This all-natural ingredient is popping up everywhere from Whole Foods to brand new beauty lines - find out why

By Kaitlyn Frey
November 25, 2016 03:00 PM
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Credit: Twig + Petal; Young Living; Kiehl's

Holistic beauty isn’t anything new – people have used natural substances in their beauty routines for thousands of years – but the concept is gaining mainstream popularity in the beauty industry. Celebrities including Khloé Kardashian, Miranda Kerr and Blake Lively swear by green ingredients, while other stars take it even further, using beets for lipstains (hi, Shailene Woodley) and create beauty products they can eat (looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow). But for those who want to introduce natural products into their beauty routine the easy way, classic essential oils are having a moment – and are hotter than ever.

“Everybody is waking up to it,” Linda Rodin, founder of Rodin Olio Lusso products (which are all infused with natural essential oils), tells PeopleStyle. “It’s been around since Cleopatra. But I think the whole world is embracing it because it’s natural, it’s there and you can use it for anything. I just think it’s a gift that’s been here that nobody really took advantage of.”

That is, until now. With hundreds of oils to choose from, whether it be individual ones you can buy at Whole Foods or pre-mixed formulas in skincare, jumping into the world of essential oils can be overwhelming. But don’t worry: we’re here to answer all of your questions.

What exactly are essential oils?

Although the word “oil” is in the name, essential oils are just “highly concentrated chemical substances derived from plants,” says Amy Galper, executive director of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy and founder of essential oil beauty brand Buddha Nose. That means those with oily skin don’t need to ban them from their beauty cabinets: “Words like concentrate or extract would almost be more precise to explain their consistency. They’re not greasy, like an olive or argan oil,” UMA Oils founder Skrankhla Holecek tells PeopleStyle.

But there are some precautions people should know before slathering it all over their bodies. “It could take over a hundred pounds of plant material just to yield one or two ounces of an essential oil,” Galper says. “So that means what you’re putting on your skin is this highly potent, potentially irritating mix.”

To avoid this, she says the best thing to do is blend the oils into another substance, like a moisturizer, lotion, foundation or even another non-irritating “carrier oil” (like argan, olive, coconut or jojoba). “Any place on the body is great access. In fact, the scalp is one of the best places to deliver essential oils [when] they’re put in shampoo, conditioner, hair masks or serums,” Galper says.

What makes them so great?

Essential oil advocates say that the substances deliver one of a therapeutic, holistic experience, both physically and psychologically. “The aromatic effects, plus the medicinal properties of the plant material, affect the physical body,” says Galper. In terms of wellness, experts say, many common chronic problems people face (including depression, sleeplessness, anxiety and fibromyalgia) can benefit from the inclusion of these natural substances.

“Essential oils are arguably your best bet against managing some of these [conditions], because of the way they go to the root of the issue in the body,” Holecek says. And beauty-wise, many oils are great substitutes for common chemical ingredients found in our products today, she adds: “Anti-aging was [also] a concern thousands of years ago. Women approached this through a combination of these nuance ingredients, which were often secrets passed down from generation to generation.” So if you’re looking for an alternative, cleaner approach to beauty, essential oils are a great place to start.

But there are so many different types. How do I narrow down the field?

Hundreds of essential oils exist, so it can definitely overwhelm beginners to differentiate one from the other. Start by answering the basics: what do you hope to get out of an oil and what scents are you normally attracted to? “Very often you gravitate towards the scent of essential oils your body needs,” Holecek says.

One of the most popular oils every expert recommended for newbies is lavender, which boasts an anti-inflammatory and calming effect. “If you have a mosquito bite or something inflamed on your skin, you can use lavender oil to diminish it,” Galper says. “Or if you’re upset, angry or emotional, sniffing a little can help you relax.” Holecek also says you can use lavender as an alternative to itch-relieving hydrocortisone, because it provides “that soothing sensation that takes care of redness.”

Credit: Young Living Oils

For a natural take on a strong anti-aging chemical like retinol, which can cause irritation to those with sensitive skin, using frankincense oil is a good place to start. “It achieves all the great benefits (like diminishing the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots and scars) without making the skin thinner or sensitive to light, like retinol does,” Holecek said.

If dry skin is your dilemma, Holecek also recommends incorporating rose oil into your routine, since it acts super-moisturizing hyaluronic acid. “It’s actually very, very good for maturing women,” she said. On top of hydrating skin (which typically gets parched as we age), rose oil balances out menopause-related hormone changes women face as well.

To find these pure oils, look no further than your local Whole Foods or stock up on the ones you want online after doing your research from Young Living, one of the most popular essential oil retailers.

If making my own oil concoctions is a little too crunchy for me, what products can I try?

Credit: Twig + Petal (2); Kiehls; Rodin

As essential oils have become more popular, beauty brands have caught on and begun creating products infused with oils. Or other brands sell blends of oils with specific purposes, that are already diluted and safe to put straight on the skin.

For beauty benefits, try Rodin’s skincare line, Rodin Olio Lusso, featuring facial oils, body oil, hair oil and makeup – all infused with pure essential oils (including lots of jasmine oil – one of her favorites!). She says two drops in your palm is plenty to nourish the skin or hair. Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate, which is 99.8 percent derived from natural oils, can be used as a nighttime treatment to refresh the skin by morning. Or, try Holecek’s holy grail product in her UMA Oils line: the Ultimate Brightening Face Oil, packed with nine essential oils, which she says gives her “immediately the look of radiance.”

Credit: UMA

If you’re more interested in the wellness benefits of the oils, try rollerball blends. Twig+Petal’s Sleep Roller contains lavender, chamomile and neroli to ease the body before bed, while its Headache Relief Roller uses peppermint and eucalyptus to combat migraines. Or, try UMA’s Pure Bliss Wellness Oil with rose, sandalwood and sage to uplift your mood and Tata Harper’s Aromatic Irritability Treatment when feeling on edge.

Do you think you will try incorporating essential oils into your life? Tell us what you will be trying below.