Terpenes for Skincare Products & Skin Health!

Posted by Jack O'Leary on

Our skin is our largest organ. It’s also our most complicated. The skin plays a crucial role in providing an airtight, watertight and flexible barrier between the outside world and the highly regulated systems within the body. It regulates temperature, immune defense, vitamin production, and, obviously, is in charge of overall sensation. There is a huge focus on skin health, with fierce competition to have glowing, clearer, healthier, younger and fresher skin. This focus can cause secondary problems with self-esteem and mental health.

If you’re looking for all-natural remedies for common skin care issues, or for a more effective transdermal delivery system for your skincare products, continue reading and consider infusing terpene isolates into your skincare products!

Barrier to Entry 

The skin protects us. It’s not surprising, therefore, that active ingredients (e.g., botanicals) have a hard time getting through. The stratum corneum (a layer of the epidermis) blocks anything and everything but there are some ways around the natural “thickness” of skin.

The epidermis is the outermost, cellular layer of the skin which varies in thickness depending on the body site. On average it’s less than half a millimetre thick. The epidermis resembles a “brick wall” of cells known as keratinocytes, which are bound tightly together and act to prevent free movement of moisture, pathogens and chemicals into or out of the body.

Terpenes can actually help deliver specific compounds through these layers of the skin and deliver them to the bloodstream more effectively

 All in the Mix

Terpenes can be added into shampoos, conditioners, balms, lotions, and salves, as they add both their enticing aromatic properties as well as their physical benefits. Natural terpenes added into unscented bath products is a great way to guarantee unknown, unmarked potentially hazardous cancer-causing chemicals are not coming into contact with you or your family. Topically-applied terpenes can penetrate the outermost layers of the skin - though not all have the capacity to break through into the bloodstream with only a topical application. This method of delivering medicine or active ingredients into the bloodstream is called transdermal drug delivery.

Transdermal drug delivery (through the skin) has attracted much attention as an alternative to intravenous and oral methods of delivery. Transdermal drug delivery is optimal because it is convenient, you simply rub the topical solution or affix a patch on the skin and the compound enters the bloodstream, with no needles and no swallowing pills. When entering through the skin, the terpene bypasses first-pass metabolism, meaning it doesn’t get metabolized and lose any of its potency before reaching the bloodstream. It has been found that small alcoholic terpenes with high degree of unsaturation enhance the permeation of other topicals, making other products more effective.

All of this means that terpenes such as limonene and nerolidol work in a ‘more-the-merrier’ type manner and can improve the absorption rate of other terpenes and topical medications, making them an excellent addition to topicals and skin care products. Whether found in cannabis or in other natural sources, terpenes are powerful healing aids. Perhaps the most restorative and rewarding way to reap the benefit of terpenes is to pamper yourself with terpene therapeutics.

However, the combination of ingredients is what ultimately determine if your solution will be delivered transdermallyTerpene skin absorption levels are largely dependent on the topical medium in which they are infused. For example, the terpene citronellol applied in a hydrogel successfully penetrated all dermal levels. In comparison, the mixture of an oily solution with citronellol failed to penetrate a single layer.

In the latter case it’s best to have the terpenes stored in a carrier oil which makes it much easier for application to the skin.

As the medicinal benefits of terpenoids continue to be uncovered one can hope to see more ‘terpene infused’ topicals on the market. Common concerns include dryness, sensitivity, oiliness, congestion, wrinkles, sun damage and signs of ageing. Although these states are all within the spectrum of normal functional skin, they may be considered problematic if severe or undesirable. Many different terpene isolates can aid in these symptoms. Terpenes are known to have the following qualities, which make them useful in skincare products: 

  • analgesic
  • anti-inflammatory
  • anti-mutagenic
  • antibiotic
  • anti-fungal
  • anti-psoriatic
  • anti-spasmodic (suppresses muscle spasms)
  • vasorelaxant (reduces vascular tension)

Terpene Isolates to Infuse Into Your Skincare Products!

Eucalytpol & Pinene

In a recent 2020 study, both Eucalyptol and Pinene were tested for their respective dermal delivery of a compound called curcumin. 

While both isolates shown to be helpful as chemical penetration enhancers, Eucalyptol proved the superior terpene. In this nanoemulsion, curcumin penetrated the stratum corneum at about 35 μg/cm2. An MCT-only formula was next at roughly 30 μg/cm2, and pinene at about 22 μg/cm2. The solubility of curcumin in each emulsion correlated to the success of each: eucalyptol was superior at 4 mg/ml compared to only 0.21 mg/ml for pinene. The solubility parameter is thus paramount when choosing a terpene to enhance transport through skin. Choosing the right terpene for a given formulation is also essential.

This singular study was demonstrated on the compound curcumin, so while Eucalyptol was more effective in delivering the substance through the skin, this isn't necessarily the most effective transdermal deliverer for all compounds and medicines. There is still a lot to research and discover.

Eucalyptol, along with terpenes like menthol and geraniol are shown to reduce inflammation and ease the desire to itch while providing cooling relief, making it a useful addition to some anti-itch skincare products. 

Limonene & Nerlidol 

According an 2006 study, which looked at the transdermal potential of both D-Limonene and L-Limonene, "D-limonene was the most effective enhancer [of the two] which had the greater transdermal delivery of LH [the control substance - ligustrazine hydrochloride] and the least lag time. The results showed that the permeation enhancement mechanism of the enantiomer enhancers to LH was multiple ones including disordering and extracting the SC lipids and probably including stereoselective mechanism.

RELATED: Limonene Explained! - Terpene Blends and Strains with this Popular Isolate!

In this 2016 study, Nerolidol was found to exhibit an increased transdermal delivery rate of the compound 5-fluorouracil by over 20-fold

The World Journal of Dermatology released research showing that terpenes protect the skin and oral administration of aroma terpenes can prevent sunburn or skin cancer in mice; which could lead to more effective and safer ways of blocking sun damage to human skin. Of particular interest are terpenes like limonene, that protect the skin from irritation and cumene, that encourages new skin growth. Researchers found that d-limonene acted to protect against ultraviolet B-induced DNA photo-damage and sunburn in UVR exposed skin. They filed a patent application for their methods of using terpenes and terpenoids to block ultraviolet radiation and promote skin growth, so it should be interesting to see if such research will create a demand for natural terpene-infused sunscreen!

Research Is Just Beginning

However, according to another 2020 study, there have been "major difficulties in achieving sustained delivery of terpenes to the skin are connected with their low solubility and stability, as well as poor cell penetration."

It continues, "In order to overcome these disadvantages, new delivery technologies based on nanostructures are proposed to improve bioavailability and allow controlled release. This review highlights the potential properties of terpenes loaded in several types of lipid-based nanocarriers (liposomes, solid lipid nanoparticles, and nanostructured lipid carriers) used to overcome free terpenes' form limitations and potentiate their therapeutic properties for topical administration."

Essentially, terpenes are useful in delivering nearly anything they're mixed with, but their true transdermal potential has yet to be tapped. We very well may see more terpenes and all-natural healing balms, lotions, shampoos, and other scented skincare products on the shelf at major retailers with these isolates in them, to both enhance the product's fragrance and effects, but also deliver the other components within its mixture more effectively and consistently. 

If you are considering infusing terpenes into a product, feel free to reach out to Inca Trail and we can help you formulate your blend! 

Check out these pages if you're interested in making your own homemade, DIY skincare related product, and feeling the effects of these isolates for yourself! 

  • Shampoo/Conditioner & Body Wash
  • Lotion & Facemasks
  • Lip Balm
  • Sunscreen

Feel Good In Your Skin!

All in all, you should care about your skin! It's one of your most crucial organs, as it works as a barrier, protecting against water loss as well as physical and chemical injury, and bugs. It protects us from UV radiation by producing melanin and also produces Vitamin D, which helps prevent many diseases including osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, obesity and neurological diseases. Not to forget, beauty and physical attraction of having clear, glowing skin. The quality and condition of the skin greatly contributes to the perception of health, wellness, youth and beauty.

 Try infusing your skin care products with terpenes today!

NEXT: Natural and Powerful Ways To Recover and Restore Your Body


  1. “Terpenes: Effect of lipophilicity in enhancing transdermal delivery of alfuzosin hydrochloride.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560127/.
  2. Cal, K. “Skin penetration of terpenes from essential oils and topical vehicles”. Planta Med. 2006; 72(4): 311-6 [Times cited = 80 , Journal impact factor = 2.342]
  3. Nikolic I, et al. Microstructure and biopharmaceutical performances of curcumin-loaded low-energy nanoemulsions containing eucalyptol and pinene: Terpenes’ role overcome penetration enhancement effect? European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences: Official Journal of the European Federation for Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2019(105135). [Impact Factor: 3.616; Times Cited: 7 (Semantic Scholar)]

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