It is believed that the oils trigger smell receptors in the nose, prompting the transmission of chemical messages that are closely associated with moods and emotion. Coupling this olfactory trigger with the topical use of essential oils creates a truly unique treatment for each client.
WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?
Essential oils are derived from plants and there are various methods of extracting the oil. The list of essential oils is long and the benefits of each are unique. Out of the vast number of plant species, essential oils have been well-characterized and identified from only a few thousand plants. There are roughly 400 to 500 essential oils commercially produced. The top essential oils are fairly common: rose, lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, and frankincense. Younger plants produce the most oil but are not as rich as older plants. Older plants are richer in resinous and darker oils because of the continuing evaporation of the lighter fractions of the oil. Where botanicals store their essential oil varies from plant to plant. Some store their oil within their leaves or flowers, while others may store the beneficial oil within their rinds, seeds, or other plant parts. The amount of oil a plant can produce often affects the cost of the essential oil; sometimes, it may not be worth extracting the oil at all.
There are many oils that have no therapeutic benefit and some can be hazardous. The essential oil in a plant has two types of functions: protection and communication. It gives the host plant protection form pathogenic microorganisms, like bacteria and fungi. It also prevents herbivores from consuming the plant. The unique fragrance surrounding the plant can attract a certain species of bee, thus helping the plant reproduce. The oils are stored as micro-droplets in glands of plants. After diffusing through the walls of the glands, the droplets spread over the surface of the plant before evaporating and filling the air with perfume.
When it comes to determining the different grades of essential oils, there is no agency or generally accepted organization that certifies or grades oils in the United States or throughout the world.
Therapeutic grade, medicinal grade, or aromatherapy grade are different types of grades professionals may see. Companies that use the therapeutic grade or aromatherapy grade may be trying to convey that their essential oils were carefully sourced for the use of holistic aromatherapy. Essential oils that carry these labels are likely trying to convey the importance of seed quality, soil condition, growing conditions, and harvesting, as well as the care during distillation. However, the "grade" system for essential oils is not regulated at this time and consumers should understand what they are looking for or what conditions they prefer the oils to be produced in.
There are two key methods to extracting essential oil: distillation and expression.
Distillation is a process that has been practiced since ancient times. Distillation can be achieved in three different ways: water distillation, water and steam distillation, and straight steam distillation.
Water distillation is a method where the plant material is placed in boiling water. The steam and oils are captured and then separated out to produce the essential oil. Since water and essential oils do not mix, the essential oil will be found on the surface of the water where it is siphoned off. Occasionally, the essential oil is heavier than water and is found on the bottom rather than the top, such as with clove essential oil. This method is the most cost-effective.
Water and steam distillation is where steam and water are pushed around and through the plant material. The steam and oils are then captured and separated out to produce the essential oil. During this process, the water remains below the plant material, which has been placed on a grate while the steam is introduced from outside the main still (indirect steam).
Straight steam distillation is the most commonly used method. Distilling essential oils using the straight steam method involves pushing steam through the plant material and then picking up the essential oil. During this process, steam is injected into the still, usually at slightly higher pressures and temperatures than the other two methods.
Expression, which is also known as cold pressing, is a method of extraction specific to citrus essential oils, such as tangerine, lemon, bergamot, sweet orange, and lime. In previous times, expression was done in the form of sponge pressing, which was accomplished by hand.
Enfleurage is one of the oldest methods of extracting essential oils and is rarely used because of its high cost. It involves placing the flower petals on a layer of glass that is first spread with a thin layer of fat called chassis. After the volatile oil diffuses into the fat, the fat is collected and the oil is extracted from the fat using alcohol. Once the alcohol evaporates, what is left behind is the absolute. This process is very time-consuming, but it was the only way to extract oil from delicate flowers, like jasmine.
There are other methods of extracting essential oil, such as maceration, solvent extract, and mechanical pressing.
ESSENTIAL OIL BENEFITS
Common skin disorders can be treated with essential oils, such as acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. It is important to use a carrier oil when using essential oils on the skin. Common carrier oils include coconut oil, grapeseed oil, hemp seed oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, and sweet almond oil.
Acne can benefit from essential oils. Tea tree oil is antimicrobial and antifungal. It is best used on mild-to-moderate acne. Essential oil treatments for acne can include mixing a few drops of tea tree oil with 20 to 40 drops of witch hazel and applying the mixture to affected areas twice a day. Clients should not overuse this treatment, however, as it can be drying to the skin.
Lavender oil is considered to have profound skin benefits because of its antimicrobial and antioxidant characteristics.
An important ester present in clary sage, linalyl acetate, reduces skin inflammation and works as a natural remedy for acne and skin irritations. It also regulates the production of oil on the skin, a factor that is often associated with breakouts. Clary sage also curbs the growth and spread of bacteria, alleviates feelings of stress and anxiety, and supports hormonal balance. Stress is a major cause of adult acne, which is another reason aromatherapy plays an important role in this common skin condition.
Juniper berry essential oil has natural antibacterial and antimicrobial abilities, making it one of the most popular natural remedies for fighting skin irritations and infections. It serves as a home remedy for acne and supports beautiful skin. It also has detoxifying and stress-reducing properties that protect the body against toxins that lead to acne.
Coconut oil hydrates the skin and is able to penetrate the skin on a deeper level than the average product because of its low molecular weight and the way it bonds with proteins.
Grapeseed oil is a good carrier oil for acne. It is a dry, light, and cool oil. It is a great, almost neutral base oil high in vitamins C and E. It works well on dry acne and blemishes with dry skin on the surface can benefit from this oil.
Jojoba oil is a dry, light, cool, and almost neutral oil with great absorptive properties. Jojoba also has qualities that help with moisture retention, preventing the skin from overcompensating with more oil production. It also has healing abilities for wounds caused by acne. Mixing a few drops of tea tree oil with either of these carrier oils can act as a great hydrator while treating acne.
Borage oil is extracted from the seeds of the Borago plant. It is rich in gamma-linolenic acid, which is an essential fatty acid that the body does not naturally produce. These essential fatty acids must be taken from a food source or other sources. Borage oil can be taken as an herbal supplement or applied topically to the skin. It has some anti-inflammatory properties and can also reduce the reddening of the skin. Jojoba oil is a nice carrier for this essential oil.
Like borage oil, rosehip oil has a high concentration of the essential fatty acid, GLA. Essential fatty acids are necessary to the creation and maintenance of healthy skin on a cellular level, through which nutrients pass into the cells. Rosehip oil is used on rosacea as an antiseptic and to regulate sebum production.
Tamanu oil has been shown to be anti-inflammatory. It can help with the reduction of the inflammatory response that usually accompanies various skin disorders and can be helpful in treating rosacea.
Tamanu oil also promotes blood circulation and protects small capillaries.
Frankincense has anti-inflammatory properties and when it is added to a blend, it increases the potency of the other essential oils it is paired with. Clients can mix two ounces of soft shea butter with seven-to-10 drops of frankincense essential oil and apply the mixture to affected areas to help soothe extremely dry skin.
Melrose essential oil is a powerful blend of tea tree, rosemary, clove, and niaouli essential oil. This powerful combination is known for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It supports the skin and promotes the regeneration of new cells and tissues. Mixing this oil with vitamin E oil and/or coconut oil helps reduce inflammation while soothing the skin.
Helichrysum oil is effective for alleviating inflammation, itchiness, and pain and promotes skin renewal. It is distilled from the flower cluster of an evergreen herb and is one of the most precious and sought after essential oils. When mixed with a carrier oil, helichrysum is wonderful for eczema.
While psoriasis is caused by an autoimmune disorder that produces raised, red, scaly patches on the skin, using certain essential oils can help alleviate any discomfort caused by this skin condition. There are few studies about the treatment of psoriasis and essential oils and essential oils are not recommended as a primary treatment option. They should be used as a supplemental treatment to clients' regular regimen. Common oils used for psoriasis relief include tea tree, lavender, geranium, peppermint, and black seed oils. The common carrier oils used for psoriasis include coconut oil, argan oil, and castor oil.
Tea tree oil supports a healthy immune system. It may help in warding off an infection and easing inflammation. It is important not to use too much of this oil as it can dry the skin and make the condition worse; less is more. Using a carrier oil that has hydrating properties can make this treatment effective.
Lavender oil can be helpful in lessening itching caused by psoriasis. It is also antibacterial and antifungal, so it can keep the affected area clean. Mixing lavender oil with an unscented, dye-free lotion is a soothing treatment.
Geranium oil can improve circulation, lessen inflammation, and reduce stress. It also promotes the regeneration of healthy skin cells. Geranium oil can be irritating without a carrier oil, so it is always recommended to mix this essential oil when using it on the skin.
Peppermint oil may help the most with itching and painful psoriasis patches. There are roughly 25 species of peppermint plants with over 600 varieties. No matter which variation is being used, the menthol is what gives this oil its active feeling. A popular home remedy involves combining one cup of distilled water with five-to-seven drops of peppermint essential oils in a spray bottle. Clients can spray this mixture onto painful, itchy skin for soothing relief.
When treating any skin disorder with essential oils or home remedies, clients should always consult their physician to ensure there will be no counter interactions. Always do a patch test before using essential oils to be sure they will not cause an allergic reaction.
Some of the health benefits of aromatherapy include its ability to reduce anxiety, ease depression, boost energy levels, speed up the healing process, eliminate headaches, boost cognitive performance, induce sleep, strengthen the immune system, reduce pain, improve digestion, and increase circulation. Using essential oils topically only adds to the amazing benefits of coupling aromatherapy with skin treatments. Blending essential oils for the treatment of skin ailments is a practice that is evolving more and more. Incorporating essential oils into the treatment room will allow professionals to treat more than their clients' skin. When doing a thorough skin analysis professionals can determine which essential oils will be best for their clients' needs. A sensory experience, along with a beautiful skin treatment is what clients never knew they wanted.
Courtney La Marine has been a licensed aesthetician since 2006 and continues to grow and learn in the skin care industry every day. She is based in Denver and owns Clove Studios. She also currently works with Sciote Skin as their director of operations and education, creating all of their skin protocols, as well as a unique massage technique used exclusively through their line. La Marine is a result-driven professional who loves what she does, creates unique treatments for each client, and wants to give clients the skin they deserve. Staying current with new trends, innovative ingredients, and the latest technologies is of the upmost importance to her.