• Aromatherapy: An Introduction

    Aromatherapy is a way to incorporate essential oils to promote physical or psychological healing using our sense of smell.  Essential oils are the concentrated liquid portion of aromatic plants.  Aromatherapy can be used to inspire or maintain moods, aid in pain relief, correct conditions or influence performance and productivity.  In this post, I’ll give some ideas about some simple and versatile oils to buy if you’re just starting your collection and easy ways to use them.

    I think the sense of smell is one of the most underutilized senses.  Other animals rely upon it so heavily but humans tend to think of it more like an accessory.  Aromatherapy is a simple way for us to boost this sense.

    How Aromatherapy Works

    The sense of smell is special because it is so often associated with the formation of memories and can instantly transport us back to how we felt at a certain time and place.  The reason this happens is the same reason that aromatherapy works.  Our olfactory nerves are located very close to both the amygdala and the hippocampus in our brains.  The amygdala processes emotion and the hippocampus is the area of our brain responsible for associative learning.  Each time we smell something new (which happens the highest concentration of times in our childhood) we begin to associate that certain smell with a particular person, place, or memory.

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    There are many ways to incorporate aromatherapy in to your life.   Essential oils can simply be inhaled or massaged (diluted) in to the skin for their healing properties.   Other ideas are below.

    Ways to Incorporate Aromatherapy

    Aromatherapy diffuser: These come in a variety of forms but my favorite one is this one that dissipates the oil with a fine mist of water.  You can also find ones that you light a tea candle underneath.  These are nice but you have to watch them closely so they don’t boil over.  You can also diffuse the scent in to the room by using a lamp ring (works especially well if you’re studying or working at a desk) or by sprinkling some essential oil on logs before you light a fire.

    Household cleaning: Essential oils can be incorporated in to natural cleaning products to make your home smell good as you freshen and cleanse it.  I’m working on a post about natural cleaners, but essential oils can be mixed with water as a counter spray or dropped in to a bucket with the mopping water.

    Personal Care:

    Aromatherapy can be incorporated in to any personal beauty or maintenance product you use as you’ll notice in almost all my kitchen beautician recipes.

    • Skin moisturizer: Try mixing a few drops of essential oil with organic fragrance-free body lotion like I talked about in the travel post.
    • Face masks: Included on this site are kitchen beautician recipes with a little bit of essential oil including the hydrating oatmeal banana mask, and a pumpkin facial for glowing skin.
    • Body scrubs: I have a few body scrub recipes I love including the tropical vanilla hydrating scrub with vanilla and bergamot essential oil and the epsom salt and ginger scrub with lime and ginger essential oils.
    • Body powder: Check out this recipe to make your own body powder.
    • Baths: Most of the bath recipes I have on this site (like the rose petal, spirulina sea salt detox, oatmeal milk and honey, drunken red wine baths) contain some essential oils.  Be mindful that if you have sensitive skin, some oils might irritate it, especially in the bath.  I love oils of bergamot (and other citrus scents), cinnamon, and peppermint but have found that these are better inhaled as they can be irritating to the skin.
    • Facial cleanser: I really like incorporating a couple drops of essential oil in to the oil cleansing method or using a few drops with witch hazel or rose water as a toner.  Rose, vanilla, carrot seed, or geranium oils are good choices.  A little bit of tea tree oil can help acneic skin.
    • Facial steam: Steaming your face using a towel as a tent over your head with a few essential oils can really open up the pores or can help during times of congestion.  I talk about this in my post on eucalyptus oil.
    • Massage: If you would like to use it in massage, try mixing it with almond oil or coconut oil for a nourishing skin treatment.  Don’t forget that giving a massage to someone with aromatherapy will provide the same benefits for you!  I love giving my baby a massage with jojoba oil mixed with a few drops of vanilla after her bath.

    Wellness: Essential oils can help during times of sickness to alleviate symptoms and help you feel better.  Some of the oils like cajeput, peppermint, and ginger specifically work really well on sore muscles or a congested body.  Most essential oils are naturally antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral and can help keep your skin and home healthy.  Try adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a humidifier if suffering from a cough or congestion.

    Aromatherapy Benefits

    If you are just starting out with aromatherapy, sometimes the decision about which oils to purchase can be overwhelming so I’ve listed some of the basics both by mood a person is trying to achieve or just a good starter kit to make a lot of different types of blends with fairly inexpensive oils.

    Uplifting: bergamot, tangerine, grapefruit, vanilla

    Activating: lemon, lime, rosemary

    Strengthening: cedarwood, rose

    Warming: clove, cinnamon, nutmeg

    Sensual: ylang ylang, geranium, vanilla, patchouli

    Replenishing: eucalyptus, peppermint, carrot seed

    Meditative: sandalwood, frankincense, clove

    Balancing: clary sage, ginger, rose, geranium

    Relaxing: lavender, geranium, wild chamomile

    Recommended Starter Kit:

    Included in this starter kit are a list of inexpensive (with the exception of chamomile and vanilla) essential oils that will allow you to incorporate all the different types of benefits and properties of essential oils.  The vanilla and the rose oils often come blended in a jojoba carrier so they can be applied directly to the skin but are quite expensive.  I have always liked the Aura Cacia brand and it is easy to find in most natural health or grocery stores or on Amazon.  I also really like Mountain Rose Herbs and is one of the only places I have been able to find undiluted rose and vanilla essential oils.

    • Peppermint
    • Eucalyptus
    • Lavender
    • Grapefruit
    • Tea tree
    • Lemon
    • Ylang ylang
    • Geranium
    • Tangerine
    • Vanilla
    • Rosemary
    • Cedarwood
    • Rose absolute
    • Chamomile

    References

    I really like the AuraCacia app that is available for iPad.  It gives lots of ideas for recipes, talks about the properties of many oils, and says what it mixes well with.

    The Mountain Rose Herbs website is great for listing the origin of essential oils, properties, uses, contradictions and indications on what blends well together.

  • The Oil Cleansing Method For Clear, Radiant Skin

    Oil cleansing is a way to cleanse your face with oil.

    Wait…what?

    Yep, that’s right…problem skin can be combated with oil whether the problem is acne, sensitivity, or dryness.  I have been wanting to write a post about the oil cleansing method for facial cleansing for a long time.  I was determined to make it work because I love how natural, minimalist and organic it is.  Plus, I had heard amazing things about how it left skin clear, radiant, and dewy and got rid of acne.  I tried this method for a few weeks a couple years ago and it didn’t work very well during that first attempt, so I gave up.  I was really excited about it though, so I knew I needed to try it again and troubleshoot because I felt confident this was the best method/product out there.

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    Why?

    My favorite thing about this method is how simplified the routine is – it eliminates the need for eye makeup remover, toner, moisturizer, and cleanser.  That translates to a lot of dollars saved and a lot of steps eliminated.

    My skin has always been pretty normal.  I have gone through some periods where I was really prone to spots, generally during times I was under a lot of stress or my hormones were haywire.  I blogged about that in this post.  I finally used Accutane (isotretinoin) to clear it up because I was so fed up but if you’ve read any of my blog, you know important natural methods are to me.  I kind of wish I would have tried the oil cleansing method as a last-ditch effort before doing Accutane.

    How does it work?

    So the premise behind using straight oil to cleanse your face is pretty simple.  The idea is that by using harsh and artificial cleansers to clean out your pores, you basically just end up stripping the skin, making it produce more oil to compensate, setting up a negative feedback loop. A person then tends to wash even more and be more harsh on spots or conditions that result from these methods.  The abrasiveness of some of these usual facial cleansing products (whether chemical or physical) can also aggravate skin.

    The oil cleansing method is based on the simple chemical phenomena that oil dissolves oil.  For that reason, oil is the constituent used to dissolve excess oil in pores and and loosen it along with impurities from the skin in this method.  There are different combinations of oils that can be used depending on your skin type and I like the added benefit that it’s very easy to find organic oils at affordable prices.  Trying to find organic cleansers to buy is extremely expensive.

    The oil that is most often touted as the base oil for this method is castor oil because it has somewhat toning and anti-inflammatory properties.  I generally avoid this oil because it cannot be produced without workers involved in its refinement being exposed to some level of toxicity.  It also requires  chemical extraction from solvents, deodorization, stabilizers etc., which concerns me (and is the same reason I avoid canola or corn oil in my food).  I prefer something than can be processed with a simple cold-press process.

    Instead, I recommend finding an oil or mixture of oils (below) that works for your skin and is easy enough for you to obtain.  Here are generally the oils that are used for different skin types (from the Crunchy Betty blog):

    • Hazelnut or sunflower oil (for typically acneic skin)
    • Sunflower, grapeseed, or sweet almond oil (for oily to normal skin)
    • Jojoba, grapeseed, or apricot kernel oil (for normal to dry skin)
    • Avocado or apricot kernel oil (for dry skin)

    Olive oil and coconut oil are also mentioned a lot when referring to this method.  I have not carefully tested them myself but I have heard anecdotal evidence that they can be somewhat comedogenic (pore-clogging) so I have generally avoided them unless I’m in a pinch.  I would definitely recommend trying this method with some of the other oils first and then doing a more of a scientific test with these more common oils to see if changing the oil changed the outcome.  I’d hate for you to give up too soon because you started with the wrong oils like I did.

    When I first tried this method, it didn’t really work for me and left my skin prone to breakouts.  I think there are a couple reasons for this and I’m glad I went back and gave it another try.  The first was that I was using a cleansing oil I bought online – Deep Cleansing Oil by DHC.  It seemed to be good from the reviews but was an olive oil base and also had some ingredients in it that I didn’t know what they were (preservatives, etc.).  I think the other reason it didn’t work was because of the way in which I was doing it.  I was basically just using the oil to wash my face and then wiping it off.  As I later came to find out, giving the face a little steam is the best way to loosen anything from the pores after cleansing.

    So, all this background – now how is it done?  First decide which oils you are going to use.  Some people like to make a mixture in a small bottle and add a couple drops of essential oil.  I have sort of normal/combination skin so I just use whichever oil I have on hand, usually almond or grapeseed and then I add in apricot kernel or argan oil if it’s during a time of the year my skin is prone to dryness.  I also really like Jason’s Vitamin E Oil (5000 i.u.), which can be found online if you’re an Amazon junkie like me or at a natural grocers.  It is a pre-made mixture of safflower, sunflower, rice bran, avocado, wheat germ, apricot kernel, and almond oils.  It can be used straight out of the bottle for this method and travels really well.  Most people do oil cleansing as part of a bedtime routine.  I do it every night.

    This is generally the method I follow:

    1. There is no need to remove eye-make up first but if you have a lot on, you may try putting some coconut oil on a cotton ball and removing it so it doesn’t smear all over your face.
    2. Get warm water running from the faucet.
    3. Splash some warm water over the face.
    4. Thoroughly wet and mostly wring a washcloth (nothing too abrasive).
    5. Put the washcloth in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
    6. While the washcloth is in the microwave, begin massaging about one tablespoon of oil (or a quarter size amount) in upward, circular motions in to damp skin.  There is no reason to avoid the eyes like with other cleansers.
    7. While you are massaging, really take the time to envision the best skin you can imagine.  This massaging motion helps bring blood to the surface and will result in a nice glow, like after a facial.  Pay special attention to problem areas.  Use this same oil to remove any eye make-up (assuming you haven’t put in any irritating essential oils).  Try using affirmations during this part, e.g. “I deserve beautiful skin.”  “I take gentle, loving care of myself.”
    8. Remove the washcloth from the microwave and drape it over the face at the temperature at which it’s just cool enough that it can be tolerated without burning your skin.  The steam will loosen any impurities and oil from your skin.
    9. Lie down with the washcloth on your face for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  For many of you, you may find this is the first time during the day you have had one minute to yourself so use it as a minute long meditation and a chance to get off your feet and begin preparing yourself for winding down for bedtime.
    10. Once the washcloth has cooled off, gently wipe down the skin.
    11. Rinse the washcloth and repeat steaming the face (microwave again).

    You can skip the microwave step, but I find I like the washcloth really hot and can’t get it to the temperature I want without burning my hands when I wring the cloth.  I really like this video from Mommypotamus that describes the method.  I don’t use the two cloths likes she does just because I don’t have enough washcloths or do laundry frequently enough to warrant it (though I suspect this will change when my infant arrives in a couple months).  I just rinse and re-use the original washcloth, trying to use the opposite side if I remember.

    Your skin may go through an adjustment period when you start this method though mine didn’t.  You may be unblocking some clogged pores the first few days so if it starts with a bit of a breakout, just stick with it and see how it is working after a week or so.  Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to return to a regular cleanser during this adjustment period.

    You might be surprised when I tell you that your skin may feel dry as a result of cleansing with oil.  If so, add a good nighttime moisturizer (or just a bit of oil) or do whatever other skincare routine you follow at night.  You may not need any extra moisturizer, or can adjust to one of the less drying oils if you do.  I like to dot some organic argan oil around my eyes after cleansing as an eye cream but find I don’t need any moisturizer.

    Your face will probably be neither dry nor oily in the morning with this method so there is no need to wash it when you wake up.  Usually I just rinse my face with water and/or wipe it with the Aveda shammy cloth.

    Other resources
    http://www.theoilcleansingmethod.com/
    http://www.crunchybetty.com/nitty-gritty-on-the-oil-cleansing-method
    http://wellnessmama.com/7569/oil-cleansing-for-naturally-perfect-skin/

     

  • The 1 Cent Baking Soda Facial

    I have an interest in baking soda that kind of borders on obsession.  I guarantee this isn’t the last time you’ll see it appear in my blog!  It has so many practical purposes for cleaning up around the house and for beauty.  It’s a fantastic all-natural and inexpensive solution to a host of problems.  Regarding beauty, I recently discovered that baking soda makes a great gentle exfoliant, especially for those with dry or sensitive skin that don’t want to use other harsh products.  Alisa at Spalon in Houston gives the the most amazing microdermabrasions but times I can’t get in to see her or need a little pick me up in between visits, I make a scrub with baking soda.  This is also a fantastic scrub to do when your bank account is feeling a little deflated as all of us are probably feeling with the holiday season having just passed us by.

    To make the scrub, all you do is simply make a paste by mixing baking soda (about 1 tablespoon) with a little bit of water.   A ratio of three parts baking soda to one part water seems to work pretty well.  The more watery the paste is, the less abrasive the scrub will be.  Then rub it on your face and neck in gentle circular motions.  Do this with a light hand until you’re more familiar with how your skin will respond.  This is a great way to give yourself similar results to a facial and nearly everyone has baking soda on hand.  The same scrub can also be used on the body.  Baking soda can also help remove built up styling products from your hair so I will often just bring the box in to the shower with me and add a little bit to the shampoo in my palm (1 teaspoon) on the days I do the scrub.  Have a glowing new year!