House CallOct/Nov 2013 Issue

Pure and Simple: Healthy Plant Oils and Your Skin

Natural oils can help attain that natural beauty.

Photo © Gennadiy Poznyakov/123RF

Natural plant oils have been used for centuries to clean, protect and moisturize skin and hair. From exotic argan and jojoba to everyday olive and sunflower, oils are as popular today as they were in ancient times. Many cosmetic companies have developed whole product lines around certain oils.

Natural plant oils are similar to our own skin oil, or sebum. This is why they’re so beneficial for our skin. In fact, natural oils are some of the simplest and effective skin care ingredients available on the market.

Many people avoid natural oils, worried that applying oil to their skin will clog pores and cause breakouts. The concern is usually unwarranted. Natural oil combines easily with the sebum to dissolve dirt and loosen dead skin cells, moisturizing as it cleans.

Natural oils are well suited for sensitive skin as they rarely cause allergic reactions. Many oils actually calm and repair the skin. However, if you have an allergy to a certain plant, chances are you’ll react to that plant’s oil. Check with your physician before using a new oil.

Oils can be used in a variety of ways but the most common are as anti-aging, conditioning, antiseptic and calming agents.

  • Anti-Aging Oils Natural oils that contain high levels of fatty acids and antioxidants can slow down the appearance of aging skin. Look for oils that are rich in vitamin E, such as acai oil, argan oil (a tree nut oil, also known as Moroccan oil), flax seed oil or apricot kernel oil.
  • Conditioning Oils Heavy oils help repair and renew your skin, conditioning classic rough spots, such as heels, elbows and knees. Some of these oils, like coconut oil, are so rich that they are solid at room temperature but melt easily when warmed in your hands. These heavy oils help condition and hydrate your skin by forming a natural barrier that locks in moisture. A good time to use a conditioning oil on your skin and hair is immediately after bathing. Try avocado oil, Brazil nut oil (if tolerated), coconut oil or olive oil.
  • Antiseptic Oils Some natural oils help solve common skin conditions, such as acne, bug bites and sunburn. These oils have anti-inflammatory properties and can help keep your skin clean and clear. Try grape seed oil, jojoba oil, rose hip oil or tea tree oil.
  • Calming Oils Sensitive skin can become inflamed and need a bit of calming. Natural oils are often well tolerated by those who can’t use other cosmetic products. They are also helpful in treating skin conditions like eczema. Try carrot seed oil, chamomile oil or evening primrose oil.
Conditioning Oil Blend

To create your own personal oil blend for basic skin care, mix together equal parts light sesame oil, olive oil and almond oil (if tolerated). Use this basic oil mixture after bathing to form a protective barrier on your skin and lock in moisture.

Massage Oil

Prepare your own relaxing massage mixture by combining a light “carrier” oil, such as sunflower oil, light sesame or vegetable oil, with a few drops of your favorite scented essential oil. Try lavender to relax and rosemary to energize.

Bath Oil

Add natural oils directly to your bathwater to create a rich, soothing bath. Almond oil, macadamia oil (if tolerated) and apricot kernel oil all work well in a warm bath and help moisturize dry skin. (Be careful as oil can make your tub slippery.)

Oil Treatment for Dry Hair

Revive dry, brittle hair with a deep-conditioning hot oil treatment. Gently warm some olive oil or almond oil (if tolerated) and massage it into your scalp and hair once a month before shampooing. Keep the oil on your head at least 20 minutes before rinsing and washing your hair.

Nail Oil

Keep your nails strong and flexible by soaking them weekly in a small dish of natural oil. Alternatively, massage a bit of oil, such as coconut oil, into your cuticles before going to bed at night.

Facial Oil

Create your own facial treatment at home using natural oils. A light facial massage stimulates circulation and makes your skin more supple. Carrot oil works well for dry skin. Sweet almond oil (if tolerated) and jojoba oil are nicely suited for normal to oily skin types. Massage a small amount into your face and neck for 15 minutes using light, smooth strokes. Then mix a bit of granulated sugar or ground oatmeal with additional oil and gently massage it into your face and neck to gently exfoliate your skin. Gently wipe it off with a clean cotton pad or cloth. Lightly splash your skin with cool water and pat dry.

Contributor Janice Cox is author of Natural Beauty at Home (Henry Holt and Company).

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