• 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.

  • Kitchen Beautician Shopping List

    Below I have listed some of my favorite natural beauty/health products that can be found at Whole Foods or ordered online if you don’t have access to a natural supermarket.  A lot of the items are components for many of the kitchen beautician recipes I have listed on this site.  Some of the items are useful to have in any kitchen too.

    Hyland’s Homeopathic Smile PRID Drawing Salve : I love this homeopathic drawing salve in the orange tin for two things: 1) first aid and 2) blemishes.  It’s an all-natural salve with sulfur for antibacterial properties.  It is great for applying to any scrapes or cuts.  It also works really well for healing blemishes or ingrown hairs because it helps draw anything out from below the surface of the skin.

    Vanilla Oil in Jojoba Oil – I love this for multi-tasking and always keep some in my travel bag.  It can be added to bathwater or you can add a few drops to a fragrance free moisturizer to scent it naturally.  This also works great to use as an eye cream at night.  The aromatherapeutic property of vanilla is uplifting.  It’s kind of a nice unisex smell that I think both genders find comforting and sexy.  You can even use it as a perfume, dabbing it on pulse points.  Because it comes in a jojoba oil carrier, you can also use it to remove eye make-up in a pinch but it might be too expensive to do that every day.

    Egyptian Magic Skin Cream – I love the ingredients in this skin cream – olive oil, beeswax, honey, bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly.  It is an amazing night cream but also can be used as a body moisturizer, eye cream, or like a pomade to smooth flyaways or the ends of hair.  A little goes a long way.

    Body Brush – Body brushing feels so amazing and is great for your health and skin.  I have the details in this post.  I like to keep one next to my shower and also keep a small travel one in my toiletry bag.

    Sore No More – I was first introduced to this botanical formulation when a Jivamukti Yoga instructor applied it on our backs when we were in downward dog.  It really helps to ease sore muscles and brings a pleasant warming tingle to any particular area.  The menthol and camphor also really help to keep sinuses clear so this could be used as sort of an all-natural Vick’s Vapo Rub type of thing.  It’s a wonderful thing to give someone you love a quick rub on the shoulders and neck with.  It has capsaicin from peppers in it for the warming effect so do a test spot first to make sure your skin isn’t sensitive to it.

    Almond Oil – I use almond oil in a bunch of my kitchen beautician recipes including the pumpkin and honey mask and the rose petal bath.  You can also use it to wash your face if you are doing the oil cleansing method.  It’s also a great oil to make a quick scrub out of by combining it with sugar or sea salt and a couple drops of essential oil.

    Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay – This calcium bentonite clay is amazing for drawing out blackheads and just really refining the skin.  You can see how I’ve used it in the pumpkin and honey mask.  I also did an iteration of the same mask the other day when I didn’t have pumpkin at home.  I put in a little bit of vinegar instead and had amazing results with that too.

    Honey (or manuka honey) – Honey is awesome for its antibacterial and moisturizing properties.  I’ve mentioned using it in a milk and honey bath, in various masks, and mixing with vinegar if consuming for getting beautiful from the inside out.  I just keep a bottle next to my bath.  I’ll often just squirt some in to soften and moisturize my skin or smear it straight on my face as a mask on its own.  The bottle I have has become granulated which is kind of perfect because then it does a bit of exfoliation as well as moisturize the rest of the time I sit in the bath.

    Baking soda – I love baking soda for dumping in to the bath (for softness and detoxing) as well as using it as a really simple exfoliator as I described here.  It also works great to dump a bit on your toothbrush after you’ve put the paste on to help polish and whiten teeth.  I also occasionally use it to remove product build-up from hair.

    Vinegar – I’m sorry.  You all know my obsession with vinegar by this point.  It can be used as a hair rinse for shine and in the bath to neutralize pH’s.  I also like using it mixed with the Aztec clay for a clarifying mask or you can dilute it and use it as a toner.

    Sea Salt – I love sea salt for putting in the bath (like the red wine bath) as well as for making scrubs.  I will eventually add some more recipes in the beauty section of the blog for specific recipes but you can generally mix it with a little bit of oil (grape seed or almond) as well as essential oils for a good body scrub to do in the shower.

    Whole milk – Whole milk works great as a moisturizer and also has lactic acid, which helps to exfoliate.  I’ve mentioned using it for the milk and honey bath.  The other thing I really like to do with it is to soak cotton balls in milk and then place them over the eye area to restore moisture.  The coolness of the milk also helps to reduce puffiness.

    Coconut Oil – Coconut oil has wonderful benefits for both internal and external consumption.  It has antibacterial and antifungal properties.  It works great as a body moisturizer all on its own, especially after a day at the beach.  I also love using it as a hair mask.  I just apply it to my hair and then make a hair towel out of cling wrap and put a towel over that and add some heat with a blowdryer or the sun.  You can rinse it out after 20 minutes to an hour (or sleep in it with a shower cap on) and shampoo and condition as usual.  If you’re going to be beachy all day too, it’s kind of nice to apply it to the ends of hair and put it in a loose braid to keep everything hydrated.  It’s also a great natural personal lubricant.

    Rose Water – Rose water works as a toner for slightly dry skin and can also be used as described in the rose petal bath.  I like to keep it in the refrigerator and use it as a really refreshing mist on a hot day or after a good workout.  Orange water works great too and has more astringent properties.  The rose water can also be used in recipes.  The other day we mixed it with sugar to make a simple syrup and then made strawberry rose gimlets with muddled strawberries and gin.

     

  • Hydrating Oatmeal Banana Mask

    My skin was really dry the other night so I created a mask using some of the good hydrating items I had at home.  My skin looked incredible afterward and I promise I didn’t lick any off my face while I was in the bath 😉  This is a great mask to use in the winter to counteract chapped skin or skin that has been exposed to overly dry indoor air.  There are also some great ingredients in here that help acne-prone skin.  Sometimes even blemished skin is dry from the use of harsh products.

    Ingredients:

    • 1/2 banana, mashed
    • 1/2 packet Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment
    • 1 Tbsp honey
    •  2 Tbsp full fat plain yogurt or 1 Tbsp whole milk

     Mix together in a small bowl and apply to a clean face for approximately 15 minutes.  Remove gently with warm water and moisturize afterward.

    This is a good way to use up a banana that has just turned over-ripe. The Aveeno bath treatment is just colloidal oatmeal so you could also mill 1/2 cup rolled oats in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle.  If you have blemished or problem skin, try using the manuka honey I referenced in this post. 

    Bananas are moisturizing.  Honey is a humectant and has antibacterial properties.  The oatmeal helps to soothe the skin and also exfoliates to get rid of any flaky skin or dead skin cells.  Yogurt and whole milk both have lactic acid, which is an alpha hydroxy acid.  This is a very gentle acid which helps to exfoliate the skin and reveal new fresh skin underneath.  The live bacteria cultures in the yogurt keep the bad bacteria that lives in your skin in check and really helps brighten up skin.

  • Pumpkin Facial For Glowing Skin

    I thought this post would be timely with all the pumpkin we are likely to have around the house for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States.  Resist the ridiculousness of consumerism that has smeared Black Friday into Thanksgiving night and hang out and do home spa treatments with your family and friends!

    This homemade mask is one of the few “products” I have ever used that literally left my skin radiant and visibly improved upon rinsing and for hours afterward.  The pumpkin is hydrating and contains antioxidants A, C, and E, which keep the skin looking youthful.  The pumpkin’s phytonutrients like cartenoids neutralize free radicals in the skin.  The cinnamon increases circulation, the clay draws out impurities, and the honey and oil moisturize.  It’s the perfect combination for beautiful skin, really.

    Mix the following ingredients:

    • 1/2 cup canned or fresh pumpkin
    • 1/4 cup bentonite clay
    • 1 Tbsp honey
    • 2 Tbsp water
    • 1 Tbsp almond oil
    • 2 Tsp cinnamon

    An amazing product to use for the bentonite clay is Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay, which is basically pure bentonite.  It’s really hard for the geologist in me to resist talking about clay mineralogy here but I will restrain myself! The clay also works incredibly well for blackheads, pore clearing, and acne as a mask when mixed in to a paste with water or apple cider vinegar.

    If you have access to manuka honey, I would highly recommend using that as a portion of the honey required for this mask.  Manuka honey is a special honey from New Zealand.  It is a monofloral honey so the bees only visit the flower of the manuka tree.  This tree is otherwise known as tea tree, which is well-renowned for its antibacterial and antifungal properties.  If you have problem skin, this is a wonderful way to harness the naturally antiseptic qualities of the tea tree through the honey.  I’ll reference manuka a lot on this site because I am pretty obsessed with it.  Manuka honey is now available at some Whole Foods markets and can also be found on Amazon.

    Leave the mask on for about 15 minutes, and be ready for quite the rinse when it’s time to remove it as the clay is super sticky and hardens.  Note that your face may be slightly reddened after removing this mask, so be sure to test out how your skin will react before applying this before an event.  The redness generally fades within an hour. Any extra mask can be saved in the fridge for about a week.  I like to wrap up the extra in wax paper.