New star: goat milk soap with clay and calendula petals June 23, 2016 13:27

Although I have not come accross any scientific data regarding benefits of goat milk soap, I have heard that once you start using it, you are hooked. Apparently it helps with eczema and acne due to the fat content and the mild exfoliating effect of lactic acid. Luckinly I do not have eczema, but one thing I can say for sure about our new goat milk soap is that it is indeed extremely gentle and produces delicious creamy lather.

Our natural goat milk soap also contains ingredients that have been shown in studies to be beneficial to sensitive, atopic skin. Calendula petals were added after pouring soap batter into the mould. A couple of days later we noticed that they seeped their colour into the soap, maybe due to the high temperature that the soap batter produces when it sets, like herbs seep their colour into water when they are brewed. We also added bentonite clay, which has been shown to help with inflammation of the skin (Mahmoudi, Adib-Hajbaghery, & Mashaiekhi, 2015; Adib-Hajbaghery, Mahmoudi, & Mashaiekhi, 2014). Calendula has been traditionally used to help heal irritated or inflamed skin.



Adib-Hajbaghery, M., Mahmoudi, M., & Mashaiekhi, M. (2014). Shampoo-clay heals diaper rash faster than calendula officinalis. Nurs Midwifery Stud, 3(2), e14180.

Mahmoudi, M., Adib-Hajbaghery, M., & Mashaiekhi, M. (2015). Comparing the effects of Bentonite & Calendula on the improvement of infantile diaper dermatitis: A randomized controlled trial. Indian J Med Res, 142(6), 742-746. doi: 10.4103/0971-5916.174567

Patron of women with hair loss June 05, 2016 00:00

Have you ever heard of St. Agnes of Rome? Apparently she is a patron of women who suffer from hair loss (Trueb 2009) . In fact, there are several saints that the faithful can call on to help with skin problems: St. Rose of Lima for rash, St. Charles Borromeo for ulcers. Burns have several saints associated with them: John the Evangelist, Florian and Laurence of Rome. There are even patrons for hairdressers and hair stylists: St. Cosmas and Damian, St. Louis IX, St. Martin de Porres and St. Mary Magdalen. Amazing, huh?

Agnes was born in 291 in a noble Roman family and raised as a Christian. In 304 (she was only 13!) prefect Sempronius dragged her naked through the streets to a brothel because she refused to marry his son. Sempronius sentenced her to death for this, however the Roman law did not allow execution of virgins. Apparently the girl’s hair grew and covered her body whilst she prayed during this ordeal. She was later beheaded.

Interestingly, a study showed that in women who complain of hair loss but have no obvious health problems (no alopecia) the hair shedding follows a cycle such that they enjoyed the thickest hair in the winter period that follows the feast day of St. Agnes of Rome (21st January(Kunz, Seifert et al. 2009). The greatest hair loss occurred in autumn. This seems out of sync with our fury friends, who start thinning their coats in spring so that they can stay cool in summer. The authors of the study speculate that protective head gear might contribute to this cycle.

Either way, the awareness of such pattern in the hair grow might help assess the effectiveness of treatments for hair loss.



Kunz, M., B. Seifert, et al. (2009). "Seasonality of hair shedding in healthy women complaining of hair loss." Dermatology 219(2): 105-110.

Trueb, R. M. (2009). "St. Agnes of Rome: patron saint for women with hair loss?" Dermatology 219(2): 97-98.


The newest batch of the funky handmade soap: Splodge June 02, 2016 00:00

Splodge was a spontaneous idea of mine on a day when I just fancied some bright colours.  It is scented with rose geranium essential oil (Pelargonium graveolens), the 'poor man's rose'. Sweeter than its cousin geranium, it has been tradtionally used for its aniseptic and antidepressant properties. The pringles box is still our favourite mould for this soap!

Natural soap making: the flow May 30, 2016 21:27

Positive psychology puts a lot of emphasis on the phenomenon called ‘the flow’. We have all probably experienced it at some point: immersing ourselves in something that we truly enjoy to the extent that we forgot about everything else and lost track of time. Some people call it also ‘being in the zone’. The psychologist who pin pointed it - Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (even I, a native Polish speaker, cannot pronounce this surname) wrote a book Flow: The psychology of happiness. Then he met with another guy called Seligman and

The flow happens when we take on a challenge that is just within the reach of our skills, but requires all we’ve got to complete it. If the challenge is too difficult, we become discouraged. If it is too easy, so not a challenge at all, we become bored.

I experienced the flow last week when making a bigger than usual batch of our handmade soap Lavender in Love: the natural bars where passionate red mica intertwines with purple and white, and a combination of pure cedarwood and lavender essential oils create a unique scent that is sweet and fresh at the same time. The swirl we use to create this soap seems easy and yet is surprisingly (and often- frustratingly) difficult to achieve. And yet, this time everything was perfect: I was completely focused, the colours had the perfect hue, there was just the right amount of lavender underlying the sensual cedarwood when I combined the two oils. I put the soap in the mould, swirled it and it set beautifully. Rarely I experience a soap making process so devoid of ‘oops’ moments and messy splodges of batter all around me...

References:, accessed 30th May 2016

Acne: causes and treatments May 26, 2016 09:15

Suffering from the dreaded acne? Welcome to the club. You might have tried lots of things and nothing worked... Or you’ve just noticed the first spots and are looking for a way to prevent more coming up.

 Acne is an inflammatory disorder of the skin, caused by a combination of factors:

  •  First of all, the glands (sebaceous follicles) on the skin of the face, neck, chest and back produce too much sebum. This is because these glands are oversensitive to hormones called androgens.


  •  Second, the shedding (desquamation) of the cells of the skin is abnormal: the dead skins are less loosely organized. These densely packed dead cells together with excess sebum cause a blockage of a hair follicle, or a microcomedone.


  • The blockage provides a very comfortable environment for the bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes (let’s call it acnes).


  • Finally, acnes releases various substances that cause inflammation, such as cytokines and chemokines, as well as reactive oxygen species. It is this inflammation that produces the final result: the spot (acne lesion). The severity of your acne depends on how your body responds to these inflammatory substances.


We all know that acne is the curse of teenagers, but actually around 5-10% of adults are plagued by it throughout their lives. If you’re a woman in your 20s, 30s and 40s and you have acne, you might have noticed that the flare ups correspond to the stages of your menstrual cycle (your skin is smoother right after the period and spots start coming back after ovulation). At least you get a break from acne rather than suffering from the entire time!

Treatment of acne can target each of the four factors that contribute to this tiresome skin disease. First of all: do not use harsh face washing products. Acne is not caused by dirt and such methods will just irritate your skin and might exacerbate the problem. The overproduction of sebum can be treated with isotretinoids and oral contraceptives. So for some of us the pill might be all we need. The abnormal shedding of the dead skin can be corrected with topical retinoids prescribed by dermatologists and by salicylic acid. The P. acnes can be killed with antibiotics and antimicrobials.


And here is the thing: if your acne is in very early stages of development, it is a good idea to see a dermatologist, because disrupting the process of blocking the follicles might prevent the colonisation of your skin by P.acnes.


Often one or a combination of several methods of treating acne cures the problem. What about those of us, however, whose skin reacts to benzacne and retinoids with irritation and unbearable dryness, and spots are still present at the age that we should not really take the pill anymore?


Researchers have looked into natural treatments for acne. These methods can be tested in different ways: in clinical studies people are randomly allocated to different treatment groups, so that those treatments can be compared. This is the best way of testing medicines because sometimes our symptoms improve on their own or simply because we think that we are receiving treatment, even if it’s just a sugar pill (the ‘placebo effect’). 


The most researched herbal remedy for acne seems to be the tea tree oil. It is extracted from the Australian plant called Melaleuca alternifolia (from myrtle family; not to confuse with the tea bush called Camellia, which provides us with the drinking beverage). This natural oil has been tested in several clinical studies, The clinical trials show that tea tree oil is better than placebo and has similar effects to some of the conventional treatments, such as 5% benzoyl peroxide and 2% erythromycin (Hammer, 2015). Overall, if we apply the oil at concentration of at least 5% for at least 4 weeks, it reduces outbreaks of mild to moderate acne by 23.7 to 62.1%. This improvement could be due to antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects of the terpinen-4-ol, one of the main ingredients of the tea tree oil. It kills P.acnes, however be careful if you want to use it in high concentrations (more than 5%), because it might cause irritation of the skin and sometimes allergies. Some people find that handmade soaps with tea tree oil make their skin smoother or even spot-free.


A promising botanical substance in the fight against acne is extract from green tea. It works on as many as three out of four factors that cause the spots: reduces the production of sebum, calms down inflammation and kills P.acnes (Fisk et al., 2014). In twenty patients who used lotion with green tea extract twice a day for six weeks, the number of acne lesions diminished by, on average, 58% (Elsaie et al., 2009). In another study a similar result was achieved with the regular black tea (Sharquie et al., 2006). The scientists simmered leaves of the black tea on low heat until some of the water evaporated and then mixed 75ml tea with 25ml ethanol. Why not try washing your face with cotton wool soaked in freshly brewed green tea?


German scientists conducted an interesting study on jojoba oil and clay mask. Rather than comparing groups of patients who used different treatments, they asked their participants to use the mask 2-3 times per week for 6 weeks and keep a ‘spot diary’, where they wrote down the number of acne lesions. On average their skin cleared by 54%. The reason for this improvement could be the absorbent properties of clay: apparently it ‘draws’ the products of metabolism out of the skin, as well as the toxins produces by bacteria, and binds them. Clay also absorbs excess sebum and improves circulation of blood, which carries nourishment to the skin cells. On the other hand, jojoba oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Bear in mind that this study was financed by the company that produced the clay mask.


The main advantage of plant extract in the fight against acne is their wide spectrum of action: not only do they kill the bacterium causing the spots, but at the same time reduce inflammation. They are usually gentler than the traditional methods, and could be more suitable for people with sensitive, atopic skin, which reacts with dryness to the very tap water, not mentioning benzacne. Botanical treatments can also serve as adjunct treatments: thanks to them it might be possible to reduce the dose of the medicines that irritate the skin. Remember however, that if you acne is not responding to your current methods and causes you problems, you need to go to a dermatologist.



Jadwiga Nazimek ©


Disclaimer: this article is for informational purposes only. Always use herbal products according to the instructions of the producer or a therapist.


Elsaie, M. L., M. F. Abdelhamid, L. T. Elsaaiee, and H. M. Emam, 2009, The efficacy of topical 2% green tea lotion in mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris: J Drugs Dermatol, v. 8, p. 358-64.

Fisk, W. A., H. A. Lev-Tov, and R. K. Sivamani, 2014, Botanical and phytochemical therapy of acne: a systematic review: Phytother Res, v. 28, p. 1137-52.

Gavini, E., V. Sanna, R. Sharma, C. Juliano, M. Usai, M. Marchetti, J. Karlsen, and P. Giunchedi, 2005, Solid lipid microparticles (SLM) containing juniper oil as anti-acne topical carriers: preliminary studies: Pharm Dev Technol, v. 10, p. 479-87.

Hammer, K. A., 2015, Treatment of acne with tea tree oil (melaleuca) products: a review of efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of action: Int J Antimicrob Agents, v. 45, p. 106-10.

Meier, L., R. Stange, A. Michalsen, and B. Uehleke, 2012, Clay jojoba oil facial mask for lesioned skin and mild acne--results of a prospective, observational pilot study: Forsch Komplementmed, v. 19, p. 75-9.

Sharma, M., R. Schoop, A. Suter, and J. B. Hudson, 2011, The potential use of Echinacea in acne: control of Propionibacterium acnes growth and inflammation: Phytother Res, v. 25, p. 517-21.

Sharquie, K. E., I. A. Al-Turfi, and W. M. Al-Shimary, 2006, Treatment of acne vulgaris with 2% topical tea lotion: Saudi Med J, v. 27, p. 83-5.

Look after your outdoor clothes with natural soap flakes May 22, 2016 07:00

I have always enjoyed the great outdoors and hill walking and have spent a fortune on the perfect outdoor coat and over trousers. Obviously they need to be cleaned, but you cannot just throw them into the washing machine with the rest of your clothes and put detergent in as this could damage the waterproof coating.

How does your waterproof clothing keep you dry? It allows sweat in the form of water vapour to pass through the fabric to the outside but stops rain or water from passing through the fabric to the inside. Different manufacturers have different methods of achieving this but they all work in the same way. When water comes in contact with the waterproof fabric, it runs off the surface of the garment and beads (form tiny balls on the surface). When the waterproof coating is damaged by detergents or worn away the water will no longer do this. Instead it will soak into the fabric - this is sometimes called wetting out. When the fabric on your waterproof walking coat wets out water does not escape to the outside. As a result, sweat stays near your skin and you get wet from the inside. In addition, detergent attracts water to the garments.

There are specialist products that you can buy to clean your waterproof clothes and they do work but they can be quite expensive. If you are like me and would like to save a little money here and you might want to try natural soap flakes to clean you waterproof clothing in the washing machine (provided the garment label allows you to do this). First you have to clean the detergent drawer were you put the washing powder in. Make sure that you get rid of any old washing powder and scented conditioner. Then place a towel in the machine and put it on a short wash with no washing powder. This cleans the inside of the machine. You are now ready to clean you waterproof gear. Load the machine with your gear and place natural soap flakes or specialist product into the machine and put on a normal wash of 30 degrees. Once finished if the garment label allows place the clothes in the tumble dryer on a low temperature to rejuvenate the waterproof coating. And there you have it: nice clean gear.

By using natural soap flakes you can achieve the same out come as by using the specialised products but for a fraction of the price. If your waterproof clothing needs to be re-proofed with the waterproof coating clean it as described above and use a specialised reproofing agent. Alternatively, in my experience pure (unscented) fabric conditioner can achieve a similar re-proofing result.

I hope this helps with caring for your precious outdoor gear and help keep you nice and dry – have a great time next time you venture into the great outdoors!

Nicholas Howard 

Goat milk soap May 20, 2016 09:00

I wasn't quite sure about the goat milk soap. People seem to do it in different ways: some dissolve sodium hydroxide in frozen goat milk (because the sugars in milk raise the temperature of the lye solution). Others add milk powder at trace. I have reservations about mixing sodium hydroxide with milk: how do we know whether the product of the reaction between the two still contains the beneficial properties of goat milk? Eventually I decided to add goat milk at trace. 

By Nikolaos Vokos -, Public Domain,

All was going well. I achieved a medium thick trace, at which point I added goat milk and clay. And then... after a brief period of blending, the soap butter seemed to be getting thinner, instead of thicker! I blended for a little longer, but the trace was still not thickening. At that point I added calendula flowers and poured the soap into the mould, suspecting that what I've created was not soap at all and somehow milk and clay must have separated fatty acids from the lye....

When after about half an hour I checked on the soap however, it was thickening nicely. It looked really pretty and delicious: white like the milk it had been made with. I cut it and stamped it and I cannot wait to try it! 

Making of Lemon Meringue soap May 17, 2016 18:44

Lemon Meringue is one of the favourites we make. It is a very gracious soap, relatively easy to make in larger batches (which means that it is possible to handcraft more than 1kg at a time!). It did take us a few goes to get it right, but now making this zesty, deliciously looking soap is pure pleasure. 
Here is my other half lovingly creating Lemon Meringue last Saturday: 
The soap was a little soft after pouring, but I managed to shape the top: 
Now all we need to do is wait for the soap to harden sufficiently to cut it into bars :-)

The mysterious ingredients of handmade soap May 15, 2016 00:00

Are you into reading labels of the natural soap and other skin and hair care products? Some of us are becoming ingredient conscious and careful about what we are putting on our skin. Try as we might to understand the contents of our soaps and face creams, there is always something that sounds unfamiliar!

Some of the ingredients that puzzled me whenever I bought natural creams or handmade soaps were fragrance-related: limonene, citral, eugenol, linalool. Usually they are accompanied by a star, which leads to a legend informing that this ingredients is derived from essential oil, like this:


* From natural essential oils.

So what are these substances and why are they mentioned separately? I used to think it could have something to do with creating a new fragrance from natural scent chemicals. Turns out these molecules are actually ingredients of essential oils. It sounds obvious now, but I used to think of essential oils as pure substances rather than complex mixtures. For example lavender oil consists mostly of phytochemicals called linalool, linalyl acetate and eucalyptol. Some of the ingredients of essential oils might cause allergy in some people, which is why they have to be mentioned separately on the labels of handmade soaps and other skincare products. If you are allergic to them, this information on the label will help you to avoid products that contain them. And that’s all there is to it!

Sodium olivate – is this soap really natural? May 13, 2016 08:39

Terminology in cosmetic products can be confusing. You might come across a handmade soap described as ‘natural’; you like it, but you happen to glance at the ingredients and one of them is something like ‘sodium olivate’ or ‘sodium cocoate’. What are these and is the soap that contains them really natural?

Handmade soaps usually come in two forms: one type is made with the ‘melt and pour’ method, whilst others are made with the traditional, cold- or hot-process method. The melt and pour handmade soaps can be recognized by their partial transparency. Makers often take advantage of this feature and place various embeds in the soaps, e.g. cute hearts and so on. These soaps are made of substances such as mono propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, sorbitol solution, stearic or myristic acid.

On the other hand, traditionally made soap is the result of a reaction between sodium hydroxide (lye) and oils (fatty acids). This reaction is called saponification. The end product contains no sodium hydroxide; it has all been neutralized during saponification to create salts of fatty acids (soap). These salts of fatty acids usually have the word ‘sodium’ in their name, plus a word that sounds like the original oils used, e.g. ‘olivate’ for olive oil. So, ‘sodium olivate’ is salt of fatty acids from olive oil, ‘sodium cocoate’ is salt of fatty acids from coconut oil, ‘sodium sheabutterate’ is salt of fatty acids from shea butter and so on. Hence, to answer your question – ‘sodium olivate’ is a perfectly natural substance.

Whilst the finished cold-or hot-process soap contains no lye, or sodium hydroxide, it will contain some natural, unchanged oils used to make them, e.g. olive oil or shea butter. This is because the artisan will use ‘superfatting’ or ‘lye discount’, i.e. they will put more oils in the mixture that is needed to neutralize the lye. At The scent of berries use at least 5% superfatting. In addition, a certain proportion of the fatty acids in the vegetable oils is ‘unsaponifiable’, that is they do not react with sodium hydroxide. Instead, they stay on the skin after you washed it with soap, helping it to maintain its natural protective barrier. Cold pressed, virgin, raw and unrefined oils contain more unsaponifiable fatty acids than oils that have been refined. This is why we use only raw, organic shea butter to make our soaps.

We hope this article made the confusing world of ingredients a little clearer!

Lessons from soap making May 07, 2016 22:28

Here is what I’ve learned from making natural soap: enjoy every new skill and piece of knowledge you acquired, however small. When you fail, focus on what you have learned from the failure.

It took us weeks to master certain types of cold process soap swirls: mantra swirl and swirl in the pot. The key issue was to achieve a medium thin stage of trace (a stage of soap making similar to thin custard or cake butter). The soap butter would then be divided between containers with different colours and mixed again in the mould in the desired pattern. This proved more difficult that it sounds! We wanted to make sure that the trace is true, that is the lye has definitely reacted with the oils and the soap butter is nice and even. Perhaps it was partially our lack of confidence and practice, but several times we ended up with trace was too advanced to swirl the soap properly. It was like trying to make complicated patterns with thick custard. And then – eureka ! We discovered the importance of the temperature of the lye and the oils before they are mixed. And finally it worked! Except that the time after that it didn’t...

Winter forest is a typical example of a pattern where thin trace is needed. 

At the same time that me and my partner were trying to master the thin trace in handmade soap, my sister was aiming to bake a perfect Polish layer cake. Time after time the sponge cake failed for reasons that she could not fathom. There were also other things going on. In the Great British Bake off contestants were creating the most divine desserts. An article was published commenting on the number of scientific studies whose results are never replicated by studies using the same designs. I remember listening to a scientific program on BBC 4 where someone said that these differences in results can be due to variables that we cannot observe or control. Such unknown factors might also affect baking: have you ever noticed that the cake is not what it should be even though you did everything exactly the same as last time? I think this could also apply to crafting natural soap. We cannot account for everything – we can only do the best we can and learn from the mishaps. 

I also learned something about myself: the extent of my frustration with every handmade soap batch that did not match my expectation made it clear that I was being too much of a perfectionist. This taught me to enjoy not just the result, but the process of soap making. After all, I was crafting the soap in my precious spare time!

Our first soap April 20, 2016 22:04

It was the artistic quality and the beauty of handmade soaps that drew us in. The first time we made soap I was so nervous: there was the lye, working with which requires wearing protective gear, the mysterious ‘trace’ that needs to be achieved before the soap is poured... We used a milk carton as our first mould and the book ‘Soap Crafting’ as a guide. Having acquired a stainless steel pot and a stick blender, we set out to making our first soap – a basic recipe of olive, palm and coconut oil.

First of all, the pot was too wide and shallow: the soap butter was spraying the lower part of my face and my throat as I was blending it. Then it turned out I didn’t pay enough attention to the recipe and was 2 ounces olive oil short! After a quick deliberation with my partner I replaced those 2 ounces with sunflower oil. Too late I realized the saponification value of sunflower oil might be different than that of olive oil, which would mean that I used an incorrect amount and the soap could be too alkaline! For those of you who don’t know, saponification value is the amount of base (in mg) required to saponify 1 gram of fat. Imagine my relief when I realized the saponification value of olive and sunflower oils was the same... Phew! Finally, the soap was poured, wrapped in a blanket and left to sleep...

Our first soap in its milk carton :-) Shaping the top with a spoon was such fun!


Of course we couldn’t resist peaking at it at regular intervals. We spotted the gel phase! Next day my partner made his first soap. He opted for a simple recipe of olive oil for a gentle, long lasting bar and shea butter to add hardness and nourishment. This was our first experiment. This soap was considerably harder and whiter in colour than mine and after unmoulding – almost crumbly. And so we learned about paying attention to saponification values (although later we started using the website soapcalc for calculating recipes) and the difference that the temperature at mixing can make.

After four weeks of curing both soaps were lovely. They smelled of natural oils and that in itself made my shower so much more pleasant. Whilst my partner’s soap was gentle, suitable for face, mine was relatively soft, with nice lather and bubbles. It is still my favourite soap of all...


Cedarwood essential oil: from the lungs to the brain December 03, 2015 17:05

Recently I acquired an essential oil that evoked rather mixed feelings in myself and my partner when we first sniffed it. It has strong woody and sweet notes, but it reminded me of an incident from last Christmas. On Christmas Eve we cut the top of a lovely spruce growing in my parents’ garden and we put it up in their living room. My mother came in and the first thing she said was: has the cat peed somewhere here? It was the intense aroma of the tree that to some people smells similar to cat urine.


Image courtesy of foto76 at

Well, this was the problem with the cedarwood essential oil. However, pee-smelling or not, this oil has some scientific evidence in its favour. It seems to facilitate sleep in humans, i.e. it reduces the time it takes to fall asleep during daytime nap (Sano et al., 1998). This study included only 10 people, so it is difficult to say whether such restful effect of cedarwood essential oil would apply to people in general. Another study showed that cedrol, a component of cedar essential oils, lowers blood pressure (Umeno et al., 2008). What is interesting, all participants in that study had undergone laryngectomy, i.e. they breathed through a stoma in their necks. This means the effect of cedrol in the nervous system was not mediated by the sense of smell. The nerve endings in the lungs transmitted the substance to the brain, where it increased blood flow in the area called hippocampus (Hori et al., 2012), known mostly for being the seat of memory, but also involved in regulating physiological states of the body.

I don’t know about you, but I might now be tempted to overcome my initial impression and try the cedarwood essential oil as a sleep help…


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Always use essential oils and extract as advised by the manufacturer or a qualified therapist.



Hori, E., H. Shojaku, N. Watanabe, Y. Kawasaki, M. Suzuki, M. F. de Araujo, Y. Nagashima, Y. Yada, T. Ono, and H. Nishijo, 2012, Effects of direct cedrol inhalation into the lower airway on brain hemodynamics in totally laryngectomized subjects: Auton Neurosci, v. 168, p. 88-92.

Sano, A., H. Sei, H. Seno, Y. Morita, and H. Moritoki, 1998, Influence of cedar essence on spontaneous activity and sleep of rats and human daytime nap: Psychiatry Clin Neurosci, v. 52, p. 133-5.

Umeno, K., E. Hori, M. Tsubota, H. Shojaku, T. Miwa, Y. Nagashima, Y. Yada, T. Suzuki, T. Ono, and H. Nishijo, 2008, Effects of direct cedrol inhalation into the lower airway on autonomic nervous activity in totally laryngectomized subjects: Br J Clin Pharmacol, v. 65, p. 188-96.

The nose delight: essential oils November 10, 2015 16:35

Aromatherapists use aromatic essences of plants to promote wellbeing and health of the mind, body and spirit. Such approach aims to strengthen our own healing abilities and help us recover from various ailments. The volatile oils from the aromatic plants can help us feel calmer and less stressed, but also increase energy. So what are essential oils? The original term was ‘quintessential oils’. It relates to the ancient idea of Aristotle that matter consists of four main components: fire, air, earth and water. In addition to those four there was quintessence – the spirit, or life force. Distillation of leaves, flowers or berries of aromatic plants was thought to ‘catch’ their spirit (think of distilled alcoholic spirits such as whisky).

These ‘spirits’, or, as we now know, chemical substances, help the plants to attract bees and other pollinators, compete with other plants and protect them from predators. Flowers are an obvious example of a way of inviting insects with scent. Terpenoids, eucalyptol and camphor produced by sage bushes discourage other plants from growing around them. The Douglas fir tree releases terpenes, components of essential oil, to fight budworm, and each year it changes the composition of these volatile oils so that the budworm cannot develop resistance against them. Finally, terpenes protect the plants from bacteria, viruses and fungi.

A true essential oil has to be extracted from the plant with a physical method, namely distillation (with water or steam) or, in the case of orange peels, mechanical expression (‘cold pressing’). Sometimes plants can also be macerated in water to release the oils. Distillation produces not only the essential oil, but also the hydrolat, or hydrosol, or – my favourite term – flower water. Flower water contains small amounts of the essential oil and can be great in face creams or as a spritzer (e.g. lavender).

Distillation of essential oils: the parts of plant are put inside the still and sealed. Steam or water removes the oils from the plant. The vapours rise through the connecting pipe to the condenser, where they cool down and become liquid – water mixed with essential oil. The oil usually collects on the surface, or sometimes on the bottom of the container.  Image courtesy of  MAKY.OREL via Wikimedia Commons


If an oil is extracted with solvents, e.g. petroleum ether or ethanol, or with enflourage, it is called an absolute. Oils of delicate flowers such as jasmine or mimosa are obtained this way. The concentration of the solvent in the absolute is between 5 and 10 parts per million and these oils are often used in psychological treatment and with horses. Another, very rare method of extraction is enflourage, or soaking flowers in fat. Absolutes smell quite strongly and are often diluted with alcohol.

By Tara Angkor Hotel (Flickr: Aroma Massage) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, just to confuse us even more, some oils are extracted with CO2, which becomes liquid under pressure, spreads through the plant and absorbs its aromatic chemicals. In this case CO2 also acts as a type of solvent. These extracts smell very much like the actual plant and sometimes contain more beneficial substances, e.g. frankincense CO2 extract has anti-inflammatory properties that essential oil of this plant lacks.

At the moment the distillation or cold pressing are thought to be the safest methods of obtaining aromatic oils because absolutes and CO2 extracts can contain small amounts of pesticides if they use plants that are not organic. However, it is up to the therapist and perhaps personal taste to decide which type of oil to use.

Source:, accessed 8th November 2015

Clary sage oil for pain and stress October 27, 2015 21:44

Aromatherapists have used clary sage oil for a long time to calm and lift the mood. And, it seems, for a good reason: inhaling this essential oil can reduce the level of the stress hormones, increase the amount of serotonin, reduce blood pressure in stressful situations and even ease pain of menstruation and labour.

One study showed that inhaling clary sage oil can lower the level of the stress hormone cortisol in menopausal women, especially those prone to depression (Lee et al., 2014). The oil also increased the amount of serotonin, a chemical messenger whose deficiency is thought to be involved in depression. However, the study had some disadvantage: it lacked a comparison for clary sage (a different oil) and the studied group of people was quite small (twenty two).

Image courtesy wikimedia commons

Feeling stressed can reflect in our blood pressure and respiration rate, and what stressful situation is better to study than an unpleasant medical procedure? Women undergoing a urodynamic examination were divided into a group that inhaled clary sage oil, a group that inhaled lavender essential oil and a group that inhaled almond oil (Seol et al., 2013). Those breathing in vapours of clary sage showed a reduction in blood pressure and in rate of respiration. Participants who inhaled lavender and almond oils did not show such benefits.

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at

Pain can also affect not only the way we feel physically, but our psychological wellbeing. Clary sage essential oil seems to help women with painful cramps during menstruation (Ou et al., 2012). Here it was blended with lavender and marjoram oils in a cream that the women used to massage their lower abdomen from the end of the last menstruation to the beginning of the next one. Those who used the essential oil blend suffered on average 1.8 days instead of 2.4 days. Ladies who used cream with a synthetic fragrance experienced a smaller improvement (2.1 instead of 2.4 days).  

Finally, scientists dared to test the essential oil on the greatest pain of all: labour contractions. Hundred and fifty six women in labour used an incense mask with either clary sage essential oil, jasmine essential oil and water for 15 min (Kaviani et al., 2014). Women who inhaled clary sage experienced less pain and shorter first and second stages of labour half an hour after inhaling the essential oil. However, after an hour there were no differences in pain between the three groups. This study involved only women who had given birth before.

These results suggest that clary sage oil can help to relax, lift our mood and bring down blood pressure and pain. Recently I started using it before going to bed and I’m pretty sure I sleep better... As long as does no harm, I figure it’s worth trying!


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Always use essential oils and extract as advised by the manufacturer or a qualified therapist.



Kaviani, M., S. Maghbool, S. Azima, and M. H. Tabaei, 2014, Comparison of the effect of aromatherapy with Jasminum officinale and Salvia officinale on pain severity and labor outcome in nulliparous women: Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res, v. 19, p. 666-72.

Lee, K. B., E. Cho, and Y. S. Kang, 2014, Changes in 5-hydroxytryptamine and cortisol plasma levels in menopausal women after inhalation of clary sage oil: Phytother Res, v. 28, p. 1599-605.

Ou, M. C., T. F. Hsu, A. C. Lai, Y. T. Lin, and C. C. Lin, 2012, Pain relief assessment by aromatic essential oil massage on outpatients with primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial: J Obstet Gynaecol Res, v. 38, p. 817-22.

Seol, G. H., Y. H. Lee, P. Kang, J. H. You, M. Park, and S. S. Min, 2013, Randomized controlled trial for Salvia sclarea or Lavandula angustifolia: differential effects on blood pressure in female patients with urinary incontinence undergoing urodynamic examination: J Altern Complement Med, v. 19, p. 664-70.

Seol, G. H., H. S. Shim, P. J. Kim, H. K. Moon, K. H. Lee, I. Shim, S. H. Suh, and S. S. Min, 2010, Antidepressant-like effect of Salvia sclarea is explained by modulation of dopamine activities in rats: J Ethnopharmacol, v. 130, p. 187-90.


Ancient Egipt and MRSA: the story of honey October 10, 2015 18:24

Honey is a wonderful treat for the skin: it moisturises and nourishes it, helps to maintain the natural acidic ‘cloak’ on its surface (Burlando and Cornara, 2013). The sweet product of bee hives has been used in folk medicine for thousands of years and yet scientific studies of honey are somewhat sparse. However, thanks to its ability to kill even antibiotic-resistant bacteria honey is making a comeback.

Victorian ladies

Over five thousands years ago the nomadic tribes in Egypt used a mixture of malachite, copper, spar, oil, fat and honey for beauty and for diseases of the eyes (Lamprecht, 1994). Face mask made of oatmeal, honey and egg yolk was one of the few skin care products allowed as ‘proper’ for respectable ladies in Victorian times (Burlando and Cornara, 2013).

Despite the fact that people have used it for centuries to care for their skin and hair, this precious substance has largely escaped scientific studies. Most of us are probably aware of the benefits of honey from the internet, tradition, word of mouth and own experience. For example, I recently decided to try honey and another bee product, propolis, in my fight with acne. It is now the third month that my face is not only free of spots, but also smooth, soft and generally quite lovely looking.

Image courtesy of OZphotography at


Healing wounds

However, honey has also been traditionally used to heal wounds, until the second world war when antibiotics took over (Vandamme et al., 2013). Now that the bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, medical, sterilized honey is slowly regaining its place in the wound care, particularly burns and chronic ulcers. And here is where the scene enters manuka honey, made of the nectar of the Leptospermum tree (Manuka) in New Zealand and Australia (McLoone et al., 2015). Scientific studies show that unprocessed, undiluted and sterilized, this substance can reduce the number of bacteria, speed up the healing of burns (first and second degree) and stimulate healing of ulcers (Vandamme et al., 2013).

War on all fronts

Honeys from all sorts of flowers and all over the world kill bacteria, including E. coli and MRSA, the famous antibiotic-resistant superbug (McLoone et al., 2015). But how exactly is this achieved? Well, scientists don’t know exactly how honey helps to heal wounds, but most likely in several ways. As you have probably guessed, honey consists mostly of sugar (75-79%). This is why it draws water out of the bacteria, leading to its death. Apart from water (20%), honey also contains proteins, vitamins B, minerals and antioxidants (Vandamme et al., 2013). When diluted (for example, with fluid in the wounds), honey (but not the manuka type) produces antibacterial hydrogen peroxide. Flavonoids in the Manuka honey can prevent further damage to the tissue, whilst the acidity of honey creates hostile environment for the microbes. Finally, when producing honey, bees add to it an antimicrobial peptide: bee defensin -1. Because of this wide array of mechanisms it is unlikely that bacteria would become resistant to honey (McLoone et al., 2015).

Honey kills bacteria, including MRSA.

You might wonder: if honey is so wonderful then why isn’t it being used more? Well, it’s not always straightforward. Honey has to be sterilized to be used in clinical practice, and not with high temperatures, but with gamma radiation. In addition, even when it kills bacteria in the lab, larger studies on humans sometimes fail to find a clear advantage of honey over other treatments. This could be because the environment of a living body is more favorable to bacteria than a lab plate. Still, our grandmothers’ sweet recipes for beauty are probably worth trying, even if they don’t turn us quite into Cleopatras!


 Jadwiga Nazimek


Burlando, B., and L. Cornara, 2013, Honey in dermatology and skin care: a review: J Cosmet Dermatol, v. 12, p. 306-13.

Lamprecht, I., 1994, Calorimetric investigations around a royal hieroglyph: Thermochimica Acta, v. 234, p. 179-200.

McLoone, P., M. Warnock, and L. Fyfe, 2015, Honey: A realistic antimicrobial for disorders of the skin: J Microbiol Immunol Infect.

Vandamme, L., A. Heyneman, H. Hoeksema, J. Verbelen, and S. Monstrey, 2013, Honey in modern wound care: a systematic review: Burns, v. 39, p. 1514-25.

Nature provides: coconut oil October 05, 2015 16:40

I love vegetable, natural oils, but because I am a scientist, I like to check first if there is scientific evidence that they actually work. Coconut oil has been a subject of quite a few studies.

You have probably heard about atopic dermatitis -a long term disease of the skin. The protective skin barrier does not work properly and ‘leaks’ water, leaving the skin dry and inflamed. In one study researchers compared virgin coconut oil and mineral oil applied on the skin in children with mild and moderate atopic dermatitis (Evangelista et al., 2014). After 8 weeks of treatment in children who used coconut oil the dermatitis healed by 68% and their measure of water loss went down from 26 to 7. The skin of children who used mineral oil (something like petrolatum) healed by 38% and their water loss was at 13 compared with 24 before treatment. The coconut oil might achieve this beneficial effect by coating the skin, which prevents the loss of water. However, the scientists also thought that it might get absorbed deeper into the skin than the mineral oil and soothe inflammation.


Image courtesy of tiverylucky at

In another study researchers in Pakistan wanted to see if coconut oil could prevent sepsis in premature babies (Salam et al., 2015). Nurses and then, after discharge, mothers, rubbed babies with coconut oil twice a day. After about a month the rate of infections of the blood was 5.5 times lower in babies in the coconut group compared with those who did not receive such treatment. Newborns in the coconut group also put on more weight. This anti-infection effect of coconut oil could be because it is antibacterial (Verallo-Rowell et al., 2008) On the other hand, in another study mineral oil was just as good as coconut oil when people with dry, rough skin applied it on their legs for a couple of weeks (Agero and Verallo-Rowell, 2004). It is possible that the coconut oil needs a few weeks to 'get to work' properly, especially when the skin is inflamed.

Coconut oil is also an excellent conditioner for hair because its main ingredient, lauric acid, can penetrate deep into the hair (Rele and Mohile, 2003). You can use it before or after wash to reduce loss of protein and prevent damage.

So it seems that coconut oil has quite a few strengths not only as a beauty helper, but also in protecting the skin and health of the little ones. I personally think it’s a great lip balm – even though I usually end up eating it! Have you used coconut oil for skin or hair and what was the effect?



Agero, A. L., and V. M. Verallo-Rowell, 2004, A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis: Dermatitis, v. 15, p. 109-16.

Evangelista, M. T., F. Abad-Casintahan, and L. Lopez-Villafuerte, 2014, The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on SCORAD index, transepidermal water loss, and skin capacitance in mild to moderate pediatric atopic dermatitis: a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial: Int J Dermatol, v. 53, p. 100-8.

Rele, A. S., and R. B. Mohile, 2003, Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage: J Cosmet Sci, v. 54, p. 175-92.

Salam, R. A., G. L. Darmstadt, and Z. A. Bhutta, 2015, Effect of emollient therapy on clinical outcomes in preterm neonates in Pakistan: a randomised controlled trial: Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed, v. 100, p. F210-5.

Verallo-Rowell, V. M., K. M. Dillague, and B. S. Syah-Tjundawan, 2008, Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis: Dermatitis, v. 19, p. 308-15.


The treasures of the silver birch September 27, 2015 18:53

Betulin and betulinic acid are the skin great helpers. We will find them in the external layer of birch bark (‘Betula alba’ is the Latin name for the silver birch). They give the birch trunks their white colour and, just as they protect the tree, they help the skin to remain healthy. They achieve this in two ways: by strengthening the protective barrier of the skin and by reducing the loss of collagen.

We already know that the epidermis is protected by a layer of the ‘cement’ and ‘bricks’. Some studies suggest that betulin increases the moisture of skin, helps it to retain water and reduces the skin redness (Casetti et al., 2011). It also helps to soothe inflammation.


Image courtesy of adamr at

But the beneficial effects of the birch bark extract is not limited to the epidermis. Deeper, in the dermis, there are fibers of collagen and elastin. They are responsible for the firmness and elasticity of the skin. As we age, these fibers are gradually destroyed by the proteolytic enzyme MMP_1, also referred to as collagenase. This causes the skin to wrinkle and slacken. Betulinic acid reduces MMP_1 (Lee et al., 2012), thus helping the skin to regenerate and dminishing lines.

It seems then that the extract from the birch bark could be a panaceum for the main problems of ageing: dry skin and wrinkles. Does it really work? We have to see for ourselves :-)



Casetti, F., U. Wolfle, W. Gehring, and C. M. Schempp, 2011, Dermocosmetics for Dry Skin: A New Role for Botanical Extracts: Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, v. 24, p. 289-293.

Lee, C. W., N. H. Park, J. W. Kim, B. H. Um, A. V. Shpatov, E. E. Shults, I. V. Sorokina, and S. A. Popov, 2012, Study of skin anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory effects of dihydroquercetin, natural triterpenoinds, and their synthetic derivatives: Russian Journal of Bioorganic Chemistry, v. 38, p. 328-334.

Micellar water – what's in the name? September 20, 2015 17:53

Micellar water is becoming more and more popular and we are now spoilt for choice. What is it exactly and how is it different from soap?

You might have read in the post about soap that in order to remove dirt and sebum from the skin we need a substance that acts on the surface, or a surfactant, i.e. enables mixing of water with oils by reducing the tension between them. Soap is just such a substance. Its spherical particles in aqueous solution have water soluble heads and oil soluble tails are the micelles. However, soap is not the only surfactant. In fact, there are several classes of these helpful substances: anionic, amphoteric and non-ionic (Ananthapadmanabhan et al., 2004). Their class depends on the properties of their heads. For example, soap (salts of fatty acids) is an anionic surfactant, with negatively charged head. Another anionic surfactants is sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), a synthetic detergent known for its skin-irritating properties, and its milder relative alkyl ether sulfate (SLES). The heads of amphoteric surfactants have both a negative and a positive charge, whilst the heads of non-ionic ones have none.  

Having read those difficult words you might ask – what does this have to do with micellar solution? These products are, in essence, water with micelles of surfactants such as non-ionic decyl glucoside or amphoteric disodium cocoamphodiacetate.  They are gentler on the skin than soaps and shower gels, which makes them particularly suitable for sensitive skin. Using a cotton pad means that the micelles can stick to it with their heads and stuck their tails out to sweep the make up and dirt from your face! Most micellar solutions also contain additional substances that moisturise or nourish the skin.

So – behind the somewhat mysteriously sounding word there is a product that is not so complicated after all...


Jadwiga Nazimek


Ananthapadmanabhan, K. P., D. J. Moore, K. Subramanyan, M. Misra, and F. Meyer, 2004, Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing: Dermatol Ther, v. 17 Suppl 1, p. 16-25.


Soaps: the story of ashes, pH and sensitive skin August 31, 2015 17:59

Have you ever wondered how the natural, handmade soaps are different from the commercial bars, what the soap pH is all about and why some washing gels insist that they contain no soap? So have I! Which is why I decided to research this topic.

Soap was probably invented independently in various areas of the world. One story of soap origin tells us about the animal sacrifice performed by Romans on Mount Sapo. After they burned parts of the animals for the gods, the Romans discovered that the animal fat mixed with ashes and then with rain water formed a substance which could clean surfaces – soap. It is this story that gave the name to the chemical reaction of soap making – saponification.

Soap is a product of mixing fats (animal or vegetable) with a strong base, such as sodium hydroxide, or lye. Traditionally lye was made by leaching ashes with water. When fats react with lye, they form fatty acid salts and glycerol. It is the structure of the fatty acids that enables soap to clean: they have the ‘acid’ end, which mixes well with water (it is hydrophilic, or it ‘water loving’) and the ‘fatty’ end (a long chain of carbons), which mixes well with fats (it is hydrophobic, or ‘water hating’).

When I was plagued by eczema, my GP advised me to wash myself only with water. If you ever tried it, you know that water on its own is not that effective at cleaning! This is because the particles of water (H2O) tend to ‘stick’ together. Since they are very attracted to each other, it is difficult to pull them apart – they have a high a surface tension. Due to the structure of the fatty acids soap is a surfactant - it can reduce the surface tension of the water and suspend the oil particles among the water particles, so they can be rinsed off.



A soap micelle: a grease particle surrounded by the fatty acids. The tails of the fatty acids are attracted to the grease, while the heads are attracted to the water.


These days we have a wide choice of soap, not only manufactured by big companies, but also handcrafted by small artisans. Such soap is usually completely natural- it contains only vegetable oils and base, sometimes herbs, flower petals of essential oils, but no synthetic additives such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), which can be very irritating to the skin. You might have heard about handmade soaps produced by ‘cold process’ and by ‘hot process’ method. How are these two different? Part of the answer is in the name: cold process of soap making relies on the chemical reaction taking place in the room temperature. As the oils and base mix, the mixture becomes thicker (this is the ‘trace’ stage of soap making) until it acquires the consistency of a pudding. The mixture is then poured into a mould and left to continue to saponify for 12-48 hours. When the soap is firm, it is cut into bars and left for another two weeks to mature. On the other hand, in the hot process the artisan encourages the saponification by heating up the mixture of base and oils. The reaction is completed within a few hours and the soap can be poured into moulds.

So what are pH of soaps and the cleansers without soaps all about? The natural pH on the surface of the healthy skin is around 5.6 (slightly lower in men). Soaps are often alkaline, i.e. their pH is higher (according to some studies, commercial soaps have pH around 10 and shampoos around 6 (Tarun et al., 2014)). Since rise in the skin surface pH can be associated with increased water loss and dehydration, commercial cleansers are often advertised as ‘acidic’ or with ‘neutral pH’. However, a recent study compared pH on the skin of two groups of people: one used acidic cleanser and the other normal soap (with pH around 10) for over 5 years (Takagi et al., 2015). The researchers found that pH increased in both groups. This suggests that soap does not affect the balance of healthy skin anymore than a mild acidic cleanser.


 "PH scale 2" by Original uploader was Piercetheorganist at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia; Transfer was stated to be made by User:LeaW.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

The drying of the skin could also be caused by the fact that the soap removes the natural oils – sebum – from the surface of the epidermis (the superficial layer of the skin). To test this, a study compared the skin of babies washed with water, mild acidic cleanser and alkaline soap (Gfatter et al., 1997). All three cleansers, including water, removed the sebum and increased pH, although these effects were greater in the group washed with alkaline soap. However, there were no differences in the skin hydration.

Therefore, it seems that even quite alkaline soaps do not disturb the healthy skin. This is because the epidermis produces an acidic mantle from its own free fatty acids. Bacteria, sweat and sebum also contribute to the slightly acidic pH of the skin surface. This is why the skin can neutralize the post –cleansing increase in pH within a few hours. And if you really want to speed up the neutralization of the soap, running a few hundred meters will do just that!

However, the effects of the alkaline soaps can be different on sensitive skin. If you have allergies, tendency for eczema and your skin feels tight, dry or stings and burns after washing, you probably have sensitive skin. This means that the natural protective barrier – the striatum corneum – does not function properly, it might be too thin and ‘leaky’ (Berardesca et al., 2013). Hence, water, soap and cleansing gels get in between the layers of the epidermis and disturb the skin balance, causing dryness. In addition, your immune system might be hyper-responsive and react with inflammation.

Still, natural soap could be an opiton. These products are free of the synthetic additives, which exacerbate the irritation experienced by those with senstive skin. Compared with most commercial soaps they contain greater amounts of glycerine, which moisturises the skin, and their pH can be lower. And if you really cannot tolerate even the natural soap, your best option if the micellar water – but this is another story!


Jadwiga Nazimek

 All images and contents are subject to copyright.

References: accessed 30th August 2015 accessed 30th August 2015

Berardesca, E., M. Farage, and H. Maibach, 2013, Sensitive skin: an overview: Int J Cosmet Sci, v. 35, p. 2-8.

Gfatter, R., P. Hackl, and F. Braun, 1997, Effects of soap and detergents on skin surface pH, stratum corneum hydration and fat content in infants: Dermatology, v. 195, p. 258-62.

Takagi, Y., Kaneda, K., Miyaki, M., Matsuo, K., Kawada, H. and Hosokawa, H. (2015), The       long-term use of soap does not affect the pH-maintenance mechanism of human skin. Skin Res Technol, 21: 144–148. doi:10.1111/srt.12170

Tarun, J., J. Susan, J. Suria, V. J. Susan, and S. Criton, 2014, Evaluation of pH of Bathing Soaps and Shampoos for Skin and Hair Care: Indian J Dermatol, v. 59, p. 442-4.


Lavender: nature's analgesic and relaxant  August 19, 2015 15:51

Lavender  (Lavandula angustifolia) has been used in the folk medicine for centuries. Its purple flowers are so popular in aromatherapy that theplant has become a object of interest of scientists. Scientific databases are now full of papers describing studies of lavender. Do these studies support the anecdotal evidence of the powers of lavender? At least partially – yes.


 Image courtesy of PANPOTE at

It appears that the essential lavender oil relaxes and soothes the nervous system. This could be because one of the ingredients of the oil – linalool – downregulates a chemical in the brain called NMDA, whose task is to excite the brain cells (Brum et al., 2001). Linalool also enhances  GABA – a transmitter which calms the neurons (Hossain et al., 2004). It seems that the effects of lavender are strongest when it is given orally. German scientists compared a lavender tablet called Silexian with a well know, addictive anxiety medication – lorazepam, which potentiates GABA (Woelk and Schläfke, 2010). Patients who suffered from general anxiety were divided into two groups. One group received lorazepam, and the other the lavender tablet. After six weeks it turned out that the natural product had a similar anti-anxiety effect to lorazepam. Silexian also improved the quality of sleep. It did not cause addiction or sedation – problems often associated with lorazepam. I don’t know about you, but I am now tempted to start using lavender in cooking and baking!

Another study focused on women suffering from  intense menstruation pain (Ou et al., 2012). Here again the particiapants were divided into two groups. Women from one group were asked to massage their bellies with a 3% cream that contained essential oils of lavender, sage and marjoram in proportions: 2:1:1. Ladies from the second group received a cream with a synthetic scent.  In those who used the herbal cream the average duration of painful cramps went down from 2.4 to 1.8 days. Patients using synthetic smelling cream also felt better, but improvement in their case was significantly smaller. For those of you interested in biology, the analgesic ingredients of botanical oils include linalyl acetate, linalool, eucalyptol and b-caryophyllene.

Lavender also reduced pain in another group of patients: those undergoing haemodialysis (Ghods et al., 2015). This unpleasant procedure requires inserting a needle, which causes pain and stress. As you have probably figured out by now, here too participants were divided into groups, but this time three: in one the essential lavender oil was sprayed on the skin before the needle insertion, in the other the skin was sprayed with water, and in the remaining patients nothing was applied before the procedure. The result revealed that the lavender oil reduced pain. This effect could be partly due to the fact that this natural oil decreases the response of the emotional centres in the brain to pain, blocks the transmission of the pain signals, calms and improves the mood.


Image courtesy of prozac1 at

So we now that the lavender extract works when it is given orally or topically. But is it worth inhaling it? Here the results of studies are mixed, but it seems that inhaling the vapours of this fragrant flower for at least five minutes acts like an analgesic and relaxes. This was shown in healthy volunteers who had a needle inserted into their arm (for no other reason than the good of science!) (Kim et al., 2011). Those volunteers whose oxygen mask was wiped with lavender oil felt less stress and pain than those with regular oxygen mask.

There is a reason why the folk medicine for centuries relied on lavender oil to soothe anxiety, fears and pain. This pure nature’s medicine, used in the correct way, is safe and inexpensive. If you have problems with sleep, try inhaling the oil before going to bed. Remember though to always use the lavender oil and extract as advised by the manufacturer or a qualified therapist.

 Jadwiga Nazimek ©

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only.



Brum, L. F., E. Elisabetsky, and D. Souza, 2001, Effects of linalool on [(3)H]MK801 and [(3)H] muscimol binding in mouse cortical membranes: Phytother Res, v. 15, p. 422-5.

Ghods, A. A., N. H. Abforosh, R. Ghorbani, and M. R. Asgari, 2015, The effect of topical application of lavender essential oil on the intensity of pain caused by the insertion of dialysis needles in hemodialysis patients: A randomized clinical trial: Complement Ther Med, v. 23, p. 325-30.

Hossain, S. J., H. Aoshima, H. Koda, and Y. Kiso, 2004, Fragrances in oolong tea that enhance the response of GABAA receptors: Biosci Biotechnol Biochem, v. 68, p. 1842-8.

Kim, S., H. J. Kim, J. S. Yeo, S. J. Hong, J. M. Lee, and Y. Jeon, 2011, The effect of lavender oil on stress, bispectral index values, and needle insertion pain in volunteers: J Altern Complement Med, v. 17, p. 823-6.

Ou, M. C., T. F. Hsu, A. C. Lai, Y. T. Lin, and C. C. Lin, 2012, Pain relief assessment by aromatic essential oil massage on outpatients with primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial: J Obstet Gynaecol Res, v. 38, p. 817-22.

Woelk, H., and S. Schläfke, 2010, A multi-center, double-blind, randomised study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder: Phytomedicine, v. 17, p. 94-9.


Nature for skin barrier August 04, 2015 15:25

Meet filaggrin: a protein that moisturises your skin. It lives in your epidermis. Have you ever seen the abbreviation ‘NMF’ among the ingredients of moisturising creams? It is the natural moisturising factor, a product of filaggrin. We start to worry about wrinkles already around the age of thirty. Lines and wrinkles appear when, among other things, we start losing filaggrin and our epidermis becomes thinner and thinner. Natural cosmetics can help with this: essential oil of damask rose increases the amount of filaggrin (Kim et al., 2010). It also helps in the maturation of keratinocytes – the skin cells that produce filaggrin. As a result the skin can regenerate and renew its barrier. Better skin barrier means less water loss and that means – more moisture.

But what is ‘skin barrier’? The epidermis resembles a house: on the outside, where the keratinocytes completed their journey from deeper in the skin and died, there is a layer of ‘cement’ and ‘bricks’. These are fatty acids, cholesterol, ceramides and water. Detergents, alcohol, hot water, UV radiation and grazes damage this cement. Water escapes from it and the skin wrinkles and flakes. Eczema, dermatitis, excessive dryness of the skin all result from such leaky cement and abnormalities in the maturation of keratinocytes.


Osawa et al., 2011: Comparison of skin with healthy barrier with skin where filaggrin is malfunctioning.


Argan oil also strengthens the skin barrier (Boucetta et al., 2013). As shown in a study on thirty postmenopausal women, after two months of rubbing 10 drops of this oil into a forearm the level of water in the skin increases, while less water leaks out. This effect could be thanks to the presence of linoleic acid (31-35%), which is one of the ingredients of ceramides, or the ‘bricks’ in the dead layer of the epidermis. Another natural substance that moisturises the skin is aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis). Scientists discovered it when studying the effects of different concentrations of aloe vera extract (0.10%, 0.25% and 0.50%) on women (Dal'Belo et al., 2006). They measured water content and the transepidermal water loss (TEWL) after single application and after one and two weeks. After single application only the two stronger concentrations increased the amount of moisture in the skin, but after 2 weeks all three worked well. There were no changes, however, in the water loss. It seems, therefore, that aloe vera has a different mechanism of action than the rose damask oil: it increases the levels of moisture in the epidermis even if water is still leaking out.


So keratinocytes form the structure of the skin and their dead remains protect it with  ‘cement’. And what makes the skin elastic and firm? This we will learn in the next part!


Jadwiga Nazimek ©


Boucetta, K. Q., Z. Charrouf, H. Aguenaou, A. Derouiche, and Y. Bensouda, 2013, Does Argan oil have a moisturizing effect on the skin of postmenopausal women?: Skin Res Technol, v. 19, p. 356-7.

Dal'Belo, S. E., L. R. Gaspar, and P. M. Maia Campos, 2006, Moisturizing effect of cosmetic formulations containing Aloe vera extract in different concentrations assessed by skin bioengineering techniques: Skin Res Technol, v. 12, p. 241-6.

Kim, J. H., D. K. Choi, S. S. Lee, S. J. Choi, C. D. Kim, T. J. Yoon, and J. H. Lee, 2010, Enhancement of keratinocyte differentiation by rose absolute oil: Ann Dermatol, v. 22, p. 255-61.

 Osawa, R., M. Akiyama, and H. Shimizu, 2011, Filaggrin gene defects and the risk of developing allergic disorders: Allergol Int, v. 60, p. 1-9.