Aromatherapy to Enhance a Facial Treatment

Aromatherapy is the use of aromatic compounds to create a desirable therapeutic action. The most commonly known Aromatherapy practices involve essential oils, the volatile oils found in the secretory structure of aromatic plants. Essential oils are often diffused, applied topically at various concentrations, or added to wash off bath and body products. An esthetician has a unique opportunity for integrating essential oils into her practice and can make a profound impact because of the intention she sets for a relaxing and rejuvenating client experience. Most importantly, essential oils can be safely applied, not by adding them to skin care products (because that would often be too harsh for the skin), but by using them on hot towels. Simply dropping one or two drops on the towel positioned on the client’s chin, and allowing them to breathe it in for a minute or two, is enough to positively alter the facial experience.

I change the Essential Oils used in my facial room seasonally. After being closed for 4 months due to COVID-19, I had to reflect on which oils would help people the most as they re-enter to the Apothecary. Returning to touch, while living much of our day socially distancing, requires trust. To ease any anxiety and to help people relax deeper into the experience, I have carefully chosen specific essential oils to use on the warm towels throughout the facial.

🌸 In the beginning of the facial, I created a blend of Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) and Melissa (Melissa officinalis) . Cedarwood is a base note which means that it has a larger molecular structure and slower evaporation rate. It is grounding and fortifying. One of my favorite descriptions of Cedarwood is by Gabriel Mojay in his book, “Aromatherapy and Healing the Spirit”. He says, “Steadying the conscious mind, it helps us to resist the sudden events and powerful emotions that threaten to undermine our confidence and morale.”

Melissa, or lemon balm, is a powerful anxiolytic. I have personally helped a loved one out of a panic attack within just minutes of administering inhalation of this oil. My teacher, Florian Birkmayer, MD, in his years as a Psychiatrist, Equine Therapist, and Aromatherapist, says that in addition to relieving “overstimulation, stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, (Melissa) lowers high blood pressure, and calms over-rapid breathing and heartbeat”.

🌸 In the middle of the facial, to help create greater ease in the body and mind, I use my Stony Creek Aromatics Restorative Mind-Body Diffusing Oil. I’ve sung the praises of this research conducted on the five oils in this blend in my article, https://jessicasapothecary.com/aromatherapy-the-stress-response-cycle/. This blend of Sweet Orange, Lavender, Sandalwood, Patchouli and Rose sinks us deeper into our heart center, reminds us to take a deep breath, and lowers heart rate and cortisol.

🌸 To conclude the facial, I choose either Corn Mint (Mentha arvensis) or Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi). Both essential oils are top notes that help give a mental lift after the hour-long trance of a facial. Corn Mint, or Wild Mint, contains menthol that awakens the senses. Andrea Butje, director of the Aromahead Institute, describes it best when she explains how the plant part used in the distillation has an effect on the therapeutic action. As in the case of corn mint, she says, just as leaves allow the plant to breathe, “We can use oils made from leaves to support respiration and deeper breathing. They can help us breath when we feel stress and anxiety, while supporting expansion and creativity.”

As with all citrus oils, Pink Grapefruit contains d’limonene, which can relieve anxiety and give a sparkle that lifts the mood.

Integrating essential oils into our facials helps to create a more holistic experience. Not only is our goal to rejuvenate the skin externally, but foster well being that promotes the longevity of skin health! For more on how mental health effects skin health, check out Psychological Stress & Skin Barrier Function.

Psychological Stress + Skin Barrier Function

Skin is our first line of defense against irritants, pathogens and environmental stressors. The epidermis contains sebum (a mixture of lipids, wax esters, fats, and fatty acids) (1), layered with keratinocytes and corneocytes (skin cells in the epidermis) that help seal in moisture while keeping viruses, bacteria, and allergens out. The barrier function is easily disturbed, however. External factors, namely UV exposure and pollution, are well known to compromise the barrier of the skin. In my studies I have discovered that increased cortisol levels and inflammation that occur during psychological stress also contribute to the deterioration of the skin barrier. This blog will focus on the science behind psychological stress and its role in the disturbance of the skin’s barrier function. Don’t worry, I will also tell you what you can do to protect and strengthen it too!

Stress activates two major neuronal pathways: the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) Axis and the Sympathetic Nervous System (2). In my blog, Aromatherapy & the Stress Response Cycle, I mention the HPA Axis and how high levels of cortisol, our primary stress hormone, can lead to imbalance in the body. To recap, during acute stress the Hypothalamus in the brain sends signals, via the pituitary gland, for the release of corisol by the adrenals. An exciting finding is that various organs in the body, including skin, have their own peripheral HPA mechanism. In this way, the skin “acts like an endocrine organ” (3).

The way in which cortisol is released into the skin is via an enzyme in our Keratinocyte cells. That enzyme is called 11 beta-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 1 (HSDI), or Cortison reductase. It activates endogenous, or naturally occurring, cortisone and converts it to cortisol. HSDI is also activated by UVB light, which then increases cortisol in the epidermis (3). This is one of the factors responsible for delayed wound healing, the disturbance of keratinocyte proliferation, as well the destruction of fibroblasts which are responsible for the creation of collagen and elastin in the dermis (4,5). Stress is a major factor in delayed healing of acne lesions, dull or thick skin, a dehydrated or rough skin surface, and loss of elasticity and density. Psychological stress triggers HSDI and disrupts homeostasis, the delicate balance in the skin.

In addition to the HPA Axis, stress also activates the Sympathetic Nervous System (2). According to the research gathered by A. Garg, “The peripheral nervous system and the skin are intimately connected via free nerve endings that extend to the epidermis” (6). Nerve fibers (and cortisol levels) activate cytokines, or stress mediators in various cells, and have an inflammatory effect. During acute psychological stress the skin’s immune cells are the target of a cytokine assault. Specifically, nerve fibers activate mast cells and cortisol activates Th1 cells to product cytokines (7). Immune cells can become overreactive and cause allergic reactions and itching, and even auto-immune disorders like psoriasis.

The collateral damage of these complex neuroendocrine and immune responses is that they “impair the ability of the skin to respond to environmental challenges” (8). When the skin barrier becomes compromised, it no longer functions effectively. Water loss (called Transepidermal Water Loss, or TEWL) occurs when the barrier can no longer keep water from evaporating. Dehydrated skin with a compromised barrier exacerbates inflammation and disease and can lead to various dermatological disorders. Dermatitis, Psoriasis, Eczema, Acne, Rosacea, and allergic reactions can all become worse when undergoing psychological stress.

If you skimmed through the scientific breakdown in the last few paragraphs, we have finally reached the point of discussing the ways you can improve barrier function! Managing stress addresses the skin from the inside, while treating with lipid rich and anti-inflammatory skin care products supports it from the outside. Looking inward, for individuals struggling with depression, studies show that taking an SSRI decreased the levels of HSDI in the skin (3). Also, created to support a decrease in cortisol and relief from depression, I recommend using my Stony Creek Aromatics’ Restorative Mind-Body Massage Oil. Clinical evidence shows that the barrier function can be improved by inhaling essential oils with a sedative effect (3), in particular the rose, sandalwood, and lavender in this blend. In a zoom class I attended this month with Aparna Ishvari on Abhyanga massage, I learned that in Ayurveda the application of plant oils is understood to “anchor the nervous system” by providing calm to the nerve endings. In a base of Jojoba, Apricot Kernel, Almond, and Avocado, the Restorative Mind-Body Massage Oil can be applied to the full body, excluding the face, every day to support wellness.

As I mentioned in opening, the skin barrier contains lipids, fats, wax, and fatty acids. Healthy skin contains adequate amounts of linoleic acid, according to Brian Goodwin, International Educator for Eminence Organics Skin Care. Linoleic Acid is the omega 6 fatty acid and can be found at high levels in many of my favorite plant-based fatty oils. Looking at a typical analysis provided by Mountain Rose Herbs, some of the fatty oils with the highest amounts of linoleic acid are Grapeseed (containing 65-85%), Evening Primrose (containing up to 72%), Sesame (containing up to 45%), Borage (containing up to 38%), Argan (containing 29-36%), Baobab (containing 24-34%), Apricot Kernel (containing 19-33%), Almond (containing 7-28%), Sunflower (containing 3-20%), and Olive (containing up to 17%). When plant oils are applied to the skin they help to occlude the barrier and seal in moisture. The Eminence Organics Facial Recovery Oil contains Olive and Sesame Oils and have been shown, in third party studies, to increase hydration in the skin up to 53% in 28 days. For those of you that are acne prone, rest assured that the healthy fats in the Facial Recovery Oil plus the antimicrobial, anti inflammatory, anti fungal essential oils of Tea Tree and Clary Sage will improve your condition. Mixed with the Rosehip & Lemongrass Repair Balm, which contains plant waxes, this combination creates a semi-occlusive barrier that helps the skin recover from damage as well as supporting it to prevent further compromise.

To address the constant struggle with inflammation that our skin is undergoing, choosing products that are high in anti-inflammatory ingredients is vital to the strength of the barrier function. One of my favorite summer moisturizers is the Eminence Organics Arctic Berry Peptide Radiance Cream. It contains 4 arctic plants that are rich in anti-inflammatory properties, and peptides to soften fine lines. The Birch Water Purifying Essence contains Reishi mushroom which is an adaptogen that may decrease inflammation and mitigate the skin’s stress response. Lastly, protect your skin from inflammation and increased cortisol with the all-natural mineral based sunscreen, the Lilikoi Light Defense Primer SPF 23.

If my research presented here from the new field of psychodermatology wasn’t exciting enough, consider one more finding that brings this psychosomatic research full circle. There is evidence that “stress-enhanced inflammation (can), in turn, effect the brain since neuroendocrine mediators and cytokines released during inflammation cause a feeling of malaise.” (7) This reciprocal effect shows us that self care is critical for our mental health. Keeping the skin healthy also keeps our brains happy, which is needed now more than ever. The good news is, research shows that inhibiting HSDI may reverse barrier damage (5), so if you need a visualization while you are practicing mindfulness during this social distancing time, try to imagine your nerves becoming calmer and your skin cells stronger, to protect you from this world.

Video of this blog available on my YouTube channel.

1. Pappas A. (2014) Sebum and Sebaceous Lipids. In: Zouboulis C., Katsambas A., Kligman A. (eds) Pathogenesis and Treatment of Acne and Rosacea. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg
2. Jafferany, M. (2011) Psychodermatology: When the Mind and Skin Interact. Psychiatric Times V 28.
3. Choe S., Kim D., et al (2018) Psychological Stress Deteriorates Skin Barrier Function by Activating 11B-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase 1 and the HPA Axis, Scientific Reports
4. Tiganescu, A. etal. (2014) Increased glucocorticoid activation during mouse skin wound healing. The Journal of Endocrinology 221, 51-61
5. Terao, M., Tani, M., et al (2014) 11β-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase 1 Specific Inhibitor Increased Dermal Collagen Content and Promotes Fibroblast Proliferation, PLOS One
6. Garg A., Chren M. et al (2001) Psychological Stress Perturbs Epidermal Permeability Barrier Homeostasis Arch Dermatol. Vol 137
7. Peters, E. (2015) Stressed skin? a molecular psychosomatic update on stress-causes and effects in dermatologic issues. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology.
8. Bin Saif, G., Alotaibi, H. et al (2018) Association of psychological stress with skin symptoms among medical students, Saudi Medical Journal, 39.

“At Home” Facial

Many of our clients have expressed how much they miss our facials at the Apothecary. Facials provide a much needed break from the world as well as increased radiance and skin tone! Our services also foster a trusted relationship that you may have come to value. While I cannot offer much more than a virtual face-to-face at this time, I can give you some instruction on how to build and maintain healthy home care rituals that support your skin care goals and help you manage stress.

This 2-part “At Home” Facial includes practices I have cultivated during this pandemic for health and beauty. Part one involves self care steps you can take in the evening and part two details a routine for morning. You can pick and choose aspects you personally want to embrace, and for specific product recommendations don’t forget to reach out for a free skin consultation!

Part one- Evening:
1. Cleanse
2. Masque and Tonique
3. Gua Sha with Rosehip Oil
4. Restorative Mind-Body Ritual Oil
5. Night Cream

In the evening, I recommend cleansing as soon as you know you are “in” for the night. This will ensure that you are not too tired for your self care routine. Apply a masque of your choice and go about your evening with whatever you need to do (check emails, knit, read a book…). For a list of masque suggestions and their benefits check out my recent blog post: Botanical Masques for Self Care. After 10-20 minutes remove your masque, dry your face, and pat with your favorite tonique. My tonique of choice these days is the Eminence Organics Mangosteen Revitalizing Mist because it increases the skin’s ATP and delivers micronutrients. Then, apply a generous amount of your favorite face oil and find a comfortable place to sit for Gua Sha facial massage. Massage using this simple tool helps promote detoxification and increases microcirculation. I find myself spending 15 minutes on this step because it is very soothing. When you’re done, apply the Stony Creek Aromatics Restorative Mind-Body Ritual Oil on aromapoints and pulse points. Instructions for Gua Sha and the Restorative Mind-Body Ritual can be found here. Lastly, on top of the face oil, apply a lightweight moisturizer like the Eminence Organics Lotus Detoxifying Overnight Treatment or the Arctic Berry Peptide Radiance Cream.

Part two- Morning:
1. Steam
2. Cleanse
3. Exfoliate
4. Finishing Products
5. Sun protection

After coffee and breakfast I have been starting my day with an old fashioned steam. In a pot of hot water add one drop of cypress essential oil and 1 drop of eucalyptus globulus and inhale for 10 minutes with a towel over your head. Cypress is high in pinene and cinene, and Eucalyptus is rich in 1,8 Cineole, chemical components that helps fight infection and clear respiratory mucus. I can blend them for you order you can order high quality essential oils from Aromatics International. I recently started incorporating eight quick lung strengthening and clearing breathes during my steams. I learned the technique from my friend and Ann Arbor area yoga instructor, Natasha Schaffer, in this video tutorial. After your face and lungs have been purged, cleanse the impurities from your skin. Following your cleanse I recommend stepping up your exfoliating routine by applying the Eminence Organics Firm Skin Exfoliating Peel or Bright Skin Exoliating Peel. Leveling up to the use of acids on your skin increases the cell turnover and promotes a healthy skin surface. Choose the Firm Skin if you want to see a decrease in fine lines or the Bright Skin if you are concerned with hyperpigmentation. Both of these peels are around 4% so using them every day is safe as long as you are following up with a moisturizer. Now that spring is finally here, don’t forget the sun protection too!

As with everything during this pandemic and in life, don’t let what you see other people are doing on social media make you feel like you aren’t doing enough. Try choosing just one or two things you could incorporate that helps you feel healthier and happier. You are worthy of love and care, and deserving of positive self thoughts. Stay healthy!

For more tips on how to give yourself a facial at home, visit “How to do a facial massage at home” by Eminence Organics.

“At Home” Facial VLOG:

Aromatherapy & the Stress Response Cycle

Many of us are experiencing a tremendous amount of psychological stress due to the current worldwide pandemic. I spent the last year and a half researching and writing about Aromatherapy for stress. Since I cannot share this information one-on-one or in the Symposium that we had scheduled for spring, I decided there is no better way than blogging to share this information with you in hopes of helping in your current situation. We need many tools to cope with the crisis. The inhalation of essential oils offers a direct interaction with the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is known to be a powerful emotion processing center and is responsible for learning, memory, and emotional aspects of behavior. It is also the “brain’s alarm system” according to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The Limbic system along with the Hypothalamus and Amygdala are functionally linked. The Hypothalamus is in control of regulating various things in the body like heart rate, respiration, hormone secretion, blood pressure, and body temperature. It allows us to respond to our internal and external environment and maintain homeostasis.

The HPA Axis includes the Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, and Adrenals. Acute exposure to stressful stimuli activates the HPA Axis. The Hypothalamus releases a hormone which stimulates a release of hormones from the Pituitary gland. Those hormones travel through the bloodstream to the adrenal glands where several types of hormones like cortisol are then released. Cortisol follows a circadian rhythm and is beneficial in many ways including the formation of glucose and suppression of inflammation in the body. With high levels of stress and chronic stress, however, the body releases high levels of cortisol which can lead to various health problems. People experience stressors in different ways based on our life experiences, and patterns of coping with stressors are effected by our environment.

Insert Essential Oils! Though my research was on “10 Essential Oils for Stress”, here I will highlight the five that I included in my Restorative Mind-Body Blend. Rose Otto, Sandalwood, Sweet Orange, Lavender, and Patchouli create a harmonious spa experience in a bottle.

In my research Rose Otto (Rosa damascena) was the only essential oil (EO) I came across that was shown to regulate cortisol. Rose Oil also caused significant decreases of heart rate and blood pressure (Songklanakarin J. Sci. Technol. V 26, 2004). The eugenol and linalool rich EO of Rose has the powerful ability to inhibit the HPA activation that occurs during acute and chronic stress (Chemical Senses Journal 37, 2012). From a Chinese Medicine perspective it regulates the liver and relieves stagnant conditions like tension and irritability (Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, Mojay, G.).

The preferred essential oil of my 20’s, Sandalwood (Santalum album), has proven its place in anyone’s aromatic medicine cabinet in recent years. There is an enzyme in various cells of our body called PDE4 that triggers inflammation in the skin and activation of the HPA Axis. Sandalwood has been shown to inhibit PDE4, thereby deactivating the stress cycle (Frontiers in Pharmacology, V 9, March 2018). In a new field called psychodermatology discoveries are being made, specifically in the link between our mental health and skin health. It has been further shown to be one of the most potent EO’s for atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

Many studies on the therapeutic properties of Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis) EO confirm its helpfulness in aiding depressive symptoms. In a human study, Sweet Orange EO “caused significant increases in heart rate as well as in subjective alertness” and suggest the relief of mild forms of depression and stress. (Congress on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants V 5, 2005, p. 75). It can also support in times of anxiety. There is a noteworthy study suggesting that Orange EO has an acute anxiolytic activity, “giving some support to its use as a tranquilizer by aromatherapists”. (Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry V34, 2010).

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most highly regarded EO for moderate anxiety, evident in the overabundant commercial (and often adulterated) use. Essential Oils that are high in linalyl acetate have a calming effect on the nervous system (Aromatic Medicine, Skipper C.). Clinical study after clinical study, involving dental patients, hospital patients, and people receiving an Ayurvedic Shirodhara treatment demonstrate lavender’s anxiolytic properties (Flavour and Fragrance Journal V 26, 2011). On a side note, for high anxiety I would recommend Melissa, or Lemon Balm. I have personal experience helping someone out of a panic attack with a couple drops of Melissa on a handkerchief.

Lastly, Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) is an oil you either love or hate. Even if you’re a hater, blended with complementary oils Patchouli added a sweetness that cannot be matched. It contains the constituent, b-patchoulene, which exhibits a greater reduction in locomotor activity (Journal of Natural Medicine, 2011). Another study showed that Patchouli EO “caused a 40% decrease in relative sympathetic activity” (Japanese Journal of Pharmacology, 2002). At the same time, however, it helps with concentration and attentiveness as it has a stimulating effect on the brain (Songklanakarin J. Sci. Technol. V 26, 2004). Andrea Butje of Aromahead Institute speaks of it so beautifully when we look at it from the perspective of the plant part used in distillation: “We can use oils made from leaves to support respiration and deeper breathing. These oils can also protect us from infection. They can help us breath when we feel stress and anxiety, while supporting expansion and creativity. Leaf oils can also support us when if we get into over-thinking and need a calm, clear mind.”

Whether you look at clinical studies, Chinese Medicine, chemical constituents, or the plant part distilled there is both science and intuition that can guide you towards the essential oils that can help you achieve greater equilibrium. 7% of the aromatic constituents that you inhale goes through the olfactory nerves and 93% goes through the lungs, so make every breath count! My blends are available here.

Video introduction of the Restorative Mind-Body Ritual here:

Aromatherapy Certification

I have exciting news to share…
After 20+ years of self study and 3.5 years in my Aromatherapy Certification Program, I am now a Certified Aromatherapist!

My program consisted of 7 lessons and countless webinars, 20 Case Studies, a research paper, blending exercises, and an anatomy and physiology class. My research paper is now available for download on our website if you wish to read about 10 Essential Oils for Stress.

What does it mean to be a Certified Aromatherapist? The Aromatherapy field is self regulated, which means there is no governmental oversight (for now). Anyone can say they are an Aromatherapist! I chose to become certified through our only national non-profit aromatherapy organization called NAHA, or the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. My course was a 235-hour program offered through the fabulous Andrea Butje of Aromahead Institute.

When you choose to become certified through NAHA you agree to abide by their strict safety standards and code of ethics. In addition to my class through Aromahead I just completed the Essential Oil Safety Masterclass offered through the Tisserand Institute. I’m continuing with Robert Tisserand’s Essential Oils for Healthy Skin class which will be completed in June.

I am now offering an Aromatherapy Consultation for Stress based on my research findings. In this 1 hour Aromatherapy Consultation, I will take you through my 10 Essential Oils for Stress plus other supportive oils and connect you with the ones that will help you most. A personal inhaler, diffuser blend, or body oil will be created for you and can be refilled at any point without an additional consultation. The price of product is not included in the consultation fee.

In the future, my Aromatherapy Consultations will be moving out to our new Farmhouse. As many of you know we bought a farmhouse in Milan back in December. It has been glorious connecting with the land and watching what is blooming these early spring days. We have a lot of work ahead of us including the creation of a Farmhouse Lab and consultation space. If you would like to keep in touch with what’s happening out there, including all the animals we are aquiring, the best way is to follow us on instagram @stonycreekaromatics.

Throw back photo of the day. Circa 1997 in Kathmandu, Nepal. No makeup, no sunscreen, bad taste in footwear, but I brought my peppermint essential oil! It has been an amazing journey and it’s only just beginning!