Can Eucalyptus Towels Cause Breakouts? We Investigate

Up close of a eucalyptus plant

Liz DeSousa for Byrdie

With so much going on in life, heading to the gym can often feel like a chore. However, one thing that always gets me through the double doors is the promise of a scented eucalyptus towel after my workout. The calming indulgence can often be found at upscale cycling studios, yoga studios, and Equinox. There’s nothing like fresh endorphins mixed with the calming scent of eucalyptus to help clear the mind. 

But aside from the aromatherapy benefits, are these damp towels harmful to skin? We tapped board-certified dermatologist and founder of Avant Dermatology & Aesthetics Sheila Farhang, MD, and board-certified anesthesiologist and physician Azza Halim, MD, of Azza MD to answer all of our burning questions. 

Meet the Expert

What Are Eucalyptus Towels? 

Usually found at spas or gyms such as Equinox, eucalyptus towels are towels infused with eucalyptus oil. “Eucalyptus oil is known to be calming, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory, and boosts energy and mental clarity by clearing sinuses, and more,” explains Farhang. 

Halim mirrors these sentiments: “The essential oil of eucalyptus along with the cold towel has been used as a decongestant and is antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory as well as helps to increase circulation.” Bonus? The aroma itself is invigorating.

Can Eucalyptus Towels Cause Breakouts?

According to our experts, because the amount of essential oil in the towels is so minuscule (one drop or less) there’s a low risk of allergies, breakouts, or irritation. However, the towel itself may lead to breakouts if it is used then left damp in a humid environment, as it can accumulate unwanted bacteria, mold, or fungus. The key is to wash the towel after each use to avoid acne breakouts. 

Can Eucalyptus Towels Cause Irritation? 

Any essential oil aroma/fragrance can be an irritant whether to the eyes, respiratory system, or skin. Some fragrances can lead to delayed onset allergic contact reactions and dermatitis. “In those who have severe eczema and/or are very prone to allergies, essential oils can cause a flare by airborne contact, too, e.g. circulating through the air from diffusers, etc.,” says Farhang. 

How to Combat Breakouts and Irritation

You don’t need to worry about breakouts or irritations, as long as the towels are clean and not reused. And while there’s no surefire way to guarantee that the towels at your spa/gym/salon are up to par, you can always opt to make your own eucalyptus towels at home. The DIY recipe is to pour eucalyptus oil in water, soak the towels in the mix, and then refrigerate the soaked towels. 

“Pure essential oils, in general, should not be directly applied to the body due to the potent concentration,” explains Farhang, recommending that you add a carrier such as avocado oil or moisturizer if used. 

The Final Takeaway 

Simply put, the benefit of eucalyptus towels has everything to do with aromatherapy and little to do with facial benefits. There’s no need to worry about breakouts or irritation since the towels are only on your skin for a short period of time and because the amount of eucalyptus oil is so diluted you should be okay even if you have sensitive skin and cannot tolerate strong fragrances. Still, there's always a risk of allergic reaction. It should go without saying, but don't use essential oils topically if you're allergic or sensitive to eucalyptus. 

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