Aromatherapy for healthy skin

Photo: istockphoto.com/Elenathewise
Discover this ancient healing art with modern day benefits

The human face is like a book in that it tells a story. With invasive cosmetic procedures becoming more popular all over the city, more people are being tempted to erase some pages of their life book and rewrite them with surgery. Nobody likes to age. However there are many natural and non-invasive ways to look younger and have a healthier skin.

The essential oils used in aromatherapy are very powerful extracts obtained from the distillation of aromatic plants (flowers, roots, leaves, and bark), which have been used for centuries for their powerful therapeutic properties. Historically, essential oils were used in Egypt by the pharaohs for their healing and beautifying properties.

Unlike many ingredients in cosmetic creams, essential oils penetrate all the way through the layers of your skin. They don’t “sit” on top of the skin, but they have the ability to give a boost to your skin by activating the renewal of new cells (which slows down with aging). According to Valerie Ann Worwood in The Fragrant Mind, “One of the most effective ways of taking essential oils into the body is through percutaneous absorption – through the skin.”

Not only do they penetrate the skin, but essential oils applied topically enter deep into the body fairly quickly – a good reason to buy only the best quality essential oils. According to Victoria Edwards, author of The Aromatherapy Companion (Storey Books; 1999), “In as little as 5 to 20 minutes an essential oil, applied topically, makes its way into the bloodstream, is carried to the lungs, and is exhaled with the breath.... As the essential oil travels through the body systems, tissues and organs benefit from its healing action.”

Essential oils like frankincense, cistus, lavender and carrot seed have powerful rejuvenating properties. Peppermint, cistus, cypress, and fennel have tonifying properties. Many are natural antioxidants that will help fight the negative effects of excessive sun exposure (carrot), as well as pollution and stress (sweet marjoram).

Essential oils extracted from citrus fruits such as lemon, orange, and grapefruit have a natural exfoliant effect, gently peeling off the dead layers of skin that make it look dry, thick and older. This dead skin also prevents active ingredients from penetrating. The essential oils can be used in a cream (only at night time though), or as a treatment lotion before a night cream is applied for an extended period of time (more than a month). They are an easy, safe and natural alternative to the popular micro-dermabrasion.

Victoria Edwards likes to use citrus essential oils in astringents and toners after cleansing the face: “They invigorate the complexion, remove any traces of soap, close up the pores, and quickly restore the skin’s protective acid mantle (pH).”

Here’s one of her favourite recipes for a brisk toning formula:

10 drops lemon essential oil
1-1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
4 ounces distilled water

Combine all ingredients in a dark glass bottle. Shake well. To use: Apply to face and neck after cleansing.

Some essential oils have a balancing effect, “teaching” our skin to produce just enough sebum. Their anti-bacterial properties neutralize the harmful bacteria responsible for breakouts and acne. This is why a drop of lavender, lemon or tea tree oil in a cleansing mild toner, or straight on the infected area, is particularly effective for congested skins. Remember, for those who have oily skins and don’t want to put extra oil on their skin, essential oils are absolutely not oily. In fact, plant extracts will evaporate if the bottle is left open.

Many skin conditions can be improved with the use of aromatherapy. Among others, helichrysum and cypress are efficient in the case of reddened skin due to broken capillaries; German chamomile and helichrysum cool down rosacea. Ylang ylang, geranium and neroli nourish and balance dry skins. Lavender and rosemary are great antiseptics and work as astringents for oily skins. Other conditions such as dilated pores, dark spots, dry and sagging skins, also benefit from the topical use of essential oils.

When you have determined what your skin needs, it is easy to use essential oils at home. You can add a couple of drops to your natural cream or cleanser, mix them with some jojoba oil (all skin types), apricot kernel or avocado oil (dry skin types), and massage the blend into your skin for a special nourishing treatment or add them to a clay mask for a refined, balancing or deeper cleansing.

According to Edwards, “Facial oils soothe and nourish the delicate skin of the face. They seal the skin, helping it retain precious moisture and providing protection from surface contaminants.”

Here’s her recipe for a lotion that alleviates sensitive or inflamed skin:

2 drops chamomile essential oil
2 drops neroli essential oil
7 drops sandalwood essential oil
5 drops bois de rose essential oil
30 ml (1 ounce) hazelnut or almond oil

Combine all ingredients in a small dark glass bottle and shake to mix. To use: after cleansing and toning, place a few drops in the palms of your hands and massage lightly over your entire face. (Ed note: Inflamed skin is often caused by consumption of foods that create “toxic heat” in the body. As these foods are digested in the intestines, the “heat” rises and settles in the face. “Heat-producing” foods include red meat, shellfish, spicy foods, alcohol, and allergenic foods.)

For aging skin, aromatherapy facials can support cellular regeneration. The natural phytohormones that occur in essential oils such as geranium, rose, clary sage and fennel can even help the skin with the side effects of menopause.

Always remember that essential oils are powerful, that you only need a couple of drops and that some (like lemon, fennel or clary sage) can be irritating if not properly used. Also make sure that you are using only therapeutic grade essential oils, and preferably organic ones.

When you use aromatherapy for your skin, this is taking care of yourself in a healthy way, not just putting something on your face to cover imperfections or to plump the skin temporarily. Aromatherapy does its magic deep down and starts showing results after a couple of months of regular natural skincare.

To give you an idea of how powerful and concentrated essential oils can be, after distillation one tonne of fresh plant material only produces the following yields – 30 to 80 grams of essential oil of Damascus Rose; 150 to 200 grams of neroli, melissa or camomile; 1 to 3 kilograms of lemon, thyme or geranium; 20 kilograms of eucalyptus or cypress.

This explains the high cost of some essential oils and why only one or two drops are needed.

Anne Clossen is a certified and licensed Holistic Therapist. She has studied Traditional Thai Yoga Massage at various schools and has been practising it, along with other treatment modalities, at her downtown Toronto location for several years. For further information and/or appointments, Ms. Clossen can be reached at (416) 939-2570.

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