Aromatherapy and skin care

Aromatherapy and skin care

A guide to using aromatherapy for skin care purposes, as well as a look at skin care products with aromatherapy benefits.

Photo Credit: Paige Foster
By John Casteele

Though it may seem like a new trend, aromatherapy has actually existed for close to a century if not longer. The term “aromatherapy” was coined in the 1920’s by Rene Gattfosse, a French perfume maker, but as the practice is an offshoot of herbology it may well have existed without that name for years if not decades earlier.

These days, it seems as though everything is being infused with scents for aromatherapy benefits… soaps, shampoos, candles, and even lotions can all be found with supposedly beneficial scents. At times, it can be hard to tell whether or not these are actually designed to provide some benefit, or if it’s just a marketing gimmick to sell more purple shampoo. Taking a look at some of the various skin care products that claim an aromatherapy formula, it’s easy to see that it’s actually a bit of both.

Aromatherapy and skin care actually have a long history. Many early skin care balms and lotions were made at home with herbal ingredients, providing both benefit to skin as well as a pleasant scent to calm the user. Essential oils, which are extracted from herbs and plants and are key products for aromatherapy, do sometimes have regenerative or healing effects for both the skin and the hair. Not only do they stimulate and nourish the skin, but essential oils can also boost the immune system and bring about a feeling of well-being to even the most stressed individual.

On the flip side of the equation, there are many supposed “aromatherapy” creams and products that do not contain any actual essential oils or herbal ingredients. These products are manufactured with chemicals that mimic the scents of herbs and oils used in aromatherapy, but lack the essential oils that provide some of the more healthful effects. A quick check of the ingredients label can often verify that there are no actual aromatherapy ingredients; some of the chemicals contained within can actually cause allergic reactions in some people, and are no different from the non-scented versions of the product. If the lotion or product does contain essential oils, they usually advertise it on the front of the bottle as well as in the ingredients list.

If you’re looking for soaps, lotions, or other skin care products with aromatherapy ingredients, look at health food stores or places that sell herbal remedies first. Look for products that contain essential oils, such as tea tree essential oil (which is an antiseptic and fungicide, and can be very useful for the treatment of insect bites) or lavender essential oil (which is soothing to dry or inflamed skin, has a scent that is uplifting and useful for the treatment of depression, and has even been claimed to aid the symptoms of PMS). An additional benefit of shopping in a health food or herbal store is that the people who work there likely know more about the health benefits of the products than the cashier at a department store would. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and make an educated decision about a product that will likely cost a few dollars more than it’s unscented counterpart.

You should keep in mind, however, that even these essential oils can cause allergic reactions in some people, and aren’t right for everyone. Should you use an aromatherapy product and discover a rash or other negative symptom in the area where you used it, discontinue use immediately and refer to a dermatologist of needed.

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