Most abnormal skin conditions include some amount of inflammation or infection. Veterinarians are trained to utilize anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressives to manage these conditions, but essential oils, some of which have been revered since biblical times, can be very effective and safe if utilized properly. Essential oil usage is often a choice now requested by many natural-minded pet parents, and this article by Integrative Veterinary Care explains why.
What is an Essential Oil?
These oils are not the lipid or fatty oils from the plant, but rather the life blood of the plant. An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid which contains the volatile aromatic compounds from the plant.
Using oils to manage skin conditions is where essential oils shine the most. Many skin conditions produce an odor, so what could be better than using a treatment that smells good, too? It’s the volatility of the essential oils which makes them aromatic.
The aromatic oil carries the components which protect the plant form adversaries. A natural chemical might repel an insect or kill a fungus. These same plant constituents can be used protect us or our animal patients.
It is also these same constituents that can be analyzed with tools such as gas chromatography to identify the specific “finger print” of an essential oil. The combination of these natural chemical constituents is what gives particular oils their unique properties for use, effectiveness, safety or danger.
Do They Work?
Natural product producers cannot make claims that their products are used to prevent, manage, or cure disease. The FDA only allows that these claims be made by drug manufacturers. But many holistic veterinarians practice with essential oils and maintain testimonials that support the efficacy of essential oils.
Top 12 Essential Oils For Skin
These top twelve essential oils support healthy skin and have been found in research to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, or immune supportive properties. Indeed, pharmaceutical companies have isolated some of these constituents in order to manufacture drugs. Further study of each chemical constituent can guide you toward additional uses of the oil.
Almost every essential oil discussion begins with lavender because its applications are so universal. It is soothing emotionally and physically. It does not burn irritated skin when applied topically, even if the skin is burned, chafed, or rashy. It can help to relax a pet that is frenzied due to chronic itching. It has been used internally, but make sure that it is pure and not perfume grade.
Methods of Application:
When applied “neat” (undiluted) to the skin, the smell and taste of lavender can deter licking. Pet owners love this feature, as they may not need to use an E-collar. Lavender on a pet has calming effects, and both the pet and owner can benefit from the aroma. Lavender not only penetrates the skin, but also the nasal passages and the blood brain barrier. Fur is a wick to the effectiveness, and can be diffused actively with a cold air diffuser or passively through the air when applied topically. You should never use heat with essential oils, it will damage the natural chemistry.
You can also dilute lavender with coconut oil, almond oil, avocado oil, or well-shaken water to disperse and cover a larger body surface area. Another option is to add essential oils to your pet’s shampoo. This can be soothing and provide immediate relief. The skin is a huge surface area which allows for the transfer of chemical constituents into the body and toxins out of the body.
Frankincense is distilled from resin and includes several varieties such as Boswellia carteri or Boswellia sacra. It is high in alpha-pinene and limonene. This has been used for centuries to support healthy skin and immune systems.
Copaiba is sold as an essential oil, but is essentially a sap from a tree in an Amazonian culture where this is their anti-inflammatory medicine. It is very high in beta-caryophyllene.
4. Chamomile (Roman)
Chamomile is ideally steam distilled from its flowers/ Roman chamomile is very high in isobutyl angelate and isomyl methacrylate. These have anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic and skin regenerative properties in addition to being calming.
Citronella is also steam distilled, but from its leaves. It is high in geraniol and limonene. Citronella is antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, an insect repellent and a deodorant.
6. Tea Tree
Also called Melaleuca alternifolia, this oil is commonly used and commonly feared. It is very high in terpinene and terpinenol. It is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, immunostimulant, analgesic, a neurotonic and protects against radiation. Fears may be unfounded and due to negative experiences with contaminated or poorly distilled product.
7-11. A Blend of Clove, Lemon, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus Radiata, and Rosemary
This popular combination contains oils which are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and can numb tissues on contact. Clove can be as high as 87% eugenol. Cinnamon is also high in eugenol, but approximately 50% trans-cinnamaldehyde. These natural chemicals make this a “hot” oil, which can burn skin, but at the same time be antimicrobial and increase blood flow. It’s best used diluted or with a blend.
Eucalyptus radiate, also distilled from leaves, is antiinfectious and anti-inflammatory. Rosemary is another antimicrobial agent, and both can help decrease hair loss. Avoid using if a pet is epileptic.
Neem oil is highly revered as a natural skin care product, but it is not an essential oil. It is a cold pressed vegetable oil which contains essential fatty acids (EFAs), triglycerides, vitamin E, calcium, steroids and some essential oil constituents. Neem oil penetrates deep into the skin to moisturize and heal.
The amount of water and number of drops of oil will depend on the species, size, and age of the pet, and the oil. It would be difficult to do a full body soak on a horse or a mastiff, but easier to soak a hoof or a paw. Horses respond well to essential oil, but we must be cognizant of a potential sensitivity to an oil when it comes to dogs and cats. One drop of oil can go a long way, and it’s best to see your pet responds first. Roughly, we suggest beginning with one drop per ten pounds into the soak water. Multiple oils can be combined.
If essential oils have peaked your interest, consider adding an essential oil treatment to your next grooming or bath appointment. Brookside Barkery has specially formulated essential oil blends for achy joints, nerves, or dry and itchy skin that can bring your pet relief.