You might never have heard of bergamot oil, but there’s no way you haven’t tried Earl Grey tea. And if you enjoy the unique scent of the Earl Grey tea then you can be sure you’ll enjoy bergamot oil on your skin.
There are plenty essential oil enthusiasts who place bergamot oil in their top choices for aromatherapy, as a flavoring in their favorite drink or a key ingredient in their skincare blend. We know it can be hard to pick a favorite, but bergamot oil can give you a lot of reasons to include it in your daily skincare routine.
So, let’s discuss what exactly is bergamot oil, what it’s composed of and how it can benefit your skin. We’ll also cover the precautions and side effects you should have in mind before using bergamot oil for your skin, and at the very end - how to safely use it in general.
So, let’s dive in.
Bergamot oil comes from the bergamot plant (Citrus bergamia), which belongs to the Rutaceae or Citrus family. The fruit of this tree is a cross between a lemon and an orange and has a small pear-shaped form with yellow color. The scent of this plant is the feature that gives bergamot it’s popularity in the perfumery industry.
Bergamot has a powerful and unique fragrance which makes it an important constituent in many perfumes.
In ancient times, bergamot fruit juice was used to treat malaria and intestinal worms. However, over the years its uses have changed. Looking back, bergamot oil was used as an antiseptic, to reduce fevers, as a flavoring in black tea (Earl Grey), to treat bladder infections, to soothe acne, skin rashes, eczema, sores, and sore throats, to reduce obesity, depression, gingivitis, flatulence, loss of appetite, and compulsive behaviors.
As science progressed we found that bergamot oil might not be effective for all of the above-mentioned situations but it still possesses powerful antioxidative, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
We know that the unique scent of bergamot oil is calming for our nerves and can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and stress. The a-pinene and limonene in bergamot oil are refreshing and stimulating to the nervous system.
But, let’s put bergamot oil under the microscope and see the components which give this oil its characteristic properties.
Bergamot Essential oil is composed of various chemical constituents including a-pinene, myrcene, limonene, a-bergaptene, b-bisabolene, linalool, linalyl acetate, nerol, neryl acetate, geraniol, geraniol acetate, and a-terpineol.
According to a study from 2010 published in the Journal of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, the oil has around forty-six compounds. However, the authors concluded that fifteen compounds account for 98.52% of the oil. The oil was characterized by a high content of limonene (59.21%), linalool (9.51%) and linalyl acetate (16.83%).
Limonene has strong antioxidative properties. When applied topically limonene enhances the penetration of other products, making the skin more sensitive. The highly volatile antioxidant compounds calm the skin, but when exposed to air they also make it more sensitive and more prone to phototoxicity.
Linalool is a frequent ingredient in many essential oils that have therapeutic properties including anti-anxiety, sedative, and anti-inflammatory effects.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes linalool on its list of substances considered Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).
Linalyl Acetate helps balance the natural oil on our skin, which means it’s a suitable ingredient for both, dry and oily skin. It also reduces inflammation, redness, and heals rashes.
Bergamot oil is suitable for all skin types. Coming from the citrus family, bergamot oil can balance the natural oils in our skin and prevent future breakouts by keeping the sebum production balanced. At the same time, when blended with a powerful carrier oil, bergamot can soothe dry skin, reduce inflammation, redness, and it can also moisturize.
It’s considered safe for sensitive skin as well, but if the skin is exposed to sunlight after applying it, it can lead to irritation and phototoxicity.
Considering everything we’ve covered so far, here are some of the recognized and science-backed benefits of using bergamot oil for skin.
In 2012 a study published in the Journal Of Essential Oil Research examined the biological properties, and the cosmetic and medical uses of bergamot oil. Reviewing in vitro or animal model (carrageenan paw oedema in rats) studies it was concluded that bergamot oil showed significant anti-inflammatory activity. The authors believe this may be related to the presence of citropten and bergapten in the oil.
The same study mentioned above provides evidence that Citrus bergamia extracts show activity against several Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria as well as fungi and yeasts. It appears that flavonoid extracts of C. bergamia peel possess a strong antimicrobial activity on numerous bacteria and yeasts and this indicates that bergamot oil can potentially be used as a topical treatment for dermatophytoses along with a topical disinfectant.
One of the main concerns regarding the use of bergamot oil is due to its reactions to sunlight.
Bergamot oil possesses photosensitive and melanogenic properties because of the presence of furocoumarins, primarily bergapten (5-methoxypsoralen [5-MOP]).
Having this in mind you should be careful when using bergamot oil for skin, especially if you’re applying it directly to the skin as part of a homemade blend with other oils. Plus, you should look for warnings and usage instructions on products containing bergamot oil.
One 2001 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology highlighted the need for more research and awareness of the potential health hazard related to the increasing use of psoralen-containing aromatherapy oils (such as bergamot oil).
Although bergamot oil is frequently the main ingredient in numerous perfumes, the unique fragrance’s properties are quickly destroyed when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
Moreover, the application of perfumes containing bergamot oil on sunlight-exposed skin areas may provoke phototoxic side effects with edema and long-lasting erythema.
As also noted in a study from 1990 published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, the phototoxic side effects of bergamot oil seem to be mainly due to 5-methoxypsoralen (5-MOP) rather than to other potentially phototoxic molecules in the oil. The results from the study show that applying sunscreen to perfumes containing bergamot oil can reduce the phototoxic properties of the perfumes themselves. Still, more research is needed on this matter.
Don’t be surprised if you find sunscreen products containing bergamot oil. Some sunscreens use bergamot oil to enhance the tanning induced by ultraviolet radiation. This is only possible because bergamot oil causes a reaction when exposed to sunlight.
The beauty industry has found a way to use that reaction to our benefit.
It’s not the same to use bergamot oil directly on the skin and use a product that has bergamot oil in its ingredients list. One can be dangerous while the other is beneficial.
Before hitting the market, skincare products undergo a variety of dermatological tests and must pass safety standards. For example, the scientific community is constantly reviewing skincare products. One research from 1987, published in the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, evaluated the protective value of skin tanning induced by ultraviolet radiation while applying a sunscreen containing bergamot oil. The researchers concluded that a bergamot oil-containing sunscreen product was effective in enhancing UVR-induced tan, and the induced tan of this product afforded protection against subsequent exposure to UVR.
However, let us note that not all products are equally effective and safe. The quality of the product itself is crucial, and the discussed benefits, potential efficacy, and the characteristics of bergamot oil-based products only applies to products that follow strict governmental standards and FDA approved ingredients, and reliable labeling.
Takeaway? Be aware of the warnings and instructions for using bergamot oil on the products you buy.
Bergamot oil can be problematic for some people since linalool (an ingredient in the oil) breaks down and becomes oxidized after contact with oxygen. This means that the ingredient becomes an irritant which can easily trigger an allergic reaction in people with more sensitive skin.
We always recommend to do a patch test before applying anything to the skin directly, and in this case, it’s especially important. Do this for example on thin skin in a skinfold like the inner elbow.
The good thing is that for an effective patch test to identify an allergic reaction you won’t need to look for a specific area of your skin (read our article on how to do a patch test for more details). Simply, apply a small amount of the product or the oil directly on the skin behind your ear and rub it in. You need to wait for a couple of hours to see whether your skin is going to react. However, you should wait a few days before concluding it’s safe. If nothing happens, you can implement this ingredient in your skincare routine safely.
There are many ways you can use bergamot oil for skin, but to be completely safe, we advise you to start with skincare products that contain bergamot oil in small quantities. Let your skin get used to the ingredient before you apply it directly to the skin. Have in mind that in homemade remedies the oil will be present in higher quantities which means you’ll be exposed to a higher chance of phototoxicity.
Nonetheless, here are the most popular uses of bergamot oil for skin.
If you’re a fan of aromatherapy then you must already be familiar with bergamot oil. If you’re not, maybe it’s time that you do. This oil has a powerful and unique scent, as well as a soothing and calming effect on the nervous system.
The easiest way to use it is to add a few drops of bergamot essential oil in your favorite massage oil or lotion and completely enjoy the next time you treat yourself with a massage.
You can also add a few drops of bergamot oil in scented homemade candles, air fresheners, and vaporizers.
Moreover, if you dab it on a handkerchief you can take it with you and use it as a soothing scent on-the-go.
Due to the powerful anti-inflammatory ability of the oil, you can use it as a spot treatment to reduce redness, soothe active acne lesions, and balance the sebum production on your skin, which will prevent further breakouts.
However, if you’re struggling with sensitive skin and have another acute condition, please consult with a dermatologist before applying bergamot essential oil to your skin. The last thing you want to do is irritate your skin even more. There are plenty of other ingredients that are a lot more gentle and still powerful enough to kill bacteria and control acne breakouts.
To use bergamot oil as a spot treatment, apply it in the evening, directly to pimples, cysts, and blackheads, but mixed with a carrier oil. Let it sit on your face for a few hours before you rinse off with lukewarm water and go to sleep.
You can also leave the oil overnight, but never, ever apply it in the morning before leaving the house. Exposing the skin to sunlight after using bergamot oil can cause phototoxicity and burns.
Well, bergamot oil got its popularity due to its unique and strong scent. This is why you can add it to your favorite body lotion to enhance the pleasant smell left on your skin.
You made plans to go out, but you didn’t realize you don’t have any perfume left? This is where a lotion enhanced with bergamot essential oil can save your night and make you smell even more entrancing.
Don’t let the arguments (pro and against) confuse you. The fact is that bergamot oil can be both beneficial and potentially dangerous for our skin. For this reason, the main purpose of this article is to give you a better understanding of why and when bergamot oil can be good for your skin, and why and when it’s not. The goal is for you to learn how to use bergamot oil to receive all the benefits and protect yourself against the harmful side effects at the same time.
The key remarks you should leave with are: