Edition 81: Eostara 21 September 2015
Essential oils for skincare
The Protective Envelope
THE SKIN is the largest organ of the body and its functions include protection, temperature regulation and the manufacturing of vitamin D.
The skin defines the limits of the human form as a protective envelope that separates the body’s inner space from the environment and shields it from external influences.
This envelope is not a barrier and closed off to the environment; it is an open, two-way interface through which there is an exchange of warmth, air and fluids; changes in it and metabolic activity are induced by light.
The skin is also an organ of elimination, it assimilates foreign substances and excretes its own; it attempts to excrete all the poisons and toxins that the inner organs cannot eliminate, including those found in food, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. The skin also excretes its own pheromones or signature smell via the apocrine glands.
The skin is a sense organ
Sensations of coldness, warmth, pressure and light are sense functions of the skin, whilst the latter becomes evident only after the birth, in the form of skin pigmentation.
As a sense organ for feeling, it receives varied sense impressions from the outside and transmits these to the brain. Our views and concepts of the outer world may ultimately be based on these impressions.
Skin type, taken together with the hair, plays a large part in determining outward appearance.
Beauty is more than skin deep, however the skin truly reflects our inner health. It gives us clues to how we have fallen into disharmony; inner problems outwardly manifest through the skin.
Many diseases of the inner organs communicate their presence through corresponding changes in the skin.
The skin always betrays something of our soul when it turns pale, cold and clammy with fear; or glows with the warmth of enthusiasm.
Our physical activities, characteristic gestures and facial expressions are inscribed on the surface of our body as lines and wrinkles.
In this way the skin becomes a mirror of each individual’s physical and spiritual life; the human’s whole being reveals itself through this remarkable organ.
Far from impermeable
It is definitely worthwhile exploring the ecology of human skin to help us understand why using essential oils is such an invaluable therapy; we learn how the architecture of skin is the perfect vehicle to carry Nature’s plant oils into our body.
We realise that it is an ever-changing, adaptable organ that will respond very favourably to the equally dynamic, natural essences that plants provide.
It reminds us that the skin is not impermeable and that it is the second main interface (the first being ingestion at the mouth) that imbibes substances.
We notice how promptly the skin carries foreign substances into the deep interior of the body and how discerning we need to be about what those substances should be, that is, suitable plant extracts from Nature that the skin recognises.
Clearly anything that we apply to the skin must not interfere or stultify all the myriad biological functions that the skin must perform. Essential oils have been used for cosmetic purposes for thousands of years, notably the Egyptians who included frankincense and cedarwood in embalming procedures.
This very historical fact gives us the best clue to the plants oil’s value in preserving human flesh and its ability to delay decomposition - the natural course of all organic things - which is quite miraculous.
We can apply this concept to using natural aromatherapy products to help conserve the skin from free-radical damage and premature ageing.
A multi-layered complex organ
In general, the skin is divided into three layers: epidermis, dermis (cutis) and hypodermis (subcutis).
The complex epidermis has a layered structure and has an embryological connection to the nervous system and the main sense organs.
The callus surface cells are dead and are continually being sloughed off and it is here that we see the catabolic processes at work.
In the germinal layer directly adjoining the derma (which is rich in blood vessels) anabolic processes are at work in regenerative cell division.
The latter takes place for the most part at night, while we are asleep.
The new cells migrate towards the surface, simultaneously differentiating and slowly dying.
Delicate nerve plexi penetrate as far as the middle layers of the epidermis. There are no blood vessels here, only the so called “fluid gaps” which play a part in nourishing the skin.
Epidermis and derma are rhythmically joined like a mortise and tendon over the entire surface.
The appendages of the epidermis penetrate deep into the derma: the sweat glands, the hair and the sebaceous glands all become differentiated as they go deeper.
The clusters of sweat glands lay in the lower derma and together with the numerous blood vessels in this area, form a so-called vascular gland layer with excretory ducts open on the surface of the skin.
The fatty contents of the sebaceous glands are conducted to the surface along the hair shaft and it is this substance with which the essential oils have such a miscible affinity.
A rhythmical, sensitive organ
Nerve plexi are located in the outer layers of the skin at the surface where the catabolic processes of the sensory-nervous system predominate, whereas in the inner layers, near the hypodermis, blood vessels are in greater predominance with anabolic and metabolic activities.
In the intermediate zone between the epidermis and the derma, capillaries and nerves occur equally.
Anabolic (blood) and catabolic (nerve) processes counterbalance each other in rhythmic fashion here.
The nerves regulate the functioning of the sweat glands, whereas the activity of the sebaceous glands is the function of the blood.
Upon reaching the surface, sweat and sebum form an emulsion, which keeps the skin soft and smooth.
Apart from the internal and external factors, an imbalance in these processes is responsible for the skin’s being too dry or oily, cool or warm.
It also determines whether the skin has a tendency toward sclerosis or inflammation.
We see that the skin is an organ so abundant in blood vessels and nerve plexi that essential oils can achieve pronounced effects on circulation and treating nervous disorders.
Apart from the nose and direct smelling of essential oils, the skin is the other key interface for their entry into the body to treat all kinds of physiological and psychological disorders.
The latter becomes evident when applying them to our body; we experience the bonus uplifting and mind-altering effects in a very positive way.
Essential oils come into their own for treating all manner of skin imbalances, especially as a result of external conditions, because they take the natural skin processes into account.
Their consistency and the size of their molecules, not dissimilar to the skin’s own sebum, ensures efficient access into the epidermis and osmotic seepage deep into the dermis, into the bloodstream and lymph system to be transported throughout the body to exert their healing influence.
Connective interlocking tissue
The derma itself generates an abundance of connective tissue, which gives it firmness and flexibility.
The matrix of this tissue is a watery gelatinous substance, which gives the skin its smooth appearance.
As a result of the rhythmical interlocking of the two skin layers, we find an abundance of both capillary loops and nerve endings directly beneath the epidermis. As we proceed inwards, the derma gradually gives way to subcutaneous fatty tissue.
The latter is porous, fibrous tissue more or less rich in fat cells. It plays a part in regulating body heat and in determining the outer contours of the body and can act as a buffer against blows and shocks from without.
In the common, active human life span, the skin cops a lot of flak from countless minor or sometimes more serious damage, all of which can be mitigated with pertinent use of essential oils.
Essential oils prove to be effective free radical scavengers that generate cell renewal and improve elasticity in the skin.
Maintaining physiological function
As we age the natural process of cell renewal slows down and the youthful elasticity of the skin diminishes.
The appearance of the skin is determined by how quickly the dead surface cells are replaced by new cells from the dermis, the more rapidly this process occurs the more smooth and healthy the skin will appear.
Dead cells collecting on the skin’s surface make the complexion look dull and lacklustre, which is why gentle cleansing with natural essential oils is effective at removing dirt trapped in the pores and removing dead skin cells. Regular use of essential oils stimulates rapid regeneration of the cells of the dermis to help maintain a beautiful complexion as we age. They help maintain the physiological functions appropriate to each age group and each skin type.
The skin does not perceive of the friendly plant oils as foreign and imbibes them readily so each individual’s own skin constitution will adapt accordingly, bringing any imbalances into harmony.
Essential oils enhance the skin’s natural ability to heal itself, improving circulation and increasing warmth to counteract many of the stress-related skin issues that are so prevalent in modern life.
They cleanse, disinfect, stimulate, hydrate, rejuvenate, smooth, heal, sedate and nourish the three layers of the skin envelope, as well as smelling divine.
An essential oil for everyone
Essential oils are multi-dimensional and respond to and adapt to the multi-dimensional nature of human beings.
There is an essential oil suitable for everyone; for skin imbalances as well as for beautifying, cosmetic purposes.
The essential plant oils don’t promise miracles to recover lost youth, however they do allay premature ageing and allow the skin to be as healthy as it was born to be, functioning optimally in its innate interactive fashion.
The right oils may be added to moisturisers, exfoliating scrubs, toners, face oils, serums, misters, body lotions, hand creams and face masks; the possibilities are innumerable.
They make the best after-sun treatments, especially when added to calendula or St John’s wort oil. Use a 1:100 ratio of essential oil to vegetable oil for sensitive skins and up to 3:100 for normal or oily skin types.
Normal skin: If you have normal skin you can use almost any essential oil in your skin care regime, with the exception of the more irritating oils such as the spice oils. A normal healthy skin will always respond well to ubiquitous lavender and good old geranium, if nothing else is available. Rose and neroli are also superb skin conditioners if you can afford them.
Dry skin: Dry skin is caused by insufficient production of sebum, the skin’s natural lubricant.
The skin tends to be dehydrated and easily affected by the sun and wind; it tends to wrinkle more easily so it needs extra protection and moisturising.
The most suitable dry skin oils include German or Roman chamomile, rose, geranium, jasmine, sandalwood, clary sage, vetivert, orange, carrot and lavender.
Sensitive skin: Sensitive skin easily reddens and itches, reacting too readily to many usually innocuous items.
Only plant-based cosmetic products should be used with the following oils: rose, melissa, neroli, everlasting (helichrysum), German and Roman chamomiles. And a maximum one per cent essential oil combination to any formula to avoid irritation.
Both dry and sensitive skins require more attention than normal skin.
Mature skin: Mature skin is something that we will all have one day and it tends to have changing needs according to environment and lifestyle factors.
As we age the body’s functions slow down and the skin cells are not replaced as quickly and elasticity gives way to drooping.
Mature skin will always have wrinkles in their various forms and this is perfectly okay; it is a gradual process and the use of essential oils ensures that it is not catalysed too quickly, or prematurely.
Modern cosmetology offers much to counter these inevitable signs of age; however healthy, mature skin is all about health, comfort and confidence in the life story that is expressed on our faces.
The plant world helps maintain healthy skin, without the unrealistic promises. They help rehydrate, tone and restore skin elasticity without masking problems.
Mature skin oils are as follows: carrot seed, frankincense, patchouli, myrrh and sandalwood. Regular facial massage with essential oils, along with face masks, do much to restore balance and vibrancy to mature skin.
Oily skin/combination skin: Oily skin is usually a problem during adolescence, when hormones cause a flux in sebum production.
Oily skin in older people is a blessing in disguise, as this skin tends to age less swiftly if it is looked after.
It is characterised by blackheads and spots and it can appear dull and shiny with enlarged pores and sometimes a thicker, courser appearance.
Sometimes the oily areas are confined to the T-zone of the forehead, nose and chin, which is called ‘combination’ skin, when elsewhere tends to be dry.
Gentle, frequent cleansing with essential oils is great to balance out these disturbances as they have the effect of encouraging the skin’s own sebaceous glands to adjust and recover harmony.
Use lemongrass, rose and cedarwood for large pores.
Essential oils are also natural antiseptics to help heal the blemishes. People with oily skin can add suitable oils to clay masks and use facial steaming with essential oils to unblock pores.
Geranium, lavender, cedarwood, niaouli, juniper, tea tree, manuka, cypress, ylang-ylang, mandarin, grapefruit, lemongrass and lemon tea tree are all suitable for oily and combination skin types.
Essential oil combinations for skincare
Essential oils all have myriad combinations of all the therapeutic actions necessary for skincare. Below you will see very many good reasons to integrate essential oils into your skincare.
Chamomile, manuka, clary-sage, eucalyptus, fennel, helichysum, lavender, myrrh, patchouli, peppermint, pine, rose, sandalwood
Antibiotic, antiseptic oils
Tea tree, manuka, myrrh, clove, thyme, bergamot, black pepper, cajeput, camphor, chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, clary sage, clove, cypress, eucalyptus, fennel, frankincense’s, geranium, jasmine, juniper, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, lime, marjoram, myrrh, neroli, niaouli, nutmeg, oregano, peppermint, pine, rose, rodemary, sage, sandalwood, verbena, vetivert
Manuka, clove, cinnamon, tea tree, cedarwood, helichysum, lavender, lemongrass, myrrh, patchouli
Rosemary, pine, lemongrass, cypress, juniper, oregano, ginger, pimento
To diminish scar tissue
Bergamot, cajeput, chamomile, clove, cypress, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, juniper, lavender, lemon, niaouli, patchouli, rosemary, sage, tea tree
To heal wounds
Benzoin, bergamot, camphor, chamomile, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, juniper, lavender, marjoram, myrrh, niaouli, oregano, rosemary
Diaphoretic/ sudorific oils
To induce sweat
Basil, cajeput, camphor, chamomile, fennel, ginger, melissa, hyssop, juniper, lavender, myrrh, peppermint, pine, rosemary, tea tree
To soothe irritation
Cedarwood, chamomile, geranium, helichysum, jasmine, lavender, mandarin, rose, sandalwood, tangerine, verbena
To quell pain
Basil, bergamot, black pepper, cajeput, camphor, chamomile, clove, coriander, eucalyptus, geranium, ginger, lavender, marjoram, niaouli, nutmeg, oregano, peppermint, pimento, rosemary
Contract skin tissue
Benzoin, cedarwood, cypress, frankincense, geranium, helichysum, juniper, lemon, lime, myrrh, patchouli, peppermint, rose, rosemary, sage, sandalwood
Benzoin, bergamot, citronella, clary-sage, coriander, cypress, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, myrrh, neroli, patchouli, pine, petitgrain
To renew cell growth
Carrot seed, frankincense, geranium, helichysum, lavender, mandarin, neroli, rose, tangerine
To stop bleeding
Cinnamon, cypress, geranium, lemon, lime, rose
To repel insects
Aniseed, bergamot, cajeput, cedarwood, cinnamon, citronella, clove, cypress, eucalyptus, fennel, geranium, juniper, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, lime, litsea cubeba, niaouli, oregano, patchouli, pine, thyme, tea tree
To localise increase in surface blood
Black pepper, camphor, eucalyptus, ginger, juniper, oregano, pimento, pine.