Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/21/2021
Essential oils are all the rage for everything from stress relief to treating cancer, but the science backing those claims up is frequently less solid than the aromatherapy you’re asked to breathe in.
So when you hear that essential oils may also pose potential benefits for skin’s youthful appearance and the reduction of wrinkles, you’re right to be skeptical.
While there’s not a lot of science backing up essential oils as an antidote to aging, there is some promising research that shows they could be an effective part of your anti-aging skincare routine.
Before we explain how they fit into the wrinkle conversation though, we need to understand why your skin wrinkles in the first place.
Your skin is a lot more complex than you may realize. Even though it’s a thin organ, it’s the largest one you have, and it’s composed of many components, including blood vessels and glands.
But what keeps your skin healthy and young is a combination of three proteins: collagen, elastin, and keratin.
Collagen is the most plentiful, and it’s the largest component of connective tissue, which keeps your skin from literally falling apart by binding the cells together. Above all else, it’s responsible for the “firmness” of your skin.
Elastin, meanwhile, is another connective tissue component. Its job is to keep things in place (elasticity) when pinched, poked, prodded, etc.
Finally, there’s keratin, which is a sort of shield or barrier to protect your skin. Though keratin is found in your hair and nails, most of it is on the outer layer of your skin, acting like armor for those fragile other components.
So how do wrinkles happen? Well, there are a lot of things that can cause, them, but it comes down to damage of those connective components that make up your skin.
A lot of things can damage those components — anything that stresses your skin, or interferes with the biomechanics that replenish, heal, nourish, and safeguard it.
Those stressors and interferences may come in many forms, from poor air quality and sunlight to your lack of proper nutrition and water intake. Smoking, sleeping face down on your pillow, and rubbing your eyes too much can even cause damage.
The two major theories of skin aging look to two major mechanisms that cause wrinkles to happen: intrinsic sources caused by aging (decreased function, reduced lifespan for cells), and extrinsic factors, like inflammation, sun damage, and free radicals.
What you really need to watch out for extrinsically is the presence of a reactive oxygen species, a free radical that oxidatively stresses your skin.
Free radicals are compounds that bounce around under your skin stealing electrons from your tissues, which can damage cells and slow (or halt) the regenerative processes that keep you looking firm and healthy.
For your own health, it’s best to embrace both when seeking solutions.
So where do oils fit into this conversation?
Well, it turns out that various oils have shown evidence of working to reduce free radicals and inflammation — two sources of skin damage that can make you look tired, and make lines grow deeper.
The evidence to support these various oils as antioxidants and antiinflammatories is well established, though not all of them have been tested specifically in helping people maintain skin health.
But there are plenty on the market, nevertheless. Some of them include:
A 2012 study using rats found compelling evidence for carrot seed oil as an effective reducer of oxidative stress (making it an antioxidant).
The tropical flower Ylang-Ylang, which grows predominantly around the Indian Ocean, has been used for aromatherapy purposes. But with regards to your skin, it boasts both antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties that, according to a 2015 review, offer benefits for skin health.
Rosemary essential oils boast a number of compounds beneficial as antioxidants. According to a 2014 review, they’ve been used predominantly to treat liver issues, but they could pose similar benefits to skin health — research hasn’t been conducted.
Rose oils have traditionally been used for everything from aromatherapy to treat depression to wound healing. A 2011 review concluded that there were many benefits to rose-based products, including antiinflammatory and antioxidative benefits.
A 1999 study of lemon oil found antioxidative benefits for the skin, and concluded that topical application, “significantly increases the antioxidative potential of skin biosurface, thus highlighting the effectiveness of a natural antioxidant biotechnology in the anti-aging management of skin.”
In 1997, a comparative study of sandalwood oil found evidence that not only can it be an effective anti inflammatory, but that it also offers the potential for a chemopreventive agent against skin cancer.” However, it’s worth noting that this study was conducted on mice, and it’s not clear if these results would be replicated in humans.
In 2014, an article highlighted the benefits of pomegranate for skin health, which include protection from cancer, photoaging, as well as antioxidative abilities. However, like sandalwood, many of these studies were conducted on mice.
As you might have noticed, a lot of the oils listed about offer potential benefits. But potential benefits and proven benefits are not the same thing in the medical world. While we’re not telling you not to look into oils for your wrinkles, there are more effective, proven alternative treatments that can benefit the youth and health of your skin.
Oils may even be an acceptable part of a growing skincare routine for you, as you take charge and fight back against signs of aging. But there are other products with proven track records that you should consider.
One commonly used antioxidant is vitamin C, which acts as a reservoir of electrons, ready to donate to those free radicals and save your collagen and elastin. A vitamin C rich diet is a good start, but serums and other topicals used regularly can also help give your skin the tools it needs.
Moisturizing is also a key tool for fighting aging skin. A topical moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid (which has been shown to help skin retain moisture) will keep you from drying out, and well, looking dried out.
And as for collagen, well, your body produces collagen of its own, but you can also get it by including peptides in your diet.
There are so many products on the market claiming to make skin look healthier and younger that it can be overwhelming to try and keep up, let alone make decisions. The good news is, you don’t have to make them alone.
If you’re starting to see the appearance of fine lines, though, one of the first things you’ll want to do is consult a healthcare professional.
A dermatologist, clinician, or general practitioner can help you diagnose what underlying causes may be behind your lines, and may recommend a variety of treatments, including lifestyle alterations, topical creams, or even minor or major procedures, like botox, fillers, or lifts.