Essential oils are tricky. They’re powerful enough to soften wrinkles, lighten pigmentation and heal burns. But if you have reactive skin like I do, they’re also capable of causing irritation, breakouts or sensitization. Doing too much, too fast, too soon will set you up for the aforementioned. Unfortunately, those were my experiences early on dabbling with essential oils, but I’ve realized after the fact that it wasn’t them, it was me, or rather my lack of knowledge about how to use essential oils and more specifically which ones to use.
Mine is not an uncommon story. And as more and more women on social media began sharing their apprehension (and horror stories) with EOs, I realized most people don’t know how to approach these ubiquitous ingredients.
I sure hadn’t.
In an effort to shed some light on how to safely/effectively use these mainstays, I met up with In Fiore founder, Julie Elliott, yesterday at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood to discuss all things EOs.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Julie, I can only describe her as Carine Roitfeld meets Joan Baez with a sprinkle of mysticism, scientific curiosity and warm heartedness. She’s undoubtably Parisian chic with her signature charcoal rimmed eyes, poppy red lipstick, and smattering of salt and pepper hair cut a la Jane Birken shag swept to the side, but when you dig a little deeper, you find there’s much more. You discover her love for Japanese beauty rituals; her study of anthroposophical medicine – “The study of spirit in all matter” and deep knowledge of plants; and her unrelenting passion for delivering nontoxic products even if that means drilling suppliers for months to confirm whether an ingredient they offer, like butylene glycol, is made with GMO corn or not.
In essence she’s complex, layered, and well studied, very much like her In Fiore products. And as a pioneer of luxury green beauty, formulating essential oil blends in her San Francisco apothecary since before it was cool to be green (1999 to be exact,) she was a no brainer for posing all of my burning EO questions.
Here’s what she had to say…
How to use…
“If you’re new to essential oils, ease in slowly with one product. Don’t go swapping out your entire skincare regiment.”
After returning from a congress on essential oils in Europe, Julie said one interesting point brought up was the little talked about fact that we build a tolerance to essential oils: Meaning EOs affect people differently based on their previous EO use. So, if you’ve been using essential oil products for a long time, you can handle stronger formulations and using multiple products with EOs. But if you’re a newbie, take things slow. Opt to try one essential oil product at a time rather than swapping out your entire skincare regiment at once.
“If you have dry skin and are dealing with acne, try calendula. It’s really safe. For me, calendula is the master healer. With acne, people try to attack it, but I don’t believe in that. I think you should love your acne, embrace it and help it heal. Let it run its course.
Geranium oil is also great for acne, and lavender. But lavender is really strong and can be sensitizing for some people. Even though its considered safe, it is an incredibly potent essential oil.
If you have acne and more combination/oily skin, Neroli is a great option; it has astringent properties that help to tighten, clean and strengthen the tissues. We use it in our PUR oil blend. What you see often with acneic skin is an overproduction of oleic acid. One way to combat this is to use oils that are high in linoleic acid. Our ratio in the PUR blend is high in linoleic acid so it’s really going to help balance the sebaceous glands.
Our Comfrey Solution is great for breakouts on the face when you employ a gentle strategy. It’s antibacterial. It helps to calm down and help you move through outbreaks as gracefully as possible. It’s a great spot treatment.”
“Calendula is a good one for mature skin as well. It’s high in carotenoids and betacarotene, so it will help increase collagen in the skin and retain moisture.
Jasmine is one of my favorite floral essential oils to work with and it’s great for mature skin as well. It’s a warming oil, vitalizing, stimulating and really helps to improve blood flow and circulation bringing blood flow to the surface. In order to heal our bodies, we need warmth and stimulation.
Frankincense and myrrh in Chinese medicine are considered the blood movers. These plants grow in the desert climates, so they fight really hard to survive. The resin, which is where you extract the oil from, is produced by the trees to heal their wounds. If there is a cut on the tree, the resin will seal and heal it. That translates to these oils healing properties making them amazing anti-aging ingredients. I’m a huge advocate of frankincense and myrrh. I like them too in an eye products. They’re very stimulating and great for fine lines.”
For DRY SKIN…
“Rose essential oil is also great for moisture and hydration.”
“The citrus essential oils are controversial because they can cause some photosensitivity, but they are great tissue cleaners. They “take out the trash” so to speak by tonifying, tightening, lightening and brightening the skin. They also create tautness to the skin.
Bergamot is one of those ones that can cause photosensitivity, but the regulatory standards are .4% in a leave on face product, which is really low. So when you think about how it is diluted in a carrier oil and how much you’re putting on your skin, it’s really a very, very small amount. This helps to avoid photosensitivity. But I do recommend, if you are using any products that contain bergamot, to use them in the evening and allow for at least eight hours or more after applying a product with bergamot before you go out in the sun. But we always recommend to use SPF as well.”
“When it comes to using essential oils and pregnancy, you have to listen to your body and discuss what you’re using with your doctor or doula when it comes to body products containing essential oils. Products are allowed to have a higher quantity of essential oil in them in body products, so say with jasmine – face products are required to contain less than 1% whereas body products I’ve seen it approved where 5% is allowed. Because of these higher amounts, I always err on the side of caution with body products and recommend women wait until their 6th or 7th month in pregnancy to use essential oil body products.
We have our Jasmine Supérieur Baume Pour Le Corps which I created especially for pregnant women to use once they get to the 6th or 7th month mark for the prevention of stretch marks. It’s a blend of red mandarin, jasmine and some lavender. It’s a nice blend for preserving the elasticity of your skin. And jasmine is a warming oil that will help mothers produce milk.
When it comes to our face products containing essential oils, I’m not concerned about pregnant women using them if they’re accustomed to using them pre-pregnancy. The concentrations are very low, safe and follow the EU regulations.”
For more on EO products recommended for pregnancy: read In Fiore’s blog “Belly + Balm: Our Picks For Pregnancy, Birth & Postpartum.”
For more on In Fiore & Julie: read about how Julie takes care of her skin here, or about In Fiore’s 4-2-4 Japanese cleaning ritual that takes ten minutes but will result in brighter clearer skin.
Photographed & Written by Amy Chang