Best Extracts and Essential Oils and for Skin
Why do we want natural ingredients from plant in personal care products? Botanical ingredients have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and skincare and we know they are powerful. Also, plants were the main source of all cosmetics before we started making synthetic ingredients. Generally, botanical ingredients are a rich source of vitamins, antioxidants, proteins, and other bioactive compounds, which provide the nutrients for healthy skin.
But when we use botanical ingredients on our skin, it is very different from eating the same plant. Our skin doesn’t have an ability to break down the nutrients sitting on the surface and take into the body. Our skin doesn’t tolerate very acidic or alkalic environment like our stomach can.
Today, we have some processed ingredients made from plants that have only the desired component. They are widely used as “naturally derived” ingredients in many products. Compared to those processed ingredients, essential oils and extracts contain a variety of compounds that make each oil and extract unique and beneficial. But because of this complex mixture, we need to know what benefits and potential risks each plant extract has and use them correctly.
Why some say essential oils are harmful to the skin?
There are some cases where the final skincare product was formulated with essential oils at too high concentration, poor quality of essential oils, or wrong oil that are not suitable for the particular application. Too high concentration and oils that are not suitable for the purpose can cause many skin issues. Also, oxidized essential oil (essential oils have expiry) can cause problems as well. Majority of issues reported about essential oils were related to poor formulation or wrong usage.
Essential oils and extracts contain hundreds of different substances and have potential allergens as a part. But they are not sensitizing to all people. In fact, most people have no issue with most essential oils when used correctly.
Essential oils are no different from other active ingredients such as Retinol and Vitamin C. If you use it incorrectly, it is more harmful than good. They may not be for everyone. But when an essential oil is used to target the right skin issue, it is very powerful.
Essential oils vs. extracts in skincare
What is difference between essential oils and extracts? They are similar, but production process, and the expected benefits are not the same. Essential oils are concentrated, volatile, aromatic compounds of a plant. They are extracted in steam distillation or cold press process. Extracts are infusion or tincture. Particular part of plant is infused in a solution like glycerin or ethanol to extract the desired chemical compounds.
Essential oils generally have more prominent aroma than extracts because a little amount of essential oil preparation requires a lot of plant materials. Extracts are more diluted, and you can make at home as it does not require special equipment. We will show you how to make your own extracts later.
Because essential oils are highly concentrated, you always need to dilute to the recommended concentration before applying onto the skin safely. Each essential oil has different recommended concentration. This is one of the reasons people use them at too high concentration and have a bad experience.
Extracts come in different concentrations, usually from 10% to 65%. Many extract products are made for therapeutic purpose, and are safe to ingest. But they should be still diluted to the safe concentration for topical application. Compared to essential oils, extract can be made from wider range of plants and their parts. Also, extracts come in different format such as powder, hydrosols, tincture, glycerites, and more.
In general, essential oils will have more effective results than extracts and not every plant can produce usable essential oils. For example, both grapefruit essential oil and extract can both give similar aromatherapeutic results, the essential oil will deliver more benefits than the extract version in skin care.
When you look at ingredients list on product labels, you will not be able to tell if it is essential oil or extract easily. If you don’t seen additional detail and need to know, contact the brand.
Are all essential oils and extracts good for skin?
Natural plant extracts sound good, but natural isn’t always better and too high concentration or oxidized essential oils/extracts can cause very unhappy skin. Essential oils that you love the aroma and don’t have any problem by inhaling could be irritating to the skin.
It is important to know which oils are good for the skin and less irritating. It is also very important to dilute at the recommended concentration. The suitable concentration depends on each oil, somewhere between 0.25 to 5%.
There are some essential oils that you should consider avoiding in skin care. For example, Cinnamon, Clove, Lemongrass, Cassia, Black pepper, Wintergreen, and Mint are generally not for skincare.
Many “cold press” citrus oils are phototoxic, which means it can cause skin reactions under sunlight. Bergamot, Lemon, Better Orange, and Lime are the examples. You should look for “Steam Diluted” version which is not phototoxic and you still have all the benefits from citrus oils. Phototoxic oils are fine in rinse-off products, but you should avoid them in leave-in products.
If you are not sure, do a patch test with diluted essential oil/extract.
Best essential oils for skin
Everyone has different skin condition, and each person gets different results from the same skincare product. This is same about essential oils and extracts. You will need to test on your skin to see how they work. Here are some essential oils that are considered safe and beneficial to the skin when topically applied.
Rose Flower Oil – You know the beautiful aroma and calming effects already, but Rose oil has much more than that. Rose oil is great for all skin types. Antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties are good for acne-prone skin while anti-oxidants and natural emollient properties help refine skin’s texture and moisturize. Some essential oils are made in steam distilled process, and some are made in more complex method and the product is called “absolute oil”. Unless you are allergic to Roses, Rose oils have no known side effects or issues.
Lavender Flower Oil – Lavender has calming aroma and effective for stress relieve and good sleep. When topically applied on the skin, its antifungal property helps protect from a range of strains that can cause disease in the skin. A couple of studies found Lavender oil is also effective for some types of hair loss and promote hair growth. Other than a warning to use on young male children’s skin (before puberty), there is no known side effects.
Rose Geranium Oil – Rose Geranium oil has antioxidant properties and helps reduce the signs of aging. It also has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties which makes effective for acne treatment. It has floral aroma like Rose and can reduce stress and anxiety. Unless you are allergic to Rose Geranium, there is no known side effects.
Tea Tree Leaf Oil – Tea Tree oil can be used to treat various conditions including acne, dandruff, and athlete’s foot. It has strong antibacterial property and is widely used in many personal care and cosmetic products as well as cleaning detergents. Most people can use this oil with no problem, but can cause skin irritation, rash, and dryness. Depending on how sensitive your skin is, you may need to dilute it less than 0.5% concentration. It is not recommended if you have eczema, you are pregnant, or you have an underlying health condition.
Chamomile Flower Oil – Chamomile has calming aroma that is known to reduce anxiety. When topically applied, it can heal wound faster and ease skin conditions like eczema and rashes. Unless you are allergic to ragweed or its relatives, there is no known side effects. If you have a hormone-sensitive condition, you should avoid it.
Citrus (Distilled) Oils - The aroma from citrus oils are a powerful calming and mood-improving agent. Citrus oils have anti-inflammatory, antioxidants, and antiseptic properties and effective for most skin types. Oils can be made in “cold-press” or “steam distilled” process. We recommend steam distilled because cold-press oils are phototoxic that means oils can react under UV light and cause damages to the skin. Most citrus oils such as lemon and lime are safe including pregnant women and babies over 3 months old.
Rosemary Leaf Oil – Rosemary oil is known for promoting hair growth and can treat some types of hair loss. Rosemary oil contains a potent antioxidant and can protect the skin from premature aging. The main component, Rosmarinic acid, is a powerful calming agent for skin conditions like eczema and acne. If your skin is sensitive to Rosemary oil, try extract version instead. It is generally advised to avoid Rosemary oil if you are pregnant or have epilepsy or high blood pressure.
There are many more essential oils good for the skin and we cannot list all here.
How to Make Your Own Botanical Extracts
For those of you who really want to make your own extracts, here are 2 ways to make them at home. We use Green Tea Leave as example here to show the processes.
Things to be aware
Usually, you need only very small amount as you should dilute extracts at very low concentration. When you are using to cure or prevent a physical issue, it is recommended to seek advice from the specialists. In the drug industry, it is more complicating and difficult to reproduce the same benefits as nature provides.
When you are looking for benefits to the appearance of your skin or hair, then choose the specific part of the plant that has nutrients providing the benefits you want. The following questions may help you.
- Are you looking for a nice smell?
- How long do you want the extract to last?
- What benefit do you want, whitening skin, hydrating skin, strengthen hair, etc?
Remember, different parts of the same plat have different chemical components and different benefits.
Once you chose your plant, let’s get started
No preservative is required for 2-3 years
This method is suitable for heat sensitive materials
Prepare 100% Undenatured Ethanol (for example, you will need 20g of Ethanol for 10 g of dried Green Tea Leave)
- If you are making extract from large chunks of materials such as roots or large leaves, grind them in smaller pieces
- Please the botanical ingredient in a glass jar and pour Ethanol, then stir
- Seal the jar tightly as Ethanol can evaporate
- Leave it for a week, then strain it. This is 1:1 ratio extract
- You can dilute with Ethanol (60%) and water (40%) to make 1:10 extract
No preservative is required for 1-2 years
Prepare vegetable glycerin (for example, you will need 80-100 g of glycerin for 10 g of dried Green Tea Leave)
- If you are making extract from large chunks of materials such as roots or large leaves, grind them in smaller pieces
- Please the botanical ingredient in a cup/bowl made with heat resistant material
- Add water to just cover the botanical ingredient, then stir
- Gently heat it for 30 minutes to 2 hours with a lid on top. Do not boil.
- Strain it
- Add glycerin (>80%) and water (<20%) to make 1:10 extract
- There is no way to know if your homemade extract has the same benefits as the one made by large industry suppliers. There are many processes, tests, and quality controls done on those products widely sold.
- The amount of Ethanol and Glycerin is important to self-preserve the extract
- The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the creation or use of herbal tinctures. A person should speak to their doctor before using a tincture, especially if they take medications.
Pelargonium graveolens (Rose Geranium) - A Novel Therapeutic Agent for Antibacterial, Antioxidant, Antifungal and Diabetics - https://www.acanceresearch.com/cancer-research/pelargonium-graveolens-rose-geranium--a-novel-therapeutic-agent-for-antibacterial-antioxidant-antifungal-and-diabetics.php?aid=18420
Therapeutic efficacy of rose oil - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5511972/
Effect of German Chamomile oil application on alleviating atopic dermatitis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2833428/
The essential oil from Citrus limetta Risso peels alleviates skin inflammation - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874117300120?via%3Dihub