Understanding Essential Oils


What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile plant extracts. They are obtained by distilling plant material – be it leaves, flowers, bark, or roots. These oils are known for their potent fragrance and therapeutic properties, hence their widespread use in aromatherapy.

The Popularity of Essential Oils in Skincare

Essential oils have found their way into countless skincare products, thanks to their seductive scents and perceived natural wellness benefits. They're often marketed as magic elixirs, promising everything from acne control to anti-aging benefits. But is there a catch?


The Dark Side of Essential Oils in Skincare

Allergic Reactions

Despite their natural origin, essential oils can cause adverse reactions when applied to the skin. Have you ever felt a tingling or burning sensation after applying a product? Or maybe you noticed redness, itching, or even blisters? If yes, you might be allergic to an essential oil in that product.


Some essential oils, especially citrus ones, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. This phenomenon, known as phototoxicity, can lead to severe sunburn, pigmentation, and premature aging.

Hormonal Disruptions

Certain essential oils, such as lavender and tea tree, have been linked to hormonal disruptions. They can mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, leading to issues like prepubertal gynecomastia in boys. 

Microbiome Disruptions

The volatile compounds in essential oils often disrupt the microbiome, or healthy flora, of the skin — weakening its protective abilities.


Common Offending Essential Oils

Citrus Oils

Citrus oils such as lemon, lime, and bergamot are notorious for causing phototoxic reactions. They're often found in brightening products, but their sunny disposition may come with a hefty price.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a popular anti-acne ingredient. However, it's also a common allergen and potential endocrine disruptor.

Lavender Oil

Lavender oil is beloved for its calming scent, but it can cause skin irritation and potential hormonal disturbances.


Safer Alternatives to Essential Oils

Fragrance-Free Products

If you have sensitive skin or have had a reaction to products containing essential oils, consider switching to fragrance-free options. They're less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions.

Hypoallergenic Products

Another option is hypoallergenic products, which are formulated to minimize the risk of allergic reactions. They might not be 100% safe for everyone, but they're usually a better bet for those with sensitive skin.



Essential oils might be a natural ingredient, but that doesn't make them inherently safe for everyone. If used improperly, they can cause allergic reactions, phototoxicity, and hormonal disruptions. Always do a patch test before trying a new product and consider safer alternatives if you have sensitive skin.

schaf skincare made without essential oils

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are all essential oils harmful to the skin? Not all essential oils are harmful. However, some can cause adverse reactions in certain individuals, especially those with sensitive skin. Always do a patch test before using a new product.

2. What essential oils are most likely to cause skin reactions? Citrus oils, tea tree oil, and lavender oil are among the most common culprits for skin reactions.

3. Can I still use products with essential oils if I dilute them? Diluting essential oils can reduce the risk of adverse reactions, but it does not eliminate it. If you're sensitive to a particular oil, it's best to avoid it altogether.

4. What does a reaction to an essential oil look like? Reactions can range from mild (redness, itching) to severe (blisters, swelling). If you notice any adverse reactions after applying a product, discontinue use and consult a dermatologist.

5. How can I safely incorporate essential oils into my skincare routine? Always do a patch test before using a new product. Follow the manufacturer's dilution guidelines, and consider consulting with a dermatologist.