, new wounds, old scars, dermatitis, and sun damaged skin. Helichrysum can be used on acneic skin in a gel or aqueous solution.
An essential oil combination recommended for sensitive, damaged skin per Kurt Schnaubelt, Ph.D., in Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy:
Moroccan chamomile (Tanacetum annuum): 0.5 ml
Everlasting (Helichrysum italicum): 0.5 ml
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): 0.5 ml
Roman chamomile (Athemis nobilis): 0.5 ml
Hazelnut oil: 50 ml.
Note: Moroccan chamomile is not a true chamomile; its common name is deceiving. However, it does have a high azulene content and is regenerative and gentle to the skin. Roman chamomile is used in this formula to help calm overstimulated or injured skin and complements the effect that the lavender essential oil provides for calming not only inflammation of the skin but also emotional tension.
Essential oils can be absorbed into the skin since they are lipid soluble and have a small molecular size (low molecular weight). Absorption is normally detected within twenty minutes of application and eliminated within ninety minutes.
Other essential oils that have been used to address skin sensitivity include jasmine, lavender, neroli, and rose. Hydrosols, the liquid produced through the distillation process, are impregnated with water-soluble (hydrophilic) compounds. Hydrosols made from plants that treat skin sensitivity, such as Blue (German) Chamomile and Helichrysm, can be used as toners for their therapeutic value to reduce inflammation and sensitivity. Some of these are included in the products of the Sensitive Skin Clinic line.
When choosing essential oils make certain that they are genuine and authentic, come from the specific botanical origin desired, and from producers and vendors that are known. These criteria help guarantee the quality and safe use of essential oils for skincare. You can safely use the oils if you research the quality of the essential and carrier oils, do not use essential oils undiluted on the skin, watch for sensitivities (use the below described skin patch test), are aware of photosensitivity (many of the citrus oils are photosensitive, but not ones being considered for sensitive skin) and any contraindications for the oils.
If there is any doubt about a particular essential oil a skin patch test can be done to see whether your skin can well-tolerate the essential oil or not. Take a 2% dilution of the essential oil in a carrier oil (10 – 12 drops in 1 oz. carrier oil) and apply some to the nape of your neck or crook of your elbow. If a reaction is to occur it will normally happen within 12 hours. If you have a reaction to an essential oil remove the excess immediately with a vegetable oil, not cool water.
When thinking about essential oils that can be used for sensitive skin I would first consider which season of the year it is. Some sensitive skin types may be more sensitized during fall and winter especially with exposure to cold weather and dry indoor heat. If more emolliency is needed consider using a carrier oil with a high fatty acid content to protect the skin from the elements. A thin coat of a carrier oil can be worn on the face should it redden when being steamed or when in the shower.
Rosehip Seed Oil, (Rosa rubiginosa) which is also called Rose Mosquita oil, can be very useful for skin that is dry and dehydrated. Read the profiles from the vendor you are considering purchasing from in order to see if it meets your skincare needs. Rosehip seed oil should be cold pressed for extraction and protected from fluctuations in temperature, oxygen exposure, and light, best being kept in a colored glass bottle. The same is true with all carrier and essential oils. If it is refrigerated it is said to have a shelf life of 2 years.
Rosehip seed oil is well-absorbed into the skin so it does not leave an oily residue. It has a high fatty acid content and can be used directly on the skin or used as a carrier oil for essential oils for dry, damaged, or sensitive skin. It would not be recommended for oily or acneic skin.
Calendula oil, which is an herbally infused oil, is a very soothing and cooling oil that is good for irritated, inflamed, dry and sensitive skin and is gentle enough for a baby’s skin. It is exceptional for sensitive skin. The calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis), are normally infused in a certified organic olive oil. The olive oil provides a stable base that, with good care, will have a long shelf life of 2 years.
The information provided here is not meant to diagnose or cure any medical conditions. Please see your doctor or a trained medical professional should you have any concerns.