If you’ve ever had sleeping troubles, then you know how quickly they can cause your health and sense of vitality to deteriorate. Tensions of one kind or other are common culprits behind sleepless nights, and these can in fact be prominent reasons behind disturbances in health. There are several essential oils that can alleviate insomnia and other sleep problems quickly, powerfully, and perhaps most importantly, without the side effects of most pharmaceutical solutions like Ambien (zolpidem), Valium (diazepam), and Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Some of the best essential oils for this are:
I wrote about lavender in my first blog entry because it is such a versatile, useful essential oil. Its powers to promote a healthy night's sleep are among its strongest and best researched. Whether it’s improving sleep regularity, helping you fall asleep faster, or just generally helping you feel more rested in the morning, lavender can help you. A recent study from the United Kingdom described the use of lavender oil in a diffuser helping people with minor insomnia. It is used in some hospital ICU units to help patients get quality sleep as well. As I wrote earlier, lavender is great for controlling anxiety and helps to keep your mind cool and calm. Another benefit is that its dispersed droplets in the air help repel insects like moths, midges and mosquitoes.
Vetiver has a warm, rich and earthy smell. The oil is actually made from the plant’s roots, and historically it has been referred to as the “oil of tranquility," and for good reason - vetiver has many benefits that can add up to better sleep quality for you:
3. Roman Chamomile
This essential oil possesses relaxing, soothing and calming properties similar to those of its hugely-popular cousin, chamomile tea. Its light floral light scent in the air provides a peaceful environment, perfect for keeping your mind calm, reducing nervous tension, and helping diminish other nervous imbalances such as spasms, convulsions, and anxiety.
4. Ylang Ylang
This essential oil, a favorite of many for its aphrodisiac effects, also has well-known properties that support emotional and mental health, leading to great quality sleep. Ylang ylang helps by controlling anxiety issues, supporting emotional balance (e.g. - Feeling "too high"? It'll calm you. Feeling low? It'll lift you up.), assisting during times of emotional exhaustion, controlling blood pressure and heart rate, and promoting hormonal balance.
Some other popular essential oils for sleep are valerian, cedarwood, bergamot, sandalwood and marjoram. Getting proper rest on a regular basis is critical to a healthy, rewarding life, even more so with the hustle & bustle of today’s high energy society. I encourage you to try one or two of the listed oils in an essential oil diffuser in the evening, an hour before you go to sleep. Find the scent that works for you, and enjoy a better night’s sleep!
If you have any questions, you can always contact me via Facebook, Twitter, or email, or add a comment on this post.
This is the second article in my Get to Know Your Products series, where we look into the ingredients lists on some popular products that are meant to take care of your skin. For this article, I'm continuing with the long ingredient list from Olay's Age-Defying Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream used in the previous article:
But for more commentary and information about why these ingredients are added in the first place, please read the first article in the series.
To quickly recap on the purpose of this series: the fact is that many common ingredients found within cosmetics and within the majority of commercially available skin care products are actually extremely toxic and are potentially very harmful to our health as a result. Here we’ll be taking a look at a few more examples of some of the most common and most harmful ingredients found in skin care products, and what this could mean for health in general.
1. Titanium dioxide
Titanium dioxide is an absorbent, odourless mineral that is mainly used in order to provide opacity, thickness, or whiteness to various skincare products and treatments, like sunscreens. Worrying research however, has pointed to the fact that titanium dioxide could be a highly carcinogenic ingredient, which in simple terms means that it could cause/contribute towards cancer. Carcinogenic compounds attack our cells, causing them to malfunction and to mutate into cancerous cells. The particles of this oxide are particularly dangerous if they are inhaled.
2. Benzyl alcohol
Benzyl alcohol can be found in many different products, from exfoliating masks to hair coloring products. In sufficient quantities (over 5-10% usually), it can lead to serious irritations and numbness on the skin. In some countries it is banned in infant skin care products.
Sometimes labeled "paraffin wax" or "paraffin oil," paraffin is an extremely common ingredient found in pretty much all generic store-bought cosmetics and skin care products. Sometimes referred to as "mineral oil," it is naturally derived from petroleum and is used primarily as a thickener/emulsifier, fragrance component, and skin conditioner in these products. Recent studies however, have revealed some pretty worrying facts regarding paraffin-based ingredients, as it has been found to be very harmful to our health and well-being. To begin with, the paraffin itself could very well find itself contaminated with various toxins which themselves have been found to contribute towards cancer, and various respiratory problems in some individuals as well. Paraffin (mineral oil/petroleum) can also also clog pores on the body, trapping bacteria and their toxins in your skin, which can then cause spots and blackheads to develop - exactly the thing you wanted to avoid in the first place!
Warning About Preservatives and Other Synthetic Additives in Skin Care Products
The number of ads for commercial skin care products is constantly increasing, with more and more people using and buying these types of products. However, can these products be counted on to support your health? All the ingredients are legally required to be present on the labels of these products, but the reality is that not many people take a close look at them, and even fewer actually understand what they mean. Looking at labels like the one above, it’s easy to understand why: Most of these ingredients are hard to even pronounce, much less understand! But this label is from a common and popular product, Olay's Age Defying Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream. Since all of the listed ingredients are meant to go on your face, it's worth learning more about what it is!
This article is the first in an ongoing series where I highlight some of the common synthetic additives and other toxic substances found in modern skin care products. The goal here is to help you encourage your own health by helping you get to know your products!
All parabens are used as preservatives. They were typically considered to be among the best ones because they usually don’t lead to allergic reactions. However, numerous scientific studies have confirmed that there is a link between the use of parabens, especially propylparaben, and breast cancer. Many countries have already banned this substance.
2. PEG-100 Stearate
PEG(Polyethylene glycol)–100 Stearate is a petroleum-based primary ingredient in many cosmetic and skincare products like sunscreens, moisturizers, body cleansers, conditioners, etc. Its main purpose in these products is to act as a softener, moisture-carrier, emulsifier, and thickener, which is why it often helps form the base for skincare creams. It’s created when a fatty acid known as stearic acid is modified in order to help bind water and oil soluble ingredients together in the products so that they don’t separate. Though PEG-100 Stearate itself appears to be safe, there are growing concerns about its use in commercial skin preparations because of a number of contaminants that often are present within it that often have been linked with cancer, central nervous system issues, and other health conditions as well.
3. Behenyl alcohol
Behenyl alcohol is a type of fatty alcohol. It is used in many different products, but more recently has become quite popular in the skin care industry. This alcohol is used as an emollient. Manufacturers also use it to improve the texture of their products. Although it is not very dangerous, frequent use of products that contain behenyl alcohol can lead to skin irritations.
You might be wondering why manufacturers add preservatives and other synthetic additives at all. The main reasons include to make the product’s final texture more appealing, to mix the main ingredients (which often don’t mix well otherwise, like oil & water), to prevent bacterial overgrowth in the products, and in the case of preservatives, to extend their shelf life.
As such, these toxic products can be found in commercial lotions, sunscreens, creams, mascaras, powders, shades and many other cosmetic products. These synthetic additives and preservatives can lead to a variety of adverse symptoms and health problems like nausea, redness, vomiting, kidney problems, dermatitis, headaches, hormonal imbalances, and in the long run even cancer…and all this from ingredients that were added on purpose, to say nothing of accidental additives, like toxic metal contaminants that can penetrate the body through the skin. Certain products are more likely to contain certain contaminants. Mascaras and eye shades for instance often contain arsenic, eyeliners often contain cadmium, and lipsticks can contain traces of lead, etc.
Most people buy their products under an implicit assumption - that because it is present on a store shelf that it is safe. Unfortunately that is simply not true. For a variety of reasons, the structures and organizations that perhaps should be protecting us from unsafe ingredients or unethical business practices are failing. This leaves us wide open to negative health consequences if we are not careful and conscientious about what we expose our bodies to. It can sometimes feel overwhelming, but if you’re reading this, that means you are studying up on the issues and taking your health into your own hands, and you are on the right path for you and your family.
Fortunately there ARE alternatives to using toxic synthetic products, from truly natural skin care lines to creating your own solutions with natural (and often more effective) products at home. You can read more about natural skin solutions in other articles on this site.
You can always email me an ingredient label from one of your products - anything from hand washes to skin cream, and I will endeavour to answer whether it is healthy in this article series.
We’ve all heard of essential oils, and this article will give you a list of common uses for them. Before that though, to catch readers up to speed: essential oils are natural products of the plants they take their names from – concentrated oils which, in the simplest terms, distill the “essence” of the plant into a liquid.
The reason we’ve talked about the creation of essential oils is because understanding what they are makes understanding what to do with them intuitive – they are a concentrated form of the plant, and so you need much less essential oil to achieve the same benefits you would using the plant itself. Without further pause, let’s talk about some of the uses of essential oils.
Essential oils are often inhaled for their varied health benefits. Some essential oils are ‘burned’ with the intention of soothing the atmosphere – such as jasmine or lavender, and some are intended to have the opposite effect, such as cinnamon and/or cardamom. To use essential oils for this purpose, you don’t directly “burn” the oil – you put it into an essential oil diffuser like this one (which I like a lot), or mix it with a bit of carrier oil such as coconut oil and place it in a non-flammable dish above a candle. This will mean that the oils will evaporate into the atmosphere, leaving their scent in the room, working as an insect repellent, or just used to make a room smell unique and pleasant.
As a bath/shower enhancer
You can also use essential oils for baths. Many essential oils are good for the skin, or can be absorbed through the skin for maximum benefit. To do this, use your essential oil as you would a bubble-bath mixture; simply pour a few drops of the oil into your bathtub before you run the bath. When the water runs, your oil will mix with it.
Within creams, perfumes, as a chemical replacement
Just like carrier oils, you can buy organic or natural creams that work as a carrier-cream, if you like. These carrier creams facilitate the absorption of your essential oil when mixed. This makes for a health and beauty regime that you can decide for yourself; unlike buying store-bought chemical concoctions which contain chemicals whose origins you don’t know of.
As a massage oil
Another use for essential oils is as a massage oil. Again, with a carrier oil, you can use essential oils to relax your body and to enhance the effects of a massage. These massages, also called aromatherapy massages, are a great time to use essential oils because your body is being manipulated – and so your skin will absorb more, and your blood flow will be optimal as your body sends hormones to deal with the manipulation caused by the massage.
As a scrub
In the same way that you use a cream as we’ve talked about above, you can use essential oils in combination with gentle salts such as sea salt or epsom salt, jojoba beads, or sugar, and a carrier oil, to create a scrub to give your shower time a whole new feel. When you exfoliate using the salts, sugar, etc, dead skin cells are removed and cell turnover is enhanced, helping to prevent signs of aging and promote healthy skin without all the harmful chemicals in cosmetic ingredients and most commercial skin care products.
There are many ways in which essential oils can be effectively utilized to promote your health and well-being. In an aromatherapy massage session with a skilled healer, you can experience some of these benefits firsthand, along with expert guidance tailored to your individual needs and preferences.
I wanted to be sure I made my first entry here about my favorite oil for healing: lavender. Lavender (botanical name: lavendula angustifolia or lavendula officinalis), with its characteristic purple blossoms, is one the more commonly-found and easily-recognized plants out there. It has a long and respected use history (think: ancient Romans or even earlier), and not just for perfumery, but as a reliable and effective therapy to treat a huge range of conditions. In this post I’ll discuss how it works, what some of its best-known uses are, and how I have personally used lavender.
Therapeutically, lavender essential oil is best known for its relaxing, sedating, and healing properties. These properties come about due to the types of molecules that lavender essential is comprised of. There are three main groups of molecules:
—>“alcohols” like linalool and terpinene-4-ol,
—>”esters” like linalyl acetate,
—>”oxides” like 1-8 cineole.
TRUE lavender (not to be confused with spike lavender [lavendula latifolia], lavandin, or any synthetic form) also contains many more molecules and chemical constituents than just those I listed above. Together, they synergistically create lavender’s diverse ranges of powerful effects, including wound-healing, pain-relieving (muscle aches, rheumatism, nerve pain, etc), anti-bacterial, anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as its blood pressure-lowering properties. The nature of the effect always depends on the dose, the area, the length of time, the mode of application, and generally how you use the oil.
Specific Lavender Remedies
1. healing mosquito bites: apply one drop of pure lavender oil to the bite mark area only, gently rub it in for a few seconds then leave it to air dry. Apply again in the same way every few hours. Within two days or less, lavender will stop the swelling of the bite mark and begin to dry it up. You can stop applying it at this point.
2. healing cuts, scrapes, and burns: as soon as possible after the wound occurs, apply as much pure lavender oil as necessary to just barely cover it. If it is still bleeding, you will find the lavender oil will help stop the bleeding almost immediately, and will cut down the pain drastically. Leave the cut with lavender on it to air dry, and re-apply the lavender every 30-minutes to an hour at first (as needed for pain relief and to stop bleeding), then every few hours after that. After the first few days, once a scab has begun to form, you can reduce or stop applying the lavender. By this point, your body’s healing process has already been safely heightened, and you will find the area will heal faster than it typically does, and with little or no scarring.
**Note: This suggestion is for superficial cuts, scrapes and burns. if you have a large or deep cut that goes into the dermis, or a 2nd or 3rd degree burn, or burns covering an area larger than a few square inches on your body, then it is very important you also seek emergency medical care right away to help prevent damage from occurring deep in the body.
3. sleep: In times of stress or insomnia, lavender has a pronounced calming effect on the mind and body, and can help put a stop to racing or looping thoughts that plague so many of us, especially at the end of a long workday. Just place a drop of lavender oil onto your sheet or under your pillowcase before you go to bed, and take a few slow deep breaths once you put your head on the pillow. In this case, lavender works with your sense of smell (called the "olfactory system”) rather than via direct contact with your skin, as there are direct nervous system connections between the human brain and our sense of smell. You’ll find you fall asleep easier, and wake feeling more rested. One of the best parts is that it will NOT make you groggy in the morning and negatively , unlike virtually every prescription or over-the-counter sleep aid you can find.
Selecting a Lavender Essential Oil
You can find lavender essential oil from your local health foods store. Choose bottles that state they are "100% pure” lavender. In general, the only ones with therapeutic properties are 100% pure oils that state the botanical name (in this case, either lavendula angustifolia or lavendula officinalis) on the label. If the bottle says it is or contains a “fragrance” oil, then that product has none of the therapeutic properties I listed above.
If there are multiple brands available, open one of the sampler bottles and take a gentle whiff. Not all lavender brands are alike, and if you are using lavender for sleep or stress, its therapeutic benefits will be affected by your personal liking of the scent.
You can see some examples on my Essential Oil Treatments page of brands of lavender that I have used and found great success with both here in Australia and in the United States.
p.s. - Comments are welcome, as are more lavender recommendations, especially from different parts of the world!
James L Poole
I am a holistic health therapist: Emmett Technique practitioner, aromatherapist, nutritional therapist, and Reiki healer. This is my blog about natural healing. For more frequent updates, please check my Facebook group page.