Essential oils to avoid if you have sensitive skin

If something is natural that means it’s gentle, right?

Not always, particularly in the case of essential oils. Although extracted from plants, flowers and bark – they can cause real problems for sensitive skin.

It’s currently aromatherapy awareness week in the UK – and this complementary therapy is dependent on the usage of essential oils.

While their intense aromas are commonly used to treat complaints (usually via an oil burner), some aromatherapy techniques also involve physical application, directly onto the skin.

Adverse reactions

Certain essential oils can cause reactions ranging from swelling to itching, but as always, it varies from person to person. I’m particularly sensitive to eucalyptus, the oil used in many skin care products for its clean and almost ‘medical’ aroma.

The inflammation caused by some irritating essential oils can damage the skin’s barrier – its first line of defence, resulting in rashes, breakouts or reactions.

Why are some essentials oils irritating?

All essential oils are made up of various compounds, and it is these that cause skin irritation.

The primary compounds of essential oils that tend to cause sensitivity are limonene, linalool and geranial. 

As always, it’s best to approach using a new product – be it an oil or oil blend, with caution. A simple patch test is the best way to avoid irritation or a reaction, and if you do experience any adverse effects – stop using the product straightaway.

Particular oils to avoid if you suffer from sensitive skin:

  • Basil
  • Bay
  • Benzoin
  • Birch
  • Black pepper
  • Cassia
  • Cinnamon
  • Citronella
  • Clove
  • Costus
  • Cumin
  • Elecampane
  • Fennel
  • Fir
  • Ginger
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Lemon verbena
  • Melissa
  • Oak moss
  • Orange
  • Oregano
  • Parsley seed
  • Peppermint
  • Pimento Berry
  • Pine
  • Tagetes
  • Red and Wild thyme
  • Wintergreen

Top tip: Essential oils often appear on ingredients lists in Latin. If you’re trying to avoid certain irritating oils, it’s worth making a note of their alternative names so you can steer well clear!

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