Year ends are the time to take stock and make new resolutions, and though I’m feeling introspective lately, this shall not be a blog post on what I’m hoping to do or not do in the coming year. It is, however, motivated by a desire to live well, get healthier, and stay healthy. Despite last year’s resolutions to stop testing new skincare that will aggravate my sensitive skin, I’m getting to the realization that perhaps it is not so much what I’m putting on my skin that is irritating it, but something more systemic. Late nights, too much caffeine, junk food, insufficient water, etc are all taking their toll. And so, I’ve resolved to get back on the path to wellness!
There are many aspects to living well, I’m not going to bore you with my 101 promises to self, but something that I’ve started dabbling with and reading a whole lot on, is essential oils. When I was younger, I had bought into the whole illusion that essential oils are all “natural” and necessarily superior, and invested heavily in some high-end French skincare that claimed to use essential oils in their formulation. Instead of seeing stronger, more beautiful skin, I ended up with itchy, red, patches! And ever since then, I stayed clear of essential oils, in the mistaken belief that I’m allergic to all essential oils.
It wasn’t until very recently, when I found my little bub falling sick more often than I’d like and his precious baby skin developing severe eczema, that I decided to try some other forms of natural remedies apart from Western medicine. A kind mummy friend passed me samples of lavender oil mixed in with some cream which my lil fella really enjoys massaging with and helped his skin heal faster. And when the last bout of flu bit, I mixed some eucalyptus and citrus blend in a humidifier to help him sleep at night. So what’s next?
While I’m sure there are many brands of essential oils, and products claiming to contain essential oils, it is important to be discerning. Why is it that there are some products that just freak my skin out but others work marvelously? I spent an evening with Neal’s Yard Remedies’ trainer recently, and learnt more about the art of essential oils.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils have been called the “life blood of plants”, and are concentrated plant essences that help the plant to adapt to external aggressors. They act as plant hormones, regulating plant functions and orchestrating the production of vitamins and enzymes. They act as messengers and supervisors within the plant that help coordinate and initiate vital plant activities. Plants produce essential oils for a variety of purposes including protecting the plant from fungal and bacterial infection, even directing the plant to grow in a certain way in develop immunity.
What are essential oils good for?
The volatile nature of essential oils make them good for aromatherapy uses, which has seen a rise in popularity of essential oils in the recent decades. Inhalation is one of the best way to get it into the blood stream via the lungs and also it goes directly to the brain through the olfactory nerves. It is also possible to absorb essential oils through the skin, but dilution with a neutral carrier oil is usually necessary to prevent burns. Massage also has relexation benefits for the body and mind. Some also advocate taking essential oils orally and administering directly into tissues.
Studies have shown that essential oils possess homeostatic intelligence, always working towards restoring and maintaining balance. For example:
Why aren’t all essential oils the same?
Just as with food, essential oils come in varying grades, and only the highest grade has the capacity to promote healing. This depends on the source of the plant and whether it has been exposed to chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. These chemicals may end up in the essential oil and render harm when consumed.
The quality of processing is also important. The best quality is produced using a low temperature, water distillation method; but very little can be extracted in this manner, raising the cost substantially. Consequently, there are lower grade essential oils in the market that are extracted using chemical processes which are more efficient, but not pure. Again, those chemical additives may end up in the end product and cause allergies or irritation. Unfortunately, there is no universal standard or regulatory body overseeing the labeling of “essential oils” on products, even synthetic compounds made to replicate the fragrance of essential oils mixed into a diluted essential oil base may be marketed as containing essential oils, so consumers have to be extra careful.
These days, you can’t start a conversation about essential oils without someone chiming in about Young Living. I’ve tried a couple of products from the brand, and that was where this story started. But even after speaking to several close friends who are devout fans, and perusing their massive online store, I just couldn’t get into it. My biggest mental block is Young Living’s MLM business model – never had good experiences with MLM and way too many unresolved issues & complains about their business ethics and bad customer service are floating around online. Many of the people I know who are touting Young Living oils (and trying to recruit me into their network) don’t really know much about the oils they are using except through hearsay.
I’m sure there are many more options out there. But as a novice in the world of essential oils, I like being able to walk into a store and sniffing out which oils I like and finding out which ones I have a strong aversion towards. And as it turns out, our natural response to scents are instinctive and are strong indications of what our bodies need versus potentially allergic / sensitive to. More importantly, I really enjoy the complete holistic approach towards good health and beauty that Neals Yard Remedies adopts. Every store has a knowledgeable adviser who is able to recommend products to suit your concerns, and this extends beyond just essential oils but creams and health foods too. For example, I was thinking of picking up a bottle of lavender essential oil to relief my son’s eczema, but after speaking with the advisor, I picked up a bottle of Baby Massage Oil (which is a blend of chamomile to calm, lavender to soothe, and vitamin E to heal), and a tube of calendula cream instead as the pure lavender essential oil may prove too strong for him.
What I also liked about Neal’s Yard Remedies is their strong eco-consciousness. It was the first company to produce cosmetics that are certified organic by the Soil Association of UK, and have taken it to the additional step of clearly printing on each label the percentage of organic ingredients are in each product. Ingredients are all clearly listed on their website and on product labels, with the organically sourced ones marked accordingly. The company also has a strong corporate ethos, banning genetically modified organisms and nanoparticles from their product ingredients, and removing any ingredients that have the potential to harm. They also believe in sourcing from local farmers, and was the first UK high-street retailer to be certified carbon neutral.
A lot of these sound like marketing speak, and at the end of the day, what is most important is how effective the products are, and Neals Yard Remedies may not be the only company producing great essential oils. At the same time, essential oils are not the only products that NYR carry, and I’m just starting to explore all that the brand has to offer. But I have enjoyed what I’ve tried so far, and hope to be able to bring you more in depth reviews on specific products very soon!