Part of our new determination to take a more natural approach to beauty is a renewed interest and trust in good-for-hair-and-skin oils. We're talking botanical oils such as argan, avocado, olive and grapeseed, and essential oils such as rose, lavender and rosemary.
Although all the above-mentioned oils are technically botanical, essential oils are a specific class sourced from aromatic plants and thought to have medicinal/therapeutic properties. The term "essential" means the "essence" of the original plant, which has a specific associated and immediately identifiable scent. Commonly the result of a distillation process that requires masses of raw plant material and produces just a small amount of concentrated, non-water-soluble liquid, essential oils are more concentrated, complex and fragrant than regular botanical types. For example, distilling just lavender flower spikes yields mood-soothing lavender essential oil, which naturally contains molecules of camphor and eucalyptus, known to help ease breathing. Highly potent, essential oils at full strength can irritate the skin, even cause hormonal problems, so they're often combined with "carrier" oils (rather like bread is a carrier for strawberry jam) such as grapeseed (which is rather like whole grain bread -- it's a carrier with good-for-you ingredients too).
Argan, avocado, grapeseed, rose hip and other botanical types, often obtained by cold-pressing materials such as the seeds, fruit, roots, bark, leaves or flowers of the plant, are dense oils, high in skin-friendly fatty acids including omega 3, 6 and 9, as well as vitamins, proteins and minerals. They're particularly good for rebalancing/reinforcing skin's natural moisture barrier.
Visit ElleCanada.com for my slideshow of calming, cleansing and moisturizing oils for hair, face and body. I'm a huge fan of body oils in particular; massaged in right after a shower they leave skin wonderfully silky and soft. In drying times like winter, try smoothing some onto damp skin before your regular lotion, or add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to a bottle of fragrance-free lotion to create your own scented type.
I don't need to mention that Valentine's Day is a good time to bust out some oils, do I? I know I don't have to tell Clive-O.
Crabtree & Evelyn Aromatherapy Distillations Purifying Body & Massage Oil, $20, is an unscented blend of oils including marula nut. Crabtree & Evelyn boutiques; crabtree-evelyn.com, which now ships to Canada.