Aromatherapy and Skin Disorders
Anyone who has read a reference book on aromatherapy knows that essential oils are widely promoted for their usefulness in addressing skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, fungal infections and many other types of skin disorders. This is, of course, useful information if you know something about these disorders and how to identify them but I am surprised at how few students in the courses that I teach have this level of knowledge and recently I have encountered a very good example of what can happen when you try to “treat” skin conditions without knowing what's what.
Take a look at the picture below. What skin condition is pictured here?
Many of you will probably have said that this is ringworm (Tinea corporis) and this is exactly what a friend of mine assumed recently when she found a lesion of this type on her shin. Assuming that this was ringworm, she treated it with undiluted lavender and myrrh essential oil (I do not recommend using essential oils undiluted). After a few days, however, the area started to itch and get larger and then the skin around it thickened and began flaking and scabbing over so she came to see me for some advice.
The first mistake that she made here was that this is not ringworm or any other type of fungal infection; it is lichen planus, an entirely different type of skin condition which in this particular case may well have been caused by an allergic reaction to medication. Since the skin was already in the process of an allergic reaction, the undiluted lavender and myrrh further aggravated it and caused the skin to “lichenize” (harden and thicken) even more. I suggested that she needed to talk to her physician at once about the new medication; I also recommended that she stop the lavender and myrrh and start on 1% German chamomile in coconut oil to help control the itching and reduce inflammation; this did the trick and the lesion began to slowly heal. Had the itching not been a problem, I would probably have suggested that she simply leave it alone for a few days. Changes were made in her medication and she has not had further problems.
It can be difficult to differentiate between ringworm, lichen planus, eczema, mild cases of psoriasis and other skin disorders. Often it will be the history that provides the most useful clues but you have to know what questions to ask. If you are going to use essential oils to address skin conditions, you should never assume that you know what something is unless you have the training to make these distinctions, especially since the wrong choice of essential oils can make things worse. I am planning on adding some discussion of skin disorders to the courses this year.
©Copyright 2013 Joie Power, Ph.D. / The Aromatherapy School
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Dr. Power is a retired board certified neuropsychologist and former Assistant Professor of Surgery/Neurosurgery at the Medical College of Georgia, where she performed intra-operative cortical mapping with renowned neurosurgeon Herman Flanigan, M.D. She has over 20 years of clinical experience in both in-patient and out-patient settings and during her years of practice has also been both a practitioner and student of alternative healing methods, including herbal medicine, aromatherapy, Reiki, Chinese Medicine, and other energetic healing systems. Her extensive formal training and experience in the olfactory and limbic systems of the brain give her a unique qualification for understanding the actions of essential oils in the body. Dr. Power, founder of one of the earliest essential oil companies in the U.S. to specialize in therapeutic quality essential oils, is now a clinical consultant for Artisan Aromatics as well as an internationally known writer and teacher in the fields of aromatherapy and alternative medicine. Her approach to aromatherapy weaves together her solid scientific training and strong clinical skills with a holistic philosophy that honors body, mind and spirit. Dr. Joie Power is also the author of The Quick Study Guide to Aromatherapy and numerous published articles on aromatherapy and related topics.
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