I hope you all had a lovely Christmas (and any other holidays that you celebrate around this time of year) and enjoyed to your fullest with your dear friends and family. We had a pretty quiet and relaxing break from all the hustle bustle of life, and were able to spend some quality time with close friends (and family, via Skype!).
As you can guess from the title of this post, we'll be talking about some of my favorite and in my opinion, some really "essential" essential oils to add to everyone's skincare collection. I'm starting two new "series" of sorts on the beauty section of this blog - some "How-To"s, that will go a little in-depth into a certain topic of beauty and skincare and will be more advice-oriented, and some "Quick Reviews", that will be short and to-the-point feedback on how I feel about specific products. Let me know what you guys think about the format for these posts, and if you feel I could change anything to make these more helpful for you guys.
Essential oils are pure (the good ones are, at least) extracts from plants, distilled usually by mechanical means (such as cold-pressing) or by chemical methods (solvent extraction) depending on the plant/flower source. They are named as such because they have the "essence of" - or the aroma/fragrance - of the original plant source. Essential oils are used for a variety of purposes and the purpose often dictates the purity and the method of extraction employed. For instance, if you were going to use peppermint extract for baking, it would be a slightly different grade than say, the peppermint oil you would use for your bath/aromatherapy. The most common uses for essential oils are: skincare, aromatherapy, fragrance. (The extracts used for cooking are slightly different and we won't get into them here).
Why do we care about Essential Oils?
There are a number of reasons why I've been a huge advocate for making essential oils an integral part of your skincare routine. Firstly, in my experience, they are the cheapest pure ingredients you can find for your skin. Now, this is a complex topic and I will get to this in more detail in future posts on skincare products and the chemical ingredients they contain (natural and man-made). But, for the time-being, look at it this way: a 100% pure, organic, cold-pressed Moroccan argan oil from a fairtrade company I trust, costs me between $10-$20, and is far superior in quality to any other branded argan oil product on the market, which will have lots of other chemical "fillers" and most often cost twice that amount. Secondly, essential oils are better value for money. Most of them cost between $5-$15 for 0.5 - 1 fl. oz. and you need only a couple of drops per use. The volume and the price can vary depending on the purity of the oil, the method of extraction, the brand, and the particular oil. For instance, tea tree oil can be as cheap as $5 for 1 fl. oz. (usually not organic) and as expensive as $11 - $13 (organic and pure) for the same amount. On a different note, certain oils are by nature more expensive than others - take for instance, rose essential oil. Thirdly, they are so easy to customize, mix and match to your skincare needs! Every essential oil has its specific uses and benefits, and since they are all oils, you can mix and layer them based on your skin's needs on a given day. Fourthly, they do not expire for years, compared to most skincare products that have a shelf-life of usually up to one year. Need I say more?
So, to summarize - if you do your research and get your hands on the best quality you can afford, essential oils are the most potent, cost-effective, flexible, and pure skincare ingredients you can probably get.
Now, let's talk about my top five must-have essential oils and how and when I use them. These are not the only oils that I use, but the ones I use most often. Keep in mind: I have very oily, extremely acne-prone, and sensitive skin. So, these are the essential oils that are most suited to my skin type. I will mention some other really good oils (in future posts) that are good for other skin types and concerns. Let me know if there are certain oils you would like more information on and I'd happy to include them.
If there was one 'holy grail' oil I would hands-down choose each time, it would be tea tree oil. There is no end to the benefits of tea tree and I feel every skin type needs this at some point or another. First of all, it is an excellent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, with a wonderful fresh and zingy fragrance. Secondly, it is one of the most easily available essential oils out there, and most health food stores and online natural products retailers carry it nowadays. In the States, I've found it easily at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and other local natural food markets. In India, it is widely available from brands such as Khadi (on their website: khadinatural.com) and from online retailers such as Flipkart. It is also one of the cheaper essential oils out there.
Choosing the best one: Australian Tea Tree Oil is usually really good quality. Try and find 100% pure and if you can, organic tea tree oil. Remember, you want to get the best quality you can afford - it's your skin after all!
Uses: So many! Acne, blemishes and zits on your skin, inflammation, insect bites, dandruff, lice, irritated scalp, and more.
Recommendations & Directions: I would suggest that you do a 24-hour patch-test on your inner forearm first, since your skin may be sensitive to tea tree oil (this is rare, but does happen). If all goes well, use a small amount on the area that you need - such as a blemish or a spot that's coming on, or in general on your face if you get a lot of spots. Cleanse your face with a gentle face wash and apply the oil immediately afterwards, let it soak in for five minutes and follow up with your usual moisturizer if you feel like it. Tea tree oil is not moisturizing as such, so unless your skin is feeling exceptionally oil-prone, I would recommend a moisturizer after you've layered on the oil. If you are using this against dandruff, I'd suggest mixing about 20 drops with 2 tbsp. of your regular hair oil (almond and olive oil are my favorites) and then massaging it onto your scalp. Do this twice weekly, overnight, and I promise you'll see results.
"Holy grail" essential oil number two! I don't have to tell most of my Indian friends about the benefits of turmeric, but for those of you unfamiliar with it - turmeric is a root, that's used as a spice widely in Indian curries (in its powdered form, mostly for its vibrant yellow hue), and as a common household skincare and health remedy. The fresh root, peeled, and ground up is often applied to the face as a face mask, either by itself or mixed in with other ingredients - such as Neem leaves, milk, honey, etc. - while it is also eaten raw for good digestive health and its antimicrobial properties (especially during flu season!). I have used turmeric root multiple times myself, but have since chosen to stick with the essential oil. Why? Because, it's mess-free and hassle-free! Turmeric, when ground up, stains everything - including your skin - and it's a bit of a process peeling and grinding it for each use. The essential oil has all the benefits of the plant, and just a few drops on your clean skin, and you're set!
Choosing the best one: Turmeric essential oil is much rarer than tea tree, and not many brands make it. In India, I found this wonderful brand called "Souflower" and they make dozens of excellent essential oils, including turmeric. Their oils are also great quality and very fairly priced. I'd suggest you definitely check them out - they are available widely on Flipkart if you want an easy shipping option. In the US, "Eden's Garden" is a fantastic brand, and they ship worldwide via Amazon. Once again, make sure you are getting a "100% pure" oil; in the ingredients all it should say is - "Turmeric Oil 100%". Any other oil or chemical on that list are "fillers" and you want to stay away from them.
Uses: Turmeric also has excellent antimicrobial properties. It is great for acne. There are times that none of my expensive moisturizers and serums work on my inflamed, irritated acneic skin, and the only thing that helps is this.
Recommendations & Directions: Same thing with this oil, as well - do a patch test, and apply it wherever needed, on a freshly cleansed face. Follow up with a moisturizer only if you need to.
This is an oil I use somewhat occasionally, but one that has tremendous skincare benefits. Pomegranate seeds are very high in anti-oxidants. These are chemical compounds that are essential in combating free radicals that are present in our bodies as a result of various chemical processes. Free radicals in high concentrations can be quite damaging to your internal organs and your skin, and have been linked to cancers, premature aging processes, and more. On a topical (on your skin's surface) level, products rich in anti-oxidants - such as berries (blueberries, strawberries), pomegranate extracts, green tea - can be very beneficial in counteracting these free radicals. Pomegranate oil is also very moisturizing and returns lost vibrancy and suppleness to your skin. I don't believe that there are creams that can make your wrinkles vanish, but there most definitely are skincare ingredients that can make your skin look more youthful - by that I mean, more supple, glowing, well-hydrated. Pomegranate oil is absolutely one of those ingredients.
Choosing the best one: Once again, look for "100% pure" if you can. Excuse how grubby my bottle looks - I've had it for a while now and this has traveled countries with me! This is from that same brand I mentioned earlier - Soulflower, but you can find good ones by other brands, as well.
Uses: Hydration, "anti-aging" (I use quotes deliberately here, since I'm using the term in its broadest, popularly-understood sense and not because I believe anything can reverse the natural process of aging), inflammation, dry hair, irritated scalp, lacklustre skin and hair.
Recommendations & Directions: I don't believe a patch-test is necessary for this oil, since in my experience, I haven't known anyone's skin to be irritated by pomegranate oil. However, you should still do a test if you have generally sensitive skin. I would use pomegranate essential as a moisturizer that replaces your regular one, when you feel your skin needs an extra boost and has been feeling dull and dehydrated. If you're also experiencing other skincare concerns such as acne, use tea tree or turmeric oil as the first step (always after cleansing your face!), let that soak in for 5-10 minutes, and then follow up with the pomegranate oil. For your hair, I would use it on the ends of your hair as an overnight treatment (this is not to be used as a styling oil after washing your hair, since it will most definitely make your hair greasy!) or mixed in with your hair oil and applied all over your scalp and hair.
If you're thinking of a "skincare powerhouse", look no further. Rosehip is an essential oil that for some reason doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. Think of a skincare concern, and it's likely that rosehip can come to the rescue. Redness, irritation, hyper-pigmentation, acne, dehydrated skin - you name it, it solves it. In my skincare routine, when nothing else works, I turn to a combination of turmeric and rosehip oil and that's all I will use until my skin can 'stand up on its feet' - so to speak - again. Rich in vitamins A and C, rosehip oil is distilled (usually by pressing) from the seeds of rose hips of wild rose bushes, from species that are native to the Andes and some others to regions of South Africa and Europe.
Choosing the best one: Rosehip oil is very easy to come by, and a good quality, organic, and pure oil in a 1 fl. oz. bottle comes in easily at $10 or under. Almost every essential oil retailer will carry this oil.
Uses: As I mentioned, there is not a skin type or concern that cannot benefit in some form or another from this essential oil. For oily skin types, especially acne-prone, this is great for providing essential moisture to your skin without clogging pores. The vitamins C and A are excellent for promoting cell-turnover (renewal of the top layer of your skin, revealing fresh, new skin) and dealing with problems of hyper-pigmentation. Pigmentation in the skin can be in the form of acne scars (something I deal with constantly), melanoma, rosacea, and other kinds. This is also a generally soothing oil, so it is a great option for those who have quite sensitive skin and cannot use some other more irritating oils. Bonus: forget cuticle oils that are usually made with mineral oils and other nasty chemicals, and use this! You'll thank me later!
Recommendations & Directions: Again, I doubt a skin-patch test is necessary, but do it if you're unsure. I would look at rosehip as an alternative moisturizer for any skin type, and as a second layer after you use an oil such as turmeric or tea tree for a specific skincare concern. If you're uncomfortable using an oil all over your face then use it to spot treat especially dry areas - in the harsh winter months, this can be a blessing for your parched skin.
Everybody and their mother talks about argan oil these days, thanks to all the attention it's been getting from beauty experts in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, most commercial brands of argan oil are pathetic excuses compared to the benefits of the actual, pure argan oil. For instance, the most popular commercial brand that markets argan oil, Moroccan Oil, uses fillers such as silicones, which no doubt gives your hair that "slippy" and luxuriously silky feel that you commonly associate with styling oils, but I'd say you're paying a fortune for something that's completely unnecessary! 100% pure, cold-pressed, Moroccan argan oil sourced from fairtrade companies are quite easy to come by, and are usually reasonably priced. Three to four drops is more than enough as a moisturizer for your entire face and neck or alternatively, just a couple of drops on the ends of your hair to keep them hydrated and tame the frizz. Argan oil is extracted from the fruits of the argan plant that is endemic to Morocco and the surrounding region. It is high in anti-oxidants, and like rosehip, has countless benefits for your skin and your hair.
Choosing the best one: I would suggest that you do your research, since the recent increase in press has led to ridiculously expensive and often deceptive and misleading argan oil products. Go for organic, 100% pure and cold-pressed argan oil, and look at the company's "about us" section to see how the oil is sourced. There have been some concerning reports about the high worldwide demand for this oil leading to inhumane production conditions, and it's important that you choose fairtrade if you can. It means that the people - usually the women of the community - who are expelling the oil by hand, each and every day, for hours on end, and ensuring that you get the best quality argan oil, are paid and supported fairly for their hard labor. Happy people make happy things - that's what I believe.
Uses: The number one quality of this essential oil is its moisturizing capabilities. Even the most parched, irritated, and dehydrated skin can usually be turned around in under a week with argan oil - that has been my experience time and again. I have recommended this oil to friends and each and every one of them have come back to me, amazed with the results. Even if you have very oily skin - which I do, as well - don't be fooled into thinking that you cannot use an oil such as this one. A number of times your skin produces more oil and becomes more blemish-prone because it is dehydrated and irritated in the first place, and tries to over-compensate the lack of moisture by producing tons of oil. Preempt that by using argan oil when you feel that your skin is getting dry in areas - especially your neck and your cheeks during the cold months. This is also an excellent oil for dry elbows, knees, and heels. I would mix this with another oil such as almond or virgin olive oil and use it as a deep conditioning, overnight treatment on your hair and scalp. Try it once, and tell me about it.
Recommendations & Directions: I would use this every day or as and when you feel your skin truly needs that extra boost in hydration and vitality. The recommendations are the same as for the rosehip oil otherwise.
I'll stop blabbering now, and let you guys go so you can start shopping! Please leave your comments below and ask me questions, if you have any - I'll do my best answering them and giving you any recommendations I can!