Plant oils, also known as essential oils, have a longstanding legacy in history. As far back as the early 1200’s, there were written recordings of extracting essential oils from plants, including the techniques and methods used to produce the oils. They were written by Ibn al-Baitar, who was a physician and pharmacist in Muslim-controlled Spain.
Before Ibn al-Baytar, plant oils and extracts were used in a variety of ceremonies, religious activities, beauty care, and in many medicinal products. They actually formed the basis for many of our current pharmaceuticals.
As far back as 2000 BC, ancient Egyptians were formulating medicines using essential oils. They also used them in specialized beauty treatments, and historians have attributed Cleopatra’s beauty to extensive use of essential oils, fatty acids, and salts taken from the edge of the Dead Sea.
Today, plant oils are used in a variety of cosmetic and skincare product formulations, providing skin softening and moisturization while tackling anti-inflammatory and anti-aging needs.
More and more people are opting for natural products and less invasive methods of treating symptoms of inflammation and aging, and the natural oils provide an excellent way of treating these conditions.
The best way to understand how natural plant oils work to treat skin inflammation is to start by examining the causes and symptoms of inflammation. Inflammation is part of your body’s defense process that begins when it recognizes that a harmful or irritating problem is occurring and it tries to heal itself.
It’s an immune response and without inflammation - wounds, infections, or damaged tissue would not be able to heal. Inflammation of the skin can cause a variety of symptoms that include pain, swelling, redness, immobility and some heat as more blood flows to the affected area.
While severe cases of inflammation of the skin may require medications like steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including Ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and others, research now shows that essential oils can help reduce and treat the inflammation process!
An inflammatory skin response is critical in order to boost skin repair and reduce the risk of infection. When the inflammatory response is minimized, then the infection will continue and could develop into atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, or some other chronic form of skin irritation.
It’s also important to understand one of the key roles that our skin plays in protecting us from harm - the stratum corneum, or skin barrier, protects our body from outside toxins like bacteria and UV rays, while working to keep moisture from escaping.
When the skin barrier is damaged or reacts to noxious exterior toxins, an inflammation occurs. The inflammation is necessary for wound healing and anti-bacterial activity, but it also can lead to side effects like skin aging, cancers, and atopic dermatitis.
Reactive oxidative stress (ROS) can also impact the inflammatory process and can lead to tissue damage. The key is to reduce the intensity of inflammation as well as reduce how long the inflammation is allowed to last.
One of the biggest side effects of inflammation is photoaging. Some aspects of aging are inevitable; as we grow older we lose our ability to replenish collagen and elastin in the skin, making our skin sag and lines and wrinkles to develop. Age spots also are common with older age.
Photoaging, on the other hand, is caused by photo-oxidative damage to the skin from UV exposure as well as exposure to environmental toxins like smoke, pollution, dirt, and other noxious items. This will lead to loss of collagen and elastin as well, causing premature skin aging, including the formation of lines, wrinkles, and other damage to the skin.
When skin cells are exposed to UV radiation, for example, free radicals form and begin to damage the cell’s DNA and mitochondria. This causes cellular damage that leads to decreased elastin and collagen production, causing premature aging of the skin. The skin sags and can’t rebound like it did when it was younger, and many lines and wrinkles form.
Plant oils are shown to have a high potential for antioxidant activity, which helps to protect the skin from the effects of photoaging. The plant oils contain tocopherols, carotenoids, flavonoids and phenolic acids that help protect the skin from oxidative stress, UV radiation, and other environmental toxins that damage the skin barrier.
Studies on a variety of plant oils including olive oil, sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, safflower seed oil, almond oil, rose hip oil, shea butter and others have shown that they work to protect the skin barrier (top layer of the epidermis) and protect the moisture that’s already in the skin.
These oils have antioxidant effects that help to fight the damage caused by reactive oxidative stress and free radicals, working to keep the skin producing elastin and collagen while minimizing the damage done to the skin cell’s DNA and membranes. They also help with wound healing, inflammation reduction, and repair of skin barrier damage.
Many research studies have been done on topical application of plant oils versus ingesting essential oils in various ways. All studies point to a higher bioavailability of the plant oils when applied topically, due to the many positive physiological benefits they offer the skin.
They also have the benefit of a localized effect instead of a systemic effect, so by applying them topically you’re applying them to the exact spot where they’re needed.
The other problem with ingesting essential oils is that the bulk of the oils never reach the top layer of the skin to work their magic on the skin barrier. The body metabolizes these oils and uses them for other internal organs before ever relinquishing them to the skin. It’s estimated that only 1% to 3% of the oils ever reach the skin, and even less reach the top layer.
The researchers found that plant oils like almond, jojoba, soybean, and avocado oils tend to stay on the top layer of the skin, without deeper penetration. Each oil displays its own effect based on the oil’s composition along with the condition of the skin that it’s applied on.
Some oils have more anti-inflammatory effects while others have more antioxidant impact. But it’s well known that all of the essential oils have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-carcinogenic properties.
All oils mentioned work to promote wound healing and have anti-aging properties that help reduce fine lines and wrinkles while promoting collagen and elastin production. While more research needs to be conducted in order to create new dermatological treatments using these oils, it’s safe to say that using them as they’re contained within products now is beneficial.
When purchasing cosmetic and skincare products, be sure to check the label and review the ingredients in each product. Make sure they contain the essential plant oils that have been shown to be beneficial, both in the fight against free radicals and photoaging as well as in the fight to keep the skin barrier healthy and working at its best.
Use your products on a regular, daily basis in order to maximize their benefits on your skin. It takes time for these products to work, as their antioxidant properties need to not only fight off damaging free radicals, but also work to repair skin cells that require it, and scavenge through the body to remove damaged cells.
Plant oils work to curb the harmful inflammatory impact the skin faces due to UV radiation as well as from environmental toxins. Using products containing plant oils will help mitigate the photoaging signs like fine lines and wrinkles along with sagging skin. Your skin will gain back some of its elasticity while looking more youthful and more radiant.
When it comes to plant oils and inflammation there’s nothing better than developing your own regimen of using anti-inflammatory oils and sticking with it over time.