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December 2008
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January 2009

Easy and Natural Brush-On Treatment for Cuticles

Application of Natural Cuticle TreatmentI am blessed with strong and fast-growing nails. I'm not sure if it's correlated to having strong nails, but my cuticles are a challenge. They'd take over half of the surface of my nail if I let them. I'm exaggerating, but not by much. Wintertime is especially rough on my cuticles, and the skin surrounding my nails becomes tougher.

I love using handmade cuticle balms that are packaged in either small jars or in lip gloss style swivel tubes. There are artisans that make some lovely ones that smell beautiful and work well. The balms, however, can take time to apply and unless I rub the balm in well, it doesn't reach the nooks and crannies between my nails and surrounding skin.

I recently began using a cuticle oil that I prepared myself and store in a repurposed old nail polish bottle. It does wonders in keeping my cuticles and surrounding skin soft and winter-proofed. I haven't yet seen an all-natural cuticle oil, though one might exist... I can make my own, so I haven't actively searched. I have seen brush-on cuticle oils, but they contain synthetics. One mass-market brand also contains alcohol which is drying to the skin.

Click here to read the rest of this article and to view the Easy Cuticle Oil Recipe on AromaWeb....


New AromaWeb Article: Working With and Blending Thick Aromatic Oils

Thick Oils
Pictured clockwise from top left are Calendula CO2, Benzoin Resin, Peru Balsam and Rose Absolute.  
Most essential oils are thin in viscosity, meaning they are almost of a water-like consistency. Some steam distilled essential oils, namely patchouli and sandalwood, are thicker but still are relatively easy to work with. Some CO2s, absolutes, balsams, resins and other botanical aromatics, however, can be nearly solid at room temperature and are much harder to work with, measure and blend.

Heating oils until they are at a workable consistency helps, but it's important to heat oils gently and for as brief a period as possible. Heat can potentially destroy the fragile constituents of particular oils.

I recently received a question from an AromaWeb visitor who would like to know the best method to handle thick oils. Beyond my basic recommendation to gently heat thick oils in warm water, I have wanted to take out some time to develop an article where I describe and explore the options for working with thick oils.

Click here to read the rest of this article on AromaWeb....

A special thank you to Marge Clark, President of Nature's Gift for contributing to this new and helpful article.


Aromatherapy and Nutrition

VeggiesAromatherapy is a remarkable health modality that can help enhance body, mind and spirit, but our nutritional choices can also dramatically impact our health and emotional happiness over the long term. Even the condition of our skin (our largest organ) and hair is directly related to what we choose to eat and drink.

We can and should integrate the benefits of essential oils and other natural botanicals into our daily routine, but attention to what you eat will work synergistically to help enhance your outlook on life and to effect how your body, skin and hair looks and feels.

I once knew a woman who was thin and appeared to be very fit. She was in her late 40s at the time, and I'll call her Jane. Jane was very energetic, perhaps almost to the point of being hyper. A sweet and attractive lady, Jane had the energy of someone much younger, but the skin on Jane's face, neck and hands made her look like she was in her late 60s. We had a brief but friendly acquaintanceship, and as we got to know each other, I would learn that Jane had severe sleeping problems and an auto-immune skin disorder called Lichen Planus. Lichen Planus is a skin disorder that is somewhat rare and can be much more severe than eczema. In some cases, as in Jane's situation, surgery can be required. Because Jane didn't have to "watch" her weight, she also didn't watch what she ate, and she ate a lot of heavily processed foods. She would eat fast food at least once daily, and I had the impression that many days went by in which she ate at least two of her meals from a drive through paper bag. In Jane's case, she barely ate any fruits or vegetables let alone fresh foods, and she barely ate any foods like salmon that are high in essential fatty acids. I suspect this is why her skin was aged beyond its years and why she may have also suffered from Lichen Planus. My knowledge of Lichen Planus is limited, but in my initial research to learn more about her skin disorder, I found an article that indicated that like eczema, intake of essential fatty acids can prove helpful. Jane's excessive intake of processed foods and minimal intake of fresh produce may have also been directly responsible for her sleeping issues.

Jane has indirectly reminded me of the importance of not just nourishing my skin from the outside, but to be sure to also eat foods rich in EFAs. It's also important to increase one's intake of fresh fruits and veggies and limit processed foods. I have my own personal stories to share about the direct benefits in reducing processed foods/eating raw. I'll share those sometime in the near future.

For more information on essential fatty acids, visit AromaWeb's Essential Fatty Acids article.


Tips for a Healthier Mouth

Myrrh Essential Oil May Help Gum Health

Myrrh Essential Oil
Myrrh Essential Oil  
Myrrh Essential Oil is said to be helpful in maintaining good gum health and combating gum disease. I do not have any scientific data to back that up, but over the years, I've read about countless individuals that have mentioned that adding a drop of myrrh essential oil to their mouthrinse has made a difference in the health of their gums or in their recovery from periodontal disease.


Flossing: Before or After?

Flossing
   
Until recently, I used to floss after I brushed my teeth. That's a routine that stuck with me since I was first taught to floss at a young age. Recently, however, I learned that it's best to floss before brushing so that the debris caught between teeth can be loosened and carried away as we brush. Makes perfect sense to me!

For the naturally inclined, dental floss made with natural fibers and/or natural waxes is available.


Alcohol Based Mouthwashes May Increase Cancer Risk

Unless your dentist advises otherwise, finishing your dental care regimine with an alcohol-free mouthwash/rinse is a good idea. Ask your dentist about the concerns with using oral care rinses that include alcohol. Apparently, there are much higher incidences of various oral cancers (mouth/throat/tongue) by those that use alcohol based mouthwashes.


Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a Common Ingredient in Toothpastes

Brushing Teeth
   
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, abbreviated SLS, is used primarily in bubble baths, shampoos, liquid soaps and other products where good lather is saught. It is also a common ingredient in toothpastes. At the time of this writing, it is even used in the Tom's of Maine line of "natural" toothpastes - with the exception of its newer non-SLS line. SLS, however, draws moisture from the skin and can cause drying and irritation. Individuals that experience frequent chapped lips, cold sores or other mouth and gum irritations may especially want to consider avoiding dental products that contain SLS. For more information about harmful ingredients used in personal care products, see AromaWeb's Harmful Skin Care Ingredients article.


Making Natural Organic Beeswax Tealight Candles is Easy

Organic Beeswax Tealight Candles
My first attempt at making beeswax tealight candles.
They turned out well!
 
Candle diffusers, also known as aromalamps, are usually warmed by use of a tealight candle. For those of us into holistic aromatherapy, defined as the practice of using only natural ingredients, we should be giving thought not only to the quality of the essential oils that we diffuse, but also to our choice of tealight candles. The majority of tealights are made from pariffin wax. Paraffin wax is a byproduct of petroleum product and emits toxins into the air when burned. It is counterproductive to use paraffin tealights to diffuse our precious and natural essential oils.

Instead, I use beeswax or soy tealights, but I have learned that some "100% natural" candle makers and artisans are using wick assemblies that are pre-coated in paraffin. The amount of paraffin wax that the wicks are coated in is negligible. I'm not such a purist that I wouldn't burn such a tealight if that's all that was available, but I have a thing for principles... I am against hyping products as 100% natural when they aren't. Also... some makers are using blended waxes (i.e. a soy and paraffin blend) and simply calling their candles "soy wax candles."

If you haven't already, I encourage you to read my AromaWeb article entitled Aromatherapy Candles. Since so many people are still not aware that most candles are made with toxin-emitting paraffin wax, this bears repeating: Unless a candle is made with beeswax or a vegetable based wax like soy, the wax can emit toxins when burned and isn't suitable for aromatherapy use.

A few years ago, I took a daylong class in candle making at Greenfield Village. It was a lively course that described the types of waxes and challenges that our forefathers had when making candles. It included an introduction to beeswax and bayberry (a vegetable based wax) candle making. Other than the knowledge that I gleaned from that daylong class, I'm a total noob to candle making.

I decided to try making my own beeswax tealights. I use organic products whenever possible, and I used organic beeswax pastilles available through FromNatureWithLove.com. I realized that it can't be that hard or time consuming to make tealights - especially when it's in easy to melt pastille form (no grating!) - and I was right. After obtaining the supplies, it only took me 15 minutes to make six 100% pure organic beeswax candles made with pure cotton wicking. As natural a candle as you can get. My wicks were a little off-center, but with practice (and a little Googling), I'm sure I'll get the hang of it in no time.

Below are the supplies that I used and the steps that I took to make them. Remember that melting wax and burning candles requires care. This post describes what I used and the steps I took during my first attempt. It's up to you if you want to try this, and I'm not responsible if anything goes wrong during your attempts.


Supplies:

Beeswax:
I used organic beeswax pastilles available through FromNatureWithLove.com, but conventional beeswax (in pellet form or grated) would work as well.* Ahh... the life of the bees that are responsible for the production of organic beeswax. They are given only organic botanicals to indulge upon.

*FNWL also sells conventional yellow and white beeswax pellets. If any other AromaWeb advertiser sells beeswax in quantities suitable for tealight candlemaking, let me know and I'll be happy to mention you here.

Wick:
I used #3/0 square braid cotton wick. I know nothing about wick dimensions, but this is the type of cotton wick that was recommended to me, and it seems to be doing the job. You can buy readymade wick/tab assemblies made especially for tealight candles, but they are usually not suitable for vegetable/beeswax candles. The wick size is often wrong and the wicks tend to be pre-coated in paraffin wax.

Metal Wick Tabs:
These hold the wick in place. See the photo. Simply insert one end of the wick and crimp the metal with pliers.

Empty Tealight Containers:
I opted for the clear acrylic container type. I have been repeatedly assured that the heat of a candle does not cause them to burn or emit toxins into the air. The clear tealights allow me to see the beauty of the beeswax as it burns. I'm not partial to the look of the aluminum containers.

Also:

  • Pyrex or Other Microwave Safe Measuring Cup
  • Paper Towel
  • Hot Pad (I used a dishcloth as it wraps around the more narrow measuring cup handle easier than a thicker hot pad or silicon pad)
  • Optional: A scale with a tare feature


Preparing the Wick/Tab Assemblies:

Cold Pressed Vegetable Oils
  Shown above are the tabs, wick and containers that I used. They are resting on a bed of the tiny organic beeswax pastilles.
To make my initial batch of six tealights, I began by preparing my wicks. I will probably soon learn a better way to do this. Experienced candle makers are welcome to comment or e-mail me. I cut the wick into about 1.5" lengths so I'd have enough to hold the wick in place as I poured the wax. After cutting the wicks, I then placed each one into the metal tabs and crimped the tabs. Be careful not to let any of the wick hang out from the underside of the tab, otherwise the wick/tab assembly will not sit properly in the container. I then stood the wick/tab assemblies into the individual containers and then move onto preparing the beeswax for pouring.


Preparing the Beeswax:

I added 3.6 ounces (by weight not volume) of the organic beeswax pastilles to a Pyrex measuring cup. This was almost the equivalent of 8oz. by volume. I then placed the measuring cup in my microwave* and placed a napkin over the top and slowly microwaved the wax for approximately 5 minutes. I stopped every few minutes to check on it. I observed no splattering on the napkin as it heated, but I suggest you use caution. As soon as the wax is melted, remove it from the microwave. The measuring cup handle WILL BE HOT. Use a hot pad.

*Important Update: Thank you to Christa who read this post and took the time to email me to point out the potential health hazards and "un-naturalness" (my klunky word, not hers!) of heating the beeswax in the microwave. As Christa suggests, use of a double boiler (or a double boiler insert or jar) really doesn't take much longer than microwaving the wax. (Just be sure you wipe out the inner pot or insert while the wax is still melted for easier clean-up).


Pouring the Beeswax:

Freshly Poured Beeswax Tealights
Freshly poured organic beeswax tealights.  
I then carefully poured the beeswax into each of the six tealight containers, trying to be careful to keep the wick in the center. I filled each tealight until just under the edge of the container. I then allowed them to cool for a few hours. Afterwards, I noticed that the wicks of most of my initial batch were not perfectly centered. They burn just fine, but I'm sure there's an easy at-home way to center the wicks better.


Results:

My organic beeswax tealights burn well and pretty evenly (despite my off-center wicks). I am getting burn times of 5-6 hours out of each one. That's not too shabby considering I'm used to only a 4 hour burn time with the last batch of readymade beeswax tealights that I purchased. Down the road, I look forward to trying my hand at soy tealights.

Keep in mind that the intended use for these tealights is to gently heat essential oils in a candle diffuser. There's no point in fragrancing these tealights with essential oils - it take a lot of essential oil to fragrance a candle to the point where the aroma is strong enough to be noticeable (one of the reasons that it's difficult to find candles that are fragranced solely with essential oils).


Buyer Beware! "Made With..."

Natural Products
   
Large brand manufacturers are doing their best to take advantage of (1) the increasing health and environmental consciousness of consumers, (2) lax regulation of marketing claims and (3) greater consumer awareness of buzzwords like "aromatherapy" and the benefits of essential oils. More and more popular brand name products are including essential oils and other natural ingredients. But are these products all that they claim? In some cases, it is a buyer's beware market.

Be on guard for marketing claims that state a product is "Made With Essential Oils" or "Made With Natural Ingredients." Claims like these do not state that the product is only made with the ingredient(s) specified. Such products may contain heavy proportions of synthetic fragrance oils and only contain a minute quantity of the touted ingredient. Products promoted as "Made Without Fragrance Oils" doesn't mean the product is all natural.

Cold Pressed Vegetable Oils
  Cold Pressed Vegetable Oils
Some large brand manufacturers are deliberately adding the bare minimum of a natural ingredient to their product formulation simply to be able to hype that the product is "made with" that specific ingredient. For instance...

In the not-so-distant past, a large skin care product manufacturer contacted a natural cosmeceutical ingredient supplier and asked if the ingredient supplier would create a custom blend for them consisting of only 1% of an expensive and nutritive Brazilian vegetable oil mixed with an inexpensive and common vegetable oil so that their product could be labeled as "Made with...!" I'm not an expert with cosmetic ingredient labeling laws, but apparently the skin care manufacturer could legally list the blend as if it was just the pure, expensive oil. In other words, because it was blended, they may have planned to rank the oil higher in the ingredient list than if each of the two separate oils were listed individually. The natural ingredient supplier that received this product manufacturer's request refused to give the manufacturer a price quote, but I'm sure the product manufacturer had no trouble finding a different supplier that was willing to comply with its formulation request.

Other common occurrences include large companies buying ingredients based on the cheapest source with minimal concern for the actual quality of the particular ingredient.

As a rule, smaller companies like those that support and advertise on AromaWeb take much more pride in their selection of essential oils, other ingredients and readymade products. Although AromaWeb cannot make any endorsement for any of its advertisers and there is no implied guarantee of the quality of the products they sell, AromaWeb does not knowingly accept advertising from any company that is suspected of being unethical.

For more information on this subject, visit AromaWeb's What to Look for When Shopping for Aromatherapy Products article.


Quirks

As I write this, AromaTalk is still in its infancy stage. In addition to sharing aromatherapy tips and information, I look forward to also sharing complementary health information and food for thought on a variety of topics.

I love learning. My daughter knows I love learning as much from her as she learns from me. We can learn from anyone. I've even learned a thing or two from my dog, Bailey. He turned nine the other day. In reflecting on these fast-flying nine years with him, I realized that one of his unique traits might make for an interesting blog post.

Bailey will drink out of his water dish, but he has to be starving before he'll nibble out of his food dish.

Bailey
Bailey  
The size, shape or material of the bowl doesn't matter. Plates aren't his fancy either, unless I'm holding the plate for him. Despite his reluctance to eat out of his bowl, he always wants the comfort of knowing it's full. He also does not like to eat if I'm not around. It took me what seemed to be forever to put all the little "clues" together...

Through trial and error, I discovered that all his little finicky behaviors surround his need to be given nourishment directly from me. Hand feeding him isn't always possible (I do have to work to pay for his food, after all), so I've created a compromise. He will eat small portions of food set directly in front of his bowl, but he needs to see me actually touch his food and place it there for him. If he isn't sure, he will scratch at his food while looking at me with those needy eyes until I go over and touch his little pile of food that rests in front of his bowl. Then, he'll eat happily.

I get a kick out of this unique need of his, and though it sometimes can be distracting, I have never wanted to break him of it. It makes him even more special and precious to me. It enforces the bond between the two of us, and adds to his personality and charm.

I chuckle at myself for how long it took me to put all the pieces together in how to best feed him. For as much as I want to notice every unique quality and the needs of those I hold precious in my life including my beloved little companion, sometimes I can be oblivious or it can take awhile to figure out how to best help... and sometimes those we love can't directly tell us what they need, don't realize they need to help us help them, or are too embarrassed to tell us.

Bailey
   
Every once in awhile, someone will criticize his need to eat in this way as if it's "wrong" for him not to eat directly from his bowl. Far too often, we criticize each other's uniqueness or try to make others conform to our culture's "norms" instead of expressing interest in learning what is going on for the other individual, to be understanding, nurturing or doing what we can to support each other. And a sad pattern that happens far too frequently is that we have far less tolerance for another person's oddities if he/she shows no compassion for our own. With only knowing these facts about my little champ, you possibly might picture him to be picky about every little thing instead of seeing him as the generally calm, happy-go-lucky, charismatic little guy that he normally is.

There is no truth to the saying that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Bailey turned nine the other day. A couple months ago, I easily taught him how to consistently jump on my lap and automatically turn around and scooch down next to me on my recliner instead of directly on my lap when I'm reading. He may have been as fed up with me accidentally bonking him on the head with my book as I was. ;) If I wanted to, I could train Bailey to eat out of his bowl, but something unique about him would be lost in the tradeoff.

Bailey indirectly reminded me of something we should all remember. If we can't look beyond someone's unique traits or differences, we might miss out on seeing many other beautiful traits.


Spotlight: Juniper Berry Essential Oil (Juniperus communis)

Juniper Berries
Juniper berries sprinkled between malachite, sage and carnelians.  
The New Year is a time that many like to start fresh and renew themselves. AromaTalk's Bringing in the New Year With Aromatherapy post highlights the use of Lime Essential Oil for cleansing, uplifting and renewing the spirit. Another spiritually cleansing and purifying essential oil that is not popularly discussed in common aromatherapy literature for that purpose is Juniper Berry Essential Oil. The branches and berries of the Juniper, a coniferous tree, have been used for medicinal and spiritual purposes since ancient times.

The Old Testament includes several references to the juniper tree including Psalms 120:4. This verse references burning a person with a false, deceitful tongue with the coals (perhaps burning branches/logs?) of the broom tree, an ancient name for a variety of juniper shrub that grows in Palestine. This passage can be looked at in several ways, one being that the juniper was used to cleanse, purify and eliminate that which is false and negative.

Native Americans use juniper berries for medicinal applications and burn the berries to cleanse and purify the air. I dabble in making natural forms of incense and include juniper berries and Juniper Berry Essential Oil in several of my personal recipes. Some involved in energy work and crystal healing use Juniper Berry Essential Oil to cleanse and clear crystals.

Juniper Berries
  Juniper berries still on the branch.
Juniper berries are a natural antiseptic, as is the essential oil. It can help combat acne when used at low dilutions in skin care applications. A room mist/air freshener made with Juniper Berry Essential Oil may help to kill airborne germs.

AromaWeb's basic Air Freshener Recipe can be used to make an aromatic and purifying juniper berry room mist. Instead of following the blend ratios shown on the page, use 30 drops of Juniper Berry Essential Oil.

Emotionally, Juniper Berry Essential Oil is calming and helps to ease stress without imparting the sedative effects that clary sage and the chamomiles are known for. Spiritually, Juniper Berry Essential Oil used in a room mist, diffuser or candle burner cleanses and purifies the air. It is a good choice for use during prayer or meditation. I prefer to use Juniper Berry Essential Oil in a candle diffuser instead of a nebulizer.

Juniper berry essential oil has a distinctive aroma that is woody, sweet, fresh and crisp. Juniper Berry Essential Oil blends well with wood oils like cedarwood, sandalwood and rosewood and other conifers like cypress and fir needle. I also enjoy it blended with clary sage, or the grounding base notes of vetiver or patchouli. I also enjoy juniper berry blended with citrus oils including orange or grapefruit.

Juniper berries are responsible for giving gin its distinctive flavor. The name gin is a loose dirivative of the word juniper. Jenever, a Dutch predecessor to today's gin was named from Jeneverbes, the Dutch word for juniper.

For more information regarding Juniper Berry Essential Oil, see AromaWeb's Juniper Berry Essential Oil Profile.