Open up your skincare and take a whiff…Smell that? If there’s a strong scent in your skincare, there’s a good chance there might be some essential oils in the mix. While we love how good smelling things are, EOs can be toxic (more on that below). At Botnia, we’ve done our due diligence to research the best non-dermotoxic essential oils that go into our formulations. We’re here with Melanie, our cosmetic chemist, to help explain the science behind essential oils and shed more light on this natural ingredient in our skincare.
What is a volatile oil?//
Essential oils are concentrated liquids that contain volatile (easily evaporated at normal temperatures) compounds from plant matter. The terms essential oil and volatile oil can be used interchangeably.
They are easily extracted from plants, by a variety of methods:
By expression – squeezing the plant matter
By steam distillation – the same process as distilling a hydrosol
By solvent extraction – using ethanol or hexanes
Or by enfleurage – the oldest extraction method
Steam distilled EOs are the most common. Solvent and enfleurage extraction EOs are called absolutes – these are the most concentrated form of essential oil. For example – it takes approximately 3,000 rose petals to make 1 mL of steam distilled rose EO, and 8,000 jasmine flowers to make one mL of absolute jasmine.
Essential oils must almost always be diluted before use.
Why we use very little EOs//
Just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean that it is safe.
Nature is abundant in remedies as well as toxins. Toxins come in the form of something that is incredibly concentrated – where the dosage is the poison rather than the chemical itself; since essential oils are very concentrated compounds, we need to be thoughtful of the amount we use. For example, essential oils have the potential to penetrate cell walls – which if used lightly, can enhance absorption of skincare; if used heavily, can chemically burn the skin.
We use a small amount of essential oils in our formulations. I’m very conservative with them because I’ve seen how irritating they can be. Any essential oil that goes into our products, I’ve read carefully over all the data sheets on it, and I use it at levels that aren’t dermatoxic. Essential oils are utilized in the clean beauty space because of fears around synthetic fragrance. Naturally derived fragrances have an irreplaceable smell, and can also offer benefits to the skin – which is why we love using EOs, in moderation, as our fragrance.
Why you should never ingest essential oils//
Even if an EO comes from an edible plant, because they are SO concentrated, you NEVER EVER want to ingest them. Anything in a super concentrated form can be dangerous. Think of it like this, if you eat one chocolate bar, you’re going to be completely fine… but eat 1000 chocolate bars all at once… you get the picture.
Why they are helpful in the formulation of our products//
Rose geranium, a common essential oil in our blends, serves as a piece of our preservative system. It’s high in the terpenes nerol & geraniol – which are both antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral.
The other EOs in our formulations’ chief purpose is to fragrance Botnia’s skincare. Scent affects our limbic system – which is tied to our emotions and memory. In my opinion, it is an added boost to have fragrance intertwined in your self-care routine – look at aromatherapy, it’s been around for ages!
We source organic essential oils, which means they are extracted strictly from their corresponding plant matter rather than synthesized in a lab. Synthetic ingredients have their purpose – they take the pressure off of our natural resources and they can be incredibly innovative, but some compounds that constitute EOs are hard to recreate in a lab.
For example, terpenes are a blend of two different structures – called enantiomers, which are mirror images of each other (see below). Enantiomers exist in both forms to interact with light, as well as to bind to specific receptors in biological systems. Enantiomers will have the same physical properties – same melting point, boiling point, density, etc.; but they differ in their aroma, flavor, and biological properties.
One enantiomer may be anti-inflammatory, the other inflammatory; one might smell sweet and the other musty. There are many studies being done on the enantiomers within essential oils, a lot of their potential is likely yet to be discovered and harnessed.
Enantiomers of linalool – a terpene of lavender, and the main constituent of lavender essential oil.
In nature, enantiomers rarely exist in the same concentration. For example, lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil was determined to contain 94.1% (-)-Linalool and 5.9% (+)-Linalool.1
But if they are synthesized – they are a 50/50 mix of both enantiomers. This varies the function and even the smell between natural and synthetic EOs. Mother nature keeps her secrets, and this is why we find essential oils to be better in their natural form – hopefully, humans will be able to mimic this natural phenomenon in a lab someday!
Which products are EO-free in Botnia//
The creams and oils that are EO-free have a slight scent because of the raw ingredients that are used, but we do not add any additional EOs to these products.
– Rose Water Toner
– Eye Cream
– Balancing Oil Cleanser
– Replenishing Facial Oil
– Kale-Yeah Mask
– Fix-Zit Mask
– Weekly Digest Mask
– Flower Powder Mask
– House Rose Hydrosol and any of our hydrosols
Essential oils are beneficial, but they can be dangerous as well if used improperly. We always want you to question what goes into your skincare and ask your brands where they source their ingredients from. Have any additional questions about essential oils in our formulations? Please feel free to email us firstname.lastname@example.org
Justine & Melanie
P.S. Don’t forget to follow Melanie’s new account @alchemicala for all things cosmetic science, and a sneak-peek into Botnia’s lab!
- Ozek, T., Tabanca, N., Demirci, F., Wedge, D.E., Baser, K. 2010. Enantiomeric distribution of some linalool containing essential oils and their biological activities. Records of Natural Products. 4(4):180-192.