I was pleasantly surprised by the response I got after writing this post about using Thieves essential oil to ward off a cold. And I’ll admit that I fan-girled out a little when I received a comment from my favorite deodorant maker, Rachel Winard, of Soapwalla. (I sincerely think about my armpits a lot – and now that I’m breastfeeding I’m especially grateful for Soapwalla’s all natural, non-toxic products). Anyway, it turns out Rachel is not only a talented skincare chef but she’s total geek for all things herbal, aromatherapy, and folkloric healing. Rachel has generously offered up her gifts of knowledge in an essential oil Q&A for those of us who want to learn more but don’t quite know where to start.
Kathleen: First off, tell us a bit about yourself and your business Soapwalla. How did get into essential oils?
Rachel: In 2002 I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus for short). Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissue. Lupus can manifest itself in a number of ways, including joint, organ, blood vessel damage/inflammation, but pretty much every person with SLE has skin involvement as well. This was certainly the case for me. I went from never having any skin issues (I didn’t even have acne in high school!) to getting rashes, hives, eczema plaques, the telling butterfly rash on my face, etc. Any and every possible skin ailment, I got it. Because of this, I had to teach myself how to take care of my new skin. One late night when the pain was really bad, I said “screw it, if I can’t find products on the shelf that will help, I’ve just got to start making my own.” That was the beginning of a 10+ year self-education on all things natural, aromatherapeutic, and herbal. This is also how Soapwalla was born. I perfected my line of all-natural, effective face and body products over the next 7 years, and premiered Soapwalla late November 2009.
K: It seems as if essential oils can be used for just about anything. What (or how) is your favorite way to use essential oils?
Rachel: I can’t limit to just one! I love using essential oils in skincare or other topical products to create a certain result – balancing oil production, reducing swelling or itching, increasing circulation. Because essential oils themselves are so potent and complex, their use creates multi-pronged results as well. For instance, topical use of rosemary essential oil will help decongest the skin and lungs while also improving memory! (Source)
Note: it’s easy to fall so in love with essential oils that we want to use them all the time, everywhere! However, essential oils are highly concentrated: please treat them with the respect they deserve and always dilute in a carrier oil. If you are pregnant, under the age of 2, or are currently undergoing intense medical treatment, please check with an expert before you start an at-home aromatherapeutic regimen.
Also, please don’t ever take essential oils internally. Ingestion of essential oils can cause illness and, in some cases, death. Please please please consult a knowledgeable practitioner before you use essential oils in homemade oral preparations.
K: For the skeptics … How do essential oils work?
Rachel: Essential oils are volatile molecular compounds found in aromatic plants, and create the telltale fragrance and taste we associate with the plants (rose or nutmeg, for example). Essential oils are extracted by either distillation or expression. The distillation process is not unlike what is used to create whiskey or bourbon. Expression is a cold, mechanical process that is most often used for citrus (similar to how olive oil is created).
Aromatherapy is often defined as the conscientious use of essential oils to promote or improve human health and hygiene. The term is most often applied to personal care products containing essential oils that impart skin-active properties or encourage emotional wellbeing.
Persians invented the distillation process in the 10th century; however, aromatherapy dates back to 3500 BCE, when ancient Greeks used incense, perfumery, and infusing macerated plants in hot oils as part of regular medical and spiritual practices.
For skeptics, NYU Langone Medical Center’s page on aromatherapy provides a breakdown on various ways in which essential oils can be used today to treat digestive, anxiety, muscular and other problems, including links to the studies that support their conclusions.
K: For the essential oil newbie getting quality oils can be expensive. What brand(s) do you recommend? And if you had to start your collection with just a few oils (or oil blends) which would you recommend and why?
Rachel: Mountain Rose Herbs! They have some of the highest quality products on the market today. I believe they were the first certified organic warehouse in the US, are incredibly knowledgeable, and are reasonably priced to boot. To start off your collection, these are my must-haves:
(1) *Tea tree – can be used neat on the skin (meaning, no carrier oil is needed for dilution) and can heal athlete’s foot or other fungal infections, repel bugs, and it has incredible antibacterial properties (including possibly killing the hospital superbug, MRSA)!
(2) *Lavender – an all-around powerhouse! It’s calming, aids in digestion and sleeping, and is also antibacterial and antifungal. If you apply neat shortly after being bitten by a mosquito, it will take the sting and itch out straightaway. You can also apply directly to a pimple that’s just forming, sleep with it on, and the next morning your blemish will be greatly reduced or even gone!
(3) *Eucalyptus: a must-have for anyone who suffers from allergies and/or chest congestion. Inhaling eucalyptus will clear out your sinuses quickly and effectively.
(4) *Sweet orange: aside from smelling fantastic, it’s an impressive household cleaner (make sure to dilute well). Helps with digestion and as an expectorant. NOT to be taken internally or applied without dilution.
K: What’s your favorite essential oil story? (For example, mine is definitely being kickstarted into labor when my doula used accupressure with Clary Sage oil.)
Rachel: My spouse Stacey fell on the ice in February. It was a nasty fall, and she needed stitches on her kneecap. She contracted a staph infection at the site – not uncommon – and was put on an insane amount of two different kinds of antibiotics to keep her out of the hospital. The antibiotics made her so ill she had to stop taking them. We both were terrified she’d end up in the emergency room. I created a potent antibacterial salve for the knee that had tamanu oil, tea tree, thyme oil and myrrh resin – within 36 hours, the heat and redness were gone! It was truly amazing.
K. If someone wanted to learn more about essential oils what books or sites would you recommend?
Rachel: I could talk your ear off about the various places to go, but I’ll limit myself
K. Finally, where can we find you?
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If you all have any additional questions for Rachel feel free to leave them in the comments!
P.S. I am not being paid or compensated by Soapwalla or any of the links included. Just a genuine fan of Rachel and the work she’s doing! Images courtesy of Rachel Winnard.