Scabies is a distressing condition, with intense itching, caused by a minute insect, the itch-mite (sarcoptes scabei). The female mite burrows just below the surface of the skin and lays her eggs, and as these hatch out the movement of the mites beneath the skin give rise to the itching and irritation. Infections of scratches can be a secondary problem. Scabies is very contagious, and is becoming more widespread. It is endemic in sheep farming areas, as the mite lives in the coat of the sheep, and is easily transmitted to farm workers, and from them to other human contacts, but there are a number of cases in cities, and reports have been received of infection picked up in the changing rooms of dance and exercise centres, where the warmth encourages the mite.

Creams prescribed by doctors to kill the mites can be very damaging to the skin, especially if used repeatedly, as may often be needed. Aromatherapy treatment usually combines external treatment with creams and baths, with garlic capsules to be taken several times a day until all the mites have gone. A combination of oils of Lavender and Peppermint is one very effective treatment, alternatives being Cinnamon, Clove, Lemon and Rosemary. Garlic can be included in the formula for a cream if the smell will be tolerated, otherwise restrict it to use in capsules.

Jean Valnet quotes a formula (Helmerich's ointment) which combines Cinnamon, Clove, Lavender, Lemon and Peppermint in a cream, but you may prefer to alternate two or three of these oils in successive jars of cream. They need to be added to the cream or ointment in a fairly high concentration: say a total of 5% by weight, but Cinnamon and Clove should form only a small proportion of the blend, to avoid further irritating the skin.

The cream should be applied to all itching areas at least twice a day, preferably after bathing, and treatment will be even more effective if essential oils are also added to the bath. Lavender and Rosemary are the best choices from the anti-scabies oils for this, and Camomile can be added for its soothing properties. Do not use Cinnamon or Clove in the bath, as they can cause even worse skin irritation than the original problem, and use Lemon or Peppermint in very small amounts (up to 3 drops) only.

Once the scabies has been cleared, the skin may often be very dry and flaky in areas that were infected. This is a worse problem where orthodox medical prescriptions have been used before trying essential oils. Benzoin, Lavender, Myrrh and Neroli, in a carrier oil or cream with some wheatgerm oil added, will help to repair the damage and promote growth of healthy skin.

During treatment, scrupulous attention to hygiene is vital. The mites lives very happily in clothes and bedding, especially wool, so every single item of clothing and linen which the sufferer has used must be treated to remove the mites. Anything that can be washed at a high temperature is best treated that way, and a solution of essential oils of Camphor and Lavender in alcohol (5% of each oil) should be used to clean mattresses and pillows and any other item that cannot be washed. In very bad infestations it has sometimes proved necessary to burn clothing and other items before the scabies could be cleared, as constant re-infestation occurred.

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