We face a daily tidal wave of new, improved beauty products that will simultaneously reduce our wrinkles, cleanse our deepest pores and brighten our teeth. But increasing swathes of us are rejecting “miracle” cures & returning to more traditional methods, like aromatherapy & natural skin care.
Aromatherapy lets us breathe in or absorb the concentrated healing, relaxing or stimulating properties of a particular plant. Oils can be evaporated in burners, inhaled from a hankie or diluted in a carrier oil like sweet almond or grapeseed, which can be used for massage or added to a bath. You can even make your own soaps & bath salts with essential oils of your choice.
The web is packed with guides to making your own soap; you’ll find detailed how-tos, recipes & videos. Essentially, soapmakers combine lye, water & oil at the right temperature to let the ingredients bind smoothly. You can also use a ready-made glycerin soap base, which cuts out the science bit & leaves the more pleasant task of adding your own scents & decoration.
If DIY soap feels a bit ambitious, you could try creating your own bath salts: just mix 1/2 cup sea salt, 1/2 cup epsom salt, 1/2 cup baking soda with about 36 drops of essential oil. This will make enough for 6 baths, & could make a great gift once you’ve perfected your own blend.
Wake up & smell the rosemary
If you have trouble getting started in the morning, experiment with oils like ginger, peppermint & rosemary.
Rosemary is said to ‘wake up’ the brain in just 15 seconds, & can also improve your memory. It is a common ingredient in shampoos, as it can stimulate hair growth by increasing circulation in the scalp. Ginger is not only energising; it can also be used to alleviate travel sickness, or to reduce cold & flu symptoms.
Making it through the day
Reducing stress in your life is about more than essential oils – washing with ylang ylang won’t magically de-stress you if you’re balancing crazy hours in a high-pressure job with the demands of your home life. However – it will help. Ylang ylang does have calming properties, as well as a lovely fragrance.
Other stress-reducing oils include sandalwood, bergamot, neroli, rose & sweet marjoram.
Sandalwood has long been used in Chinese medicine to treat ailments from upsets stomach to laryngitis. Bergamot reduces both anxiety & pain.
Getting a good night’s sleep
Most people know that lavender can calm both body & mind, but lavender is not the only perfume that attracts the sandman.
Try putting a few drops of chamomile, jasmine or benzoin in your soap blend & using it during your warm bedtime bath.
Chamomile is particularly good for children, while jasmine has antidepressant as well as soothing properties. Benzoin comes from an Asian gum tree & acts as a sedative; it’s a common ingredient in incense & is helpful for those suffering from emotional exhaustion.
A few words of warning
If you do have a go at making your own traditional soap, lye is caustic, so handle it with care.
Basil, lemon, peppermint & ginger can cause skin irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin. Test them on a small area of skin before wider use.
Never apply undiluted essential oil directly to your skin.