Legend has it that the ancient Greeks bathed in olive oil to soften and moisten their skin and ultimately preserve their youth. Today, moisturizing the skin continues to be a popular beauty practice. In 2004, sales for facial and body lotions and creams, including facial oils, in natural foods markets totaled more than $61 million, which is about half of the total natural skin care market, according to SPINSscan Natural.
Skin moisturizers have evolved through the years—from simple, singular botanical oils to complicated chemistry experiments with not only oils, but emulsifiers, waxes and preservatives that promote a longer shelf life and convenient storage and use. But now a burgeoning group of customers is demanding a return to moisturizing basics, according to Mindy Seiffert, aromatherapy category manager for Aura Cacia, an aromatherapy company based in Norway, Iowa. ?There are a growing number of consumers who are looking for truly natural and organic personal care products,? she says. ?Skin care oils are the perfect solution for these consumers. They have no parabens or other synthetic ingredients. They have not been tested on animals, and they?re 100 percent pure.?
In addition to purity, some consumers prefer the way that oils make their skin feel, as compared with lotions. ?Oils are occlusive,? says Victoria Palmisano, brand manager for EO, a natural personal care company based in Corte Madera, Calif. ?This means they lock in moisture and prevent the loss of hydration from the skin, making it soft and supple.? Lotions, on the other hand, contain other ingredients—oils, water, emulsifiers and more—that allow the moisture to penetrate the skin. ?Some find it beneficial to use a lotion to deliver moisture followed by an oil to lock the moisture in,? explains Palmisano. ?Some find that to be too heavy. It really depends on personal preferences and the needs of their skin and their climate.?
Several companies, such as EO and Aura Cacia, have launched new lines of skin care oils to satiate consumers looking for another way to preserve and restore their skin?s youthful glow. ?In the last 12-month period, organic skin care oil sales are up 56 percent over the previous year, so we are still seeing tremendous growth for this line,? says Seiffert of the Aura Cacia 100 percent organic skin care oils that debuted in 2002.
What are skin care oils?
In essence, skin care oils are vegetable, nut or seed oils applied to the skin?s surface. Although each oil has unique elements, most are rich in essential fatty acids, such as linoleic and linolenic acid, which promote healthy skin by protecting cell membranes; however, the balance and amounts of these EFAs varies from oil to oil. Depending on the oil type, it can also contain various minerals and antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamins E and D, to help fight free radicals. ?Oils nourish and protect the skin by adding vitamins and trapping moisture in the skin,? Seiffert says.
High-quality oils are cold-pressed, meaning they are produced without heat, to ensure that no nutrients are lost during processing. And when they are of this food-grade quality, these personal care oils—olive, safflower, sunflower and grape seed—are sometimes the same as those used to stir-fry vegetables or to make salad dressings. ?Skin-care oils are extremely versatile,? says Seiffert, referring less to their culinary functions and more to their topical applications. ?They can be blended with essential oils to create a personalized aromatherapy experience.? A touch of rose, for example, soothes and softens skin, whereas added lavender heals skin and relaxes the body. ?They also can be used without essential oils for their unique skin-nourishing properties,? says Seiffert.
One of the newest trends in skin care oil is blended oils. These formulations marry several different oil types (and sometimes essential oils) in one package for a ready-made and easy-to-use moisturizer. EO recently kicked off a line of blended oil serums for three different skin types. The antioxidant dry/mature formula, for example, includes organic rose hip, olive, jojoba, safflower and evening primrose oils to deliver a dose of vitamins A, C and E. The normal/combination formula, on the other hand, uses some of the same oils, but also adds grape seed and meadow foam seed oils, which are lighter and better for regular skin, Palmisano says. ?Each blend has oil levels adjusted to suit the particular skin type and is a synergy of properties working together.? (See sidebar for more information on oils for skin types.)
Thus far, most research on oils? health benefits has looked at oils taken internally. For example, olive oil earned a Food and Drug Administration qualified health claim in November 2004 for its heart-healthy attributes when ingested. And in a study on Greeks published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2001, researchers found that in addition to vegetables, fish and legumes, olive oil, which contains monounsaturated fats and antioxidant vitamin E, helps prevent skin damage and wrinkling—at least when ingested.
Few studies so far have delved into topical applications of oils, though preliminary research is finding that applying oils to the skin appears to have many benefits. A human study in Dermatalogy (2001) found that avocado oil reduced psoriasis, and other research discovered that olive oil contains antioxidants that work to prevent sunburn (Carcinogenesis, 2000; Journal of Dermatological Science, 2001).
Until more research is done on topical applications, many people make the logical leap that the essential fatty acids and antioxidants in these oils that make them so beneficial for people internally also make them great externally.
Using oils is simple
?Some people are afraid that these oils will make their faces oily,? says Palmisano, ?but the oils absorb in.? The evening is an especially opportune time to apply oils, Palmisano says. ?I personally recommend using these at night before bed because the oil takes longer to absorb than a lotion,? she says. ?It?s also a good time to put antioxidants on your face, so they can do repair throughout the night.?
Like body lotions, most face creams contain synthetic preservatives that consumers can avoid if they opt for oils instead. ?Face oils can be made organic authentically using organic vegetable oils and organic essential oils,? Palmisano says. ?It is a simple and natural way to moisturize the skin because the formulations require no preservatives, emulsifiers or waxes.?
Consumers can also apply oil on their bodies after bathing. ?I use our oils after the shower or bath when my skin is damp; simple, natural formulas sink deeply into the layers of the skin? to lock in moisture, says Gabrielle Melchionda, president of Mad Gabs, a personal care company in Westbrook, Maine, that offers a line of body and massage oils. ?Nothing works like it, and I have tried everything.?
Although most skin care oils don?t add moisture to skin like a lotion would, Seiffert says, they can provide antioxidant vitamins and hold moisture in the skin. ?This is why we recommend that people use skin care oils after showering to maximize moisture trapping,? Seiffert says. Other great uses for natural oils, Melchionda says, are after swimming, during a baby massage and on pregnant tummies.
A growing category
Despite their known benefits, skin care oils have often been relegated to the bottom shelf of the personal care section, below body lotions and creams, but that arrangement is changing because of a key ingredient: consumer interest.
For example, during their first year on the market, Aura Cacia?s skin care oils nearly doubled the company?s sales expectations. Still, others are slightly more cautious about rapid expansion of stores? skin-oil sections. ?It is a small category, growing slowly,? says Palmisano.
Perhaps, say experts, another additional ingredient to the mix might ensure lasting success: education. ?I believe education with consumers will help the category grow,? Seiffert says. ?That way they understand the versatility of these products and how they can easily create their own ready-to-use products at home.?
Pamela Emanoil is the managing editor of Delicious Living magazine.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 9/p. 84, 86-87