A persistent, can’t-stop-won’t-stop itch is its own kind of special torture, whether it's from a mosquito bite or a bout of super dry skin. And if your aloe vera lotion isn't quite cutting it, having an arsenal of essential oils on hand to help soothe (and even wipe out) your scratchy scaly ailments is...well, essential.
“Nature has given us some of the best, proven remedies for dry or itchy skin, and we’re able to harness the life force and healing properties of these botanicals as essential oils,” says Barbara Close, a certified herbalist, esthetician and aromatherapist, as well as the founder of Naturopathica. She breaks down her go-to essential oils for itching, and how to best use them.
1. For bug bites: tea tree oil
If a camping trip turned into being the appetizer, main course, and dessert for a swarm of mosquitos, then you’ll want to give tea tree oil a try. Well known for its antiseptic and antiviral properties, it also can soothe itchiness and discomfort. Close says the oil is the clear winner when it comes to spot treating the site of a bite.
How to use it: Close recommends placing a small amount on a tissue or cotton ball, then dabbing it directly onto the affected area. If you have sensitive skin, dilute with a carrier oil or mix with lotion since tea tree oil can be drying.
2. If you have dry, flaky skin: German chamomile
A potent anti-inflammatory oil due to high bisabolol content (a naturally-occurring antioxidant, anti-inflammatory ingredient), Close says this oil is excellent for soothing itches caused by dry, sensitive skin. “The bright blue color is a hallmark of this oil, as is its ripe, honey-apple scent,” she says.
How to use it: Close says you should dilute the oil in a base oil like coconut, sunflower, or grapeseed before applying it to dry skin.
3. For other kinds of itchy skin: centella asiatica (Gotu Kola) leaf extract
Whether you call this essential oil by its given name or one of its alternatives (like tiger grass, Asiatic pennywort or cica), its ability to repair and soothe skin is the same. In fact, Close says the multitasking herb is known for quelling itchiness associated with dryness and lack of elasticity associated with everything from eczema patches to stretching skin during pregnancy.
“Clinical studies show that centella asiatica helps to heal by stimulating collagen synthesis and increasing the level of antioxidants in newly formed tissues,” Close says. It's also a known anti-inflammatory and helps soothe redness, too.
How to use it: Close recommends adding a few drops of the essential oil to a base (or carrier) oil, lotion, or salve before applying to skin.
What should I look for when buying essential oils?
Repeat after me: quality, quality, quality. Not all essential oils are created equal, Close says. “Over 95 percent of the essential oils produced are made for the perfume and food industries, and they are often contaminated,” she says. “These synthetic or altered oils have little to no therapeutic benefit and may lead to adverse effects, like headaches and irritation.”
Avoid knockoffs and instead get high-quality oils by looking for clinical grade, pure essential oils with the Latin name of the plant on the packaging, Close says. Looking for the certified organic label is always a helpful indicator of quality. And look at the color of the bottle. Close says legit essential oils will be stored in dark glass (amber or cobalt) bottles to protect the oil from degrading with exposure to light.
One more thing: Does the price tag seem too good to be true? Then it probably is. “Most essential oils require large amounts of plant material to produce a single ounce, so the price should be proportionate,” Close says. So treat that $2 bottle of tea tree oil with a hefty dose of side-eye.
Anything I should know before applying?
Essential oils are potent—and potentially could cause irritation or allergic reactions in some people. (The last thing you want when you're already itchy!) To reduce the risk of a reaction, Close says you should mix your essential oil of choice with a carrier oil, since most "are too potent for direct application." She prefers using plant oils like argan, sunflower, borage, or jojoba to simultaneously soothe and strengthen while also delivering the healing essential oil to your skin.
You should also do a skin test before using any new essential oil. Swab a small diluted amount on the inside of your arm and see how your skin reacts. If you don't see any irritation after 24 hours, proceed with caution—and discontinue use if anything funky happens.
With a little patience (and some helpful EOs), you can avoid a seven-year itch situation. Calm, clear skin is in your future!
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