Herbal Body Care
The condition of our hair and skin reflects our inner health and beauty. Nature's gifts of herbs and essential oils offer many benefits for body care. Only a couple of generations ago, women made their own natural products to keep their skin and hair healthy, using common ingredients from recipes handed down through generations.
The Herbal Bath
We can't think of a better way to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. Aromatic baths help insomnia, colds, premenstrual syndrome, muscular aches and anxiety-while the warm water promotes additional relaxation.
Essential oils can be added to the bath in undiluted drops, but they are typically hydrophobic (they don't dissolve in water) and lipophilic (drawn to oil). In the bath, therefore, where the only oil medium is your skin, undiluted essential oils are drawn into your body much more quickly than those diluted in a vegetable oil base. Hot water also causes your skin to be especially receptive to absorbing essential oils. We recommend that you use 3 to 15 drops of essential oil per tub, depending on the particular oils selected and the bather's skin sensitivity.
Oils that are very irritating or stimulating, such as basil, lemongrass, citruses and peppermint, are better mixed in minute amounts with other essential oils in a bath-oil formula than used alone. With nonirritating oils such as lavender, tea tree and geranium, 15 drops are safe as well as delightful.
Some essential oils will disperse on the surface of the water, but many oils will remain in little droplets on top of the water. For best results, fill the tub with water and add the oils just before you get in. Be sure to agitate the water well to distribute the oils. If you do experience any skin irritation in the bath, get out of the tub, rinse with cool water and apply straight vegetable oil to the skin.
Floating Herbal Bath Oils
Floating aromatic bath oils are wonderful! While bathing, you receive an aromatherapy fragrance treatment, and when you get out, your entire body will be lightly coated with a fragrance that will waft around you for hours. The vegetable-oil base dilutes the essential oil, and helps it to disperse and float over the surface of the water. As you emerge, the oils cling to your skin, scenting it like a body perfume.
Have you ever noticed how your skin shrivels up like a prune after you have been in the water for a long time? The surrounding water actually draws moisture out of your skin. It is loss of water, more than loss of oil, that makes skin feel dry. If you have dry skin, or love to take long soaks in a hot bath, be sure to use an aromatic bath oil. Some people with very dry skin find they can't take baths because their skin itches and feels drier afterwards. Their problems will probably disappear when they use an aromatic bath oil, especially one formulated with essential oils suited for this condition, such as sandalwood.
Although an aromatic bath oil may seem like some exotic fragrant concoction, it is extremely easy to create and makes a wonderful aromatherapy gift. It is made by simply diluting essential oils with vegetable oil. We recommend a 4-percent dilution in oil. (Keep in mind that this dilution represents all of the oils in the blend combined, not 4-percent of each oil.) This is double the strength of a massage oil. Add one teaspoon of the bath oil to the water.
Try some blends from our suggested aromatic combinations, listed later in this chapter, for the bath. If you feel creative, make your own combinations. With information from the "Blending" and "Materia Medica" chapters, you can enhance your bath oil with herbs and treat special problems.
An aromatic bath is a perfect way to slow children down, especially at bedtime. A little extra precaution is needed when using essential oils in a young child's tub. Unlike adults, who may add essential oils directly to bath water, you must be careful with children. Be sure that no undiluted droplets get rubbed into sensitive eyes. Suggested dilution for a child's bath oil is 1 percent; use one-half to one teaspoon of bath oil for the tub. Bubble baths are another option for the dilution of essential oils for children. Use a pH-balanced shampoo as the soap base.
Part of the elegance of bath oils comes from their containers. Beautiful bottles add glamor to the oils you display in your bathroom or give as gifts. Import stores or mail-order catalogs are a good source of fancy bottles, although we've obtained some of our favorite containers at garage sales and flea markets. Decorate your creations by inserting a few sprigs of dried flowers or dried herbs in clear bottles, or use colored glass containers with a few herbal sprigs tied on the outside with a ribbon.
Floating Aromatic Bath Oil
25 drops essential oil (Â¼ teaspoon)
1-ounce vegetable oil
Shake to mix. Use 1 teaspoon per bath. For babies mix 6 drops essential oil to 1 ounce carrier oil, and use Â½ to 1 teaspoon per bath.
Dispersing Bath Oils
These are scented oils that disperse throughout the bath water. They produce a hint of fragrance without leaving a coating on the skin-perfect for those with oily skin or anyone who finds a floating-oil bath too rich. To get an essential oil to disperse rather than float on top of the water, you need an emulsifier. Commercial bath products use a coconut oil or chemical based emulsifier, but egg yolk is an excellent home emulsifier. Another alternative is sulfated castor oil, which is water-soluble. Rather than floating on the surface of the bath, dispersing bath oils blend with the water, making it feel silky.
Hydrous lanolin, another water-soluble substance, makes a richer, more emollient bath oil. Hydrous (meaning "with water ") lanolin is easier to work with than sticky, thick anhydrous ("without water ") lanolin, Lanolin, derived from sheep's wool, is moisturizing to the skin.
Dispersing Bath Oil
2 ounces sulfated castor oil
Â½ teaspoon essential oil
Â½ teaspoon hydrous lanolin (optional)
If using lanolin, warm it with the castor oil to melt it completely. Add the essential oils after the other oils have cooled. Use 1 teaspoon per bath.
Dispersing Bath Formula
10 drops (1/8 teaspoon) essential oil
Separate the egg yolk and discard the white. Mix the essential oil into the yolk, and add the mixture to a full tub. The water will be a bit cloudy, but the essential oil will be distributed evenly.
Herbal Bath Vinegar
Another variation on the herbal bath oils is aromatic vinegars, well suited for oily skin, fungal skin infections, or for anyone sensitive to the alkalinizing effects of soap on their skin. Any type of vinegar will do, but for an attractive display in your bathroom, use red-wine vinegar-which imparts a beautiful color- and, of course, put it in a clear bottle. Instructions for making herbal vinegars are provided in the appendix to this book.
For dramatic flair, make a vinegar-and-oil dressing. (Body salad, anyone?) Fill the bottle with equal parts bath vinegar and bath oil, and you will have a two-layered bath dressing. The only trick is to make sure that the scents of the bath oil and the vinegar blend pleasantly. Use your imagination to add contrast between the different shades of vegetable oils and vinegars. Keep it in a fancy bottle and shake well before using.
Aromatic Bath Vinegar
25 drops (Â¼ teaspoon) essential oil
4 ounces vinegar
Combine ingredients. Let the essential oil sit in the vinegar for a week, shaking the bottle every day. Use 2 tablespoons per bath.
Two-Layered Bath Oil
2 ounces prepared bath oil
2 ounces prepared bath vinegar
Combine and shake well before using.
Aromatic Bath Salts
Bath salts are a luxurious addition to your bath water. They are simple to make, and are always a welcome and exotic gift. They make the water feel silky, remove body oils and perspiration, soften the skin, relax the muscles and soak away the stresses of the day.
Most water in the United States is naturally "hard" because of the calcium and magnesium it contains. Hard water presents no problem until you use it for washing. Then the minerals in the water chemically combine with the free alkali in soap to form an insoluble compound that bears the unattractive name "soap scum", also known as "bathtub ring". Having nowhere else to go, this compound deposits itself in a fine film on skin and hair, leaving them dull and rough.
One solution is to add sodium salts that react with hard minerals to soften water. This makes the water feel silky and smooth, helping soap work better by creating more suds and preventing it from leaving a film residue. An example of this is the addition of washing soda to laundry to prevent hard water from making clothes stiff.
Bath salts are made from very simple ingredients. Any sodium salt will work, but one of the gentlest is common table salt, sodium chloride. Other sodium salts include baking soda, which absorbs odors and relieves itching, and borax. Many companies that make commercial bath salts list these together as "mixed salts", but it is possible to make fine bath salts using just table salt.
For fancy bath salts, the addition of ground seaweed (if you don't mind the smell) or clay will increase the mineral content and make your creation seem more like a treatment at a mineral spa. Using sea salt also contributes tiny amounts of minerals to the bath.
Epsom salts are another type of bath salt, but it is magnesium sulfate and therefore not a water softener. In fact, it is a water hardener, but works much better than other salts to soothe sore muscles, sprains and stiff bodies in general. All salts, especially magnesium, are dehydrating, so use them sparingly if you have dry skin.
Aromatic Bath Salts
1 cup borax
Â½ cup sea salt
Â½ cup baking soda
50 drops essential oil (Â½ teaspoon)
Mix dry ingredients together and add essential oils, mixing well to combine. Use Â¼ to Â½ cup bath salts per bath. For muscular aches and pains, the addition of Â½ cup Epsom salts to this recipe is very helpful.
Herbal Combinations for the Bath
Here are some suggested essential-oil combinations for the recipes given above. Be creative and have fun-the proportions are up to you. Use the blend recipes to make stock bottles of concentrates, which you can later use to create bath oils, bath salts, massage oils and so on.
|Relaxing Blend||Stimulating Blend
|Balancing Blend||Aphrodisiac Blend
The Scandinavian steam bath, or sauna, and the Native American sweat lodge both traditionally employ fragrant plants. The herbs are either placed directly on the hot rocks or infused in the water that is poured on the rocks. Cedar leaf and sage are traditionally used for the sweat lodge. Eucalyptus is the most popular essence for steam bath. You can also use essential oils of Himalayan cedar and fir, or place a small amount of the resins frankincense or myrrh directly on the rocks.
Each of these methods encourages sweating, which aids circulation and helps to flush out the system and revitalize the skin. This type of bath ritual was used by many different cultures in the treatment of disease, with some adopting it as part of their spiritual practice.
An Herbal Bath Experience
Follow these steps to bliss and escape from the world for 40 minutes:
Light some incense or put a few drops of your favorite essential oil in an electric cooker with a little water, to create a fragrant environment.
Put on some soothing music.
Arrange the needed bath materials: thick, scented towel, warm robe, slippers. (You can impart the fragrance of your favorite essential oils to all of your linens by tucking small scented cloths or empty essential-oil bottles into your linen closet.)
Draw a hot bath.
Drink a soothing cup of chamomile tea as the tub fills.
Add half a cup of scented bath salts to the bath water.
Add one drop of an exotic oil such as rose or jasmine, and swirl to disperse it.
Light a candle and turn off the lights.
Step into the bath and relax for 30 minutes with no thoughts of the outside world.
Emerge, dry off, and dust with a fragrant powder or apply a moisturizing cream to your entire body.
Wrap up in a warm robe, carry the candle to the bedroom and place a fragrant dream pillow under your bed pillow.
Slip into bed. Enjoy fragrant dreams and a restful slumber.
Foot or Hand Bath
You may be surprised to learn that herbal and essential oil foot and hand baths are effective ways of treating problems in other parts of the body. The famous French herbalist Maurice Messegue and aromatherapist Madame Maury did much of their healing work with these baths. Use 5 to 15 drops of essential oil per treatment, depending on how much water is used and essential oils chosen. The soles of the feet and the palms of the hand are much less susceptible to the irritating potential of many essential oils. Water temperature can vary depending on what condition you are treating. Warm or hot water usually feels best, but cold to tepid temperatures are more appropriate for sprains or fevers. Follow your instincts and listen to your body.
Herbal Body Powders
Arrowroot, cornstarch, and white clay all make good bases for natural herbal body powders for babies or adults. Commercial powders are usually made with talc (magnesium silicate). A study showed that 39 out of 40 talc samples tested contained up to 1 percent asbestos, a proven human carcinogen. Even without asbestos, talc fibers are similar enough in composition to asbestos to pose a potential hazard. Gynecologist found that women who used talcum powder on their genitals and sanitary napkins had more than three times the risk of ovarian cancer, and that the use of talc on latex gloves in surgery contributed to inflammation of the internal organs. Winter further states, "Talcum powder has been reported to cause coughing, vomiting or even pneumonia when it is used carelessly and inhaled by babies."
The addition of finely powdered herbs to your cornstarch or arrowroot-based body powder can be an added bonus. To blend the essential oils into the powder evenly, put everything through a sieve, mix well and let the mixture sit a few days so that the scents can mellow and evenly permeate the powder. When using any powder, avoid creating a cloud of dust that could be inhaled, especially by babies.
Aromatic Baby Powder
Â¼ cup arrowroot
Â¼ cup cornstarch
1-2 tablespoons fine white clay
1 teaspoon goldenseal root or myrrh powder (both are optional, for diaper rash)
3 drops each lavender, Roman chamomile and neroli.
Lavender Sunrise Body Powder
Â½ cup powder base
2 tablespoons finely ground and sifted dried lavender flowers
3 drops lavender oil
5 drops rose oil
5 drops orange oil
Â½ cup powder base
2 tablespoons fine sandalwood powder
5 drops sandalwood oil
3 drops jasmine oil
3 drops lime oil
"Ooh! Ah!" Foot Powder"
Â½ cup powder base
5 drops geranium oil
5 drops lavender oil
1 drop cinnamon oil
3 drops rosemary oil
Herbal Hair Care
There is nothing more radiant than beautiful, shiny, vibrant hair. Short or long, straight or curly, dark or light, hair is truly our crowning glory. It reflects our self-image, and when our mood or lifestyle changes we often change our hairstyle accordingly. But no matter what the current fashion, clean, healthy hair is always in style. With the help of nature's healing plants, keeping your hair beautiful is easy and fun. Whether it is dry, normal or oily, all hair can benefit from applications of essential oils and herbs.
Hormonal fluctuations, diet, lifestyle and stress play a role in the appearance and health of the hair. The ravages of modern life-including pollution, harsh detergents, chlorine, permanents, blow drying and excessive sun exposure-are just a few of the things that can have an adverse impact on the vitality of your hair. The obvious advice is to correct poor dietary and lifestyle habits, treat your hair with gentle, loving care, and use high-quality natural hair-care products.
For hundreds of years, women have used hair rinses made of vinegar for their softening, pH-balancing effects. Acid shampoos and vinegar alter the electrical charge of the hair, reducing its tendency to become "flyaway". They also cut through soap scum, removing any detergent residues, leaving hair shiny and soft.
If you consider your hair "normal", what you currently use on it is probably fine, but check the label for the pH, as well as for harmful or artificial ingredients. Lavender and rosemary are two good essential oils for normal hair. To apply them, gently comb out wet hair with a wide-toothed comb, working from the ends to the scalp. When the hair is completely dry, put one drop of rosemary essential oil on your palm, rub it into your natural-bristle brush, and brush the hair, again from the ends to the scalp. This helps detangle your hair and makes it smooth, shiny and silky. Too much essential oil can be drying to the hair, so be careful not to overdo it.
Dry hair and a dry scalp go hand in hand, meaning if you have one you probably have both. When hair becomes dry, the keratin protein it contains turns brittle. Without adequate sebum production by the scalp to protect hair's moisture, it is vulnerable to split ends and can appear unmanageable as well as produce flakes. Drink plenty of water and take a look at your diet to make sure you are getting a sufficient supply of essential fatty acids. A supplement of evening primrose oil or some other oil that contains GLA (gamma-linoleic acid), such as flaxseed oil, is often helpful. Protect dry hair when exposed to drying conditions such as sailing, biking or spending a day at the beach. Dry hair is especially vulnerable to any chemical treatments, from perms and dyes to swimming pool chlorine, which strips away its natural oils.
Avoid daily shampooing, and use mild shampoos containing fatty acids and moisturizers. Unfortunately, protein-rich shampoos cannot feed the hair directly, because the hair shaft is no longer alive. However, a protein film will coat dry hair, allowing it to reflect light and appear shiny. The hair will seem thicker and smoother without a "flyaway" look, at least until the protein coat wears off. High-protein herbs such as comfrey create similar effects. Herbal shampoos smell good, but simply do not remain on the hair long enough to do much good.
Herbal hair conditioners hold more promise, but are best left on at least a few minutes before rinsing. Conditioning herbs for dry hair include calendula, chamomile, lavender, rosemary, and sandalwood and burdock root. Hot-oil treatments are specific for dry hair, dry scalp and dandruff. They are simple to prepare, but can be a little messy to apply. Oily hairdressings will help give damaged hair some shine, but they will not always restore its flexibility and bounce. A small amount of sandalwood oil rubbed between your palms and applied to the dry ends of your hair is helpful and leaves a wonderful fragrance that lasts for hours.
Oily hair is caused by the same condition responsible for oily skin: excess sebum production. Oil comes from the scalp, so the hair is much oilier near the roots than at the tips. Too much oil in the hair makes it look dull, heavy and lifeless. However, the right amount of oil makes the hair look shiny, because it fills in minute abrasions on the surface of the hair shaft. Hormonal changes affect the amount of oil the scalp produces, and diet, as always, may also be a factor.
To remove excess sebum and keep oily hair bright requires frequent washing with a mild shampoo. Harsh detergents can overdry the hair, prompting the sebaceous glands to manufacture more oil. Avoid protein and balsam shampoos because these tend to increase oiliness, make the hair heavy and attract dirt. Seaweed in conditioners may improve matters. Brush oily hair thoroughly before washing.
Essential oils of cedarwood, lemon, lemongrass or sage in your conditioner all discourage oil production by the scalp, as does diluted lemon juice. Adding one drop of patchouli essential oil to your daily dose of shampoo also helps reduce sebum production. Vinegar hair rinses discourage dandruff and keep oily hair in check. If you are concerned about smelling like pickles afterwards, don't worry-the odour of vinegar dissipates within an hour or so. You may also find an herbal rinse of sage tea helpful for reducing dandruff and excess oil.
A good shampoo will clean the hair without stripping away the hair's natural oil, abrading the hair cuticle (resulting in "frizz") or irritating the eyes. Most shampoos are made with sodium lauryl sulfate, a potentially irritating detergent that dramatically increases suds production (something most people expect from a shampoo) in both hard and soft water. Some cosmetic chemists feel that, compared to other cleansing agents, shampoos containing ammonium lauryl sulfate are less irritating. Many shampoos use a base derived from coconut and other nut oils but, surprisingly, some coconut-based products tend to irritate sensitive skin. Baby shampoos are usually mild and pH balanced, and they are often made from olive and soy oil. One place to look for mild shampoos is at a professional hair salon, but check the ingredient labels.
Many books about natural cosmetics give recipes for making herbal shampoos. Most of these are combinations of herb tea and castile soap flakes. We haven't been satisfied with their results because castile soap is very alkaline and leaves the hair feeling stiff and looking dull. There is now a pH-balanced castile soap, although they have merely added vinegar to adjust the pH. Test your brand with nitrizine paper to make sure it has a balanced pH of about 5.
We have seen "European aromatherapy" shampoos that sell for exorbitant prices, but contain nothing more than detergents to clean, vinegar to balance the pH, salt to thicken and essential oils to scent. You can easily and inexpensively make your own formula by mixing equal parts strong herb tea and your chosen shampoo base with a few drops of essential oil. We like to use a gentle, nondetergent, unscented shampoo as a base. Making small batches (4 ounces) will ensure freshness. Try different combinations of herbs and essential oils to suit your hair type, or simply add two or three drops of essential oil per application to your favorite store-bought shampoo. Your homemade herbal shampoo can also double as a body wash, providing the shampoo base you use is very mild.
2 ounces unscented shampoo base
2 ounces strong herb tea
30 drops (Â¼ teaspoon) essential oil
Â½ ounce vinegar (optional)
Add the strained, cooled tea to the shampoo base. Add the essential oils and shake well before use.
Herbal Hair Rinse
3-5 drops essential oil
1 pint water or herb tea
1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
Shake well, and pour over the scalp and hair after shampooing. Leave on for several minutes and rinse. Refrigerate any leftover rinse.
Herbal Hair Treatments
This recipe can be used to reat dandruff and falling hair, or to stimulate hair growth, depending on the essential oils you choose.
30 drops (Â¼ teaspoon) essential oil
2 ounces carrier (witch hazel, aloe juice, jojoba oil or neem oil).
Apply to scalp, massage in and cover. Leave it on for one to two hours and shampoo out.
Herbs for Hair Care
||orange peel, calendula, comfrey root
||sage, lemongrass, burdock, lemon peel
||burdock, sage, willow bark
||lavender, chamomile, rosemary, rose
Essential Oils for Hair Care
||sandalwood, palmarosa, rosewood
||lemongrass, patchouli, clary sage, cypress, cedarwood
||sage, geranium, juniper, cedarwood, tea tree
||basil, cedarwood, ylang-ylang,peppermint
||lavender, Roman chamomile, rosemary, carrot seed
Always do a patch test before using this preparation, especially on children. Some people will be sensitive to a solution as strong as this one. Take extra care to keep it out of the eyes and remove at the first sign of any irritation. To thoroughly eliminate lice and hatching eggs, repeat the treatment three times at three-day intervals.
20 drops eucalyptus
10 drops rosemary
10 drops juniper
20 drops lavender
10 drops geranium
5 drops lemon
4 ounces carrier oil
Mix ingredients, apply to dry hair and cover with a plastic bag or a shower cap. Wrap the head in a towel to help keep the vapors from irritating the eyes. Leave the oil on for one to two hours. When you are ready to wash it out, apply shampoo directly to the hair without wetting the hair first; this will help cut the oil. Work the shampoo into the hair well, rinse with water and shampoo again. The final rinse water should contain a few drops of lavender essential oil to further discourage critters. If you are missing any ingredient, substitute tea tree.
Every once in a while, yet another magic formula for reversing baldness is advertised, but so far there is no wonder cure. This harmless but distressful problem mostly afflicts men; more than half of North American men lose their locks to some degree. Thinning usually starts at the temples, and eventually the front hairline and the crown of the head begin to thin. Once the hair is gone, there is little chance that it will return.
There are, however, methods of keeping the remaining hair healthy and on the head as long as possible. In most cases, even if these treatments do not increase hair growth, they can help by slowing further hair loss.
Better than any secret formula, the most effective way to keep hair roots healthy is to stimulate circulation with a scalp-massage formula containing jojoba oil, vitamin E and essential oils that improve circulation, such as rosemary. Aloe vera is said to promote hair growth; some studies back such claims, but others report mixed results. Hair conditioners containing balsams don't actually foster hair growth, but do make the remaining hair seem thicker.
50 drops (Â½ teaspoon) rosemary essential oil
Â½ cup aloe-vera gel
1 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar
1 tablespoon wheat-germ or jojoba oil
Shake well and massage into scalp for 10 minutes nightly.
An Herbal Miscellany
Neglected, chewed or abused nails just don't get the attention they deserve. Gentle shaping, moisturizing and buffing encourage healthy growth and strengthen the nails. Brittle nails that crack easily indicate possible dietary problems: Are you getting sufficient calcium/magnesium, protein and silica? Detergents, nail polish, glue for artificial fingernails, formaldehyde-based nail hardeners and household chemicals are just a few of the substances that can be tough on fingernails. It is not unusual to develop nail fungus under artificial fingernails.
Herbal-tea soaks or herb-infused oil treatments of comfrey, oat straw and horsetail can strengthen nails and cuticles. Better yet, try combining herbal and essential oil treatments. Drinking oat straw, nettle and horsetail tea daily can improve your nails (and hair) from the inside out, because these herbs are high in silica and other minerals important for nail growth.
Antifungal Nail Oil
5 drops tea-tree essential oil
1 drop cinnamon-bark essential oil
Â½ ounce neem oil (or calendula-infused oil)
Apply around and under the nail two or three times per day. Tea-tree oil by itself may be used neat if you don't mind the smell, but be careful not to rub it in your eyes.
Herbal Conditioning Nail Soak
2 drop each lavender, bay laurel and sandalwood essential oils.
Â½ ounce jojoba or neem oil
This is great for dry or torn cuticles. Soak nails in the mixture for 10 minutes. Buff to stimulate circulation and bring out a healthy shine.
Sweat is sterile until it comes into contact with airborne bacteria; then by-products created by the interactions break down the bacteria, producing underarm odor. Our culture tends to regard a person's natural scent with some disdain, so antiperspirants are popular. They are made with potentially toxic aluminum compounds that have recently caused some major health concerns. The underarm area is especially sensitive and is notorious for its susceptibility to irritation and rash, and blocking the sweat glands may also be detrimental. We do know that once the effects of an antiperspirant wears off, the underarm sweat glands.