Aromatherapy for Skincare: Does it Pass the Sniff Test?

Exploring the Body – Mind Connection

A few years ago, a small group of beauty industry veterans huddled around the dining table at the home of aesthetic surgeon Dr. Ritu Chopra to contemplate a more holistic approach to skincare and selfcare.  One of the ideas that was floated for our envisioned integrative beauty program was an aromatherapy practice.   I was skeptical at best.

Although I had previously been involved with, and even led, projects at multi-national consumer companies that demonstrated the extent to which the scent of beauty or personal care products could impact brain centers of emotion, energy and sleep, I didn’t (yet) appreciate the connection between brain function and the physical characteristics of skin we recognize as beauty.  Was an aromatherapy initiative too far afield from our mission of delivering the skin radiance that is the outward manifestation of wellbeing?

Stress Less to Shine More

What I didn’t realize at the time is that what we were pondering was consistent with the now-current zeitgeist of neuro-cosmetics and the emerging appreciation of the mind-body connection.

That’s not to say that we can vanquish wrinkles, breakouts or sensitivities by inhaling essential oils. I wish!  What aromatherapy can do is support resilience to the compromising effects of chronic inflammatory stress on skin’s clarity and radiance.

Woo-Woo Gives Way to Modern Science

While there is still the need for more rigorous and comprehensive studies, modern neurological testing and scientific research involving fMRI and EEG technologies are validating the potential benefits of aromatherapy, particularly in areas related to emotional well-being and stress relief.  

Here’s how the benefits of aromatherapy can ultimately translate into benefits for healthier-looking and more radiant skin.

Stress Reduction: Most of us have personally experienced the many ways stress can wreak havoc on skin.  The short term and more immediate effects of acute stress can include dullness and breakouts.  The effects of chronic, low-grade stress are believed to be the major contributor to premature aging. Aromatherapy can help reduce stress levels through the inhalation of certain essential oils like lavender, chamomile, and bergamot. By promoting relaxation and reducing stress, aromatherapy indirectly supports skin health and radiance.

Better Sleep:  There’s good reason that books, apps, wearable devices, food and dietary supplements promising healthier sleep have taken a starring role in the massive U.S. selfcare industry.  When it comes to health and beauty, quality sleep is foundational.  Aromatherapy can support better sleep through several mechanisms including calming the mind and body and even providing a mild sedative effect.  Research suggests that aromatherapy can even increase the percentage sleep that is in the deep or slow-wave state.

Improved Circulation: Essential oils such as rosemary, ginger, and black pepper, have stimulating properties that can help improve blood circulation when applied topically, but also when inhaled. Improved circulation means better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to skin cells, resulting in a healthier looking complexion and enhanced radiance.

Discovering the Benefits of Holy Basil

As our team of integrative beauty enthusiasts explored the different ways various essential oils bind to nasal olfactory receptors and trigger signals that are transmitted to the brain, we became intrigued with Holy Basil and not just because its name evokes the idea of a higher purpose plant. 

Also known as Ocimum tenuiflorum or Tulsi, Holy Basil is an example of how ancient knowledge is offering solutions to modern problems. In aromatherapy, holy basil essential oil is extracted from the leaves, stems, and flowers of the plant and is used for various therapeutic benefits.

As with many Ayurvedic remedies, Holy Basil essential oil is renowned for its adaptogen properties and many parts of the plant are used in cooking and in ingestible and topical herbal remedies to support immune health and help the body adapt to stress and promote balance. Inhaling the aroma of holy basil oil can have a calming effect on the mind and help reduce feelings of anxiety, enhance mood and promote emotional well-being.  The positive endocrine benefits of adaptogen-based stress management can manifest as brighter, more radiant looking skin.

Make It Habitual

Neuropsychologist and Solvasa head of mindfulness programs, Dr. Kristen Race, promotes a simple 3-breath micro-meditation practice with Solvasa’s Breathe Mindful Oil, a proprietary organic essential oil blend containing Holy Basil.  

With aromatherapy, you can build resilience to dulling inflammatory stress by noticing when you’re stressed and forming just-in-time healthy habits to release that stress. The benefits can be felt almost immediately and over time with skin radiance being the outward manifestation of simple anti-inflammatory lifestyle practices. 

Guiltless Pleasure

If all the volatility in our lives over the past few years has taught us anything, it’s that we all need to master the art and science of navigating a world that’s fraught with stress. We can’t avoid stress and, to an extent, we need stress for our very survival.  But the outcome of chronic, low-grade stress left unchecked can be a reflection in the mirror that lacks clarity and youthful radiance. 

If you think of aromatherapy as a new-age indulgence, let this blog post challenge you to take a deeper look. It’s amazing how something so simple, pleasurable and low cost can support how you feel, how you look and how you feel about how you look.

Lori Bush is a wellness and beauty industry innovator and thought leader.  She has authored a number of papers dealing with health, beauty and business leadership and is a co-author of a best-selling beauty and wellness book.