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Essential oils - friend or foe?

The essential oils of flowers and herbs have been used since the beginning of time for their therapeutic and fragrant properties. These properties have, over the past half-century, been rediscovered and the use of essential oils has become mainstream. However, their increase in popularity hasn’t been without incident as reports of adverse reactions and controversy around their safety continue to grow.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are aromatic compounds extracted from various parts of a plant, such as petals, barks, leaves, and seeds. Essential oils give flowers and herbs their scent and spices their spiciness.

Their complex chemistry is comprised of many chemical constituents including alcohols, esters, and ketones. They are considerably different from fatty oils and have a consistency more like water than oil.

Essential oils are extremely potent and can be harmful if not used with care. Robert Tisserand, one of the world's leading experts in aromatherapy and advocate for essential oil safety, highlights that the essential oil in a bottle is 50-100 times more concentrated than in the plant, and safety issues apply to essential oils that do may not apply to the whole plant or herbal extract.


essential oils

The Essential Oil Debate 

Essential oils are more widely used than ever before to enhance our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing and have become a go-to formulation ingredient for many skincare brands.

But this increase in use has thrown essential oils into the spotlight and there have been growing concerns and questions asked about their efficacy and safety, their potential effect on hormones, unsubstantiated claims about their ability to fight disease, consumer confusion on how to use them correctly and reports of adverse reactions, particularly on the skin. This has become a matter of debate.


Essential oils – friend or foe?

Clinical studies and evolving research confirm the therapeutic benefit of essential oils but also show that they may be harmful if used incorrectly without care and diligence.

According to Tisserand, an average of 30 people per day report an adverse reaction to essential oils, and these are only the ones reported to poison centres.

At Flower and Spice, we’re firmly on the friend side of the debate but appreciate that essential oils should be treated with care and respect otherwise they may unwittingly become a foe.

Our products are crafted and fragranced using the highest quality essential oils. Two of our favourites and the mainstay of our brand are rose flower oil and coriander seed oil, found in our Soothe and Repair Daily Moisturiser and Midnight Beauty Revitalising Serum. Rose oil has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions and is widely known for its mood enhancing and balancing aromatherapeutic properties. Coriander seed oil helps alleviate irritation and demonstrates antibacterial and antioxidative benefits.


Even with the confusion and misinformation surrounding their use, the benefits of essential oils are worth exploring. Do the research, equip yourself with as much information as possible and you may just uncover their force and make a new friend.


4 tips to help you confidently and safely navigate the essential oil marketplace

1. Be aware of contraindications to specific essential oils

Certain oils are contraindicated or should be used with caution, if you have a medical condition like epilepsy or asthma, a skin condition, are pregnant, or take prescribed medication. If in doubt, consult the essential oil’s safety data sheet or seek the advice of a doctor or qualified aromatherapist before using the essential oil.

2. Let the price be your guide

Essential oils are expensive to produce and generally require large amounts of plant material to yield very little oil. The amount of essential oil found in a plant varies from 0.01% up to 10%. Rose petals contain very small amounts, and up to 2000 kg of petals may be needed to produce 1 kg of oil. If you find a cheap oil, it’s probably diluted with a filler or synthetic oil.

3. Check your labels and understand the terms

Check the ingredients list to make sure that the product that you are buying contains the actual essential oil as opposed to isolated fragrance chemicals or synthetic fragrances. The essential oil and its botanical name will be clearly shown on the ingredients list if it’s present in the product.

At Flower and Spice, we do not use any isolated fragrance chemicals or synthetic fragrances in our products, we use only pure essential oils and plant extracts.

You’ll often find, as is the case with our products, fragrance compounds such as geraniol, citronellol, farnesol, linalool, limonene, citral, and limonene listed at the end of the ingredients list. These fragrance compounds are not added to the product, they occur naturally in essential oils and are therefore present in the product and must be declared on the label.

4. Safety first

Essential oils are potent substances, and as a result, pose a risk if not used safely.

  • Do not apply undiluted essential oils to your skin.

Tisserand from Tisserand Institute explains, ‘’The most common adverse reaction, experienced by hundreds, possibly thousands of people every year, is a skin reaction, and the most common cause is using an undiluted essential oil. Generally, the reasons for doing this are either (1) ignorance: no-one told you this wasn’t a good idea, or (2) someone told you that it was a good idea, and that it was safe.’’

In the case of skin irritation, apply vegetable oil to the area to help draw the essential oils from the skin.

  • Do not ingest essential oils.

Unless advised by a qualified practitioner licensed to prescribe essential oils for oral use, do not take essential oils orally.

  • Keep essential oils out of the reach of babies and children.

Only purchase essential oils in bottles with child-safe lids, never leave essential oils open and within reach of young children.

Essential oils should be used in a highly diluted form, and some oils avoided entirely, on babies and children as they are more sensitive to the strength of essential oils.

  • Be aware of essential oil photosensitivity.

Certain oils, especially citrus oils, can contain compounds that are potentially photosensitising, and may cause damage to the skin when exposed to the sun.
Here’s a list of commonly found photo-toxic essential oils, as well as oils that might be photo-toxic and citrus oils not considered photo-toxic, from AromaWeb. 

High-quality essential oils and expertly crafted skincare formulations containing essential oils at low percentages, can benefit you and your skin as long as they’re treated with care and respect, just as would a good friend.

We love sharing skincare information with you, our customers, and receiving your feedback. Are you unsure how to use essential oils safely and need further advice? We’re always here to help, you can contact us at


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