Essential oils are raw materials of choice for the formulation of cosmetic products or food supplements, however their natural origin should not make us forget that we must remain vigilant from a toxicological point of view.

Article realized in collaboration with David Martinetto  – Analytical Expert, Pharmaceutical Industry

Essential oil (EO) is a liquid concentrated in vegetable substances, obtained by extraction or distillation of volatile molecules from the original plant.

Out of 800,000 plant species, only 10% can be used to produce Essential oil (EO).

Known since antiquity, Essential oil (EO) are used in many pharmacopoeias for their medicinal, aromatic and cosmetic properties.

Cosmetic products have an essential role in everyone’s life and many consumers are turning to natural and organic products with low environmental impact, to the detriment of traditional cosmetics.

With an annual growth of 8%, organic cosmetics have the double growth rate compared with conventional cosmetics (4% growth).

This new way of consuming has enabled the development of products made with raw materials from organic agriculture and whose environmental impact is controlled.

Among these raw materials are essential oils (EO), the craze for EO is not waning with an annual growth of 9.6% expected between 2017 and 2022.

This revival for raw materials of natural and organic origin is confirmed by the Agence Bio/CSA whose latest barometer indicates that 61% of French people have bought at least one certified organic product during the year 2019.

However, this craze should not make us lose sight of the potential toxicity of certain Essential oil (EO).

This is why the ANSM (National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products) wished, via the opinions of the commission of cosmetology, to supervise the use of EO by taking into account the importance of the quality of EO and the raw materials from which they are derived.

Essential oil (EO) present interesting biological properties, and this is no longer a matter of demonstration.

However, it is necessary to be vigilant in assessing the risk associated with the use of some of them due to their passage through the transdermal route or ingestion.

The decline in use is reassuring because many scientific publications are available.

Nevertheless, these publications are often not sufficient from a toxicological point of view, and other information also tends to demonstrate possible interactions between certain EOs.

The most well known adverse effect is the allergenic effect.

For example: the EO of Melaleuca or Tea Tree is widely used in cosmetic formulas. It alone generates the most reported allergic reactions, as described in the « Revue Française d’Allergologie ». On the other hand, some essential oils have a photo-sensitizing effect due to the presence of furocoumarins such as lemon, orange or bergamot EO.

Essential oils should therefore be handled with caution.

Among the properties of EO, here is a non-exhaustive list of those interesting in cosmetology, for example for skin hygiene products:

  • Antibacterial power (Spanish Oregano, vulgar Thyme),
  • Antiviral power (Tea Tree, Tropical Basil),
  • Antifungal power (Spanish Oregano, Cinnamon),
  • Antiseptic power (Eucalyptus radiata),

These properties support the resolution of the following skin problems (non-exhaustive list) :

  • Acne (Tea tree, Geranium Rosa),
  • Psoriasis (Rosemary to Verbenone, Ladaniferous Cistus),
  • Eczema (Lavender Aspic, Lemon Eucalyptus),
  • Burns and sunburn (Lavender Aspic, Laurel Noble, Hô Wood),
  • Cellulite (Italian Helichyse, Cypress of Provence),
  • Perspiration (Palmarosa, Peppermint),
  • Sensitive, dry and irritated skin (Chamomile, Lavender, Sage, Calendula)….

The use of essential oils therefore proves to be relevant in the treatment of many skin problems.

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