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Lifestyle: Essential Oils

Essential oils have been around for thousands of years; aromatic formulas were found in ancient Egypt, herbal concoctions were being used for healing in China more than 5,000 years ago and India's Ayurveda medicine, dating from 2000 BC, still features aromatic massage.

French cosmetic chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé coined the term 'aromatherapy' in 1937 and discovered the effectiveness of lavender oil after injuring his hand and treating the burn with the oil.

It was in 1977 that Robert Tisserand wrote the first book in English on the subject, The Art of Aromatherapy, and today essential oils are a major part of the health and beauty industry, both as ingredients and as treatments themselves.

As Tisserand aromatherapy expert Karl Watson explains: "Essential oils are brilliant for the skin and nearly every skincare product you pick up will contain some form of essential oil in its ingredient list. The properties of natural essential oils can be used for all different skin types and are one of the purest and kindest ways of caring for the skin."

For general skin concerns, Karl has a few favourites, including gentle Roman chamomile. "It's great for fine lines as it rejuvenates the skin cells and plumps the skin's appearance. It is good for sensitive skin."

Karl says tea tree oil is an effective choice for blackheads and spots. "Its cleansing properties also help reduce excess sebum and clear the skin when used sparingly."

Another skincare choice is rose, which, according to Karl, is "the ultimate choice for ageing skin". It has been used for thousands of years and is well known for its detoxifying, refining and purifying qualities. "For older skin, rose is perfect as it will plump and rejuvenate while strengthening the capillary walls and lessening red tones and uneven skin. It also has a smoothing effect on the skin, resulting in a youthful glow."

Essential oils are extremely potent and should never be applied neat to the skin. "Your essential oil should be diluted in a base oil before use, and, depending on the skin type, I have recommended which blending base oil is best. Two drops of oil should be added to every 10ml base."

He says that Roman chamomile essential oil should be blended with peach kernel base oil; tea tree oil should be used with grape seed oil and that rose essential oil should be blended with jojoba oil.

All oils are available in the Tisserand range, which can be bought from health stores and pharmacies. www.tisserand.com