Are Essential Oils Bad for My Skin?

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Hi, Jenn,

I’ve been adding essential oils to jojoba oil to make homemade face and body oil, but I’m not sure if the essential oils are good for my skin. Should I avoid them? 


You’re not the only one curious about essential oils. Eight of the ten top trending skin-care ingredients Americans are researching online are natural oils or extracts, according to a new report from ClearForMe, a tool online retailers use to make their products’ ingredient lists more understandable (“essential oils” took the No. 5 spot). I think the increased interest online — and your question — stems from the same issue: There’s so much conflicting information!

If you look up essential oils on Google or TikTok, you’ll see self-proclaimed doctors applying them incorrectly or calling them “fantastic” because they’re “from herbs and plants,” right next to videos of doctors advising they shouldn’t be used on children and linking their use to acne. But there’s nuance to this discussion that can’t be simplified with CapCut. “Some essential oils may be more irritating than others, so it’s important to do your research and consult with a dermatologist if you have any concerns,” says Los Angeles area dermatologist Divya Shokeen, M.D. The only undisputed truth: You should never apply undiluted essential oils to your skin.

As for your homemade blend, whether it’s safe and effective depends on which essential oils you’re adding to the carrier oil (in this case, the jojoba oil) and in what concentration. “You have to respect the natural potency of essential oils,” says aromatherapist Denise LaPalm, founder of the bath and body brand L’Beauxtique. Your finished face- or body-oil formula should be only 1 to 2 percent essential oils, according to LaPalm and two dermatologists I consulted. “That’s six to 12 drops per ounce of your carrier oil,” LaPalm says.

I’m assuming you’ve been using your DIY concoction without any reaction or irritation; otherwise, you would have stopped. But any time you apply a new formula, you should do a patch test. “Apply the oil blend to a small area of skin — inside the forearm or behind the ear — and leave it on for 48 hours to see how your skin will react,” says Carmen Castilla, M.D., a dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group and a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital.

This may sound overly cautious, but it’s also a good idea to patch-test the oils you buy regularly, especially if you switch brands. “Improperly processed oils can contain impurities that are more likely to cause irritation,” explains Castilla. “Reputable brands often provide information on the processing, production, and sourcing of their essential oils, but it’s also possible to develop sensitivities over time, and it’s not uncommon to use a specific product for weeks or months before developing a sensitivity.”

The experts I asked were hesitant to recommend specific brands because everybody’s skin is unique and quality can vary between batches. But I like to buy my essential oils from a Seattle shop called Tenzing Momo. (I know that’s a niche recommendation, but its French lavender smells divine and I use its arnica oil — diluted — to help bruises heal faster.) I’ve also heard good things about Eden Botanicals from aromatherapists. (Amy Galper, the author of The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy, told me about the company when I interviewed her on my podcast.)

As for which essential oils are “good for your skin,” it all depends on which benefits you’re after; the aroma of lavender essential oil reduces anxiety, while chamomile oil can be anti-inflammatory when applied topically. For what it’s worth, those are the only essential oils that dermatologists Shokeen and Castilla mentioned as generally safe to use at home (when diluted properly and patch-tested!). That’s not to say you can’t experiment with others; just proceed with caution. And to be on the safe side, avoid messing around with essential oils of lemon verbena, lemongrass, cinnamon bark, oregano, thyme, and clove. “Those are pretty potent and can be irritating,” says LaPalm. “Leave them to someone well versed in aromatherapy or formulation.”

If your homemade jojoba blend adheres to all the guidelines above, then it’s probably safe to keep using it. But if you have sensitive skin or a condition like eczema or psoriasis that compromises your skin barrier, you really shouldn’t be DIY-ing. I understand the temptation: Since you can’t be sure of the exact ingredients and concentrations of the products you buy in stores, you may want to take matters into your own hands. But if you’re sensitive, essential oils can be even worse for you than more obvious irritants like lab-created actives. “Retinol and AHAs can also be irritating for sensitive people, but when compounded correctly, they can be used occasionally without much issue,” says Shokeen. “But essential oils, even at low concentrations, can create major allergic reactions.”

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Are Essential Oils Bad for My Skin?