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Adding essential oils to skin care

March 4, 2015

Essential oils have been replacing fragrances in products for many years now but this hasn’t gone without issues.  Here are a few:

Most fragrances are designed to last VS Most essential oils are designed to be volatile.

I say most, because there are essential oils that last a long time and fragrances that die almost immediately but as a general rule-of-thumb this has some merit.  Essential oils can be blended into accords (top, middle and base note compositions) and ‘fixed’ into a base formula to help them stay but they will probably never be as potent as a synthetic. Maybe that’s a good thing……

Essential oils ARE reactive.  Fragrances can be too but most often their reactivity (tendency to change) is formulated out.

Think about what essential oils are for.  They are either there to help attract pollinators or to protect the plant material from being eaten or attacked by bugs or something.  Because of that essential oils are often quite changeable and will react to their environment – especially a hot one.

When I carry out stability testing on essential oil fragranced samples it is often the EO’s that are the first thing to change colour and lose their potency. This isn’t always a problem but some essential oils oxidize (break down) into chemicals that are irritating to the skin thus leaving an otherwise perfectly lovely cream with an increased potential to irritate.

Essential oils can be phototoxic Vs Fragrances are usually designed with the application in mind and so avoid photo-reactive components. 

Your citrus oils immediately spring to mind here as they both highly popular and highly light-reactive.  Breaking down in UV light to form less smelly and darker coloured intermediates is one problem but phototoxic reactions are a completely different ball game.  Oils that break down in sunlight can cause irritation that is quite severe and can even trigger an allergic response. In addition some essential oils form brown compounds with UV light that can stain the skin.  Not exactly nice!

Essential oils are expensive Vs Fragrances can be made to suit a range of budgets.

OK so price isn’t everything but in business ignoring price entirely is never a good plan.  It is possible to get a great cosmetic grade fragrance for under $100 per Kg (small batch) but many of the nice and interesting essential oils top the $100 mark and then some.

Essential oils go out of season and can run short Vs Fragrance is consistent. 

Contrary to popular belief the essential oil growing market is actually quite small with several large farmers taking the lions share of volume.  With that in mind it is easy to see how essential oils can come at you as a feast or a famine.  This can make it difficult to scale a business quickly or dramatically as there just might not be enough oil to go around.

Essential oils can affect product stability Vs Fragrant oils can affect product stability but usually less so.

Essential oils are concentrated actives that weren’t designed to smell nice in a cream and as such their complex chemistry can actually turn out to be as much of a force for evil than for good.  Citrus oils crash the viscosity of surfactant solutions, vanilla oils can change the colour of your base by reacting with the preservative (pinky hue anyone) and the solvent type of essential oils can thin down a cream.  Fragrances can do all of this too if you get the wrong one but generally speaking a fragrance will have been designed to perfume and will have had its landscape carefully considered.

But that’s enough of the bad stuff, unlike synthetic fragrances essential oils are often blended to make is feel better, more positive and more powerful, they can also bring some anti-microbial properties to a product (although not usually enough to preserve it) and do numerous other things besides.  Essential Oils are ACTIVE fragrances.

If you are wondering how much essential oil to use in a product that you are making I’d recommend looking up the IFRA website and following links to their scientific reports.

For example Lime oil is good up to 0.7% which is actually quite a lot.

Lime Oil for IFRA

Happy Playing!

Amanda x

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