Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/6/2021
Skincare and anti-aging regimens have gotten complicated in the last few decades, and these days it seems like there’s always something new on the market claiming to help you prevent fine lines and signs of aging.
Essential oils have a long history of claimed benefits, but when it comes to skincare, some of these oil claims may actually hold water.
But essential oils, as optimistic as we may be, are still straddling the line between potential and proven benefits. While there’s plenty of reason to keep an eye on them (a few in particular), you should skill approach these treatment options with caution.
If you’re considering adding essential oils to your skincare routine, here’s what you need to know.
Your skin is the largest organ you have, and though it may seem thin, it’s incredibly complex, and made up of a variety of components like blood vessels and glands.
What keeps your skin looking young, however, are three specific proteins: collagen, elastin, and keratin.
Of the three, collagen is probably the one you’ve heard the most about. It’s also the most plentiful. Collagen is an element of your connective tissue, and connective tissue is what literally keeps your skin cells from falling apart. It’s responsible for firmness.
In contrast, elastin is another connective component whose job it is to essentially return things to where they’re supposed to be when your skin is poked, pinched, or prodded.
Keratin, finally, has a different role: that of a barrier. Keratin is hardened armor to protect the rest of your skin (it can also be found in your nails and hair).
You need all three of these proteins to be working effectively and being produced regularly in order to keep a youthful look to your skin.
As you can imagine, then, wrinkles happen when something goes wrong with these proteins. There are a lot of things that can cause problems, but what it comes down to is damage to the components of your skin.
Anything that stresses your skin, or causes it to heal, nourish, or replenish its cells more slowly, can cause aging. Scientists know those stressors can come in a wide range of forms, but it all comes down to two theories.
The theories focus on two source categories for damage: intrinsic sources and extrinsic sources. For your benefit, it’s best to address both of them in treatments.
Extrinsic sources might include smoking, air pollution, sun exposure, sleeping face down on your pillow or rubbing your eyes too hard—any external source. These result in conditions like inflammation, sun damage, and free radicals. Intrinsic sources like decreased function of cells, or reduced lifespan for cells, typically are caused by a combination of your age, diet, genes, and nutrition.
Extrinsic damage may appear to come from anything, but pollution, sun damage, and most of those external elements are associated with the presence of a reactive oxygen species, also known as a free radical.
Free radicals are oxidative compounds that get under your skin and move around like pinballs, and every time they bump into something they steal electrons. Over time, this damages the regenerative processes for things like collagen, keratin, and elastin.
If you’re wondering where oils fit into this conversation, it turns out that there is some evidence essential oils can play a role in fighting free radicals and inflammation.
We want to caution that, while we’ve gathered evidence for several essential oils that show the promise of potential benefits, none of these oils have been vetted by multiple studies, and most of these proposed benefits haven’t been replicated in individual studies focused on their impact on human skin.
Still, it’s worth considering essential oils as part of a holistic skincare regimen. Some of the oils you might want to consider include:
There’s some evidence out there to suggest that sandalwood oil may inhibit an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is critical for the production of melanin. That means that it may be useful in the fight against skin damage from UV radiation, a common culprit in premature skin aging.
Though research into rosemary oil’s effects on skin hydration are limited, there are promising studies that have found that, when applied topically, rosemary oil may increase skin elasticity and skin hydration.
Ylang-Ylang is a tropical flower from the regions around the Indian Ocean, and while it has been used for aromatherapy for years, it boasts both antiinflammatory and antioxidative properties for skin, according to a 2015 review.
Rose oils have a long history of medical use, but a 2011 review found both antiinflammatory and antioxidative benefits to be further explored—some of which may translate to skincare.
Lemon oil proses antioxidative benefits for the skin, according to a 1999 study, which found that lemon oil, “significantly increases the antioxidative potential of skin biosurface, thus highlighting the effectiveness of a natural antioxidant biotechnology in the antiaging management of skin.”
A 2014 article highlighted the benefits of pomegranate oil: protection from cancer, from photoaging and from oxidative stress. Note: this research was also conducted in mice.
However, further human trials and studies are necessary to understand the therapeutic potentials of pomegranate.
So what’s the takeaway here?
Essential oils show a lot of potential health and medical benefits, some of which may eventually translate to better skincare and anti aging products and routines. But there are a lot of unconfirmed facts in these potentials.
We’re not saying that applying rose oil to your skin every night isn’t going to make it more youthful, but for the time being, it wouldn’t be our first recommendation. After all, there are already products on the market with more proven benefits, with far deeper wells of research to back them up.
So what should you be using?
Well, one place to start would be Vitamin C: a powerful antioxidant with a reservoir of electrons to protect your collagen and elastin from free radicals. In addition to dietary vitamin C, you may want to include a serum or topical regularly as part of your skincare routine.
And you can benefit the general health of your skin by protecting its moisture as well. Topical moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid (which helps skin retain moisture), like our Tidal Wave Moisturizer will keep your skin from looking dried out and deflated.
And if you need more collagen than what your body is producing, peptides offer an effective way to supplement collagen into your system.
There are many products on the market offering some or all of these benefits, and they’ve been proven by more studies than, well, the unproven stuff we talked about earlier.
It can be hard to decide where to start when you’re trying to upgrade your skincare routine, but whether you’re just seeing your first fine lines, or whether you’ve been ignoring them for a few years, the time to address them is now.
The first thing you should do is consult a healthcare professional, who will be able to give you both context and recommendations for your wrinkles. After all, aging skin may be the sign of something else, like poor diet or increased stress, that you will want to address alongside the skin symptoms. A healthcare provider may also suggest a combination of tools and treatments to help you get the problem under control more effectively.
Wrinkles and fine lines may not be preventable forever, but you may still have decades of winnable fights if you address the problems properly, now.
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