The purpose of this article is to help professional aromatherapists, especially when they are newly qualified to use the right base oils and essential oils when treating and it is important to factor this into the consultation.
What is skin type?
The four most common skin types are:
Normal (no apparent signs of oily or dry areas)
Oily (shine appears on skin, no dry areas at all)
Dry (flaking can appear, no oily areas at all)
Combination (oily and dry or normal areas)
There is also sensitive skin that can be easily irritated. Typical reactions are itching, burning, chafing and stinging. Clients often state that after a wash it feels dry and itchy in places and by midday there are flaky patches and some redness. Occasionally it will break out in spots. When treating sensitive skin with aromatherapy, you should avoid all rubefacient oils that are known skin irritants and sensitizers such as Angelica, Black pepper, Rosemary, Clove, Peppermint etc. as these can make the skin react.
What influences skin type?
Outside factors can and do influence the way the skin looks and feels. To effectively evaluate the skin and determine the correct base oils/essential oils to choose, the following factors need to be considered:
Internal factors: such as hormonal changes (pregnancy, menopause, menstrual cycle, etc.) , health problems (rosacea, psoriasis, thyroid disorders, etc.). There may be genetic predisposition of skin type (oily versus dry, prone to breakouts, or sensitive skin). The skin can be affected by smoking and of course any medication the client may be taking.
External factors: such as climate/weather (cold, warm, moist, dry). Sometimes as aromatherapists we need to discuss client’s skin-care routine as there may be a case of over-moisturizing or exfoliating, or using irritating or drying products. Another important factor externally is sun exposure, which can damage the skin.
Is skin type determined by age?
It is indisputable that older skin is different to younger skin, and we all experience those changes as we age. In aromatherapy, when treating older or younger skin with blends we do not aim at dealing with specific age ranges as this would not make sense as not everyone with “older” or “younger” skin has the same needs, yet it’s a trap many women (especially older women) fall into when buying cosmetics. It seems that everyone is afraid of growing old, but using essential oils on your skin diluted in various carrier media may just be the answer and it can be blended especially to suit your own skin type and any internal or external factors as mentioned above.
For example, an older person may still have acne, blackheads, eczema, rosacea, sensitive skin, or oily skin, while a younger person may have dry, freckled, or obviously sun-damaged skin. The key issue with skin type needs to be the actual condition of the skin, not age. Everyone, regardless of age, need sun protection and antioxidants, and possibly treatment of skin discolorations (either potential or existing), dry or oily skin, or breakouts. Wrinkles may tend to separate younger from older skin, but the care you give the skin doesn’t necessarily differ. Not everyone in their 40’s and older has the same skin care needs. In a way it’s simple: You need to pay attention to what is taking place on the skin, and that varies from person to person.
What about skin colour?
When blending for any skin with essential oils, absolutes and resins, you review all the factors that make the presenting skin what it is. All skin has the same possible range of problems, no matter what the colour is. According to an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (February 2002, pages 41–62) “There is not a wealth of data on racial and ethnic differences in skin and hair structure, physiology, and function. What studies do exist involves small patient populations and often has methodological flaws. Consequently, few definitive conclusions can be made. The literature does support a racial differential in epidermal melanin [pigment] content and melanosome dispersion in people of colour compared with fair-skinned persons…. These differences could at least in part account for the lower incidence of skin cancer in certain people of colour compared with fair-skinned persons; a lower incidence and different presentation of photo aging; pigmentation disorders in people with skin of colour; and a higher incidence of certain types of alopecia [loss of hair] in Africans and African Americans compared with those of other ancestry.”
Let’s look at the suggested oils for a range of common skin conditions:
Acne: This is usually contraindicated in massage so you will be blending oils for home use. Prescribe oils that reduce or balance sebum, use clay masks and make up facial washes/cleansers for your clients. Jojoba is useful here as a base as is Rose hip for helping reduce scarring. Pelargonium graveolens helps balance sebum and Cedrus atlantica is useful as an astringent and better for males who hate floral aromas! Make sure the client undertakes a regular program of cleansing and moisturising with the products you make up for them and make sure they drink plenty of water and avoid junk food (especially teenagers). There is also a build up of bacteria so use oils that are bactericidal such as Melaleuca alternifolia, Lavandula angustifolia, and Citrus bergamia.
Atopic dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis or eczema is an itchy, dry, hypersensitive skin disorder affecting many people. It is common in children but can occur at any age. It is not infectious or contagious. The exact cause of atopic eczema is unknown but it is thought it may be hereditary. The rash may appear red, wet and weepy or dry, thickened and scaly and scratching often aggravates it. The skin thickens and becomes darker. It is a chronic condition and can affect any part of the body, particularly the elbow bends, back of the knees and the neck. The best base to use is by far Aloe vera gel. Aloe works on epithelium to help heal and is anti-pruitic and cooling. Add essential oils that will promote skin healing (are cicatrisant) such as Neroli & Orange (Citrus aurantium), Lavandula angustifolia, and are calming and assist in reducing inflammation such as Matricaria recutica. Again stress is seen to exacerbate this condition so you should aim at relaxing the client and offer aromatherapy also as a massage treatment as well as preparing blends for home use. You do need to have a very flexible approach and it is often a case of trial and error for an individual while you find the right combination for them. Sometimes the body needs detoxification and the condition can temporarily worsen while the body adjusts.
Psoriasis: This is an inflammatory skin disease characterised by an increased rate of skin cell turnover resulting in thick scales appearing on the skin. The affected skin becomes dry and unsightly. It is thought to be aggravated by stress and triggered by trauma. Therefore the way to address this is to use relaxing calming oils to help relax the patient in a massage treatment and therefore using base oils to help the dry flaking skin to feel more comfortable. You are unlikely to be able to affect the psoriasis completely if it is totally systemic, but small patches can disappear with aromatherapy treatment. The best base oils would be perhaps Hazelnut and Sweet Almond oil with Wheatgerm and if you make up creams for your client to use, you should add shea butter as this is an excellent emollient. You could also try Evening Primrose oil. For essential oils, it really depends on the individual and their needs at the time of consultation as to what essential oils you choose, but bear in mind that antidepressants such as Citrus bergamia can lift the mood and are effective blended with more sedating oils. I have used Wheatgerm neat on elbow psoriasis patches before now with success and Eucalyptus citriodora is another uplifting alternative that seems to have helped in the past.
Shingles: People who have had chickenpox before can develop herpes zoster, or shingles. The same virus that causes chicken pox, causes shingles. The chickenpox virus remains in a dormant state in certain nerve cells of the body from months to many years, and then reactivates, causing shingles. This infection is due to a temporary decrease in the body's resistance, allowing the virus to start multiplying and to move along nerve fibres towards the skin. The fact that the disease occurs more often in older people is because the immune response is believed to be weaker in older people. Trauma or possibly stress may also contribute to an attack of shingles. This treatment is contraindicated for massage as it is slightly contagious and the patient is also likely to feel too ill to receive massage. Therefore, you can suggest therapeutic baths and make up creams/lotions. Citrus bergamia is known for its action on herpes and since the immune system is low, use essential oils that will boost the immune response such as Citrus limon, Eucalyptus globulus, Thymus vulgaris, Melaleuca alternifolia etc. If stress is a factor then you can also use a wide variety of oils to relax and de-stress the patient for use in a bath along with the oils mentioned above. For example, Citrus bergamia, Eucalyptus globulus and Santalum album make a wonderful combination. Advise the patient to drink lemon juice in water as you would for a cold as this helps stimulate white blood cells in the body.
Unfortunately, this is all I can fit in to this article but there are a number of books on aromatherapy that focus on the skin. My current favourite is called “Secrets of Youth & Beauty” by Danièle Ryman, available from www.danieleryman.com.