Aromatherapy For Beginners: How To Jazz Up Your Life With Essential Oils

Our senses play a huge part in how we experience and react to the world around us. Hearing a displeasing sound can trigger anxiety, while breathing in a beautiful scent may send you back in time, consumed by an equally lovely memory.

In fact, our sense of smell is so powerful that certain essential oils—which are typically extracted from parts of plants and then distilled—can promote feelings of wellness.

What Is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is thought to work by stimulating smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system—the part of the brain that controls emotions.

Essential oils can be used for a myriad of reasons,” says Leslie Cohen, an aromatherapist and owner of The Blissful Heart wellness collective in New Jersey. “They can help with respiratory issues, evoke a mood—calm, happiness, sensuality—and deepen a meditative practice.” Cohen says they can also be used to help clean surfaces and dissipate not-so-nice odors.

There’s science behind the power of aromatherapy, too. According to the journal, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it’s been shown to provide stress relief, promote healthy sleeping patterns, and ease symptoms of anxiety.

Related: 5 Essential Oils You Absolutely Want In Your Life

Pick A Few Favorites

Getting the most out of aromatherapy means honing in on the oils that are best for your needs.

When you first start investigating essential oils, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options and combinations.  “Start with only five to 10 primary essential oils for your basic natural healthcare kit,” recommends Stephanie Tourles, a licensed esthetician, certified aromatherapist, and herbalist in Maine. “Try truly multi-purpose oils, like Roman chamomile, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, sweet marjoram, sweet orange, peppermint, rosemary, and thyme.”

Many oils come in standard or milder versions, so be sure to look out for that, as well.

Use Wisely

  1. Diffuse or directly inhale

You can buy a diffuser to disperse the essential oils into your space.

But Cohen prefers direct inhalation, if you’re game. “Put a few drops of your favorite oil or blend on your palm, rub your hands together briskly, cup around your nose, and breathe deeply,” she instructs. “This is by far the quickest and most effective way to enjoy the benefits of many oils.”

Related: Shop diffusers for your aromatherapy experience.

That said, you should be cautious with which oils you apply directly to your palms—or any part of your body—and breathe in. Many are caustic and almost any essential oil can cause a reaction (like sun sensitivity, allergic reactions, or skin irritation) if you are sensitive to it, she explains.

The solution? Dilute them with oil or cream (more on that below)! “Some need to be diluted more than others to make them safer,” Cohen notes. “In general, think about how it might taste or how it’s used in its complete form. For instance, oregano, black pepper and cinnamon are hot when you eat them.” So, you wouldn’t want to put ‘hot’ oils directly onto your skin.

If you’re planning on directly inhaling a strong oil, start with one drop only and cautiously bring your hands to your nose to make sure it’s not too overpowering for your respiratory system, Cohen advises. “Those hot oils can burn your sinuses. Also be careful not to touch your hands to your face if you’re using a strong oil.”

2. Apply directly to your skin

If you want to apply an essential oil to your skin, your best bet is to dilute it to a very low concentration—one to three drops per ounce of an oil with a preferably organic, fat-soluble base or “carrier” oil like sunflower oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil. You can also use an unscented cream. After diluting it, you can test the blend on a small area of your body before using it as a massage oil, for example.

After the patch test, you can work with different concentrations. Generally, you want to mix a drop with at least a teaspoon of a carrier oil.

Related: Shop essential oils, from eucalyptus to lavender—and everything in between.

 A Note of Caution on Formulations

Use age-appropriate oils, avoiding eucalyptus and rosemary, in particular, for children under 10, advises Tourles.

“Children are not small adults and cannot handle the same dilution ratios as adults,” she says. So, do your research before concocting your blends!

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy is one particularly reputable resource that provides details on how to dilute your oils appropriately (depending on what you’re using them for and who you’re using them on) and how to locate a certified aromatherapist in your area.

You can also find a practitioner by searching on the Aromatherapy Registration Council site.

I Drank Collagen For 30 Days—Here’s How It Turned Out

I’ve gotten pretty lucky with my skin. I haven’t had much acne in my life, and at 31, I’ve got no signs of wrinkles. But my skin is remarkably dull, like that of a tired ghost. It’s ruddy, uneven, and it tends to look dry, even when it’s moisturized.

Thanks to an unhealthy addiction to Sephora and a ridiculously Olympic skin regimen, I’m able to work with the flaws I’ve got, but I’m always on the hunt for that “glow” you read about on magazine covers. Oral collagen supplementation has been shown to prove efficacious in improving the hallmark signs of skin aging, according to a study by the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, so I was more than willing to take it for a test drive.

When I got my hands on Reserveage’s Collagen Replenish Powder, I was immediately in love with the packaging. The pretty coral color, the leafy design, and the “Hyaluronic Acid & Vitamin C” boost sold me. What can I say? I’m a sucker for smart packaging.

The powder includes something Reserveage calls Deluxe Peptide Plus, which provides nutrients for the skin. And it boasts a 20 percent reduction in eye wrinkles within eight weeks. I’ll take that, any day.

Related: 6 Healthy Habits I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Younger

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Let’s get something out of the way, though, shall we? This stuff certainly doesn’t pretend to smell good. The jar itself says “odorless” (which is not entirely true; it’s got a faint scent of dried milk). So you’re not going to be drinking in the flavor or scent of flowers or anything. But we can get past this!

I mixed the powder into drinks for a morning beverage, which instantly solved the issue. No, not my precious coffee; I’d whip it into protein shakes or fruit smoothies, and you’d never know it was there.

I admit that I saw no change in the first few weeks. After week one I started checking my skin in the mirror. Plumper? No. Firmer? Nope. What was this collagen even doing, I wondered? Same for week two.

But by week three I did notice a significant shift. The skin under my eyes got considerably brighter and my cheeks seemed softer, smoother. Where my skin tends to “sag,” at all, is near my jowl. I noticed that it became a little less noticeable (cue my mother’s voice: “You DO NOT have jowls! I have jowls!”). Still, it really looked better.

Before

All in all, I felt like the product did its job well. It’s quick and easy to mix up into a beverage, and its inexpensive (less than $20) price point makes it alluring, considering so many collagen products on the market are quite pricey.

And, you’re skipping out on all the other sometimes wacky ingredients that come in a jar of skin lotion. My skin definitely has a bit of a glow to it now, and having to drink collagen every day gave me an excuse to make a healthy smoothie each morning. Final verdict: I’m staying on the collagen train.

Related: Shop collagen to promote healthier-looking skin. 

Does Light Therapy Actually Work?

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about light therapy—specifically red light and near-infrared light, including infrared saunas. Celebrities are all over the relaxation and detoxification trend—even quarterback Tom Brady is on board, endorsing infrared pajamas (nope, not a joke!) that are said to help you recover from sports-related injuries while you sleep.

But does light therapy truly have legit health benefits? Let’s start from the beginning.

What Are Light Therapy Saunas?

Firstly, there are several types of light therapy. You probably have heard about red light, which hits the surface of the skin. And then there’s near-infrared light, which penetrates deeper into your skin. 

According to Dr. Michael Hamblin, principal investigator at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, and worldwide expert on light therapy, infrared light works sort of like the sun does to stimulate plant growth—only, in this case, humans are the plant.

Related: The Best Skin-Care Tips And Products For Your 20s, 30s, And 40s

Light therapy saunas actually heat and penetrate your skin (not the room, like a regular sauna) and convert the light to cellular energy.

What Can Light Therapy Do For You?

According to a study in the journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering, red light and near-infrared light therapy offer a host of rejuvenating benefits at the cellular level, including activating the lymphatic system, increasing circulation, forming new capillaries, and repairing tissue.

So, when certain wavelengths of light hit the skin, one might experience a reduction in inflammation, wound healing, and skin rejuvenation, among other potential benefits, according to the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. And, according to a study done by the journal Canadian Family Physician, it may even promote cardiovascular health, normal blood pressure, and weight loss, though more studies are warranted.

Related: Shop products to support cardiovascular health. 

Hamblin says the light has remarkable effects on the brain, as well. According to the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgerybrain surgeries using LED may promote cognition and reduce the treatment cost of traumatic brain injury, since someone can apply red light therapy at home. Hamblin says hand-held light therapy devices can be used at home for sports injuries, arthritis, joint pain, skin-smoothing, and more.

Related: Shop collagen products to help promote smooth, supple skin. 

What Scientists Don’t Know

It’s important to note that the research on light therapies is still developing. Scientists don’t totally understand the molecular or cellular mechanisms responsible for turning light into energy. Also, it’s not entirely clear just how light therapy should best be used in terms of regularity, how intense the light should be, or how skin should be prepared beforehand. If that sounds too risky to you, stick with a good ol’ sweat-inducing spa sauna. 

The Best Skin-Care Tips And Products For Your 20s, 30s, And 40s

Everyone knows that taking care of your skin is important, but a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer. Your skin type, environment, and age play huge factors in determining just how you should care for your skin.

There being a ton of products out there, and sometimes it seems you need an advanced chemistry degree just to understand the ingredients. Cut through the confusion and get your very best skin with these decade-specific tips from derma experts:

Skin-Care for Your 20s

Your old college habit of falling into bed with a face-full of makeup isn’t doing you any favors. Got it? Now is the time to start building a basic skin care routine that will pay off in the future, according to Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse.

“Get in the habit of washing your face at bedtime to remove make-up, grease, and grime from the day,” Shainhouse says. “These can all clog pores and cause inflammation that can trigger acne. If you’re acne-prone, consider using a face wash or body wash with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to unclog pores and kill bacteria, respectively.”

Related: Shop skin-loving facial cleansers.

But don’t stop there! Shainhouse recommends following up with a moisturizer (choosing something light-weight if you have acne-prone or greasy skin). Lastly, wearing sunscreen every day is a non-negotiable. “If you start now,” Shainhouse says, “you [can] look way younger than your friends when you are older.”

Related: 6 Healthy Habits I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Younger

Skin-Care For Your 30s

In your 30s, keeping up with a consistent skin-care routine is going to be your first step to maintaining healthy skin. But the 30s is also a great time to add a few anti-aging habits. You may also want to reevaluate the products you are using, making adjustments to accommodate changes to your skin.

For instance, unless you’re still fighting with acne, this decade is a good time to adjust your cleanser to a gel-based product. The primary responsibility of this sort of product is to remove any makeup or other sort of dirt before heading to bed.

“Makeup that sits in your pores can clog and irritate, triggering acne, and it can, theoretically, stretch out pores,” says Shainhouse. “The soot and particulate matter that are outside can cause inflammation in the skin and free radicals can oxidize DNA and damage collagen.”

At this age everyone should also be using a toner, according to licensed advanced esthetician, Melissa Allen. She suggests the addition of a hydrating mist toner with hyaluronic acid in it, which is used after cleansing but before moisturizing.

Related: 6 Floral Waters That Can Totally Replace Your Skin Toner

A broad-spectrum SPF should follow your cleanser, toner, and moisturizer, according to Shainhouse, who doesn’t believe the protection provided by your moisturizer or foundation is adequate. Go with an SPF 30, like the Antioxidant Natural Sunscreen by Derma E.

Skin Care for Your 40s+

In your 40s, slower cell turnover—along with changes to your hormones—may change the needs of your skin, according to Shainhouse. If you are noticing dryness and sensitivity, now is a good time to make the switch to a non-soap or cream cleanser.

If you haven’t begun to address your skin’s specific needs with topical treatments, your 40s is the time to make this habit. This is where serums with active ingredients come into play. There isn’t a one-size-fit-all recommendation, so you’ll likely need to chat with a dermatologist, health enthusiast, or esthetician to find the right cocktail for your skins needs. Some of the most common serums include hyaluronic acid for hydration, vitamin C for reducing inflammation, and rosehip seed oil for uneven skin tone.

Related: Shop fluids, oils, and serums for your skin care needs.

Retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, are used to encourage cell turnover (and, in turn, a reduction in fine lines). “To help bring new skin cells to the surface and encourage new collagen growth, you may want to start using a retinoid serum or cream a few nights a week,” says Shainhouse. Collagen is also available in the form of capsules and powder.

Specialized treatments, like oils or retinoids, should follow your cleanser and toner but come before moisturizer and sunscreen. Shainhouse suggests adjusting your moisturizer based on your skin’s needs. “For warm-weather months, use a lightweight moisturizer on the areas that need it, and for cool dry months, switch to a heavier cream,” she says.

Related: Browse beautifying moisturizers from every skin type.

6 Healthy Habits I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Younger

When my alarm goes off each morning, an elaborate ritual begins. If you were to watch my routine, you’d think I was incredibly detail-oriented, and then you’d think it is taking way too long for me to get out the door.

First, it’s the face wash (which I’ve finally figured out isn’t just, you know, hand soap). That’s followed by a serum, a moisturizer, and an SPF (50, thanks —I’m translucent; my Mediterranean genes betrayed me). Next comes the stretching (and cracking), the apple cider vinegar concoction (yes, it does work), the handful of vits I remember to take, and the occasional YouTube kickboxing workout. All said and done, I behave like a pretty legitimate grown-up. Thing is, this whole song and dance only recently started.

At 18, I was more concerned with how dark I could tan (peer pressure from the local tanning salon, circa 2005), or how much I could party before going to class the next day. I 100 percent never wore SPF or moisturizer, and any workout I did was definitely negated by an I-deserve-it carb explosion. The worst thing I did? Ordered a Venti latte (made from—this is not a lie—half and half) at least once a week. Half. And. Half.

I just wasn’t concerned with basic self-care techniques. I’d stay up all night during college and it followed me to when I started working in the “real world.” Who cares, I thought? I’d lived on four hours of sleep since I was 15; why not keep it going?

Related: I Quit Drinking Alcohol For A Month—Here’s How It Went

Turns out there were plenty of reasons not to, actually.

I didn’t realize how these behaviors would affect me now, at age 30. I’d run full steam ahead on bad eating habits, way too much wine (“at least it’s not tequila…”), and I had a distaste for working out. If I was stressed, I ate. If I was tired, I ate. If I was busy, I’d snack on empty calories. And when I woke up for work, I’d brush my teeth and run out the door.

Then I’d wonder why I felt sluggish all the time. My skin was always broken out. I was constantly dealing with shoulder cramps. And I was gaining weight. I made no time for me—no time to just be alive, to take care of myself, to listen to my body.

Just saying the words “listen to my body” makes me cringe (I’m not one for self-care-isms), but the reality is that I didn’t listen to my body. I actively turned away from care habits because I was “busy” or “I didn’t need them.”

But when I was 25 I was diagnosed with arthritis and I realized I needed to wake up. My actual body was falling apart, and the extra weight on my joints was a problem. I needed to start stretching, to start working out, to start eating well. I needed to quit the amount of sugary alcohol I was drinking and I needed to start taking care of my skin. I needed energy. I was tired-looking and worn out. I became a zombie with a robust social calendar and a refrigerator full of garbage.

Related: What It’s Like To Have Arthritis In Your Twenties

I fought this reality with a stubbornness that ought to be applauded (really, I win at being stubborn), but I eventually succumbed to the necessity of self-care and now I’m better for it.

So what did I do?

I started eating better.

This was the hardest change. I became more cognizant of calories and portions, which is tough when what you want to do is eat all the cheese and all the bread. I began making salads and cooking veggie dishes and turning to whole foods. I stopped eating chocolate cereal and bagels at midnight (I live in NYC—I can order anything I want at any hour), and I started checking the side of the box for nutrition facts. It’s incredibly easy to eat double your daily caloric need every day, I realized. I mean, it’s simple. If I was more aware earlier, I could have avoided the weight gain, the stomach issues, and the bad habits I fight to kick these days.

I started being kind to my skin.

This may seem trivial and vain, but it’s not. We have to live in our bodies all of our lives, so why not nurture them? I’m not the hugest fan of dry, cracked skin—and I certainly don’t want to age prematurely, so why shouldn’t I do what it takes to care for myself? I try to use products that come from mostly natural sources, and I make sure I cover my face and skin in SPF when I’m in the sun. Cancer is the pits, and I’m not going to risk it because I’m lazy.

Related: Keep your skin in tip-top shape with these bath & beauty products

I learned to love water.

I used to think lots of coffee and milk was the key to hydration. Somehow, I was wrong; I constantly felt terrible. Water is so epically underrated that it’s no surprise people have to remind others to drink it. First, with a meal it helps to keep you full (so you don’t go back for several servings you don’t need). And then it helps hydrate your skin, and it flushes toxins from your system. A huge glass of water first thing in the morning has changed my life for the better. Pro-tip: Set a reminder to take your vitamins with your first glass of water. Turns out, vitamins actually work. (I was apparently the last person to figure this out.)

I started going to bed before midnight.

I love staying up late and am most productive during the witching hours. But once I decided to stop fighting sleep, I felt like a human being—radiant, energetic, happy, engaged, responsible. What is lost from those magical evening hours is gained ten-fold the next day. Had I done this earlier on, I don’t think I would have had so many rough days and so little energy.

Related: Shop weight-management products to help you reach your goals.

I took time to hang out alone.

I used to cram my schedule with engagements: work, post-work work, post-work networking, weekend work, late-night social events, parties, meet-ups. It was like I was always on, always scheduled. Sitting on the couch in silence became a foreign thing to me; I was lost, and I didn’t even know it. Once I began understanding the difference between productivity and success (success doesn’t simply come from work; it comes from balance), I felt so much more alive. I could see more clearly, and I could see what I’d been missing all along: my self.

I stopped caring about the rules.

Everyone always says that they have all the answers. And sometimes I say I have all the answers. But I’ve learned that self-care and personal happiness are unique for everyone. Do what works best for you (but I really am telling you that water, working out, and vegetables are good for you). I wish I had known this earlier; I would have spared myself a lot of cranky, tired, overstimulated years.

6 Floral Waters That Can Totally Replace Your Skin Toner

Toners have, for a while now, been touted as a necessary step in our skin-care rituals. And that’s because they’re made to balance your skin’s pH levels while brightening, cleansing, and toning it. A little flower water, however, can provide all of that, while also offering up the unique properties of natural ingredients.

Floral waters are made from various types of plants and flowers that are generally used to make essential oils—such as chamomile, rose, or lavender. The flower is boiled in distilled water, and the resulting steam (once it has cooled off) becomes the floral water. The water carries the same properties of an essential oil, but because the plant or flower is diluted in water (rather than concentrated like essential oils are) they are safe to use directly on the skin. Plus, floral waters smell like a dream!

Here, six of our favorites—and the beauty benefits of each.

roseRose Water

According to a study in Current Microbiology, the essential oil of rose and hydrosol boast both antioxidant and cleansing properties when applied topically. And, rose water is known to be gentle on skin that tends to be sensitive to other ingredients.

Try: Organic Bulgarian Rose Water


mintMint Water

If you’re looking to finish your cleansing routine feeling invigorated and uplifted, mint water is your go-to. According to Toxicological Research, mint can be used to condition the skin, leaving it hydrated and refreshed. Also, a cool splash of mint is a great no-caffeine-needed way to wake up during those early mornings.

Try: Moroccan Menthe Beauty Water


tea treeTea Tree Water

Tea Tree oil has been used in dozens of ways, from helping to keep bugs away to cleansing the home. But it’s also great for the skin (especially sensitive skin), due to its mega-cleansing properties, according to Europe PMC.  With its fresh cooling properties, it can also be used to awaken dull or tired skin.

Try: South African Tea Tree Beauty Oil

chamomileChamomile Water

Chamomile is beloved for its super-soothing properties. Whether in the form of a relaxing tea or as a calming floral water, this gentle giant of an herb can be helpful to having good health. According to The Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, chamomile also shows some antioxidant properties, which the skin loves. Win! Beware ragweed allergy sufferers, however: Chamomile can occasionally trigger reactions in people with ragweed allergies, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

                                                       Try: South African Cape Chamomile Beauty Water

lavenderLavender Water

Lavender has an incredibly relaxing scent, which makes it an ideal nighttime skin toner. As a floral water it’s both cleansing and soothing to the skin, making it ideal for sensitive skin that can’t handle other heavier facial skin products.

Try: South African Lavender Soothing Facial Water

 

witch hazelWitch Hazel Water

Many people don’t even realize that witch hazel, which, as a toner can be made with lavender or rose, is actually a flower! Without the alcohol and other potential ingredients, you’re left with an astringent floral water that is soft and gentle on the skin. Not only can it tone and cleanse your skin, it can also protect it with its antioxidant properties, according to Chemical Research in Toxicology.

Try: Certified Organic Witch Hazel Astringent  

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