I love flowers and plants in general, so it stands to reason that when it comes to adding a fragrance to my soap then essential oils are the obvious choice. In fact, essential oils are the only way to add a natural fragrance to soap.
The beauty of using essential oils in soap making is that not only do they add a gorgeous natural scent but in addition they add therapeutic benefits too.
Aromatic plants and oils have been in use for thousands of years for many applications. In fact, the ‘father of medicine,’ Hippocrates, was known for prescribing perfumed fumigations for a variety of ailments.
Although the study and use of plants has been around for thousands of years it was not until 1928 when the term aromatherapy was first used. The term was invented by Gattefosse, a French chemist who discovered by accident that lavender essential oil helped to heal a burn on his hand.
The term aromatherapy can be somewhat misleading as it suggests the therapy is through sense of smell alone. In fact, there are three distinct modes of action on the human body:
The pharmacological effect relates to the chemical changes which take place when essential oils enter our bloodstream and react with our hormones etc.
The physiological mode is concerned with the way an essential oil affects the systems of our body, so for example whether an oil relaxes or stimulates.
The psychological effect takes place through our sense of smell and we respond to its fragrance.
It is interesting to note that different essential oils are absorbed through the skin at different rates:
Eucalyptus and thyme 20 to 40 minutes
Bergamot and lemon 40 to 60 minutes
Lavender and geranium 60 to 80 minutes
Source: The Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils
It is recommended that essential oils are used as external remedies only. They are highly concentrated oils and may potentially cause damage if taken internally. Only a small amount of essential oil is needed to enjoy the therapeutic benefits. For example, one or two drops in a base oil for massage.
In soap making an essential oil or a blend of essential oils can be added to your overall recipe at a maximum rate of 3%. For example, if you are making soap with a total combined weight of 500g of base oils (such as olive oil, coconut oil and sunflower oil) then the maximum weight for adding an essential oil or a blend in this recipe is 15g which is 3% of 500g.
How Essential Oils Work
The therapeutic potential of essential oils has yet to be fully realised. Plant remedies are extremely powerful and are more fully understood and utilised by indigenous people such as the Native Americans. For example, Native American tribes consider Rosemary to be sacred. They use it for mainly for relieving sore joints.
You may already be aware that many active plant compounds form the basis for most of our modern drugs such as quinine and cocaine. But we still have so much to learn about plants and the ways that they can help us and yet sadly many are under threat from extinction.
Essential oils provide a range of benefits to skin and are very versatile as they can address a wide variety of skin issues. The following benefits are provided:
Antiseptic for cuts, bites, spots etc. For example, tea tree, lavender, and lemon.
Anti-inflammatory oils for eczema, infected wounds, bumps, bruises etc. For example, German and Roman chamomile and lavender.
Fungicidal oils for candida, ringworm, athletes foot etc. For example, lavender, tea tree and patchouli.
Healing for burns, cuts, stretch marks etc. For example, lavender, chamomile, rose and geranium.
Deodorants for excessive perspiration. For example, bergamot, lavender, and lemongrass.
Insect repellents for lice, ticks, mosquitos etc. For example, lavender, citronella, eucalyptus and cedarwood.
The Respiratory System
Nose, throat, and lung infections respond very well to treatment with essential oils. Inhalation is a highly effective way of utilising their benefits. Whenever I have blocked sinuses eucalyptus essential oil always provides much relief and it is better than any other remedies I have ever tried. Peppermint essential oil is also effective to relieve blocked noses, colds, and catarrh.
The Digestive System
Essential oils should not be taken internally as they are too concentrated. External application can effect changes in the digestive process. For example, peppermint can help with indigestion and ginger can help with nausea.
The Endocrine System
Essential oils can influence our hormones and indeed some oils contain plant hormones which mimic the corresponding human hormones. Plant oestrogens are perhaps the most well known and help to maintain a healthy circulation, good muscle, and skin tone.
The Immune System
Nearly all essential oils have bactericidal properties which helps protect against colds and flu. Essential oils also promote the production of white blood cells which help the body fight infection and other diseases. A few immune system boosters include basil, eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, and tea tree.
The Nervous System
The properties of essential oils on the nervous system are twofold. They can either act as a sedative and the most well-known for this is lavender. It is relaxing and improves sleep. On the opposite side plant oils such as peppermint can act as a stimulant.
Discussion around the effect that essential oils can have on psychological and emotional responses is extremely popular. I find this one of the most fascinating areas of application - the benefits for our mind. And it is the least understood area of activity of essential oils. One important consideration to note is that the psychological impacts will differ from one person to another. And there are a variety of factors at play including circumstances, mood, and previous associations. People will respond to fragrances in different ways.
Blending Essential Oils
In soap making single essential oils can be used in recipes although be wary of citrus oils like orange and lemon because they are more delicate and may not survive the saponification process as well. In which case you should blend these oils. The main purpose of blending essential oils is to create a perfume. A blend of essential oils will also bring different therapeutic values to a product. For example, a blend can have a therapeutic action on a physical condition and at the same time can have an affect at an emotional level. It is for this reason that essential oils are so powerful.
Essential oils are categorised according to the notes in music scales. This was the idea of a French man called Piesse who introduced the system in the nineteenth century. When creating blends, a good rule of thumb is to select an essential oil from each one of the following categories:
The top note is immediately apparent due to the fast evaporation rate. For example, lemongrass.
The middle note is the heart of the fragrance and most essential oils fall into this category. For example, lavender.
The base note is an intense and heavy scent that can anchor a blend. For example, cedarwood.
The Essential Oils A to Z
Bergamot (top note)
INCI name: Citrus bergamia oil
Bergamot essential oil is named after the Italian city of Bergamo in Lombardy where the oil was first sold.
Blends well with chamomile, geranium, lavender, and lemon.
Aromatherapy use: acne, cold sores, eczema, anxiety, depression, and stress.
Chamomile, Roman (middle note)
INCI name: Anthemis nobilis flower oil
There are many varieties of chamomile which have a long history of use.
Blends well with bergamot, jasmine, rose, geranium, and lavender.
Aromatherapy use: sensitive skin, eczema, inflammation, headache, insomnia.
Citronella (middle note)
INCI name: Cymbopogon nardus oil
The leaves of the citronella plant are used for their aromatic and medicinal value in many cultures.
Blends well with geranium, lemon, bergamot, orange, cedarwood and pine.
Aromatherapy use: oily skin, highly effective insect repellent, relieves fatigue.
Eucalyptus, Blue Gum (top note)
INCI name: Eucalyptus globulus leaf oil
A traditional household remedy in Australia for respiratory ailments.
Blends well with rosemary, lavender and cedarwood.
Aromatherapy use: cuts, wounds, insect bites, headaches.
Frankincense (base note)
INCI name: Boswellia carterii Oil
In ancient Egypt frankincense was used for rejuvenating face masks and for perfumes.
Blends well with sandalwood, pine, geranium, lavender, bergamot, cinnamon and other spices.
Aromatherapy use: blemishes, dry and mature skin, relieves anxiety.
Geranium (middle note)
INCI name: Pelargonium graveolens oil
There are over 700 varieties of geranium but the main one commercially cultivated for its oil is pelargonium graveolens.
Blends well with lavender, rose, sandalwood, bergamot, and other citrus oils.
Aromatherapy use: acne, eczema, oily complexion, mature skin, relieves stress.
Jasmine (middle note)
INCI name: Jasminum officinale oil
The plant has very fragrant white flowers and is traditionally used in China for various ailments.
Blends well with rose, sandalwood, and all citrus oils.
Aromatherapy use: suitable for dry, greasy, irritated, sensitive skin and depression.
Lavender, True (top to middle note)
INCI name: Lavandula angustifolia oil
Lavender has a well-established tradition as a remedy and is a very popular essential oil.
Blends well with most oils, especially citrus and florals.
Aromatherapy use: acne, dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, spots, suitable for all skin types. Relieves depression, headaches and insomnia.
Lemongrass (top note)
INCI name: Cymbopogon flexuosus oil
Native to Asia and used widely in India for infectious illness and fever. Very popular for flavour in food.
Blends well with bergamot, cedarwood, geranium, lavender, rosemary, and tea tree.
Aromatherapy use: acne, perspiration, open pores, nervous exhaustion.
Mint, Peppermint (top note)
INCI name: Mentha piperita oil
Mint plants have been cultivated since ancient times in the East.
Blends well with rosemary, lavender, lemon, and eucalyptus.
Aromatherapy use: acne, dermatitis and provides relief for headaches when inhaled.
Orange, Sweet (top note)
INCI name: Citrus sinensis oil
Native to China and extensively cultivated in America (California and Florida) and round the Mediterranean particularly in Spain (Valencia). The fruit is high in vitamins A, C and E.
Blends well with lavender, neroli, lemon and spice oils such as cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.
Aromatherapy use: beneficial for dull and oily complexions.
Patchouli (base note)
INCI name: Pogostemon cablin oil
The oil is used widely in the East for its scent to fragrance linen and clothes.
Blends well with sandalwood, cedarwood, geranium, lavender, rose and bergamot.
Aromatherapy use: effective for oily skin and hair, also useful for eliminating dandruff.
Pine, Scotch (top note)
INCI name: Pinus sylvestris oil
The oil from the needles of the Scotch pine is one of the most useful and it is the safest for therapeutic use.
Blends well with cedarwood, rosemary, tea tree, lavender, and eucalyptus.
Aromatherapy use: beneficial for arthritis and respiratory conditions like asthma.
Rose, Damask (middle note)
INCI name: Rosa damascena oil
The healing properties of the rose have been known for centuries. The rose is traditionally associated with Venus, the Goddess of love and beauty.
Blends well with bergamot, lavender, orange, patchouli, and sandalwood.
Aromatherapy use: dry skin, eczema, mature and sensitive skin. Relieves depression and insomnia.
Rosemary (middle note)
INCI name: Rosmarinus officinalis oil
Native to the Mediterranean region rosemary is one of the earliest plants to be used for food and medicine.
Blends well with lavender, citronella, pine, peppermint, cedarwood, cinnamon and other spice oils.
Aromatherapy use: acne, dandruff, dermatitis, eczema, greasy hair, promotes hair growth.
Sandalwood (base note)
INCI name: Santalum album oil
One of the oldest known perfume materials used as a traditional incense.
Blends well with rose, lavender, bergamot, geranium, patchouli and jasmine.
Aromatherapy use: acne, dry, cracked and chapped skin, greasy skin, moisturiser.
Tea Tree (middle note)
INCI name: Melaleuca alternifolia leaf oil
Native to Australia and has a long history of use by the aboriginal people. The name derives from its local usage as a type of herbal tea.
Blends well with lavender, rosemary, geranium and pine.
Aromatherapy use: acne, cold sores, dandruff, oily skin.
Vetiver (base note)
INCI name: Vetivera zizanoides root oil
Used in the East for fragrance and known in India as ‘the oil of tranquillity.’
Blends well with sandalwood, rose, jasmine, patchouli, lavender.
Aromatherapy use: acne, cuts, oily skin, relaxation.
Ylang Ylang (middle to base note)
INCI name: Canaga odorata flower oil
A tropical tree with large fragrance flowers. The yellow flowers are considered best for essential oil.
Blends well with jasmine, bergamot, rose.
Aromatherapy use: acne, irritated and oily skin. Also soothes depression.
Please remember that essential oils are very concentrated and powerful oils and should not be used at home to treat serious medical or psychological conditions. If you are pregnant it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor or midwife before using essential oils.
The Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless