We investigate the skincare and wellness benefits of essential oils, as well as ways to incorporate them into your beauty routine


Photo: iStock/botamochi

Anyone who’s ever enjoyed a massage treatment has come face to face with the magical powers of essential oils. By just rubbing droplets between your palms and breathing in deeply, the fragrance can immediately transport you to a place of tranquillity — away from deadlines, traffic and other worldly obligations.

“Essential oils is a very personal type of experience — every one smells something different from a blend,” says Helen Norman of Aromatherapy Associates, a London-based skincare and bath and body oil label. “What you smell the strongest is the agent your body needs the most.”

Whether you’re looking to destress or feel invigorated, there’s an oil out there that can alleviate your troubles. With so many products on the market claiming healing and detox benefits, it’s important to know how to effectively incorporate these elixirs into your routine. We’ve tapped essential oil experts at Cowshed and Aromatherapy Associates to help you get slick the right way, pun intended.

A Primer on Essential Oils


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For an essential oil to be called as such, the oil has to be a 100% concentrate extracted by steaming from the material’s original form — be it a petal, leaf, bark or seed. Not all essential oils are created equally: according to Norman, first distillation oils are the highest grade and most desirable. As they are not products of resteaming, this variety retains the most potent therapeutic benefits from the plant ingredient. 

Smell is the only one of our five senses directly connected to the brain. The aroma molecules from essential oils — broken down from the rubbing gesture between your hands — can send signals directly to your limbic system, triggering memories and emotions in the matter of 20 seconds. The oils work threefold: through your olfactory system, absorption into the blood stream and direct inhalation.

 Know Your Notes


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“Look for the key ingredients and the sources on the labels to be completely educated on what results you’ll be getting,” says Flora Yiu of Cowshed, a luxury bath, body and skincare brand . You’re more than likely to find several oils in a blend or beauty product, since they tackle different problems at once.

Just like wine tasting, each oil can be categorised into distinctive notes. Norman has broken it down for us: high notes are your refreshing, citrusy scents — orange blossoms, tea tree, eucalyptus, rosemary — that work for the upper half of body and evaporate quickly. Destressing and uplifting, they are meant to be inhaled. 

Middle notes are mostly floral scents — like rose and geranium — that can help stimulate collagen and elastin production. These earthy, feminine aromas are mostly credited with having anti-aging results. 

Low notes are the most soothing of the three and take the longest to evaporate. They tend to be more nourishing, and are used for rich moisturisation in dry conditions, since they stay on the skin for longer. Classic low notes include powerful and smoky smells such as sandalwood and frankincense.

 If You Take Your Time…bathoil.jpg

Left: Photo courtesy of Aromatherapy Associates; Right: Photo courtesy of Cowshed

Depending on your lifestyle needs, there are different ways to incorporate essential oils into your routine. If you’re the type to luxuriate in a lengthy bath or shower, the more concentrated bath and shower oil would be you best bet.

Apply on your chest and back — close to your breathing and nervous system — and wait 15 minutes before proceeding as normal in the shower. The Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Oil contains a powerful blend of sandalwood and chamomile. Combined with a hot shower, it will kick your insomnia to the curb. On the contrary, if you’re looking for an energy boost, Cowshed's Grumpy Cow Uplifting Bath & Body Oil contains grapefruit and mandarin essential oils that will deliver the revitalising kick you need.

 If You’re Pressed for Time...


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Body oils are adequate for your basic hydration needs and more: apply on your body in the morning and night to tackle cellulite and water retention. Cowshed’s Slender Cow Body Sculpting Serum contains algae extract and tamanu oil, which enhance the firmness and elasticity of the skin.

If you’re simply too hectic to even make the time for the above steps, carry around a roll-on to perk you up on the go. Whenever you feel trouble concentrating, apply over your temples and massage on the back of your neck and shoulders — wherever you hold your tension. You can also put a few drops of oil on a tissue and place it under your pillow case for a better night’s sleep.

 Load on the Layers


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Imagine a dry sponge and a wet sponge: If you add a few drops of oil on both sponges, the wet one takes it in much more quickly. “That’s because the oil will sit on a dry surface and only soak in locally,” explained Norman.

Applying the same theory to your skin, Aromatherapy Associates has pioneered the Layer Locking Method for better absorption. Apply a gel (like the brand’s bestselling De-Stress Muscle Gel) to create moisture in the skin before massaging with an oil. The former helps the skin take in the oils efficiently. Seal the deal with a top coat of lotion or body butter. “Think of the gel as the water, the oil as the food to feed your skin, and the cream is for that extra layer of protection against pollutants,” says Norman. Great news: the combination holds up wondrously under humidity.

 Use the Right Amount


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“Oils are very misunderstood — people associate it with that slippery feeling from a massage,” says Norman. “But the people at the spa have to saturate you with oils only because they’re working on you for an hour.”

She suggests using two to three pumps of oil on the body and rubbing with your hands in an upward motion. “The best thing to do is do pat it on and wipe it— if you’re seeing any residue or shine, you’ve used too much.” For your face, just a lentil-sized drop would do: pat on your fingers and gently sweep outwards your lymph nodes to get rid of puffiness.



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