What Are Essential Oils?
Before we can get into the benefits of Pre essential oils, let’s duscuss what essential oils are. They are highly-concentrated essences derived from different parts of aromatic plants, including bark, leaves and flowers. Essential oils have been in use for thousands of years, dating as far back as Egyptian times where they were used in mummification. Frankincense and Myrrh are but a few examples.
A number of methods are used to concentrate the plant’s potent compounds into an essential oil. There is the cold-process method, which invlives applying high amounts of pressure to the plant material and collecting it (much like cold pressing olives). Other methods include steam distillation, CO2 extraction, solvent extraction, and others. The first two involve the least amount of manipulation and do not involve the addition of solvents.
Benefits of Using Essential Oils
Today, essential oils are used in the beauty, spa and perfume industries for their aromatherapeutic properties and to impart natural scents to products. They have been found useful and effective as insect repellents and are included in everything from pain relief ointments to cleaning agents to toothpaste. Many herbalists and holistic practitioners find essential oils useful to their clients. Properties of specific essential oils are listed below.
Precautions with Using Essential Oils
While truly natural, pure essential oils are very potent, concentrated oils with hundreds of bio-active compounds. As such, they should never be applied directly to skin in their undiluted form. They are usually combined with a carrier oil before being sold for personal use. It is also important to do a patch test to determine whether or not one is allergic to a particular essential oils. Many oils can cause sun-sensitivity, or are inappropriate to use if one is pregnant or nursing. Finally, check the labels to see what the standardized concentrations are and what carrier oil is used, in order to avoid allergic reactions. If any oil causes redness or irritation, it should be discontinued. Essential oils are also expensive due to the work required to gather huge amounts of plant material for distillation. As a result, synthetic oils have been developed that do not contain the many active ingredients found in pure essential oils. Moreover, pure essential oil composition can vary depending on many factors, so standardized and synthetic versions are created to maintain consistency.
Phytoestrogens vs Xenoestrogens
There’s been some talk about the “estrogenic” activity of plants vs that of synthetic compounds. Many roots, seeds and grains contain what’s known as “phytoestrogenic” compounds – plant-based compounds that serve to reduce the amount of estrogen in the bloodstream. This can result in a reduction in menopausal symptoms in women, for example. “Xenoestrogens”, on the other hand, are synthetic compounds (like BPA) which can increase the body’s store of estrogen, with deleterious effects. If you have any doubts about using an essential oil, consult an herbal practitioner, particularly if you wish to use essential oils on young children.
Favorite Essential Oils
- Eucalyptus Oil – A native of Australia, it contains the compound eucalyptol, a menthol found in rubs, inhalers, liniments, rash creams and mouthwashes.
- Lavender Oil – There are a few varieties, with Lavendula Angustifolia being the most often used in aromatherapy. Its sweet, floral and herbaceous scent has been found to relax, sooth and refresh. It is very highly regarded in the beauty and perfume industries. It is also a wonderful culinary herb that likes sunchine and well-drained soil. It is the main essential oil in our best-selling “Relax” Botanical Handmade Bar Soap with Lavender and Rosemary Oils.
- Lemongrass Oil – Cymbopogon Flexuosus has a light, fresh citrus aroma with earthy undertones. Rejuvenating, stimulating and balancing, it has been shown to improve mental clarity. It is also a popular culinary herb in Thai cuisine. It is the main essential oil in our “Purify” Botanical Bar Soap with Lemongrass Oil.
- Sweet Orange Oil – Citrus Sinensis is naturally cold-pressed from fresh orange peels. It has a rich citrus scent that can be uplifting. It is high in the powerful antioxidant d-limonene and other antioxidants. It is the main essential oil in our “Indulge” Botanical Bar Soap with Orange Oil and Cocoa Powder and our “Awaken” Body Smoother Sugar Scrub.
- Peppermint Oil – Mentha Piperita has a strong, clean, fresh minty aroma. Renowned for soothing digestion, it is popular in toothpaste and breath mints. It is one of the essential oils in our All Purpose Body Balm with Eucalyptus and Peppermint Oils. Avoid using on infants and young children.
- Tea Tree Oil – Melaleuca Alternifolia is indigenous to Australia. It has been shown to contain compounds that can help soothe bites and other irritations, and has a wide range of uses. No medicine cabinet should be without it! It is one of the essential oils in our All Purpose Body Balm with Lavender and Tea Tree Oils and in our popular “Heal” Botanical Bar Soap with Tea Tree and Oatmeal.
Organic Facts website
Essential Oils in the Ancient World, Part 1
Planta Medica paper on essential oils and estrogenic activity
Disclaimer: Statements made here are not intended to diagnose or treat diseases or medical conditions. Please consult a medical practitioner for assistance with these issues.
We’ve received many compliments on our body balms, but some might be wondering just what a balm is. Other common names are “salve” or “cream” depending on who you ask. Essentially, a balm is a waterless cream designed to soothe, heal, and/or protect in some way. Because they don’t contain water, little to no preservation is required. We help the oils retain their potency with the help of Vitamin E and rosemary resin. We are very proud of our balms, which do all three and serve multiple functions. We’d like to list some of them below:
1) Facial moisturizer
– Our balm is non-comedogenic and can be applied directly to the face as a spot treatment for dryness before makeup, or at night before bed. A little goes a long way. Balms are particularly good for individuals with normal to dry skin.
2) Hair and scalp conditioner
– For those with dry, flyaway hair, the balm helps to coat the hair shaft. Ingredients like shea butter, olive and sweet almond oils quickly add moisture and shine. A little can be massaged into the scalp to soothe itching and irritation. Again, a little goes a long way.
3) Bug repellent
– A number of essential oils like lavender, tea tree and eucalyptus are effective bug repellents. Peppermint and neem oils are also effective against pests. We use only pure essential oils, not fragrance oils, in our balms. Fragrance oils do not contain the same botanical properties as essential oils.
4) Lip gloss
– Why buy a separate product when a balm will do just as well? Use it alone over your favorite lipstick for a little shine. It also soften and protects lips with candelilla wax and castor oil.
5) Cuticle cream
– Soften and protect dry nails and cuticles throughout the day. At bedtime, you can enhance the softening effect by smoothing balm on dry hands and donning cotton gloves. In the morning, your skin will be super-soft!
6) Barrier balm
– Smooth on one of our balms on your hands before washing dishes or working in the garden to protect skin and nails from harsh chemicals and other irritants. Excess water can cause nails to thin, while detergent cleaners can leave skin dry. Balms are a quick solution that repel water for optimal protection.
7) Natural lubricant
– Instead of synthetic-based products, you can try an all-natural and sustainable alternative to help relieve chafing, diaper rash, cradle cap and other skin conditions. Re-apply as needed.
8) Skin Salve
– Use a little balm to soothe insect bites, razor burn, athlete’s foot and other skin irritations. Our Ache-Relief Balm can help reduce redness and inflammation. Apply 3-4 times and as needed for immediate relief.
9) Bear balm/hair groom
– Our balm is fine for the guys as well. Use to condition hair and soften an itchy beard. It’s great for protecting skin after shaving.
10) Wood/shoe/bag conditioner
– Yes, our balms work on wood, shoes and bags! Just rub a little onto the item with a soft cloth. It leaves a protective shine and conditions without the need for toxic sprays or expensive finishers and petroleum or animal-based waxes.
Perhaps you will think of other uses for our balms. If you do, please let us know.
Are you looking to prevent dry skin?
During cold weather months, there is a tendency for many of us to develop dry skin and hair. We can blame this on forced air heating, tightly enclosed spaces, and/or a tendency to drink less water. A combination of factors can result in a humidity level of 40% or less. When this occurs, we risk drying out mucous membranes, as well, which can lead to a higher risk of developing respiratory tract and sinus infections. Our hair can also become drier which can lead to more fly aways or static electricity.
Fortunately, there are a few things that we can do to prevent dry skin and hair resulting from these and other factors. They don’t require fancy equipment or expensive products, either. Here are a few tips:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
It may seem obvious, but colder weather often results in more sedentary behavior, diminished perspiration, and a tendency to drink less water. Alternatively, we may also drink more hot coffee, cocoa, or tea which have a diuretic effect. Alcohol has the same effect. The result is dehydration. To counteract this, it’s important for us to monitor our water intake and to drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee or glass of wine that we imbibe. We know we’re adequately hydrated when our urine is the color of light straw. This can also be affected by the foods we eat and drink (e.g., beets, cranberries juice). It is merely a rough measure of our level of hydration. If we pinch our skin and it does not retract immediately, it is also an indication of dehydration. Be sure to take into account the fruits and vegetables with a high water content that can also contribute to proper hydration.
Avoid hot water baths and showers.
This removes protective oils that keep our skin and hair pliable. Use lukewarm water instead and apply a barrier balm like our Body Balms or our Dry Oil to skin and hair immediately after bathing or showering. These products contain humectants like candelilla wax (trapping moisture) or glycerin (drawing water) which serve to trap water in the skin. Just lightly towel-dry and apply products while skin is still warm and damp. Natural oils can also help to preserve the skin’s acid mantle which can be impacted by harsh detergent cleansers and shampoos. A small application to dry hair can also help to preserve its cuticle.
Buy a hygrometer
It reads the relative humidity in any room. If the humidity level nears 40%, you have dry air that can sap moisture from skin and hair. To prevent dry skin, you can purchase a humidifier. Personal steam inhalers are also becoming popular and can help moisturize mucus membranes. We are undecided on facial mists. While refreshing during hot summer months, they are primarily water, relatively expensive, and the water evaporation may leave skin drier than before.
Use a natural moisturizer throughout the day as needed.
Be sure to read labels and avoid products containing silicone and petroleum by-products. These are neither nourishing nor earth-friendly. Products containing glycerin, castor oil, olive, jojoba, argan or other quick-penetrating oil can be beneficial for skin and hair over the long term. Coconut oil, while great to have on hand, can be drying for some when applied directly. And yes, even oily skin can benefit from oils. If you are acne-prone, try grapeseed or pumpkin seed oil. Oils that don’t clog pores (non-comedogenic) include argan and hemp seed oils. Results vary by individual, so you’ll need to experiment; a little goes a long way. Hemp, pumpkin seed, argan, and olive oil tend to become rancid easily, to it’s best to refrigerate them, or buy them in small quantities.
Moisturize while you sleep.
Many find it beneficial to use a hand cream or a foot balm with cotton gloves and socks. This gives the product a chance to sink in and soften rough areas overnight.
With a little effort, you can treat your skin to nourishing oils while preventing dry skin during the cold weather months. (Disclaimer: This information is not intended to prevent or cure disease. See your doctor if you are having respiratory, dermatological, or other symptoms of illness.)
A Gift Guide for Everyone
Most of us have probably utilized gift guides at one point or another to find great gift-giving ideas. After all, wen we are strapped for time, it’s convenient to check out curated lists where the work of researching gifts has already been done for us. The good news is that there is probably a gift guide out there for just about everyone on your list – from weddings to birthdays to holidays and beyond – as well as gifts by category like jewelry, accessories, and personal care.
One category that can sometimes be tough to shop for is males. What to get for the “man who has everything?” More and more e-commerce stores (like Touch of Modern, a favorite) are catering to male shoppers with unusual gift items.
Our body balms were created so that both men and women could benefit from their skin-soothing properties. One of them has been featured in a gift guide created by rebateszone.com. The link to their guide can be found here: http://www.rebateszone.com/men-gift-guide-gifts-under-100. Our “Ache-Away” balm includes extracts of comfrey, arnica, and turmeric, which are known for their anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. Our thanks to Rebateszone.com for including our balm in this month’s gift guide. We hope to be featured in many more guides to come.