Not all essential oils are suitable for facial treatments. Some oils, due to their chemistry, can be overly stimulating and cause irritation. There are even oils available in North America that have been identified by The International Federation of Aromatherapists as highly unsuitable for application to the skin at any time.
Essential oils should be combined with either a cold pressed vegetable carrier oil or base oil when used in facial treatments. The base oil should be chosen for its specific properties relative to the client's skin type and is as crucial as the selection of essential oils to achieving the best outcome. Both types of oils have many wonderful, beneficial properties for skin treatments, but require specific dilutions; there are also different specifications for groups of people, such as those with sensitive skin, cancer, and diabetes; children; and the elderly. When diluted in a cold pressed vegetable oil, essential oils can be safely applied to the skin and provide optimum benefits. Undiluted essential oils should not be applied to the skin as it may result in burning and major irritation.
An extensive amount of research has been done on the use of essential oils for the treatment of various skin conditions. For instance, German chamomile has been reported to have anti-inflammatory properties. The effects of chamomile were tested on 14 patients following the dermabrasion of their tattoos; it was noted that the healing and drying process was significantly increased. Studies have also compared the effects of tea tree oil and benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne – tea tree oil was found to reduce the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions at a slower rate than benzoyl peroxide, but with significantly less side effects. The research is extensive, but the greatest evidence available supports the use of essential oils in spa treatments due to their very specific chemistry, which allows essential oils to chemically combine with other ingredients and carry them into the skin. This singular property of essential oils is now being looked at by drug companies as carriers of medicinal ingredients into the skin.
PROPERTIES OF ESSENTIAL OILS
Essential oils are highly antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. They are also cytophylatic, meaning that they can speed up the removal of old cells and stimulate the growth of new ones. Essential oils are able to improve muscle tone, increase blood circulation, eliminate waste material from the cells and skin, regulate sebaceous flow, and reduce the impact of emotional stress on the skin.
Skin care treatments are currently very technically based in terms of the inclusion of machines, peels, and aggressive product formulations. Essential oils, when combined with high-quality base oils, will also help to rebuild and restore barrier function, increase cellular regeneration, and bring wonderful anti-aging properties. Skin care professionals can introduce quality blends of essential oils in combination with anti-aging products, post-peel and post-laser to restore barrier function, and during the treatment of acne.
FRANKINCENSE: The Anti-Aging Oil
Frankincense, or Boswellia carterii, has been around since ancient times. Originally found only in the harshest climate in the world – the Arabian Desert – and accessed only by desert caravans, it was, during that time, a precious gift that was considered to be as valuable as gold. Today, frankincense is grown in the surrounding areas of Somalia, Ethiopia, southern Arabia, and China. To access the oils, incisions are made into the trunk of the plant in order to allow a milky-white oleoresin to be collected. The resin hardens into an orange-brown gum that is then steam distilled for its essential oils.
There are many grades of resin; age, appearance, moisture level, and olfactory characteristics determine the quality of the oil. Grade one essential oil is distilled from the plant's tears and is most carefully selected from resin that is white or yellow in color. Other resins may be red in color and mixed with particles of bark and other foreign substances; therefore, oils that contain these resins are sold at a cheaper price.
It is a common theory that if professionals look at how or why a plant produces essential oils, they can determine its potential properties for therapeutic use. In the case of frankincense, because the tree is wounded as the bark is slashed, it then uses the natural resin that it produces to immediately heal itself and close the wound. This action makes frankincense one of the best essential oils for the renewal of damaged human cells and skin tissue. Dioscorides mentions the therapeutic use of frankincense gum to treat skin disorders and Ambroise Pare, a 16th century surgeon, treated soldiers' wounds with the plant and noted that it stopped bleeding and helped scar tissue to form quickly.
These cytophylactic properties make frankincense ideal to include in mature skin treatments for fine lines and wrinkles, along with lifting and firming treatments. Be sure to include a few drops in an eye cream or treatment mask. As a mild astringent, it will constrict and contract tissue.
This oil blends well with basil, bergamot, black pepper, geranium, jasmine, lavender, lemon, myrrh, neroli, orange, patchouli, pine, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, and ylang ylang.
GERANIUM: The Oil of Balance
Geranium is a bushy perennial shrub belonging to the Pelargonium genus, which is a very extensive family that includes over 200 species. Most of these plants originate in South Africa, but the Pelargonium graveolens, which comes from the French Reunion Islands, and is often referred to as Bourbon geranium, is thought to produce oil of the highest quality. This plant is also called rose geranium because of its rosy aroma. Unfortunately, this fine quality oil is often blended with other less expensive geranium oils from other countries.
The smell of geranium is often described as a middle position between the sweetness of roses and the sharpness of bergamot. Because of its relative neutrality, it blends well with many other oils. Geranium from China and Egypt has a sharper smell while true Bourbon geranium has a softer, rounder smell.
It is often used in skin care creams and lotions for its aroma, but is also used as an astringent and antiseptic and balances sebaceous flow. These properties makes geranium valuable for skin types that are excessively dry, oily, or combination. As an anti-inflammatory, geranium compares well against lavender and German chamomile and is highly recommended for the treatment of eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
Geranium can also be used for cuts, bruises, burns, and frostbite. In each case, the skin care professional should prepare a compress by mixing 200 milliliters of warm or cool water with 10 drops of the essential oil. Gently soak a clean gauze in the mixture and apply it to the affected area. Once the skin has healed over and the wound is no longer open, a few drops of the oil can be placed in a healing cream or ointment, such as calendula cream, and applied to the wound.
When using geranium in a blend, only a drop or two is required as it has a powerful aroma and can take over a blend, making the other oils difficult to distinguish. Like lavender, geranium has to be blended well as it not everybody's choice of aroma.
Geranium blends well with bay, basil, bergamot, carrot seed, cedarwood, citronella, clary sage, frankincense, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, lemon, lime, neroli, orange, palmarosa, patchouli, petigrain, rose, rosemary, rosewood, sandalwood, and ylang ylang.
SANDALWOOD: The Emollient
Sandalwood has recently become a precious oil. Closely controlled by the government of East India, the oil is manufactured from the coarsely ground heartwood tree. Native to southern Asia, most of the world's sandalwood, or Santalum album, is grown in the Mysore region of India. The Indian standard for Mysore sandalwood is an oil that contains a minimum of 90 percent santalols. The tree's oils cannot be obtained until the tree is 30 years old and, as a result over time, demand has outstripped the production of this sweet, woody, balsamic oil. The price has risen dramatically, now costing about $80 for five millimeters, and has also stimulated the production of artificial oils that are so similar that only a seasoned aromatherapist or correct testing would reveal its true chemistry.
Sandalwood is a great healer of the skin. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is valued for its anti-inflammatory, antifebrile, and anti-infectious properties; it is frequently applied as a paste for inflamed skin. Sandalwood is an excellent oil for the skin care professional to use in the treatment room. The strength of the essential oil lies in its emollient nature, which helps to treat dryness, dehydration, itching, irritation and inflammation, eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. Professionals should also include this oil in treatments for dry, mature skin; rosacea; and sensitive skin. One to two drops can be put in a mask or in an appropriate cold pressed carrier oil for use in a gentle facial massage.
CHAMOMILE: The Solution for Sensitive Skin
Chamomile is the name given to several species of herbs with fine, feathery leaves and daisy-like flowers. The two plants most commonly distilled for their essential oils are Roman chamomile (Chamaemeleum nobile or Anthemis nobilis) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). The therapeutic and psychological properties of their respective oils, while not identical, are very similar.
German chamomile produces a blue oil and receives its color from chamazulene, which is known as the main active constituent that gives German chamomile its soothing, calming, and anti-inflammatory properties. Chamomile can be used in hot compresses on boils, abscesses, infected cuts, and splinters.
In facial treatments, German chamomile is valuable for many skin problems due to its chamazulene and bisabol content. It is indicated for skin that is very sensitive, red, and dry. Its most important use is for the treatment of allergies; eczema; psoriasis; and all itchy, dry, flaky skin conditions. German chamomile can be diluted in evening primrose oil or jojoba oil and used in facial massage.
Roman chamomile prompts a favorable response from skin abrasions, reducing inflammation and accelerating healing. It blends well with bergamot, clary sage, geranium, lavender, lemon, sweet marjoram, neroli, orange, rose absolute or rose otto, rosewood, sandalwood, and ylang ylang.
The most beneficial reason to include essential oils in the spa is to complete the treatment of the mind, body, and spirit. The skin provides an interface with the world. It reflects a person's emotional state and can indicate levels of stress, anxiety, lost love, and spiritual crisis. In using the oils on the face, the skin care professional is in direct contact with the most powerful of the five senses: the sense of smell. The olfactory nerve is directly and instantaneously connected to the brain. The properties of the oils, whether sedating or uplifting, will directly affect the mood and well-being of the client which, in turn, contributes to the overall appearance of the skin.
Trish Green, director of sales and marketing for Eve Taylor North America, has been an educator for 40 years. She is an international speaker, educating aesthetician across the United States and Canada. As a CIDESCO aesthetician and a homeopath, she specializes in the wellness approach in her aesthetic practice, offering a unique approach to the treatment of clients in the spa.