Skin care is a very large and important branch of Aromatherapy. Using appropriate Essential Oils, flower waters, fresh fruits, almonds, honey and other fresh natural substances, it is possible to provide a very wide range of treatments for every type of skin, and for a variety of skin disorders, such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.
A typical Aromatherapy facial treatment (assuming that your skin is generally healthy and you are not suffering from a specific skin disease) will usually consist of a thorough cleansing of the face with a gentle plant-based cream or milk, followed by a very careful and specialised massage of the face, neck and shoulders and often the scalp, too. This is, of course, the most important part of the treatment, for it is during the massage that the appropriate essential oil or oils for your particular skin, at that time (since our skins vary from day to day) will have the opportunity of penetrating the dead, outer layer of the skin and working on the living layers beneath. A large part of the therapist's training will have been directed at equipping him/her to make the best possible choice of oils for each individual person's skin at any given time from among the considerable number of oils available.
Following the massage, he/she may cover your face with a warm compress to aid the absorption of the oils, or he/she may make you a face-pack from one or more of a wide range of natural plant substances, ranging from fresh strawberries or other fruits that are in season, to avocado pulp. Some therapists, especially those working in salons largely devoted to beauty treatments, may use commercially made preparations for the face-pack, but it is neither necessary nor desirable. Apart from the fact that such preparations increase the cost of a treatment, the maximum benefit can be derived from fruits and other plant products in their fresh state - the nearer to the plant, the more beneficial.
After the pack has been on your face for about ten minutes, the therapist will clean it off, and gently wipe your face and neck with rosewater or orangeflower water. He/she may then apply a very light film of oil or an appropriate cream to protect your skin against the environment before you leave, and she might also give you creams or other preparations made with Essential Oils to use at home.
This description will be valid in its main outline to most treatments, though of course there will be variations depending on the therapist's individual approach and your particular skin condition. For example, if you have a very oily skin, the session might include a facial steam with a few drops of essential oil added to the water.
It is also relatively easy to make simple creams, lotions and aromatic waters for the skin at home, using Essential Oils, beeswax, cocoa butter and flower waters, and the methods and ingredients are described in full in our recipes section. The ways of making such creams, and the products that go into them have been in use for literally thousands of years and are known and proved by long experience to be safe and beneficial for the skin. Many of the formulae are very similar to those used by our great-great grandmothers, and also by commercial firms until fairly recent times, although commercial cosmetic preparations have often included some mineral and animal substances, too. Not all the minerals are completely harmless, and many prefer not to use animal derivatives for ethical reasons, so the possibility of making our own skincare preparations from Essential Oils and other plant products is very welcome. They also have the advantage of being very cheap when compared to the commercial equivalent, and you know, to the last drop, what ingredients have gone into each jar.
Skin care manufacturers are not supposed to claim that their products penetrate the skin. If they did, the products would then be labelled as “drugs” and would be governed by much stricter regulations. However, it is now recognised that the skin does absorb many of the toxic ingredients in skin care preparations. This is both good and bad. Good, because it means our skin can be nourished from the outside with some wonderful organic and truly natural ingredients. Bad, because some/many skin care manufacturers can use harmful chemical ingredients that would never be allowed to be taken orally, but are still absorbed into the blood stream through our skin.
When chemicals such as Cocamide DEA or Sodium Hydroxysultaine are followed by the words “derived from coconut oil” the consumer is led to believe that these synthetic chemicals must somehow be "natural". While this may be true in some cases where a natural oil or extract is actually used, it is ultimately irrelevant because what you end up with after the chemical solvent extraction and processing is usually anything but natural, pure or organic. It is just another chemical concoction with some rather awful sounding long names to describe the process the original "natural" substance went through. To create Cocamide DEA, a foaming agent found in some shampoos, requires the addition of a synthetic chemical and known carcinogen, Diethanolamine – DEA, to the coconut oil. It's therefore no longer natural, or even what you could call safe!
If we look at the term “organic” on a label, we usually think it means “grown and cultivated without the use of chemicals” as stated above. That's the conclusion most "natural" skin care companies would like us to come to when they use the rather loose term organic and natural. Unscrupulous skin care companies are cynically using the chemistry definition of “organic” – which is also defined in the dictionary as "a compound that contains a carbon atom" to confuse consumers. This is known in the trade as confusion advertising so the real picture becomes blurred. Carbon is found in everything that has ever lived. Vested interests - by using this definition of organic, they're saying that a toxic petrochemical preservative called Methyl Paraben is “organic” because it was formed from natural leaves that rotted over thousands of years to become crude oil, which was then used to make this toxic totally un-natural preservative they put in "organic" skin care.
Fortunately, there is a very simple way to differentiate between the hype and the truth in skin care and that is to read the ingredient list on the label. It's a legal requirement that all skin care products, natural or otherwise, must be labelled with the ingredients in descending order of their quantity in the product. A good rule of thumb is to divide the ingredient list into thirds: the top third usually contains 90-95% of the product, the middle third usually contains 5-8% and the bottom third, 1-3%. All-in-all, there is a very strong argument for making your own skincare creams and lotions with Essential Oils.
Of course, skincare is not confined to the facial skin, although more attention is lavished on that part of our skin than any other, partly because the face is constantly exposed to the weather, environmental pollution, central heating and other harmful elements, and partly because of the importance most of us attach to our facial appearance. Aromatherapy treatments, in the form of massage, creams, lotions and aromatic baths, can be applied with much benefit to the skin of the entire body. Next to the skin of the face, the hands are probably the area to which we give the most care, and it is very easy to produce good and effective handcrcams.
Some Aromatherapists are trained, or choose to specialise, in skincare only, rather than the wider clinical field and I think it is important that we should acknowledge the value of their work. The whole process of being looked after, massaged, pampered and made to feel good is wonderfully relaxing, and from that point of view can be seen as a valuable therapy in its own right, quite apart from the direct physical benefits to the skin.
The Essential Oils which can be used in skin treatment are so many and varied, that for ease of reference they are described under the entries for various skin types, and different skin problems. You will find entries for DRY SKIN, OILY SKIN, IRRITATED SKIN, SENSITIVE SKIN, WRINKLES, SKIN PATCH TEST, and also ACNE, DERMATITIS, ECZEMA and PSORIASIS as well as entry under SKIN and SEBUM which gives a fuller account of the functions of the skin and how Essential Oils interact with it.
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