A recent trend has taken over the cosmetic market: essential oils. These oils claim to have a variety of healing properties, but what are they, and do they deliver?

You’ll notice that most of these oils have been used for thousands of years in their native cultures, and are just making their way to Western attention. If you’re looking for a natural remedy, some of these oils may be just the thing you're looking for!

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is extremely popular throughout Tropical countries, and has been used as a staple fat in cuisine for centuries. It is harvested from the “meat” of matured coconuts. The oil can be extracted using two methods: dry processing and wet processing. In dry processing, the meat is removed from the shell and dried using sunlight, fire, or a kiln. This creates copra, which is then pressed to produce oil and a high-protein mash (which is often fed to cattle). This is the less effective of the two methods, as it is usually performed in unsanitary conditions and a portion of the oil is lost during the process. In wet processing, raw coconuts are used instead of copra, and they are broken up into an emulsion to extract the oil. This was traditionally done through extensive boiling, but newer methods use centrifuge machines, shockwaves, salts, enzymes, and acids to extract the oil. The coconut has to be at the right age no matter what extraction process is being used, because this will determine the ease, quality, and quantity of the extracted oil.

  • What It Does: Moisturizes, prevents protein loss in hair
  • Great For: Dry and cracked skin, damaged hair

Pure Argan Oil

Argan oil, or Moroccan oil, is native to Morocco and is becoming very popular in Western markets. This oil has been used for hundreds of years by the Moroccan people in cosmetics, medicines, and even cuisine. The Argan tree grows in the wild in a very small region of the country. It’s one of the rarest oils in the world because of its sparse population, and the tree is now endangered and under protection. The Argan nut contains oil-rich kernels, which need to be extracted by hand, making it a long and intense process. The kernels are then pressed to extract pure argan oil. This sits for over two weeks to allow any solids to settle on the bottom, and may be filtered even further before bottling. Because of its rarity this oil is extremely expensive, and is known as the “liquid gold” of the cosmetics industry.

  • What is does: Antioxidant, reduces skin imperfections (fine lines, wrinkles, acne blemishes), softens skin
  • Great For: Wrinkles, anti-aging, acne, dry skin, hair treatments (including hair growth and dry scalp), cracked feet, stretch marks

Tea Tree Oil

Tea Tree Oil comes from the leaves of the Melaleuca Alternifolia, a tree native to Australia. Traditionally, the oils were inhaled to treat colds and coughs, and the leaves were sprinkled on wounds to relieve pain and heal them. In the 1920’s studies began on the antimicrobial properties of the extracted oil, and as interest spiked so did production of the oils. The trees were often cut and distilled on the spot in portable fire stills. Today, production is mechanized on a larger scale to meet demand.

  • What it Does: Reduces acne, antimicrobial, anti-viral, relieves pain
  • Great for: Spot treating pimples, dandruff, insect bites, chicken pox

Grape Seed Oil

Grape seed oil is extracted from the seeds of grapes. It has many uses, including cooking, cosmetics, and medicines. Grape seeds are a byproduct of wine making, and this waste pulp is crushed in a press to extract the oil from the seeds. It is collected in jars and allowed to settle for 24 hours to remove sediment, then it is packaged and sold.

  • What it Does: Regulates oil production, antioxidant, vitamin E, moisturizes
  • Great for: Oily Skin, stretch marks, hair, sun burns

Rose Hip Seed Oil

Rose hip seed oil is extracted from the seeds of the rose bush, which grows in the Southern Andes in South America. It is extracted from rose hips, the fruit of the rose. Inside the rose hips are seeds which are pressed to release the oil.

  • What it Does: Antioxidant (Vitamin C), retinoid (Vitamin A), increases cell turnover, protects skin, essential fatty acids
  • Great for: Scars, hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, moisturizer additive, eczema, brittle nails, sun burns, wrinkles

Many of these oils have been used for thousands of years in their native countries. The process of packaging and marketing them within Western culture has increased their popularity, but may also decrease their potency or authenticity. Always make sure to read the label before you buy; going by the lowest price will probably get you an inferior product! Always remember to test a patch on your arm or leg before applying to your face, and if you have known sensitivities or allergies consult your doctor before trying a new oil.