Thursday, January 12, 2012

Natural Beauty Products: Lavender and Why You Need It

All sorts of natural beauty products use lavender essential oil as one of their main ingredients, from soap, to cleanser, face cream and shampoo. It's easy to assume that this is a fragrance issue, that lavender is included in these products because of its scent, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Modern chemical trials have shown that there's a lot more to lavender than just the smell.

The power of lavender seems to have been known from ancient times. Lavender ointments were discovered in Egyptian tombs, and lavender is mentioned in the Bible under its original name of nard. Roman soldiers traveled with lavender and bathed in it for its antiseptic properties and because it repels insects. Far from being the unpleasantly aromatic place we imagine, the ancient world may actually have smelled of lavender and other sweet smelling herbs!

The invading Romans brought lavender from the Mediterranean to the UK and over time the plant became associated with English country gardens, in fact the best and most aromatic lavender essential oils are said to come from what is now known as English lavender.

Throughout the centuries, lavender has been a popular scent and a popular remedy. Queen Victoria enjoyed lavender and in World War I it was used in hospitals as other, more conventional products were difficult to obtain. Modern studies of the benefits of lavender oil had begun just a few years before. Rene Gattefosse, a member of one of the great perfume 'families' of France, studied not just the perfumes and essential oils, but their medicinal effects. When, in July 1910, he was badly burned in a fire, he made note that his skin was covered with a 'rapidly expanding gas gangrene.' Having researched lavender for 3 years, he plunged his damaged skin into lavender oil. He noticed that it not only healed quickly, it stayed free from infection and left no scar. Gatefosse went on to become the founder of aromatherapy.

Recent studies have shown that lavender essential oil is extremely beneficial in many ways: as an anti bacterial, an anti-inflammatory and an antiseptic. Although all substances can cause allergies, allergic reactions to lavender appear to be extremely rare, making it an ideal ingredient for natural beauty products. Lavender is one of the few essential oils which can be applied to the skin directly without first being diluted.

These days English lavender, or lavandula angustifolia (narrow leafed lavender) is famous world wide for its very sweet scent and the power of its essential oil, but there are many products around which are merely lavender scented, how can you be sure that you have a genuine lavender product with all its associated skin care benefits?

Always check the label for ingredients, avoid those with long chemical names and look for 'lavandula augustifolia' or 'organic lavender extract', then you can be sure you're buying natural beauty products which include pure essential oils.