Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Defining Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is an incredible holistic and complementary therapy that is gaining recognition more and more each year. However, in the United States especially, the term has often been used as a meaningless buzz word to sell you smelly products. As a result aromatherapy is often misunderstood and very much undervalued by the general public. In this first lesson I will try to shed some light on what aromatherapy actually is.

Defining aromatherapy can be a difficult task in some ways. This is primarily because of the common misuse of the word. This misuse in addition to some of the elitist behaviors in the essential oil world itself has led to a gross lack of understanding by the common person. That is not to say all people who deal with essential oils are snobs by any means but I have witnessed personally certain people who work in the field behave snobbishly towards the public. Instead of making polite conversation and attempting to enlighten them they simply turn their nose up at the “obvious stupidity” and leave them flapping in the wind. When I witness this it annoys me to no end. If it has not been for the kindness of the woman mentioned in my last post I may have never had the same depth of understand I do now. She was kind to me and helpful in my quest for knowledge, despite my young age at the time.

I think that knowledge should be shared. Learning is vital to life and kindness is a virtue to cultivate. So here I will pass the kindness forward. I will teach you as best I can.

To begin with lets start with some history.

There is virtually no group of people in the history of humanity who has not at some time used plants for medicinal purposes. Aromatherapy is the use of aromatics or aromatic plants to support well being. Modern aromatherapy, as most people know it today, is quite young and has a rather short history. However, the history of medicinal and aromatic plants has an ancient lineage indeed.

Our primitive ancestors may have learned that smoke from a certain herb or berry dropped into the fire made them feel calm or opened there chest to breath easier. The Egyptians used resins, barks, oils and balsams for medicine, food preparation, spiritual activities and burials. It is thought that the Greeks learned much of there aromatic knowledge from the Egyptians and of course added there own experience to the history of it’s use. Hippocrates, considered to be the “father of western medicine” and a renowned Greek physician, is often quoted has having said, “the way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day” And, of course, the Romans where well known for there decadent aromatic bathhouses.

In the middle ages aromatics where often burned in the streets and in homes to ward off infections and the bubonic plague. It is commonly suspected that tanners, perfume and glove makers where often immune to the plague because they where constantly surrounded by the aromatic essential oils of there trade.

During the eighteenth century essential oils where used extensively and much research was being done on their medicinal properties. However this was also a time that a growing specialization of medicine was occurring, which would eventually attempt to take medicine out of the hands of the common person. In the nineteenth century the family doctor was established.

In many ways the history of aromatherapy is the history of herbal medicine. Aromatherapy as we know it today, however, is a modern development based on how these aromatic plants where previously used. For this I would most like to thank Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who coined the term in 1937 and the respective Gattefosse family.

Rene-Maurice Gattefosse

Rene-Maurice Gattefosse was the son of Louis Gattefosse, who owned and operated the Gattefosse perfume business, which still remains today. During Rene’s youth perfumes where still created with a mixture of natural essential oils, alcohol extracts and floral pomades. He, his father and brother worked closely together to define the compositions under which perfumes where prepared to set a standard of quality in strength and odor.

One of my most lovingly prized possessions, a gift from my husband, is a book called, “Formulary of Perfumes and Cosmetics” by R.M. Gattefosse. This first American edition published in 1959 being the English translation and revision of the French text published by the family in 1906, 1911 and 1920.

The original publication being based on the efforts for mentioned.

Due to this connection to essential oils for there perfumery business Gattefosse was already well connected with the herbal trade but it was not until the now famous laboratory explosion took place that aromatherapy, as we know it, came to be.

The story has been retold just a little different here and there but here is the quote from Rene’s book, “Aromatherapie” (1937)

“…External applications of small quantities of essential oils rapidly stops the spread of gangrenous sores. In my personal experience, after a laboratory explosion covered me with burning substances which I extinguished by rolling on a grassy lawn, my hands where covered with a rapidly changing gas gangrenous. Just one rinse with lavender oil stopped the gasification of the tissue. This treatment was followed by profuse sweating and healing began the next day. (July 1910)….”

Rene-Maurice Gattefosse had some 50 years experience with essential oils before he wrote this book. It is was this above mentioned incident that led him to a lifelong passion and commitment for uncovering the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. He is the forefather of “aromatherapy” and therefore aromatherapy is defined, most simply as “the therapeutic application or use of aromatic substances (essential oils).”

In addition to the Gattefosse family, Dr Jean Valnet was another individual who contributed greatly to the shape of modern aromatherapy. Dr. Valnet was trained as a traditional physician at the University of Lyon in 1945. By 1953 he began his research into essential oils. He focused mainly on the best methods of application as well as dosage levels needed for maximum benefit without risk of side effects. During World War II Dr Valnet was successful at treating the wounds of war by using essential oils as antiseptics. He additionally created a number of effective remedies for issues ranging from skin conditions, respiratory conditions, muscular aches and pain and so on, utilizing essential oils. In 1964 he published, “The practice of aromatherapy” and it has since grown to be considered a classical text on the subject.

Also, Marguerite Maury deserves special notice as she pioneered the dermal application of essential oils for both psychological and physiological benefits gained threw pathways of the skin. She also is notable for emphasizing the importance of the individual. Thus contributing to an evolution of aromatherapy.
In modern practice, aromatherapy is dynamic, diverse and often divided. This is perhaps a reflection of both the industries youth and seemingly endless growth.

In England, holistic or traditional aromatherapy was made popular threw standardization. There a standard aromatherapy program includes, basic pathology, basic counseling skills, basic nutrition, anatomy and physiology, Swedish massage and basic reflexology. Oh, and of course, Essential oil therapeutics. This is to a lesser degree similar to many of the more comprehensive massage therapy programs offered in the united states. However, aromatherapy as a standardized practice has yet to be established in the US.

The original introduction of aromatherapy into the US mainstream was threw the retail and gift industries rather than threw the profession. With this original introduction so came poor quality oils and synthetic fragrances being sold as “the best of the best”. It’s no wonder that the average consumer is confused about what aromatherapy is and if there is a difference between essential oils and synthetics.

In my next article I will address this issue of synthetics vs. essential oils further.

I hope you have enjoyed this first lesson and that the content has been enlightening. If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below and I will try to address them as either in return comment or in the next lessons as they follow.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Special Announcement for the Aromatherapy enthusiast

I have decided to offer a free class on aromatherapy.

Topics will include things such as:

- What is Aromatherapy?
- Synthetic fragrance oils Vs Essential oils
- What are Essential oils?
- Chemistry concepts
- How smell effects the body
- How aromatherapy works when used for inhalation
- How dermal applications effect the body
- Blending basics
…and so much more

Before I get started I would first like to introduce myself a little bit and give some background on my experience with aromatherapy.

I first became interested in herbal therapies at a very young age. My grandparents raised me on a small three acre plot off the intracoastal waterway. We lived in a little, two bedroom cinderblock shack, we had a large garden, my grandfather fished and my grandmother made fishing nets and cared for our home. I was surrounded by nature and the wisdom of an older generation. The area we lived was primarily populated by people over the age of 50, give or take. As most of the residents in the area where retired and had grown children, I spent my days playing in the trees and along the water. I made friends with the elderly because there where rarely any children to play with. I also very much enjoyed listening to there stories of times gone by. The result was a deep love and respect for the land and the old ways of life.

During my early years in school the one topic that grabbed my interest most closely was that of mythology. I was fascinated by the far away lands and mysterious tales. I also had a keen interest in horses and read much about Arabian culture because of it’s relationship with then. I had been raised in a Christian home but around the age of ten or so I started having an interest in learning about other spiritual beliefs.

During the early 1990’s a social fascination with the topic of witchcraft came into play. Although it never overtook my spiritual beliefs about God, per say, it did impart a broader scope of cultural understanding to my life. Pagan cultures, especially, have continued to keep detailed records of herbalist lore and I took to the study of that very strongly.

By the age of twelve I was now more a part of the boarder world. While wandering downtown one day, exploring, I came across this little shop and was enormously enthralled by the strange products it held. It was filled with an intoxicating smell and the little brown bottles and herbalist books immediately drew me to adore every corner.

The shop owner, who I have now been acquainted with for well over fifteen year, was beautiful and wonderful. She had a mysterious air and a head full of long curly red hair. I asked her questions about her shop and she recommended to me my first book on aromatherapy, “The Aromatherapy Book” by Jeanne Rose. I still own that book to this day and it is still an irreplaceable asset in my ever broadening collection.

My first experiment was a concoction of a plain base cream mixed with rosemary oil. I was suffering with excessively oily hair due to the onset of puberty and made a hair mask with these basic ingredients. I slathered it on and soaked my hair in it for probably an hour. Once washed, my hair was beautiful and my oil problem greatly reduced like magic. I was hooked.

Over the years I continued to study and love essential oils, yet my formal education did not happen until many years later.

At the age of 25 I found myself a single mother in the process of a divorce. I was working for just better than minimum wage and made the decision to take a risk and enroll myself in college.

The subject that drew closeset to my heart was massage therapy. Over the course of my life not only had I continued to love essential oils and herbalist lore but I had also developed a healthy interest in medical science and alternative therapies. Massage seemed the way to go.

The coursework for the program was two years and in addition to the massage technique we also had intensive study in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, pathology and of course spa and aromatherapy. My aromatherapy class with the highlight of my studies there and in retrospect, where aromatherapy degrees available in the US, I might have gone that route rather than massage.

I graduated and am still a licensed massage and bodywork therapist but my real passion resides in aromatherapy.

So how did I get from there to here? Well a couple years ago I got the idea to utilize my interest in cosmetics and chemistry to make products for my friends and family for Christmas. Being a family with three children money gets tight, especially during the holidays.

I began an extensive study into making balms and salves. I also did a fair deal of research on the FDA and it’s requirements for the distribution of home made cosmetics.

I made lip balms, body butters and candles for Christmas and afterwards I decided to open an online store to share some of my best creations.

The store did well but I was unprepared for the demand and after 6 months closed shop to get myself in better order and to prepare better for the demand. I actually have plans to reopen in January of 2012.

In the meanwhile I also though I might start work on a book of my own. An encyclopedia of sorts for aroma therapists. However, after many extensive hours of research and work the book was lost via a massive virus that got onto my computer. The result of this virus being that my entire operating system has to be wiped and reinstalled. I lost everything.

A close friend of mine has since commented over and over, “When are you going to get back to your book?” I told her recently that I would begin re writing it in January. It so happened that I had started this blog a few months back to just randomly vent and write about what interested me. If your already a reader of my blog then you’re aware that over the last month my obsessions have been the topic of soap and aromatherapy. It was a no brainier. Why not use this medium to write a class on aromatherapy? So here I am.

I have already begun the writing process and will begin posting my lessons soon. However, I also understand that we‘re all focused on the holiday season right now so I have decided to wait until after Christmas to officially begin.

Feel free to leave comments and Please subscribe if this interests you so you wont miss the upcoming topics.
 Thanks for readings and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Smells like Christmas - Part two - The spice of pie, a hint of citrus

Candy canes, mistletoe, “Ho, Ho, Ho” and all that stuff. Oh baby, it’s almost Christmas. The time of year where we show our love threw giving and baking pies! Tell me you don’t love the food at Christmas time. Cranberry chutney, the green bean casserole, ham and yams, oh my! It’s enough to make my mouth start watering right now

I think the most quintessential Christmas food smell though is pumpkin spice. Recipes vary but most commonly a combination of -

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
You just throw it all together and store for when you need it. Simple right?

This lovely fragrant and tasty mix can be used not only in pumpkin dishes but with yams, sweet potatoes pie, custards, cookies, breads, you name it. The sweet and tantalizing recipes are endless. My personal favorite? Pumpkin spice lattes!

Totally irrelevant to the essential oil theme but just for fun here is a recipe so you can make this wonder of the world in your own home.

Pumpkin Spice latte - Home version

In a microwave safe measuring cup add 1 tablespoon of unsweetened pumpkin puree to half a cup of milk.
Add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Whisk it all together and put in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes- watch closely and remove from the microwave when the milk is hot and frothy

Pour into a tall glass. Brew a cup of your favorite coffee and add it to the pumpkin milk. Add 2 tablespoons of half and half and a teaspoon of sugar. Add a little whipped cream. Sprinkle nutmeg on top.
That parts optional but defiantly recommended.


Now on to the oils. First and foremost, I do NOT recommend the ingestion of essential oils. I know we’re talking along a food lined theme but not where the essential oil is concerned. There are a few reasons for this. A lot of things we eat, and that essential oils are derived from, are fine in there complete form. Although it should be mentioned with nutmeg spice one should take care not to ingest too much.

With essential oils you are dealing with the most concentrated essence of the plant. Think of it like a super duper strength version. Even on the skin it is often recommended to take care to properly dilute. So if it’s so important to dilute it even on your skin, you can imagine how it might effect your internal body system.
Some people recommend cooking with them or ingesting for medicinal reasons. I do not. You can get just as much benefit from the whole plants that are known to be food safe without the fear of overdosing yourself. Not to mention, in this concentrated form, some essential oils are highly toxic and can cause serious side effects or even death.

Now some of you reading this may be thinking, “What about oils used for candy making or other sweet treats?” These are food grade oils. They are not typically referred to as essential oils and still need to be carefully measured and used only by someone educated in the crafting of confections. They are not the same thing as the essential oils you buy at your local apothecary, health food store or online.

Essential oils can be derived from various means of distillation. Some companies use what’s known as solvent extraction to extract them. Some companies actually dilute the oils in other oils. Rose essential oil, for example, is often cut at sold at 5 percent. The reason for this is to make the oil more accessible as Rose absolute (pure rose) is incredibly expensive and demanding to make in large quantities. Generally speaking these processes of manufacturing are not so much an issue where inhalation is concerned but I wouldn’t risk it for consumption.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, back to the fun stuff. Lets break down the parts of pumpkin spice and see what there essential oils are good for.

Yes, that’s right! Allspice can be found in an essential oil. Though it is not commonly used or widely discussed there is a bit of information out there on it. Its botanical name is Pimenta officinalis. The name ‘allspice’ came about because the pimento berry from which it is derived combines the flavor and aroma of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper, all in one. This is why in pumpkin spice recipes it is often interchangeable with cloves.

Allspice oil is very strong. It’s rich, warm aroma is beautiful in the diffuser, especially blended with orange, bergamot or other citrus oils but it is recommended that it always used very well diluted. When used at full strength it can be a potent mucus membrane and dermal irritant. There is also a contraindication with individuals who suffer from hemophilia and liver disease. I really don’t recommend it for novice use.
It bares mentioning though in the hands of an experienced practitioner it has some really nice attributes. In small dilutions it is an aphrodisiac. It is also very nice when trying to conceive a masculine blend. It is said to help build confidence and give added determination. It is simulating and very vitalizing. It can be used for arthritis, muscle tonification, stiffness, rheumatism, muscular and gastric cramps, indigestion, nausea, depression, nervous tension and or exhaustion, neuralgia, coughs and bronchitis. It is also suggested that due to Allspice Essential Oil's high Eugenol (a phenol) content, it may act as an anti-viral oil.

Allspice oil ideas for Christmas? Aside from using allspice to make blends for your diffuser, it can makes a wonderful addition to Christmas theme potpourris. You can use either the whole berries, the essential oil or both in various recipes. Also if your inclined to make soap, allspice essential oil can be added to offer a spicy and slightly sweet scent with just a hint of clove. For the savvy and crafty these are wonderful options for making presents or simply for your own personal enjoyment.

Cloves (Syzygium Aromaticum syn. Eugenia caryophllata) have been cultivated for at least 2000 years.
Traditionally the immature flower buds where steam distilled to produce the oil. This oils primary origin of medicinal use comes to us by way of dentistry. A drop would have been applied topically to deaden the tooth to relive pain and to possibly aid in extraction. Manly people still use clove oil today, as a home remedy, for a multitude of tooth problems. There has been some suggestion that it can be used as a wart remover. Got a mold issues? Clove oil is highly antiseptic and can inhibit mold by attacking and killing the spores. Because of its anti bacterial and antifungal benefits it can make a good general cleaner as well. It is calming to smell and is wonderful mixed with orange oil to get rid of unwanted odors in the air.

It should be noted that that when looking to buy clove oil you should be knowledgeable of your purchase. There are three types of Clove oil on the market: bud oil, leaf oil and stem oil. The chemical constitutes of these variations types are fairly significant because of the eugenol content. Eugenol can progressively destroy the cells of the mucosal epithelium and cause an acute inflammatory response. Clove bud oil can have a very wide gap, ranging from 60 to 90 percent eugenol. Clove leaf oil tends to be more stable ranging in the 82 to 88 percent range. Clove stem oil being the highest concentration with a 90 to 95 percent average. Regardless of the clove oil you chose it is highly recommended that it be diluted before use. It should also be cautioned that it is a known allergen, so people with allergies or sensitivities beware.

For an interesting and traditional Christmas project connected especially to cloves, consider making Pomanders. Pomanders have been used since the Middle Ages. The pomanders that we think of today are rooted in Colonial and Victorian times. During those times, pomanders were not only decorative but also useful to cover up bad odors and they can serve that same useful purpose today, for you.

Here is a basic traditional recipe for your enjoyment:

What you’ll need -
Orange for the base
Whole Cloves
1 Tablespoon EACH ground Cloves,
Cinnamon, Ginger, and Nutmeg
1 Tablespoon powdered Orris Root
Satin ribbon

How to do it -
Mix your spices, including the orris root together in large bowl. This mixture will help your pomander dry and increase its fragrance. It will also help to preserve the pomander. Next, select a firm, ripe orange with no blemishes. Take a skewer of some sort to poke holes in the fruit. Now push the stem of one of your whole cloves into the orange. Make sure to place the cloves close together. When the orange is completely covered with cloves, roll it in the spice and orris root mixture. Leave it in the spice mixture and put it in a cool, dark place. Roll your orange in the spices every day, until fruit is dry. Once your pomanders are completely dry, take a pretty satin ribbon and tie around them. You could additionally run a ribbon threw the pomanders to hang them up.

If powdered orris root is an issue you can substitute sandalwood essential oil
When the scent begins to fade you can take your clove oil, add to the same above mentioned spices, and re-roll to refresh.

Cinnamon oil can get complicated. To begin with, as I mentioned earlier, there is a food grade variation. This is not cinnamon essential oil but a combination of “natural and artificial flavors“. Depending on the supplier they can be water based, alcohol based or insoluble. If you where to do a search for cinnamon essential oil, yet again you will end up with a multitude of confusing choices. Cinnamon leaf, Cassia bark, Cinnamon Cassia, Cinnamon bark. These are not just various names for the same product. They are various names for different species of the product.

Why such confusion? Well we should start at the source, the spice itself. The “cinnamon” we know and love up on our pantry shelf may not actually be cinnamon, per say. In the United States and Canada (where true cinnamon is still generally unknown) it is actually Cassia, we use. In South America and Europe, however, true cinnamon is the preferred form of the spice. So depending on where you live in the world cinnamon is commonly known by the same name for many different species.

Cassia (Cinnamomum Aromaticum) is a close relative to Cinnamon (C. Verum, C. Zeylanicum, or "true cinnamon") Cassia's flavor, however is less delicate than that of true Cinnamon and for this reason, Cassia is less expensive. Cassia bark (both powdered and in whole, or "stick" form) is used as a flavoring agent for candies, desserts, baked goods, and meat; it is specified in many curry recipes, where cinnamon is less suitable. Cassia is sometimes added to true cinnamon but is a much thicker, coarser product.

Interesting little side note Cassia is sometimes called "bastard Cinnamon". I didn’t make that up, I swear!

So getting back to essential oil’s, I’m going to try to break this down.

True cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum. Can be distilled using either the bark or the leaf.

Generally the bark oil has a distinct germicidal effect, even stronger than clove oil. In the hands of a competent aroma therapist, cinnamon bark oil can be used as a stimulant for circulation, an antiseptic and by direct application can kill head lice and scabies. (there are much safer and less irritating alternatives for this).

With both cinnamon bark and cinnamon leaf essential oils care should be taken to properly dilute them for use. However, cinnamon leaf is known to be less irritating than the bark oil.

Cinnamon leaf oil can be used for colds, flu and bronchitis. It has been shown to help with loss of appetite and as such may help with eating disorders. Like many other essential oils it can additionally aid in muscle aches and pains. Some believe it is also helpful with women’s issues. Things such as painful periods, scanty periods, impotency, frigidity, cramps and PMS.

As cinnamon is known to be a blood thinner, it can be assumed that would be the underlying reason for it’s assistance with menstrual issues.

The most notable thing for me about cinnamon is that it is sudorific. In other words, when inhaled, it can increase or induce sweating.

Some legends also suggest that it can increase your ability to tap into your psychic mind and that it increases financial prosperity.

Here’s a great Christmas tip. You know those lovely smelling, cinnamon scented, pinecones that cost so much at your local pottery store? Oh! I bet your on track with me now. Just take your cinnamon essential oil and either brush or sprits it onto some pretty ones you collect from outside. If your so inclined, you could also make yourself some cloth Christmas ornaments and infuse the scent onto them as well. Anything really that is somewhat absorbent can be used. Rustic cinnamon Yule log? Check! Or maybe you have some items from years past that had been cinnamon scented but the smell has since failed. Freshen them up! See how many ideas you can come up with. Simple, easy and fun.
Ginger root oil is steam distilled from the rhizomes and roots of Zingiber officinale. It has been highly prized for it’s medicinal properties since ancient times. The Greeks, Romans and Arabs have all utilized ginger for it’s medicinal qualities. Most commonly ginger is used for stomach ailments. I’m sure we all have that one grandma or aunt who says, “drink ginger ale, it’ll help your stomach.” Well in many ways there is some underlying truth. Perhaps not the ginger ale per say, but ginger in general. Ginger Root is one of the best remedies for indigestion. It is both antiseptic and carminative. In other words it relives gas and is cleansing to the bowls. As a result, it can be used to avoid food poisoning. Research has also shown that ginger root and its oil is effective against nausea, motion sickness and vomiting.

Tradition Chinese medicine has employed both fresh and dried ginger for thousands of years. Not only for the above mentioned stomach upset but additionally for fevers, coughs and various other issues. In China there is still a strongly held belief that ginger boosts and strengthens your heart. Many people use it, as a measure to prevent heart diseases. Preliminary research has indicated that ginger may be helpful in reduction of cholesterol and the prevention of blood clots. With reduced cholesterol levels and blood clotting the chances of blockage of blood vessels decrease thereby reducing incidences of heart strokes

All this said, I still stand by my earlier statement that I would not use the essential oil internally for these benefits. Ingestion of the culinary plant should be sufficient.

In regards to the oil for amoatheraputic use, the scent of ginger has many varied applications. Ginger can be used as an emotionally warming oil and is indicated for sexual anxieties and can increase ones sex drive. It helps with lack of direction and lack of focus. It may also help to relive apathy, feelings of loneliness or resignation. The smell of ginger oil will often make ones mouth water. As a result it may be useful as a supportive element in the treatment of anorexia. It is stimulating and is said to improve jet lag, improve memory and “aid in confusion” of the mind. It may also help with migraine headaches and sinus headaches. It can ease nervous exhaustion. It stimulates the body to be open to intimacy and assists an individual in attracting abundance. An additional little tidbit is that is it said to cure an itching nose with the inhalation of just one drop.

Topically it is good for aches and pains and to ward off cold symptoms. One popular use for ginger is a ginger bath. However one should be warned that doing so will cause you to sweat profusely during and perhaps even an hour or so after you come out the bath. The end result is detoxification so be prepared for the symptoms related.

As with all oils it is generally recommended to dilute for topical use. It can be irritating to those with sensitive skin and may have cross allergenic reactions with those sensitive to Peru balsam. Also if you take anti-coagulants, consult your doctor before using ginger.

To be complete in my assessment of essential oils related to pumpkin spice, I mention nutmeg essential oil only in name. I do not recommended it for use. Where the above mentioned oils may have some cautions, using this one I feel should be avoided, period. Nutmeg oil is one of the most potent oils and in high doses can be stupefying and a circulatory sedative. Please do not use.

Orange? Yes orange, Sweet Orange also know as citrus reticulata or citrus sinensis. You may have noticed throughout this article that orange oil is mentioned again and again. Obviously it is not part of pumpkin spice mix but is deliciously compatible with just about everything Christmas. Consider it a crisp, fresh accent to all that heavy rich spice.

Unlike the above mentioned essential oils that are extracted using steam distillation, most citrus oils including Orange Oil are extracted by cold pressing the of the rinds. When you peel an orange, have you ever noticed the tiny droplets that spray? Have you noticed the burst of orange aroma at the same time? What you noticing is the essential oil that lives in the rind escaping as you peel the fruit.

Like everything there is the potential for sensitivity but over all orange oil is considered non irritating and non sensitizing when used properly. For example, less than 7 to 10 drops either combined or singularly, properly diluted into a dispersant can be used for baths.

Oranges where considered by some to be the “golden apples” of Greek mythology that the goddess of fertility gave to Hera when she married Zeus.

Orange is good for indigestion related to a nervous stomach. It is good for insomnia, anxiety, depression and agitation. Being related to the second chakra it is believed to encourage energy, to give courage and counter emotional worry. It dispels unwanted feelings as well as unwanted odors and is excellent when mixed for cleaning. It can be used to combat wrinkles and is good for dull or oily skin. It is also one of only a few essential oils considered generally safe for children.

Christmas time or any time, Orange oil is pure joy in a bottle. As previously mentioned it is excellent for use on it’s own as well as blended with the other oils mentioned for beautiful Christmas inspired fragrance. Experiment a little, find a mix you love. Learn all you can. As always I encourage you to not just take my word for it but explore the world on your own as well.

This is my gift to you
-Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Smells like Christmas - Part one - Fir and Frankincense

Christmas is a beautiful time and there is so much emotion related to the memories we take in every season. Be it the joy of giving, the love of the season or the hope of good will and humanity. Christmas is a special time indeed. Can you smell the fir tree? Can you smell the spices in that fresh baked pie? Candy canes, nuts, and other foods. Smell is amazing. The littlest whiff can bring us soaring with elation or crashing in despair all because of the powerful connection aroma has to the body.

Fir Needle essential oil is one of my personal favorites, especially for this time of year. It is wonderfully earthy, crisp and refreshing. It can conjure to the mind the heady scent of a fairytale forest just after the first winters snow. It is steam distilled from various types of leaves and twigs. Some commonly sold varieties are the European silver fir (Abies alba), the Siberian fir (Abies sibirica) or the Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) but they can be derived from any number of species of Abies, Larix, Picea and Pinus.

This oil can be inhaled for all sorts of respiratory ailments, bronchitis for example, and is a gentle tonic to the nervous system easing the mind and relaxing away aches. It tends to be uplifting of mood while at the same time promotes “grounding”, thus making you feel more comfortable and at home.

One thing I enjoy is a few drops into the well of my steam cleaner to freshen up the house. If you don’t have a steam cleaner you can always add a few drops to a spray bottle, shake and sprit’s above the carpets before vacuuming. If your inclined to make crafts like potpourris, wreaths or sachets it can be a wonderful addition to add an extra kick of holiday feel.

For some, live Christmas trees are considered too much hassle. I personally prefer a live tree. Yet, if you’re so inclined to go artificial, one way you can have the illusion of a real tree is to add a touch of this lovely oil to the branches. Voila! You have the beautiful smell without the needle shedding.

Of course there is simply burning the oil in a common diffuser but another method is to add a few drops to your steam humidifier to aid with winter sniffles. The scent aids with common cold and flu symptoms such as coughs, sore throat and sinus complaints. It is also said to be good for muscle aches.

Some have said to use Fir Needle oil in carrier oils and creams due to it’s analgesic properties. In some cases it has even been suggested that it helps with rheumatism: a generalized term for aches in the joints and connective tissue. While I’m sure there is validity to these claims, I would caution a novice. Fir oils, while considered generally safe, can be a skin irritant. With proper dilution Fir should be fine on the skin but be sure you know the math before using it topically. It is better to first be knowledgeable on skin preparations. You can learn from books or by talking with a qualified aroma therapist. In future articles I will address making tinctures and balms. In the meanwhile, however, I suggest the average person enjoy the benefits of this classic Christmas scent, threw your olfactory system.

Another smell connected to Christmas, for me, is that of frankincense. No I’m not Catholic but after hearing the Christmas story over the years it occurred to me to investigate. I mean gold, frankincense and myrrh? To someone unknowledgeable this collection of gifts seems rather strange. Like those picture games from when you where a kid. Which one of these things don’t belong? Right? From a modern perspective one might think less of frankincense and not appreciate it’s value. However, there was a time when the gift of gold was not as important or valuable as these precious plant derived resins.

In modern times frankincense is still harvested by hand, just as it was thousands of years ago. The harvester takes a special knife and delicately scrapes down small sections of the Bosellia carteri or frankincense trees bark. The first cut produces a milky solution, this is not harvested. About ten days will pass and the harvester returns and scrapes the tree again removing the milky resin and cutting deeper into the tree. This produces a more fragrant liquid but it is still not useable frankincense. After another ten days pass the tree is cut again, at this point the resin produced is a yellow brown color and very aromatic. This is the true frankincense resin often called “tears”. These “tears” of the Bosellia carteri are then steam distilled and the result is frankincense essential oil.

It was said that the fragrance of frankincense “floats on an invisible thread to heaven to attract Gods attention.” It has been revered by almost all western religions including Judaism and Christianity. Hindus and Buddhist have employed it for daily rituals and offerings. In Japan it has been employed in Shinto meditation and ritual. Ancient Egyptians used frankincense not only as a fragrance but also as a fumigant and for medicinal prescriptions. Egyptian women used frankincense to make their black kohl eye pigment, made most famous by Queen Cleopatra, who’s extravagant use of frankincense is legendary. During Roman times when cremation was widely practiced it was customary to burn it in the funeral pyre. It has been said, to gain favor with the god but it has additionally been suggested that it was probably to cover up the smell of burning flesh. Historically it was used in everything from embalming to beauty tinctures but is still most prized for it’s spiritual significance

In Chinese medicine frankincense is used in applications for tissue trauma. It may also have a future in modern western medicine. I have just recently read that frankincense has become the focus of studies related to cancer therapies. The idea being it may have the potential to aid in the destruction of cancer cells without harming the surrounding tissue. Scientists are still in the process of isolating the exact compound needed to do this. It has been speculated that if scientists can be successful at accomplishing this it may be a viable and much safer alternative to chemotherapy treatments. We’ll just have to wait and see how that goes.

All in all, Frankincense oil very much promotes skin health. Especially for those with ageing skin or with infections such as boils or acne. It is an antiseptic, has astringent properties and is anti inflammatory. I have made tinctures with frankincense, rose and other skin promoting essential oils for my grandmother and diluted them in apricot kernel oil. She uses this on her body including her face and sometimes her hair to promote health. For an acne related tincture it might be more advisable to use something like Jojoba. Everyone’s skin is different but that’s the beauty of customizing home made beauty products, you can adjust it exactly how you like.

Frankincense has also been used for pain relief, to increase immunity, to support the respiratory system via its expectorant action and to act as an anti depressant.

Being considered nontoxic, non-photosensitizing and non sensitizing in general, I am fairly confident that it is safe for most people, even those with allergies. However, there will always be an exception to every rule. I’ve met people who claim to be allergic to lavender and I’m skeptical of that, but everyone is different so who knows.

Tying this all back to Christmas, frankincense is simply lovely for reflection and meditation. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday and the general anxiety sometimes caused by the modern season an opportunity for this kind of relaxation and spiritual connectedness is a long sought blessing. Regardless of your belief or perception related to Christmas, "peace on earth and good will towards men" is the bottom line. With a little bit of this thread to heaven you can connect to the divinity inside you as well as the greater divinity outside. Even if world peace isn’t obtained the peace within your own heart may be all you need.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peak into a couple of my favorite Christmas inspired essential oils. They are both lovely but really a matter of personal preference for which you choose to scent your surroundings. In part two I will explore some holiday food inspired scents, such as cinnamon. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Accepted Truths - The pH factor

 For the past few decades pH balanced has been a term widely used in order to sell skincare products. It is just one example of many “accepted truths” we run across everyday. The media using this term to interject scientific sounding mumbo jumbo into the conversation to make you as a consumer feel comfortable about your selections in products. The problem is that few people actually understand what the term pH balanced means. Furthermore, pH balanced for what? 

First lets have a little science lesson. In chemistry, pH is how someone measures the acidity or alkaline nature of an aqueous solution. An aqueous solution basically means something that is water soluble or can be diluted. De-ionized or “pure” water is said to be a neutral, with a pH of 7.0 at 25C or 77F. Solutions with a pH of less than 7 are said to be acidic. Solutions with a pH greater than 7 are alkaline, commonly referred to as basic or a base.

 Low or acidic pH indicated a high concentration of hydrogen ions or hydronium ions in water. Hydronium ions are the combination of hydrogen and water.

Here are some common examples of acids.

Hydrochloric- HCl Muriatic Acid - common name; Toilet bowl cleaners, masonry cleaners, gastric juice
Carbonic- H2CO3 Carbonated water; club soda - soft drinks, blood buffer
Acetic- HC2H3O2 Vinegar; cooking, salads
Nitric- HNO3 Remove warts, causes yellow stains on skin
Phosphoric- H3PO4 Acidify soft drinks, in ATP and DNA
Citric- H3C6H8O6 Fruit juices
Lactic- HC3H5O3 Builds up in muscles during exercise

A high or alkaline (base) pH indicated a low concentration of hydrogen ions. A base is any compound that gives up hydroxide ions when dissolved in water.

Here are some examples of things that are base or alkaline

Sodium Hydroxide NaOH Lye, Caustic); make soap and textiles, oven cleaner, Drano, Liquid Plumber
Potassium Hydroxide KOH Lye, Caustic); make soap and textiles
Magnesium Hydroxide Mg(OH)2 Milk of magnesia; laxative and antacid
Calcium Hydroxide Ca(OH)2 Lime Water; astringent -causes contraction of skin pores
Ammonium Hydroxide NH4OH Ammonia in water; window cleaner, other cleaning solutions
Ammonia NH3 Gas; inhalant to revive an unconscious person, anhydrous or liquid ammonia is injected into soil as a fertilizer
Sodium Carbonate Na2CO3 Soda Ash; Detergents
Sodium Phosphate Na3PO4 Sodium triphosphate;

It is quite possible to write a pretty heavy book on the additional information related to the definition of acids and bases. I have spent much time agonizing over a simple way to explain but for the sake of this article we’re just going to leave the definitions there and move on.

When dealing with an acid, a base and a neutral there are a number of things that happen. Primarily you have dilution. If you take a base and mix water it gives up a part of itself to the water to cause it to become a weaker substance. If you take an acid the water either takes from the acid or binds to the acid also causing a dilution effect. Based on my understanding, the effects of acids to acids and bases to bases is that the dilution process relates similarly to water in that the stronger acid would become dilute by a weaker causing it to meet between the two. For example an acid with a ph of 4.5 mixed with an acid of 5.5 would find an equilibrium of 5 between the two. Same for a base. A base of 10 would be weakened by a base of 8 making 9.

As was stated earlier the pH factor relates only to a water soluble substance. We’ve all heard the saying, “oil and water don’t mix” so it should be made clear that non water soluble agents do not apply where the pH factor is concerned.

Ok, with that little chemistry lesson out of the way, lets begin. The cosmetic industry often tells us that soap is bad for your skin because it is too alkaline in nature. This is based on the concept that our bodies have something called the “acid mantel”. The acid mantel is a thin layer or film on the skin that is formed by sebum (oil) and sweat. This layer is said to protect against the elements, such as wind and pollution. It also said that it inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi on the skin. Or so I’m told. The cosmetic industry would have you believe that by using alkaline soap you are destroying this “acid mantel” thereby subjecting yourself to the above mentioned: wind, pollution, bacteria and fungi. It’s enough to make you scared to death, right?

I have actually read in certain articles that a pH of 7 is enough to seriously impede this most “precious“, natural barrier. Here’s the problem. Do you remember our science lesson? Water is a pH of 7. According to some of the information out there, water will damage your skin. Of course they don’t say water because anyone would know that’s garbage. They say, “a pH of 7” because who knows what that means? Well now, you do.

Additionally in regard to the acid mantel there is no consistent pH range given for this “most important barrier”. I have read 4 to 5.5, I have read 4.5 to 5.5, I have read 4.5 to 6. I have also read it is variable to person to person, men being more acidic than women and being variations to these levels from one part of the body to the next.

I say this with a touch of tongue and cheek but here is my theory why. The acid mantel is the sweat and oil on your body. It is not some precious substance on your skin that will be forever lost if you wash yourself with soap. It is what is secreted from your pores and the glands beneath your skin, sweat and sebum. It is the very thing most people are trying to wash off in the first place. Hello?!??!?

The cosmetic industry tells you in order for your skin to be healthy you must clean your skin with a product that has an acidic pH of about 5.5, give or take, because that most closely matches the acidity of the “acid mantel”. Then those same companies turn around and sell you deodorant to stop you from sweating in your armpits.

The acid mantel in a healthy individual replenishes itself on it’s own naturally; as soon as you step out of the shower. No matter what brand of soap you just used, water alone will strip this film on your skin. The idea that a cleanser “pH balanced” for skin is necessary is a way to scare you into buying, “a cleanser pH balanced for skin”

Oh but it gets better. Lets discuss “tear free” products. You’ve all heard the ad’s, “Gentle as pure water to your babies eyes”. Do you know why that is? Because it’s once again “pH balanced” - for your eyes. Your eyes have a pH of about 7.4 (sources vary) but for a product to call itself tear free is has to be “pH balanced” to approximately 7 to qualify. So this same industry that sells you on the idea that your cleanser needs to be 5.5 to be pH balanced for your skin, sells you a product with a pH of 7 to wash your baby in because it‘s “tear free“.

The acid mantel aside, your body as a whole typically stays at a pH of approximately 7 give or take. Your skin is an amazing organ designed to adapt to the conditions outside of you and can handle fairly well a pH ranging both from the acidic rang to the alkaline (or base) range. If you look back at some of the things listed in both the acidic and base examples above you will see that both sides of the equation have things we come in contact with everyday and never give a second though to if it might “damage” our skin. We also can clearly see that some of the items on either side of the list are caustic and would obviously be damaging to us. The difference has more to do with how far either side deviates from the neutral rather that which side of the neutral they’re on.

Now the argument against soap has been that it can have a pH range from 9 to 11. That very well may have some truth to it but there is never an explanation beyond this given. Once again expecting the consumer to simply trust that this is “bad” and “true”. Soap is made by taking lye and mixing it with fat. Fat in it’s own right is not an aqueous substance but when combined with lye a chemical reaction happens breaking the fat down into soap, glycerin and water. Lye generally speaking has a pH of 13. On it’s own it is extremely caustic. The reaction it has with fats however neutralizes it reducing the pH. This does not happen immediately. Home made soap typically must age for several weeks so that the lye can completely absorb into the fat. The age of soap alone can work as a factor in regards to how alkaline it may be. Also the water and glycerin content play a role in how alkaline it is as well. The amount of fat and the quality the fat used in soap making can significantly change the pH.

People who make all natural soap typically strive to maintain the glycerin content in there soaps because glycerin is very nourishing to the skin. Glycerin is a humectant and draws moisture from the atmosphere towards itself. If you’ve ever used a lotion with a high glycerin content you can almost feel this happening from the moment you put it on. In a large majority of cases the cosmetic industry removes the glycerin content from soap. They do this so that they can use the glycerin in lotions. At this moment I am only making an assumption but I don’t think it takes rocket science to put this idea together. It would seem, the cosmetic industry makes an inferior product intentionally by removing the most nourishing element from soap and then takes that same wonderful substance and turns around to sell it back to you in another product designed to help repair the damage caused.

Instead of accepting the “accepted truths“, we as consumers need to start seeking real truth. I hope this article has been enjoyable and enlightening and will encourage you to keep learning. Don’t just be a complacent consumer, be a knowledgeable one.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Soap, Drugs and Rock and Roll

In the video, Soap, Drugs and Rock and Roll, we first meet Don Bolles, drummer from the punk rock band, “The Germs“. The irony is so thick; you can’t make this stuff up. On April 4, 20007, Don was arrested when, during a traffic stop, his Dr Bronners soap tested “positive” for the drug GHB. The video goes on to illustrate that the NarcoPouch 928 field drug tests used will not only give a false positive for GHB to Dr Bronners soap but any soap that is a natural soap. “Tom’s” (manufactured by Colgate-Palmolive) for example will have the exact same reaction. In an interesting twist this kit does not test positive when used with a detergent “soap”. So the video goes on to illustrate, in a fun way, the chemical difference between real soap vs. fake soap using this faulty feild drug test. By the way, Mr. Bolles was soon exonerated once an actual crime lab tested his soap and found no GHB what so ever.

Now if this isn’t interesting enough, David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, takes this just one step further. Not only illustrating the chemical difference between soap and detergent but calling out manufactures of what he calls “pure, natural and organic synthetic detergent based product.” With tongue in cheek of course. Showing that many of the products we believe to be “organic” and “natural” are simply using meaningless hype words to sell us there detergent.

Kiss my face and Jason’s Naturals are just a couple of the examples he used. I was shocked to learn this because, although I don’t personally use these products, when I was in college for massage therapy, I had teachers, offhandedly, suggest these companies as, “good natural products”.

Now I am an avid label reader. I think it all began for me with food labels, but in general label reading is important. Money doesn’t come easy and I for one want to know what I’m buying. The best defense you have against labels and advertising that is misleading is to understand what you’re reading.

You can’t just blindly trust the words on the front of the bottle. You need to understand that words such as “natural” and “organic” mean nothing. My husband always jokes, “Uranium, is natural”, do you want to put that on your face?

Let me give you a definition:


1. noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.
2. characteristic of, pertaining to, or derived from living organisms; organic remains found in rocks.
Based on this the word “organic” means nothing in regards to product health and safety. Many companies have recognized that the consumer is wanting more natural products. The result has been that they make something that looks “natural” and use the word, organic. They do this to imply a healthy natural product without actually saying it. It’s a loophole and a deceptive one at that.

So how can you protect yourself from misleading terms such as, “natural” and “organic”? Turn the bottle around! Simple right?

Some of you may think, “Not so” and in a way your right. Companies typically write there labels in such a way that you’d need a chemistry degree to even half understand it. I could suggest you bone up on your Chem courses but here is a simpler solution. Lets have a quick look at lables.

To start I’ll use Dove Deep Moisture Nourishing Body Wash as a base line example.
Dove, to my awareness, has not outright claimed to be soap or even implied it. They call there detergent things like, “beauty bar”, “moisturizing bar” and of course the common, “body wash”. I am in no way singling them out as “bad” but rather using there ingredients list to give and example of what a common detergent looks like in the form of “body wash”

Dove Deep Moisture Nourishing Body Wash
Water, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil or Helianthus Annus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Glycerin, Petrolatum, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, Lauric Acid, Cocamide Mea, Fragrance, Polybutene or Polyisobutylene, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Isostearic Acid, Peg-5 Cocamide, Acrylates/Beheneth-25 Methacrylate Copolymer, Peg-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate, Dmdm Hydantoin, Tetrasodium Edta, Etidronic Acid, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891).
There first ingredients are pretty straight forward and not necessarily bad. However as the list descends you see the chemical cocktail thicken. You don’t have to know exactly what these latter things are to know they aren’t natural. In defense of Dove I have never found them to be misleading and there products are not terrible for detergent but they are still detergent.

Now on to the next product. For this I randomly searched using the phrase, “Organic soap”. I’ll give Amazon credit in that the first items that came up where pretty much in line with my search but about 11 items down on the first page we have:

Nature’s Gate Organics Liquid Hand Soap, Lavender & Aloe
Certified organic lavender hydroflorate aqua blend with certified organic extracts of juniper, sage, echinacea and licorice, olefin sulfonate, cocoamidopropyl betaine, certified organic aloe vera, vegetable glycerin, cocamide MEA, PEG-150 distearate, certified organic lavender oil, isoceteth-20, citric acid, grapefruit extract and pure essential oil of ylang ylang.

Wow, look at that. See the similarity? This is also, not soap.

Now here is -
Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap ,18-in-1 hemp peppermint, pure castile soap
Water, Organic Coconut Oil*, Potassium Hydroxide**, Organic Olive Oil*, Mentha Arvensis*, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Peppermint Oil*, Citric Acid, Tocopherol
Here’s what all the little stars mean -
** None remains after saponifying oils into soap and glycerin

Can you see the difference? This is soap.

You may say, well there are still some words I don’t recognize there. That’s ok. The main thing to bare in mind is that the majority of the label is clearly understandable and minimal in ingredients.

Just for information’s sake, Tocopherol is commonly known as vitamin E, Metha Arvensis is the Latin name for a plant called “water mint” and potassium hydroxide is, of course, a type of lye. Lye and fat make soap.
Understanding what your reading and making educated choices, is the most empowering thing you can do .
Some of you reading this may be thinking, “I’m outraged! What about regulations? Who’s taking care of this? I want to sue!”

Ok, ok, hold it right there buddy. That’s all well and good and noble sounding but here’s my two cents on that. There are already people suing companies over this. Litigation is long and taxing both financially and emotionally. A well meaning person would say, “Well we shouldn’t just ignore it!” Well of course not, but there are two issues I want to address here.

First, you have the negative effect on small business, threw over regulation. In a society of free trade, regulations don’t necessarily benefit the little guy. The small business person cant afford it. It’s one thing to have basic consumer protection, but anything beyond that is counter productive and damaging to smaller companies. Excessive regulations ironically benefit the large powerful corporations because they make enough money to offset these issues and over the long term this benefits them because it weeds out competition. In other words buries the competition threw enormously exhausting expectation. Meanwhile the larger companies who do “bad things” simply pay there fine or tie you up in court for a decade. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t have rules. Basic no nonsense things like labeling is perfect and should be expected. It doesn’t hurt anyone as long as it’s within reason. If there’s nothing to hide in a product then there’s no issue to putting a label on it. We already have regulation for labels and enforceable rules for those who mislabel.

The second part is this: I’m a believer in the adage, “Work smarter, not harder”. Going up against large companies in the above mentioned way is counterproductive and hurts the chances for competition. It’s the “hard way.” Competitive small businesses give you options and options are your “smarter” way. If you want to accomplish a better marketplace with the kind of products you value then you should stop buying the products that you don’t want in the market. Additionally small businesses should be given support for growth not the other way around.

If you still want to sue? Buy Dr Bronners soap. David Bronner is constantly in court on behalf of regulations and being a company with fantastic ethical standards they’re in it for the right reasons, I think. Not just that but if your going to purchase, buy ethically, period.

In my utopian world regulations would be minimal and limited. Consumers would make educated decisions and support the better guy, not the bigger guy. People would be held high for high standards and admired for kind and ethical practice.

I know I said this before but it defiantly stands repeating, “Understanding what your reading and making educated choices, is the most empowering thing you can do.” You are not a victim of circumstance you are a victim of choice.

(I would like to add I am in no way affiliated with Dr Bronners. They haven't paid me and they don't know me. I just feel they're an all around ethically strong company and I like there soap.)

The Fear of Soap

For the average person cleaning yourself is as natural as eating or sleeping. It’s part of the basic routine we all go threw everyday. So why then does the idea of soap cause such anxiety? You may think I’m strange for saying this. By soap, however, I don’t mean the same as you might think. I don’t mean the petrochemical laden detergents called soap. I mean good old fashioned lye soap, real soap, actual soap.

Over the last couple of years I have been studying soap, lotions and various “personal care” products. Initially, I just wanted to make some Christmas gifts for friends and family. I thought I could save myself a few bucks and still make something enjoyable for people to have and use. The more I read and learned the more fascinated I became with the idea of better products for your body and the more upset I became with the toiletry and cosmetics industry in general.

That being said, it still doesn’t exactly explain what I mean by the fear of soap, So I’ll start with a little history.

What is soap?

The first soap was most likely discovered accidentally when some fats from an animal cooking fell into the ash of a fire. This on the most fundamental level makes “soap”. The refined version, the artisan interpretation, goes a little more like this: lye (either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) and fats (either animal or plant based). Castile Soap, being an example of natural soap creation.

Castile Soap, named for the region of Spain where it was made most famous is traditionally a combination of lye and plant oils. Typically olive or a combination of olive and laurel, but the more modern variations include fats ranging from coconut oil to hemp oil and various combinations there of.

On the most basic level this sounds simple and good; natural. So why then the fear or soap?

You may think you don’t fear soap. What’s more you may believe you use soap everyday, but the reality is far different. What modern society has accepted as “soap” is not soap at all but detergent. The only most basic similarity between the two are that they are surfactants, but on many other levels they are far different.

If your wondering, Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of a liquid, the interfacial tension between two liquids, or that between a liquid and a solid. For this case we are referring to a substance that, when dissolved in water, gives a product the ability to remove dirt or grease from surfaces.

Detergent, unlike soap, is a varied cocktail of chemicals which mimic soap. Some of the ingredients are created with similar byproducts but then mixed with other agents. In there own right, I think detergents where created with good intentions in mind. Being more acidic in nature they seemed to function more efficiently for cleaning surfaces. They appear to not leave residue and as such where considered more ideal for clothes washing as well. They are versatile much like soap, but they are not soap.

For an understanding of what led to the widespread usage of detergents we should take a glance back in time. During the 1800’s respectively, patents where being registered for various detergent chemicals. Although the history of detergents is not so veiled as the origin of soap making, there is still some considerable debate on the origins of the detergent industry, as we know it. It has been suggested that during the time of World War I detergents where being developed in answer to the interest of utilizing fat for productions other than soap. By World War II the availability of fat was in decline and as a result detergents rapidly gained strength in the market. From a manufacturing standpoint these chemical variations where more cost effective and as such continued to gain popularity.

Over the years, companies have grown enormously and threw the course of advertising have very much influenced an individuals understanding of the most basic of concepts. They’ve additionally capitalized on complacency. Basically we have been told for decades, “Soap is bad” and most believed it.
In modern times, information has become more widely available to the masses and some people have started questioning this. Ironically we now have companies attempting to pass off detergents as “soap”. I would assume, with the hopes that the average consumer would just take there word for it and in many cases they do.

You may ask yourself, what’s wrong with this?

Well aside from the obvious personal enslavement that comes from a place of complacency and ignorance, detergents are recognized to be toxic to the environment and organic life. We are organic life and we are a part of our environment.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some preachy green freak. I eat meat and I’m ok with that. I don’t have a recycling bin, though I probably should. I’m your average person, just like you. I was for the longest time mindlessly consuming myself. However, I am on a personal mission to change that.

I had a fear of soap. When I first decided to start making natural products for myself I was simply looking for a cheaper, better, solution. I wasn’t looking to make soap or learn about soap. I was actually learning how to make lip balms and body butters. Natural soap, interestingly enough, goes hand and hand with these because they are similarly made with fats.

At first I was scared of the idea of lye. With good reasons because lye in its own right is caustic. However, it doesn’t take long to learn that when lye emulsifies with fats you no longer have lye. You have soap. Soap properly made is not only safe and natural but in the hands of a skilled soap maker can be beautiful and nourishing to your skin. Once I became aware of this simple process I was captivated but I was still afraid of soap.

We have been told soap is bad for your skin. Ask anyone about washing your face with “soap” and they balk at the idea. There are two reasons for this: brainwashing and misinformation. Brainwashing by businesses trying to sell you a million different products. Misinformation by those same companies trying to confuse you about what “soap” really is. Furthermore, confusing generations about what “clean”, “natural” and “healthy” is. The result? Trusting in the corporations instead of your own self education. I was afraid to try real soap because I was made fearful by misinformation.

If you want to get down to it, humans initially washed themselves with water and moisturized with oils. Around 2000BC give or take soap was mentioned for the use of cleaning the body but throughout history bathing varied as common practice. In 1300AD Castile soap was invented, so for the next 500 years give or take, if a person used soap to bathe then it was a natural lye and fat based soap. Detergents have only been in regular use for body cleaning since the 1940’s. The math is simple.

Do you have a fear of soap?

(soap picture from - T and J Soaps - )