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Essential Oils

What useful stuff! Diluted in a carrier oil, spread on the skin, essential oils can heal rashes, burns, acne, can smooth the skin, reduce wrinkles, and give your skin a healthy glow. And that's just the surface!

The proper combinations of essential oils can improve circulation, help to purify the blood, reduce water retention, even ease menstrual cramps.

Then there's aromatherapy.

Reduce stress, nausea, anger, and headache pain. Promote love, happiness, energy, and calm. You can do just about anything with the right smell.

Obviously, aromatherapy doesn't work for everyone. Life-long smokers with a dulled sense of smell can't absorb the full impact of a scent, and those who are overly sensitive to smell just can't handle it (for example, chemotherapy patients. If the faint smell of a pizza will send them running for a basin, what will an explosion of sweet orange and patchouli do?)

You can make your own natural perfumes with essentail oils. Personally, I can't stand most commercial perfumes. There's something...plastic about them. My grandmother perfumed her toilet paper holders, and every time a teeny-bopper passes by drenched in some horrible commercial perfume, toilet paper is all I can think of.

I love light musks. Patchouli, sandalwood, vertivert, and ylang-ylang evoke mysterious mossy forests, and adding cedar to any of those musky bases reinforce that feeling. If I'm feeling frisky and energetic (or if I want to feel frisky and energetic) I mix lavender, sweet orange, petitgrain, and just a little bit of cedar.

With my stock of essential oils, I can mix a floral scent that isn't cloying, a musk that doesn't smell like dirt, or a citrus that doesn't make me gag. I can't find that commercially.

Getting started with essential oils is easy, even if you don't live near an Akin's or Wild Oats (or an occult shop). You can buy your oils online, and if money is no object, your equipment too.

Money is an object with me.

Most oils don't come with droppers, and droppers are very important. They reduce waste, and drops are the common measurement (i.e., 20 drops of such and such, 15 drops of so and so). You can find small droppers at some grocery stores, pharmacies, and medical supply stores. These are not the large-bulbed baby're looking for glass stemmed jobbies with the small black detachable bulbs. Most likely, you won't be able to find droppers small enough to fit 1 oz. bottles, and that's fine. Three droppers should be plenty, unless you go wild and buy more than five different essential oils.

Keeping your equipment sterile is also very important. You want to keep your oils pure to prevent early spoilage (and they will spoil. Basically, your wonderful oils are just extremely refined plant bits, and there are no preservatives mixed in).

I found a six pack of Beech Nut baby juice in tiny glass bottles for a very low price. The juice is drinkable (unlike the food...unsalted mashed peas, ick!), and the bottles are the exact size I need to hold my droppers after I remove the rubber bulbs. (Explaining my emphasis on removable bulbs)

I fill the cleaned glass bottle with Everclear alcohol, and store my droppers in that. The rubber bulbs would be eaten away by the alcohol, but you can clean them with a bit of isopropyl alcohol on a Q-tip and store them in another glass jar, or a tupperware box. Anything that is airtight and dust free is good.

I use drinkable alcohol for storage and in my recipes because it's easier on the skin than isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, and it has a higher alcohol content (it's almost pure). Everclear is your best bet, but cheap vodka works, too. Cheap bourbon does not. You can also store your Everclear in the's too potent to freeze. Cool, huh?

For stirring your mixtures, I recommend glass swizzle sticks. If you've been in a decent bar, you know what I'm talking about...slender glass rods with some sort of handle at the top. Having two sizes of swizzle sticks is handy, one that is normal sized (about 11 inches tall, 1/2 or 1/4 inch diameter) and one mini (about 7 inches tall, 1/16 inch diameter). You can get these at most grocery stores, but if you're desperate, swipe them from a decent bar.

I emphasise glassware because it's easiest to clean, easiest to store, and there's no danger of it dissolving. You think I'm kidding? Lemon, orange, and grapefruit essential oils are almost pure citric acid, and it will eat rubber, metals, and plastics. You don't want bits of eaten metal floating about in your headache remedy. Pure essential oils are extremely potent, which is why you must dilute them with a carrier oil. If lemon eats at metal, just think what it would do to your skin! True, it's a slow process, but it's uncomfortable almost immediately.

Most of your glassware is too delicate to go through the dishwasher, so you do need to hand wash your stuff. But water alone does not clean oils from your equipment. Soaking in hot soapy water, rinsing in cold, then rinsing with alcohol, then going over your droppers with alcohol and a mini-snake is the best way I've found to clean them. (A mini-snake is a tiny bristle brush on a stiff but flexible line.)

Brown or dark blue glass bottles are the best choice for storing your mixtures. The less sunlight your oils are exposed to, the longer they will last. I also put my oils and mixtures in the fridge, and that extends their lives by about three months. The alcohol gives them another two or three months, and the carrier oil you choose also has bearings on how long your stuff lasts.

Rich, fatty carrier oils like avacado spoil quickly, giving you six months at the longest to enjoy your essential oils. Perversly, the richer the oil is, the better for your skin it is.

Sweet Almond carrier oil is considered to be the best for those of us on a budget. It lasts for years (well, two), and is gentle on the skin.

Sunflower seed oil is cheap, but not as good as Sweet Almond.

Jojoba oil is the closest to our skins natural oil, and is an excellent choice. It spreads better, and absorbs better...but it's not cheap.

Mineral oil is really not a good carrier, but it will do in a pinch. It's cheap, you can get it anywhere, it doesn't spoil, and it hasn't done any damage to my skin. I don't recommend it for people with sensitive skin, or those with allergies to petroleum.

So, which essential oils are the best to start off with? I recommend lavender, cedar, grapefruit, and petitgrain. I think of lavender as the aspirin of can use it for just about any purpose. It's good for calming, for energizing, for headache release, for dream sleep, and revitalizing. It is antiseptic, refreshing, and really clears your sinuses. Best of all, it's cheap! There are many different types of lavender available, the best IMO being lavender 40/42. You can use this for soap scenting, aromatherapy, skin absorbtion, bath scenting, and it doesn't cause harm to fabrics.

Cedar is another multi-use oil. It's not quite as calming as lavender, but when used together the mix is a good "downer". Cedar is also antiseptic, refreshing, and energizing.

Grapefruit is a fantastic energizer, and it's a cheap alternative to other citrus oils. Many recipies that call for orange or lemon can be made with grapefruit without suffering. Also, when a recipie calls for bergamont, simply mix grapefruit and petitgrain (1/3 to 2/3) for the same scent and effect. Bergamont is expensive!

Which is the reason I include petitgrain in my beginner's list. Bergamont is part of many recipies, and it can cost from $20 US to $40 US per oz. I bought 2 oz of grapefruit for $3 US and 1 oz of petitgrain for $2.75...two useful oils for much less than just one oil.

Where can you find essential and carrier oils? I mentioned Akin's and Wild Oats earlier, but not everyone lives near these wonderful chains. Also, I hate to say it, but they're far too expensive. I found a nifty little website called Camden-Grey that sells quality oils for the best prices I've seen yet. They don't have much in the way of customer service, and my limited correspondense was a bit brusque, but I can live with that. They are located in Florida, USA.

Camden-Grey's selection was limited to the more mainstream oils, so if you're looking for something else, try Poya Essentials. They're pricey, but they do have just about everything. Poya is located in Australia, but the last time I checked, their prices were listed in US $.

If you find any websites with a better selection, better prices, or just a really cool layout, please let me know!

My first book on aromatherapy was 500 Formulas for Aromatherapy; Mixing Essential Oils for Every Use by Carol and David Schiller (ISBN 0-8069-0584-0, Sterling Publishing Co, Inc., New York). I got it for $12.95 US in a little shop in Eureka Springs, AR...I highly recommend it! It has clear, simple instructions and gives some history and useful information on essential oils, massage, and reflexology.

For something more esoteric, try The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews by Scott Cunningham (ISBN 0-87542-128-8, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul MN)

If you have any questions, comments, or corrections to make, please don't hesitate to contact me here. If I don't have an answer, I'll try to direct you to someone who does. Remove the "nospam" before sending.