“Aromatherapy is shamanism for everyone.” Kurt Schinaubelt Medical Aromatherapy, Healing with Essential Oils.
I’m not at this point, comfortable calling myself an herbalist yet... I’m not sure when that will be... Will it be when I have finished classes, when I feel comfortable in a clinical setting when I am recognized by the American Herbalist’s Guild as a Registered Herbalist? The point is, I do not claim, at his point to be an herbal expert, but a student. As a holistic esthetician, I have been using, studying, and teaching about aromatherapy for at least 14 years. I grew up totally smelling like tea tree and lavender all the time, as my mother is a Naturopathic Dr. and essential oils were one of the may plant medicines used in our house on a regular basis. I’ve learned in my herbalism course that as far as herbal medicine goes, essential oils are the big guns. Meaning they work really well, really quickly but aren’t as gentle as say a water infusion or decoction (teas), or an alcohol extraction such as a tincture. This means that essential oils are best used in acute healing rather than chronically, and they should be used with intention. It is best every once in a while to switch up the oil you use regularly, for example, if you use rose day after day- year after year in your skincare, your body gets somewhat overwhelmed by it, and you may consider switching seasonally. Because essential oils are highly concentrated, haste must be taken especially when consuming them internally. Our liver is responsible for breaking these components down and because of the high concentration it can be quite harsh on the liver. Do consider this when your well-meaning but un-trained friend who is selling essential oils recommends drinking grapefruit juice essential oil every day in your water to lose weight. (This was a true story when I went against my own better judgement and actually got really sick)! I am personally wary of companies that do push toward daily internal consumption such as adding to your daily water because I do feel this is marketing toward consumption culture, and not toward the betterment of the health of all. I will leave that point right there for you and not say anything further regarding internal use here. My point here is that just because essential oils come from the earth, it does not mean they are harmless.
Essential oils are highly concentrated liquid plant compounds. They are produced by plants as a means to defend themselves, to attract the correct pollinators, and to send warnings to fellow plants. Clinical and medical use of essential oils began in the early 1900s, of course, the use of aromatic plants has been around for centuries. Essential oils provide clinically proven physiological and psychological benefits. The chemical intelligence of plants speaks directly to our systems, almost like we are all living on this earth synergistically!
Chances are you have tried an essential oil or two, or maybe you have an entire collection! But what should one look for when choosing an essential oil to purchase? Will any oil be fine? The truth is, not all oils are created equally, and there are different qualities of oils. It does not just boil down to “Therapeutic Grade”. Today, essential oils are having a real moment, and there are definitely lots of options. I wanted to put together an easy to follow guide on how to purchase the right essential oils for therapeutic use (meaning to treat or prevent a condition). This is for inhalation, topically, and those rare instances when you may consider internal use. If you are purchasing to make cleaning products, which essential oils are freaking amazing for, the following is not as important.
These items should always be available either on the bottle, on the website, or easily by contacting the vendor.
If these five factors are present, chances are, the vendor you are dealing with is better than most. Finding a vendor you trust is important. Other factors to consider include the environment the plants were grown in, you will most likely not find this listed on the bottle of course, but you may find some education on this from your vendor. Storage of the oil, you want to purchase oils that are in dark, glass bottles. Avoid oils sold in plastic bottles or clear bottles. Essential oils will degrade plastic, and light shining through a clear glass will oxidize the oil. Always avoid fragrance or perfume, these compounds can be endocrine-disrupting, cancer-causing, and aside from that, they have totally hijacked our olfactory system changing our sense of smell! Avoid an “essential oil” labeled as an unnatural scent, like a sugar cookie- there is not a sugar cookie essential oil, unfortunately. I mention this because I have actually seen a “sugar cookie essential oil” on the store shelf! EEEK! Avoid oils that have been adulterated by adding synthetics or blending with additional low-quality oils, mixing with a carrier oil, and not disclosing this information.
Therapeutic Grade, and Pure
The terms “pure” and “Therapeutic Grade” can be confusing… of course if an essential oil is not pure it is not of good quality, it has been adulterated in some way. The confusion comes in because there is no standardization for labeling essential oil as pure. Just because it is labeled pure, does not mean it is high quality. You have to trust the vendor by doing research, and checking for the 5 items in the above list. The same goes for the term “therapeutic grade.” Generally, this is an agreed upon term in the industry that all of the above factors are followed, but not always. Some clinical aromatherapists feel skeptical of companies that use this term. I will leave that up to you to decide but again, do your research, rather than blindly trusting the term. Once you start to use high-quality essential oils regularly your nose will be your biggest asset, just by sniffing a sample or a tester you can start to tell what is good and what is not.
Just like with skincare, be careful of Amazon because you can’t be sure if care has been taken or if they are adulterated. Amazon does not vet their vendors or the products they sell. There is no guarantee that what is in the bottle is what is listed on the label. I carry a small but growing selection of essential oils that I have vetted in both my brick and mortar and my online shop. You can view them here.
It’s All About That FLOW! Gua Sha: what it is, where it came from, and why you should practice at home!
If you are tapped into the wellness space, chances are you have at least heard of gua sha, maybe you have your own stone, maybe you even use it sometimes! This treatment can be done at home and/or professionally in the spa, or by an acupuncturist. This treatment is super hot right now, but it’s hardly new.
It’s the hottest thing popping up in your Instagram feed, but gua sha did not just appear out of nowhere. While the lifting, contouring, and depuffing facial version is relatively new, gua sha is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). During the Ming Dynasty, the practice of gua sha was officially entered into the medical text, however, it is thought to have been used much further back than this, records date it back to the paleolithic age.
The FACIAL gua sha of today’s spa treatments is much different from the gua sha of this original Chinese folk medicine. When I tell my clients about gua sha and that it translates to “scraping rash,” after their eyes get big, I laugh and quickly let them know that is not my plan for their face. This is how it has been used for centuries, scraping the skin with horns, spoons, jade, really any tool on hand. This friction created from the scraping promotes fresh new oxygen-rich blood to the area. It is believed in TCM that blood stagnation is pathogenic. This friction promotes healing and recovery for the body. Along with ridding the body of pathogens, gua sha aims to move qi or chi. Qi is the vital life force or energy that we all possess. When qi becomes blocked, pain and stiffness can occur, and as this is moved and balanced, the body returns to homeostasis.
This isn’t too different from the goals I’m working toward in my facial treatments when performing the rhythmic gentle gua sha facial. One of the main goals of gua sha is to break up stagnation. Stagnation of energy or Qi, stagnation of lymph, stagnation of blood, stagnation in the fascia- the connective tissue below the surface of the skin. By doing all of this simultaneously you see dramatic results with depuffing, reduced wrinkle depth, reduction of dark circles under the eyes, improved tone, improved skin texture, lift, and contour. Over time you can see results that include reduction of hyperpigmentation, and reduction of breakouts.
Gua Sha has been called a natural alternative to Botox. I do agree with this, but I think it’s important to be realistic. To have dramatic results, just like with any physical change, whether it’s weight loss, muscle gain, posture realignment, or anything else, it takes time and commitment. One gua sha treatment is not going to yield Botox-like results. Gua sha is more like the opposite of botox, where botox creates stagnation through the paralysis of the muscle, gua sha promotes flow.
If I could give just one piece of skin advice, it would be to massage your face at home regularly. It is in my opinion, the best thing you can do for your skin (aside from eating a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle that is)! Facial Gua Sha is an extremely eco-friendly beauty regimen, and I think, the antidote to our modern consumerist views on beauty and the need for more. All you really need is a stone and your favorite oil. Gua sha is a chance to slow down, to really feel your skin, when is the last time you took the time to do that? The ritual of gua sha is slow, repetitive, fluid, meditative. It is a time to connect and check-in with yourself. Additionally, as you are working the stone on your skin, you can get in touch with the tool. This beautiful piece was created by the earth, mined, cut, polished. Hard work went into it. It has a vibration. Not all stones are created equal. It is important to find a stone that is eco and socially conscious, as the world of gemstones has become shrouded in conflict and exploitation of those involved in mining, as well as the earth. (This is the biggest reason I steer those interested in purchasing a gua sha stone away from Amazon.)
One of my reasons for writing this blog post is to give homage to where gua sha came from, I think when we forget about the origins, the history, and the intention, it starts to become appropriation. I am so grateful to those who have used this practice for centuries and grateful for folk medicine such as gua sha. Folk medicine is basically medicine for the people, I love this and the sovereignty it provides. This is just one more way we can take our wellness literally into our own hands.
BOOK YOUR PROFESSIONAL TREATMENT: THE EASTERN FACELIFT HERE
Below you will find directions, but also be sure to follow along with me here, and you can shop for your perfect stone here!
Follow the directions below to be sure you are correctly using your stone.
Emily Davis is the owner of Stratum Aesthetics and has been a licensed esthetician since 2007. She is a holistic esthetician specializing in cannabis skin care.