Alright. You have a bottle of oil in front of you. What do you do with it? The answer: it depends. On whether it is a face oil or an essential oil. And they are very, very different. Read on to find out everything you need to know about when to pick what.
Essential Difference #1: Essential oils are volatile - they turn to vapor. Face oils don't.
Essential oils smell because they convert to vapour at room temperature - and our nose senses those vapurs. That is, they are volatile.
Oils used on the face - argan for example, barely have a smell. That's because they're stable liquids at room temperature
Essential Difference #2: They do different things
Essential oils are mainly used for their aromatic qualities, which work on mind and body alike. Some of them (e.g., myrrh and tea tree) have specific skin care qualitites. They are not meant to be emollient, moisturizing, or nourishing in nature.
Face oils are emollient, nourishing and moisturizing in nature, and often bring in antioxidant benefits as well. They work physically and chemically on the skin.
Essential Difference #3: Their mechanism of action is different
Essential oils work more by the action of the vapours (e.g., eucalyptus oil), than by their direct action on skin (of course, with some exceptions - like tea tree oil and ylang ylang oil).
Face oils are sheer phyto-chemistry at work - they work directly, and biochemically, to deliver the goods as far as skin care is concerned. Be it through delivery of vitamins, antioxidants, emollients, essential fatty acids or polyphenols - the list is long!
Essential Difference #4: Irritation potential
Essential oils have high irritation potential - so it's good to be cautious while working with them. Always patch test, check for your pets' compatibility, and never use undiluted. Particularly if you have sensitive skin, you have to be really, really careful with these.
Face oils on the other hand, are almost always harmless and well accepted even by sensitive skin types. Patch test is always advised, however - particularly if you have sensitive skin.
Essential Difference #5: Essential oils should never be used without carrier oils
Because they are so concentrated, essential oils should be diluted to at least 5% (and often lower) with carrier oils before using on skin.
Face oils are meant to be used as it is - undiluted - for best results.
Essential Difference #6: They are obtained diferrently
Essential oils are derived through distillation of plant parts (heating to separate the vapor part of the plant extracts). This could come from roots, stems, leaves and fruits. This gives them the aromatic quality.
Face oils are obtained through extraction - physical, or solvent-based, and mostly from fruits or seeds - think olive oil, grape seed oil and jojoba oil.
So the next time you chance upon a bottle of oil, think carefully - what is this, what should I use it for, and what should I watch out for?