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Plants and the chemicals they make. Essential oils can fix all your skin problems. Really? No, not really.

Never apply an essential oil directly to your skin! They are powerful chemicals, powerful enough to dissolve plastic and kill your skin cells.

The very volatile molecules in essential oils reach the olfactory bulbs in our noses giving us great pleasure. Essential oils are extracted from a variety of plants and contain the volatile chemicals that can be evaporated by distillation, although sometimes they are pressed directly from leaves and fruit peel.

The high price of some flower essential oils is due to the very low yield, i.e. many pounds of plant material need to be treated to get just a few drops of essential oil.

Essential oils are a complex mix of different chemicals: terpenes, alcohols, phenols, ketones, hydrocarbons, etc.

The chemicals present in essential oils are useful to the plants that make them, as antivirals, antifungals, antioxidants, to attract pollinators and to dissuade animals from feeding on them.

Some interesting and some alarming facts about essential oils.

It is true that you can find an essential oil for every skin problem. Both to fix them and to cause them!

* Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties but it can be irritating and allergenic.

* The lovely smelling Balsam of Peru is one of the most allergenic natural chemicals, but you will find it in a diaper rash cream! Use this cream and it could be a never ending nightmare. The pediatrician may not ask you what you are using on your baby’s bottom!

Bisabolol, one of the components of chamomile essential oil, is anti-inflammatory. But this does not mean that you can’t become allergic to other components in the essential oil.

Don’t assume that because the chemicals in essential oils are natural they are good for you! At high concentrations, they are all likely to be irritating. Many of them are allergenic.

Anise from the fruit of  Illicium verum, the star anise. Antibacterial, analgesic and antioxidant, it is used in Chinese medicine and gives its aroma to the Galliano liqueur.

Cedarwood essential oil is extracted from the wood of Juniperus virginiana. A powerful antiseptic, fungicidal and anti-seborrhea (helps with dandruff and oily hair).

Chamomile. The essential oil of Chamomilla recutita (L.) (also called Matricaria recutita L.), a plant grown mainly in central and eastern Europe, Egypt, and Argentina, may contains up to 50% alpha-bisabolol.  Bisabolol and chamazulene (which is responsible for its deep blue color) contribute to the anti-inflammatory properties of genuine chamomile oil.

Lavender (Lavandula sp.) Lavender beautiful scent is the usual reason for using it, but its leaves also contain chemicals with antiseptic, antibacterial and analgesic properties, like camphor and cinnamaldehyde. It can be allergenic.

Lemonbalm, Mint Balm, Melissa, Sweet Balm (Melissa officinalis) essential oil. Antiinflammatory (probably by inhibiting hyaluronidase), antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, helps with healing and itching, antioxidant. Contains valuable chemicals like rosmarinic, ursolic and caffeic acids and luteolin

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) oilThis essential oil, obtained usually by steam distillation, has antifungal activity, and can be used against dermatophytes. Contains monoterpene citral as the major constituent (75%) which finds uses as flavouring agents, and in perfumery and pharmaceutical industry and as a natural precursor of semisynthetic vitamin A

Peppermint from the leaves of Mentha arvensis. Antimicrobial and lovely aroma.

Sage from the leaves of Salvia lavandulifolia. Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent.

Sandalwood essential oil This very expensive essential oil is the only known source of alpha-santalol.  This skin cancer chemopreventive agent induces apoptotic death of human epidermoid carcinoma A431 cells via caspase activation.

Coleus forskohlii essential oil has anti-acne activity.