Aromatic oils date to Neolithic times, but they’re hardly old news. In a lackluster year for natural personal care, aromatherapy’s a shining star. Sales of natural aromatherapy and body oils grew 10 percent in the combined natural and conventional channels from April 2009 to April 2010, according to SPINS, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm.
“There’s a strong correlation with the green movement that is happening right now, as people are becoming aware of the issues surrounding products that contain chemically derived ingredients and materials that contribute to the toxic load in the body and the environment,” says Kerry Watson, manager of content development at SPINS. “As a result, consumers are choosing aromatherapy products made from natural sources over those made from synthetic sources.”
At the same time, consumers are learning that essential oils provide real, noticeable healing benefits, not just a pretty smell. Sourcing better-quality oils in the past 10 years ensures consumers see—and believe—the benefits. “The quality of essential oils has improved significantly,” says Mindy Green, a Minneapolis-based herbalist, aesthetician and coauthor of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art (Crossing Press, 2009). “It’s not difficult for consumers to get the dual physical and emotional benefits.”
And a growing body of research will continue to back up these benefits in the future. “In the next five to 10 years, we’ll see a lot more research on essential oils for health and beauty,” says Tim Blakley, aromatherapist and educator for Urbana, Iowa-based aromatherapy manufacturer Aura Cacia.
To steer customers toward the top three essential oils for beauty, read on.
Lavender is safe for all skin and hair types, including couperose (dilated capillaries) and sensitive skin. This multitasking oil quiets acne, helps heal bruises and soothes irritation, psoriasis, sunburn, stings and bites, according to Lora Cantele, a Woodstock, Ill.-based registered clinical aromatherapist and president of the Alliance of International Aromatherapists. As a cell regenerator, lavender slows wrinkles and helps heal scars and varicose veins. Lavender also works as an antiseptic on burns and wounds.
“When in doubt, use lavender,” says herbalist Green.
Lavender has a reputation for “lifting the spirit” and balancing emotions, according to Green, so it does dual duty by reducing stress that may be causing breakouts. And it has a universally pleasing scent.
Lavender can be used alone, as in directly on a small burn (not sunburn); with a carrier oil or lotions for skin care, especially on sensitive skin and the face; and in bath oils and salts.
Product ideas: Dr. Hauschka Lavender Bath, Aura Cacia Soothing Organic Milk & Oat Bath, hello mellow Rejuvenate Avocado-Mango Body Butter, Deep Steep Lavender-Chamomile Moisture Stick
From fighting the plague to curing hangovers, rose remains a prized healer with many uses, including personal care. Similar to lavender, rose has a likeable scent and serves as a jack-of-all-trades for every skin and hair type. It’s antibacterial and antiviral, as well as highly cytophylactic, meaning it stimulates new-cell production—a boon for aging and sun-damaged skin. Because rose rehydrates, rejuvenates and tones due to its slightly astringent quality, the oil is effective on dry, mature, flushed and reddened skin. “You can’t go wrong with rose, even for sensitive skin,” says Green.
A recent study also suggests that using rose oil in combination with other essential oils may promote skin permeation, making rose oil especially effective in blends—a growing trend in the aromatherapy category. “Rose and chamomile is easily one of our best-selling essential oil blends,” says Emma Mann, director of marketing for Corte Madera, Calif.-based personal care manufacturer EO Products.
Product ideas: Goddess Garden Rose Otto Toner, Aura Cacia Precious Essentials Rose Absolute, EO Rose and Chamomile Softening Complex Shower Gel
Pristine tea tree
Numerous studies back tea tree oil’s powerful antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties. Additional studies show the oil boosts the immune system, reduces inflammation and stimulates new cell growth. Common applications for everyday use include balancing oily skin, as well as eliminating dandruff, dermatitis, rashes and bites, according to Green.
Pimply-faced teens in particular may find tea tree oil crucial for surviving adolescence. “Using tea tree with bergaptin-free bergamot oil is a great combination for combating acne,” says Cantele. Bergaptine is a chemical in some essential oils that can cause a harmful skin reaction when skin is exposed to sunlight.
Product ideas: Dessert Essence Blemish Touch Stick with Eco-Harvest Tea Tree Oil, Goddess Garden Immortelle Facial Serum, Skin Organics Tea Tree Breakout Blaster, NOW Foods Lavender-Tea Tree Oil
Jenn Weede is a freelance writer and stylist who has spent too much time in the Colorado sunshine. She’s now forced to admit it’s time for antiaging, regenerating skin care.