As the FDA increases censorship of natural ingredients, it becomes vital for the health-conscious consumer to have a practical knowledge of common natural ingredients. As an aromatherapist and herbalist with over 7 years experience (and maker of alternative skin goods) I’m excited to present a new blog series devoted to profiling common and useful natural (and questionable synthetic) ingredients. In this way, we may all be empowered to make informed decisions about what goes on and inside our bodies.
There’s no better place to start this series than with lavender – specifically, lavender essential oil. Lavender is one of the most common and useful ingredients in natural body care products.
How It’s Made
Lavender Essential oil is steam distilled. This means that a huge vat is packed full of flower tops and steamed. This steam is then cooled quickly and condensed back into a liquid form. The essential oil (EO) is then collected from the top of this liquid. Steam distillation preserves the plant’s healing properties and extracts the oil with nothing but heat and water. Cheap lavender essential oil is extracted with harsh solvents which inevitably get into your skin. Always be sure to buy from companies that only use 100% steam distilled or cold pressed (for citrus) essential oils. Unfortunately, some companies still sell adulterated essential oils. If something smells off with an EO or product, don’t use it! Lavender EO is generally clear with a slight yellow tinge. Common lavender oil is usually a blend of several types to create a scent that most people recognize as lavender. Fine/french/true lavender, on the other hand, is quite strong and often overwhelming except in specific therapeutic applications (plus it’s way more expensive). For all typical uses, common lavender EO will be plenty effective.
Basic Precautions for Essential Oils
Many essential oils are not appropriate during pregnancy. Lavender is generally considered safe, but if you are pregnant always check with your health care provider before using any product. Some people are very sensitive to specific essential oils. Always do a skin test to see if you have a reaction if you have never used an oil before. Always dilute essential oils before application (lavender essential oil is one of the few oils that can be applied undiluted with rare side effects, but always apply diluted at first). Essential oils should NEVER be taken internally without the guidance of a qualified aromatherapist. Always store essential oils out of reach of children and pets.
Lavender oil has long been used to relieve depression, anxiety, insomnia and generally reduce stress and balance emotions. It is even a celebrated aphrodisiac. Topically, lavender is common in skin care due to it’s gentle antibacterial and healing nature. Beneficial for practically any skin type, this oil can be applied directly to cuts and burns to promote healing and prevent infection (always do a skin test before attempting this). Rashes, bug bites (especially ticks), fungal infections, respiratory infections, headaches, indigestion, scars, bruises and sprains are among the other many ailments eased by this oil. I include it in every skin care oil, even those for men, because of its wide array of benefits.
Lavender Massage Oil
If you’re looking for a easy-to-read introduction and reference guide for essential oils, I would recommend The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy By Valerie Anne Wormwood.