Posted on

All About Essential Oils

Aromatherapy

There is a lot of misunderstanding about what essentials oils are. I often hear people assume that essential oils and fragrance oils are the same thing. Within the handcrafting circle I often see well meaning but misguided people using essential oils in products that simply shouldn’t contain them. In this article I discuss the basics of what essential oils are and provide some historical context.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential Oils
Aromatherapy is the use of plant extracts and essential oils for healing and cosmetic purposes.

Every plant produces oils which they use as part of their natural metabolism and normal functioning. Essential oils are the natural oils that are derived from a plant through the process of extraction methods. Extraction methods vary, but overall they focus on separating the oil from the other plant matter. The oil obtained shares the same chemical and aromatic properties of the plant it was derived from. The oils are considered an ‘essence’ of the plant, hence the name ‘essential oils’.

Ancient civilizations and cultures developed very effective remedies and plant-based medicines which were appropriate for their time. Today this knowledge lives on within the realm of essential oils. Essential oils are simply an extension of ‘traditional’ medicines such as ancient herbal and plant medicine. In our modern times the therapeutic use of essential oils is known as ‘aromatherapy’, and there is strong scientific evidence that essential oils are effective in treating & relieving a wide range of health issues.

The History of Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has a long and rich history spanning thousands of years. While the term ‘aromatherapy’ is a relatively modern term, the actual use of herb and plant-based medicine has been observed by literally every major civilization in recorded history. There is even evidence to suggest that plant-based medicine was used as long ago as 18,000 BC, essentially a period pre-dating the rise of any and all civilizations. There is a lot of evidence that the world’s most proliferate civilizations looked to herb and plant-based medicine for thousands of years. The medicinal and psychological effects of plants would have been noted following ingestion or inhaling smoke produced while burning. This knowledge would have been passed down through the generations as ‘tribal wisdom’ and considered essential for survival.

Essential Oils
Essential oils have a long and rich history, originally knowledge would have been passed down as ‘tribal wisdom’.

China and India, both among the oldest and most powerful of ancient civilizations, have produced some of the oldest surviving medical (plant-based) texts in history. Egypt, a very successful and powerful civilization, had an impressive grasp of herbal medicine. Egypt produced many texts on the subject and it’s even believed that they discovered an early method of distilling oils from plant matter. Major European civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans also discovered the positive properties of herbs and plants for medical purposes. Between European and Egyptian culture, the knowledge of herbal medicine spread to the Arabian cultures of the time. In America too, Native American Indians and the Aztec empires both had their own beliefs and uses for plant-based medicine.

It’s no surprise then that every major civilization developed its own sense of spirituality, culture and medicine linked directly to their own understandings of plant and herb-based wisdom. They all incorporated incense and plant offerings into their medical rituals, but also into their spiritual rituals and offerings to their gods. The entire underpinnings of their cultures and beliefs were based on their knowledge and understanding of plant-lore, it’s quite amazing when you think about it.

The use of plant oils begins with the Egyptians. They are well-known for their love of perfume and anointing ointments. There is evidence to suggest that the ancient Egyptians discovered a way to extract essential oils from plant matter.  Their early techniques of obtaining essential oils were based on an infusion method, wherein plant matter is heated with a carrier oil which in turn absorbs the oils contained in the plant. However, we know that by around the 3rd century BC they demonstrated primitive distillation methods too.

Fast-forward to the renaissance period (about 1300 – 1600 AD) and the study of essential oils has caught the attention of objective mainstream science. While essential oils were of particular interest to a number of prominent thinkers of the time, there was one man in particular who made a massive contribution to essential oils as we know them today. Abu Alo al-Husayn, more commonly known as Avicenna, was a highly regarded Arab physician and considered one of the leading thinkers of his time. He was a learned man who studied many fields, including medicine, philosophy and the natural sciences. He produced many publications, many which remained as mainstream texts in universities long after his death. He is credited with inventing, or at the very least perfecting the distillation extraction process as we know it in the modern age (ie, he figured out how to effectively remove oils from plant matter using specialized equipment).

Modern Times & Aromatherapy

Improvements in the field of chemistry in the 18th and 19th century eventually began moving science away from studying plant-based chemicals in an attempt to discover synthetic chemicals and to refine the production of such chemicals. It quickly became apparent how easy and cheap it was to mass-produce synthetic chemicals for medicinal uses compared to the relatively inefficient process of extracting essential oils. Therefore society began leaning more on synthetic chemicals for medicine, and forgoing plant-based medicine of the past.

However, the role of essential oils and plant-based medicine still remained of interest to a number of scientists. One such scientist was Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist who worked for his families perfume company. At some stage in the 1920s he was introduced to some of the literature surrounding essential oils by a colleague. This sparked an interest and he went on to discover that many of the essential oils used by his company (which at that time had only been used for perfume) were actually better antiseptics than synthetic drugs of the time. He eventually concluded that essential oils should be given more weight in the modern medical world. He went on to coin the term ‘aromatherapie’ in a scientific paper (and later in a book) he published. For this reason Gattefosse is considered one of the founding fathers of aromatherapy as we know it today.

This pioneering work was carried on by other prominent scientist, and by the mid-1900s ‘aromatherapy’ had become a legitimate and accepted practice. Today individuals around the world are using aromatherapy techniques to to bring mindfulness, health and happiness to people from all walks of life.

We Use Essential Oils In…

Posted on

Epsom Salt

Epsom Salt
Epsom salt isn’t actually salt – it’s a pure mineral consisting of magnesium and sulfate.

Despite its name, epsom salt isn’t actually a salt in the normal sense. Instead, it’s a naturally occurring mineral named after a small English town where it first became known. It’s pure magnesium and sulfate and it has a long history of being a natural remedy for all sorts of issues. Even today it’s still commonly used in a wide range of  applications, from health & beauty needs, through to garden growth and support.

Benefits of Epsom Salt

  • It’s a great detox: by dissolving epsom salt into your bath water, you’re promoting the removal of toxins from your body.
  • It eases stress and relaxes your body: magnesium is consumed by your body during normal functioning. This is especially true when you’re stressed. By soaking in an epsom salt bath you’re replenishing magnesium in your body which results in better serotonin production.
  • It relieves pain and muscle cramps: soaking in an epsom salt bath will ease inflammation and pain across your body.
  • It promotes muscle and nerve function: an epsom salt bath helps your body regulate electrolytes, plus epsom salt (magnesium) is essential for creating calcium, which your body needs for efficient nerve conduction.

We Use It In…

Posted on

Sugar

Sugar
Sugar
Sugar has a rich history and is commonly used in many products across the board.

Society has used sugar for a long time. It’s plentiful and cheap now, but it used to be expensive and was a rare commodity. Because of this honey was commonly used as a sweetener before sugar became easy to access. The sugarcane was native to parts of Asia and modern day India. The sugarcane was mostly overlooked until methods originating in India discovered a way to extract sugar cubes which were easy to store and transport. From India, sugar was traded around the world as ‘khanda’ which is origin of the word ‘candy’.

Benefits of Sugar

  • It encourages cell turnover: sugar is a natural source of glycolic acid, which penetrate and breaks down old & weak bonds between cells leading to new cell growth.
  • It’s a great exfoliate: sugar granules help scrub away dead skin and other blemishes. Compared to salt, it’s not as rough around the edges meaning it’s not as harsh on your skin.

We Use It In…

Posted on

Himalayan Salt

Himalayan Salt
Himalayan Salt
Himalayan salt mined from the Himalayan mountain region brushing Pakistan.

Himalayan salt is rock salt which is mined from the Himalayan mountain region brushing Pakistan. It’s common for the salt crystals appearing in a reddish or pink colour, while some also having an off-white transparent colour. The reason for this alluring colour range is due to the high mineral count present. It’s commonly used in cooking and for certain bath products, such as bath salts. Humans have an interesting relationship with salt – historically it’s been extremely valuable, often been traded for it’s weight in gold. This has given rise to the sayings ‘worth its salt’ and ‘salt of the earth’.

Benefits of Himalayan Salt

  • It has a high mineral count: a mineral-rich composure provides a broad range of benefits, ranging from cooking-related benefits to better quality skin & body products.
  • It makes a great exfoliate: salt is relatively abrasive due to its sharp edges. This makes it a perfect exfoliate when used in many body and skin products.

We Use It In…

Posted on

Coffee

Coffee
Coffee
Coffee has a rich history with many cultures across the world.

We all know and love it as a drink. Coffee has a rich history with many cultures across the world dating back to as far as the 10th century. It also has a dark part of history too; after becoming widely commercially valuable slavery was used as a means to mass-produce crops during appox. 1500s – late 1800s. Today coffee is the beloved drink of the people all over the world.  Lately it has become quite the craze as a main ingredient within scrubs too. It turns out that there are good reasons for this that go beyond our basic love affair with it as a pick-me-up.

Benefits of Coffee

  • Aromatherapy properties: it can help gain a clear mind and reduce headaches.
  • It’s a natural antioxidant: which aids in reducing free radicals and reducing imperfections of the skin. This is why coffee claims usefulness for dealing with issues such as cellulite.
  • It’s a great exfoliate: the granules of coffee help scrub away dead skin and other blemishes.

We Use It In…

Posted on

Soy Wax

Soy Wax
Soy Wax
Soy Wax is a 100% natural, renewable and eco-friendly resource.

Soy wax is a natural plant-based wax that is much better for the environment than traditional waxes. Often, and especially in the case of cheap candles, wax is paraffin-based which basically means it’s produced from petroleum/coal and other fossil fuels. Soy wax however is produced from the soybean, which means it’s a completely renewable resource. Upon harvest soybeans undergo processing during which they are cleaned, cracked and eventually broken into flakes. The end result is that the flakes, which now resemble wax, provide a 100% green source of clean burning for all-natural candles. The leftover bean husks are usually used as animal feed so there’s no additional waste.

Benefits of Soy Wax

  • It’s 100% green: it’s a completely renewable resource, there is no relying on paraffin-based wax.
  • It lasts longer: it burns at a lower temperature than paraffin-based wax which means that it isn’t consumed as quickly, giving you more enjoyment out of your candle.
  • It burns cleanly: because it’s a vegetable-based wax there is minimal soot produced by the flame.

We Use It In…

Posted on

Vitamin E Oil

Vitamin E Oil
Vitamin E Oil
Vitamin E oil greatly improves overall product life by preventing rancidity.

Vitamin E oil is an antioxidant which helps repair damaged cells and maintain general cell integrity. It is mainly extracted from sunflower, safflower, canola and olive oils, though it is also found in many different natural grains, nuts, and fruits. It’s had a long history of having great rejuvenation qualities, which is why it’s often a main component of specialist skin care products which aim to reduce imperfections such as scarring.

Benefits of Vitamin E Oil:

  • It’s great for skin repair: it has a long and well-recognised history of being very capable of repairing skin damage and maintaining cellular integrity.
  • It greatly reduces oil rancidity: the inclusion of vitamin E oil significantly reduces the rate at which a skin care product and its ingredients deteriorate. This basically means that a product will last much longer before the oils and other components start to turn rancid.

We Use It In…

Posted on

Rosehip Oil

Rosehip Oil
Rosehip Oil
Rosehip oil is treasured for its strong regenerative properties.

Think of rosehip oil as a multivitamin for your skin. It’s a pressed seed oil extracted from the fruit of the rose bush and related species, usually (but not always) from the southern Andes which is why it’s quite expensive. It’s had a quick rise to fame lately, becoming recognised as a ‘super-rejuvenation’ oil. It’s rich in essential fatty acids, plus all the usual vitamins & antioxidants that you’ve come to expect of a premium skin oil. The key to rosehip oil is the fatty acids it contains, omega-3, 6 & 9, which our skin and body love but can’t produce itself. These fatty acids are great for helping our skin cells regenerate and repair damaged tissue. Plus, it has a range of different antioxidants which are effective in repairing damage from the sun or just from living.

Benefits of Rosehip Oil

  • It’s super regenerative: it’s become recognised as one of the leaders for repairing damaged skin due to its high levels of antioxidants and fatty acids. It’s so good at doing this that it’s somewhat of a specialist. Any skin care product containing rosehip oil as a main ingredient will treat your skin really well.

We Use It In…

Posted on

Cocoa Butter

Cocoa Butter
Cocoa Butter
Applying cocoa butter will make your skin feel as good as your taste buds do when eating chocolate.

Ah chocolate, the nemesis of womankind. The sweet dark cocoa bean can be harvested into some of the most tasty morsels ever created. However, it can also be harvested for something just as satisfying for your skin as it is for your taste buds. Cocoa beans can actually produce some of the richest and most natural product that your cosmetic collection will ever see.

The cocoa bean was first utilised by the Mayan and other South American civilizations thousands of years ago. It was used as both an asset for certain medicinal recipes as well as a form of currency. In the early 1500’s it was introduced to Europe where its full potential for a number of different uses, including being made into a form of oil or butter for skin healing purposes, was discovered. It’s well known for its high level of healthy fats which are capable of retaining moisture and other vitamins & minerals.

Benefits of Cocoa Butter

  • It’s an amazing moisturiser: it contains high levels of triglycerides, healthy fats that retain and disperse moisture across and into the skin.
  • It’s a great antioxidant: helping with general skin repair and many generalised skin conditions.
  • It makes skin look and feel great: regular use will help with anything from stretch mark reduction to chapped lips.

We Use It In…

Posted on

Avocado Oil

Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is the up-and-coming oil in the skin care world.
Avocado oil is the up-and-coming oil in the skin care world.

Avocado oil is the unknown treasure in skin care. Unlike the well-known coconut oil, olive oil and more recently rosehip oil, avocado oil is the up-and-coming rookie. It’s processed from the fleshy pulp that surrounds the large pit. Avocado oil is great, it contains a lot of protein & unsaturated fat which is perfect for the skin. It’s rich in antioxidants and vitamin A, B1, B2, D & E, plus contains a heap of natural minerals, protein and acids. It has a thick and luxurious texture which is absorbed into the upper layers of the skin.

Benefits of Avocado Oil

  • It’s great for skin repair: it contains many healing and regenerative properties helping skin repair damage.
  • It helps skin conditions: it will help issues of dryness such as eczema and other skin irritations.
  • It makes skin look great: its a natural cocktail to soften and smooth your skin helping with blemishes and wrinkles.

We Use It In…