I’m writing this with a shiny face. My mother has some unusual allergies (including to blue dye) and I’ve inherited enough skin sensitivity to be cautious. So don’t buy me expensive formulas of soap, shower gel or bath stuff – I’m a Simple girl in more ways than one.
If I fancy a blissful, relaxing bath, I often swirl in a few drops of natural essential oils before stepping in – perhaps rose or neroli, which is made from the flowers of Seville oranges.
These three natural perfumes are luxury purchases but I enjoy having this small way to harness the natural healing and soothing power of plants.
The garden is more of a miracle than we know.
When no amount of turning, wiggling or shaking will release the last few drops of rose oil from its little blue bottle, it’s time for a treat. By prizing out the dropper, I’ll always find just enough precious oil left for me to use as the basis for a high quality, home made face or body oil.
Friends and family call these my ‘potions’ – I’ll sometimes offer to make one if a friend tells me they’re in need of more relaxation. It’s so sad that in the past, women in my native county Lancashire have come to harm simply because they enjoyed and used plant lore – remember the Pendle witch trials?
I always have a few bottles of essential oil in the house, including lavender which I use for minor burns; tea tree oil as an antiseptic; bergamot for my burner; eucalyptus radiata for colds. Merely linking the oils with these uses might be illegal in Europe: if I end up in prison for it, promise you’ll write to me!
I allow my instincts to guide me when making a blend. No mix is exactly the same. Today I added two drops of lavender and two of vetivert (a base note and fixative, extracted from the aromatic roots of a grass) to perhaps four drops of rose oil, then topped up the 10ml bottle with apricot oil.
I discovered some borage oil and was very tempted to add a little for its vitamin E content, but it only took a sniff for me to reluctantly conclude it’s past its best. The biggest problem with natural oils is that it’s hard for one person to use even the small quantities they’re usually sold in while they’re still fresh and potent.
A little goes a long way: 2.5ml of rose oil (technically rose otto) lasts me for months. I don’t know what that converts to in ounces – I’d guess not even a tenth!
My new rose/vetiver/lavender/apricot mix is a rich, soothing, regenerating night-time oil: bliss in a bottle. I’m using it on my face and neck, but it could also be an intensive treatment for any areas of dry skin. And as I mentioned before, don’t expect this kind of potion will dry to matt – it’s super shiny!
I gently massage it on before bed time, leave for a while, then gently blot off any excess with a tissue. I don’t need it nightly: once every week or so works fine for me.
A surprisingly high proportion of anything you put on your skin is absorbed into the body. This may just be a tale, but I’ve heard that if you rub a clove of garlic on the bottom of someone’s foot, you can smell it on their breath within a surprisingly short space of time. I’m not keen on garlic so I’ve never tried it – if you give it a go, let me know what happens!
My preference for essential oils rather than synthetic perfumes began once I realized that scented oils actually did things to the body. I began to wonder what the oils and chemicals I was gaily spraying on myself each day were doing and gradually stopped using them.
I do miss having perfume bottles around. I loved playing with Mama’s tiny parfum ones as a child. Mama was my beloved grandma: her bottles had the added allure of age.
I’m a firm believer in ‘each to his or her own’ and I respect perfumery as an ancient art. I’m not trying to bankrupt the world’s perfume houses by suggesting that you throw away all your favourite colognes and perfumes, but if you are a nature lover and feel tempted to learn more, you might find aromatherapy alters your attitudes more than you expect.
A few guidelines
I buy pure oils – usually from Neal’s Yard – and use them with discretion. My go-to person for advice is Patricia Davis. I trust her common sense, experience and wisdom so I make a beeline for her book ‘Aromatherapy an A-Z’ before trying any new oils or to use as a quick refresher before blending any ‘potions’.
Not every oil suits every person: I’ve read that one common sense guideline is to trust your nose. If you really dislike the smell of an oil, it’s unlikely to be the best choice for you, no matter what its reputed benefits are.
I use any new oils sparingly and always watch out for any unwanted effects, even if they seem unrelated. If I have any concerns at all, I simply stop using the oil and see if things go back to normal.
If you’ve never used oils before, take care to read up on their properties and character before trying anything yourself; learn how to use oils safely; and/or consult an expert practitioner. If you’re taking any medicine, or have any health issues, you’ll also need to consult your doctor.
The biggest mistake you can make about essential oils is to imagine that they don’t do anything.
One last tip
I’ll leave you with my best beauty tip: always wear a day-time moisturizer with a decent sunscreen.
Written in response to the Photography 101 prompt: bliss.