The hype and curiosity around essential oils and their potential skin benefits is ever-growing. And although dermatologists can get behind some essential oils (like tea tree oil), not all are recommended to be used on the skin. A major misconception is that if an ingredient is natural, it must be skin-friendly, but before you go slathering a bunch of essential oils on your face, take a second to learn about them. First up: Eucalyptus oil. The plant-based ingredient with a signature spicy scent has long been said to help with colds and sinus congestion, according to our experts, but how helpful is it for your complexion when applied topically?
To find out, we asked board-certified dermatologists Y. Claire Chang, MD, from Union Square Laser Dermatology in NYC, and Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, of Modern Dermatology in Westport, CT. Here's what the experts have to say about the benefits of eucalyptus oil and whether or not you should be using this natural ingredient on your skin.
Type of ingredient: Essential oil
Main benefits: It has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, though Chang says more studies are needed to confirm these skin benefits.
Who should use it: Neither Chang nor Robinson recommends eucalyptus oil for dermatologic applications.
How often can you use it: Eucalyptus oil can be inhaled as needed to ease cold symptoms or relax the muscles, but neither dermatologist recommends the use of eucalyptus oil for dermatologic applications.
Works well with: Like most essential oils, eucalyptus oil should always be diluted in a carrier solution, such as a fatty oil, before use.
Don't use with: Inform your doctor of any medications you’re taking or products you’re using before trying eucalyptus oil.
What Is Eucalyptus Oil?
Eucalyptus oil is an essential oil distilled from the leaf of an evergreen tree native to Australia but can also be found in other parts of the world. Although there are hundreds of different species of eucalyptus, Chang says eucalyptus globulus is the main source of eucalyptus oil used. Eucalyptus oil contains multiple natural ingredients, including 1,8-cineole (aka cineole or eucalyptol), flavonoids, and tannins. It can be found in its pure form, but it is also used as an ingredient in products such as cleansers, shower gels, beauty oils, and bath salts. Essential oils may be affected by light and heat, so it's best to store your eucalyptus oil in a cool, dark place.
Eucalyptus oil can be inhaled or applied topically for different effects on the body. Instantly recognized by its strong, woody, spa-like aroma, the essential oil is commonly used to help alleviate chest congestion and ease cold symptoms, specifically sinus and respiratory ones, according to Robinson. "Inhalation of eucalyptus works on the upper respiratory system to help clear mucus and relax the muscles, relieving symptoms of congestion, asthma, and bronchitis," Chang explains. "It has also been studied to help with pain and reduce inflammation preoperatively." When it comes to skincare, topical eucalyptus oil is used for its antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, though Chang says more studies are needed to confirm these benefits.
Benefits of Eucalyptus Oil for Skin
This essential oil has long been used in skincare and cosmetics; however, most of the studies on eucalyptus oil have been performed in the lab and not on humans, according to Chang. "Unfortunately, there are limited human studies showing its benefits for the skin," Chang says. With that in mind, read ahead for the potential skin benefits.
- Promotes wound healing: According to Robinson, the potentially beneficial ingredient is cineole (or eucalyptol), which has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and analgesic properties, which is why it's sometimes used to aid in wound healing and aches. "Topically, there are claims it can ease inflammation, pain, and help a wound heal, thanks to its antimicrobial properties," Robinson says. However, she adds, "It's important to note that while there is research showing its antimicrobial benefits, it is not a wide-spread statement across all types of bacteria."
- Moisturizes: "Lab studies have shown that eucalyptus oil may increase ceramide production to keep the skin moisturized, reduce inflammation, and prevent UVB-induced collagen degradation," Chang says.
- Protects: Antioxidants protect against damage caused by environmental aggressors, and according to Chang, "Lab studies have also shown its antioxidant potential in vitro."
Side Effects of Eucalyptus Oil
Like other essential oils, Chang warns that the potent eucalyptus oil may cause irritation, itching, or burning at the site of application. Robinson adds that dermatitis reactions from essential oils are quite common. "Sometimes it's because the oil wasn't properly diluted in a carrier oil, and other times it is just an intolerance to the ingredient itself," Robinson explains. It's also possible that the carrier oil could be the culprit of a reaction, so be sure to test both the eucalyptus oil and the carrier oil on a small area of skin before using it widespread.
When it comes to DIY eucalyptus-infused skincare, there isn't a lot of research or guidelines to ensure safety, so Robinson would advise not to use it if you're pregnant or nursing and definitely keep it away from children. "If you've ever had an allergic reaction to tea tree oil, it would also be best to avoid, as there are many of the same compounds in both," Robinson adds.
As far as ingesting eucalyptus oil, studies have shown it to be dangerous, and according to the National Capital Poison Center, it can even cause seizures. "It is always best to check with your doctor before ingesting eucalyptus oil as it may decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications," Robinson adds.
How to Use It
As for advice for how to incorporate eucalyptus oil into your skincare routine, well, Chang and Robinson aren't convinced you should. Chang says, "Given the lack of studies on eucalyptus oil for dermatologic applications, I cannot recommend it to patients for any specific indication." Robinson adds, "I would, in general, say avoid it. Fragrance overall is a common skin irritant, and there aren't science-backed, compelling enough benefits to eucalyptus oil for me to recommend it."
If you still choose to use eucalyptus oil topically, Robinson says to at least dilute it properly in a carrier oil (like jojoba) and stick to using it on the body rather than the face. Alternatively, she recommends putting a few drops of the oil in your steam shower, bubble bath, or diffuser for self-care benefits. "I see less harm and more benefit by inhaling it than applying it topically," Robinson says. Although inhaling the eucalyptus may not directly affect the skin, Robinson says its anti-inflammatory benefits can ease and relax tight muscles and aid in overall wellness, which is why it's a commonly chosen aroma at spas.
So what's the final verdict? "Look for clinically proven active ingredients, and if eucalyptus is a bonus 'great scent,' then go for it," Robinson says. "I wouldn't, however, rely on it as your hero skincare ingredient."
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National Capital Poison Center. Essential oils: poisonous when misused.