Operation LOVE YOUR BODY! (#ihaveembraced)


This post is going to take me away from my usual mutterings about complementary health, to shine the torchlight on this amazing Adelaidean lady, Taryn Brumfitt (yep, that is her, above!) who has a dream to create positive change about the way we perceive our body; she wants us to stop feeling horror and sadness when we look in the mirror, and start feeling love and wonderful acceptance.  To that end, she developed the Body Image Movement.  She has a wonderful webpage, she has spoken publicly about her mission, she has been interviewed in a variety of press both here and in the States, and she has more than 50,000 loyal followers on facebook

I recently heard Taryn (and her very awesome talking partner, psychologist Dr Emma)  lecture at the Developing Daughters event.  The audience was a group of concerned mums and dads who wanted to know more about the way the media portrays beauty, the unethical use of very young girls in overtly sexual advertisements, and about how big fashion houses have us believing their version of “reality”.  This affects us, and it affects our daughters. It was a very inspirational evening and, if you ever have the opportunity, you should go along and listen. This has really influenced the way I speak to my girls about health, food and loving our bodies.


This is not a reality...
This is not a reality…

Embrace – The Documentary –  The event of childbirth, her beautiful children and the media pressure of the “perfect” post-pregnancy body (and some nasty/ignorant/uneducated trolls….) are the driving force behind the documentary project Embrace.  Taryn is on the campaign trail looking for support via the kickstarter website to make this doco and get her message “out there” to a much, much larger audience.  Here is a link to her pledge page, where you will find a bit of a personal history, some background about the doco, and a link to click and pledge. Below, is her promo – take 5 minutes and check it out!

 I am supporting this campaign because I get it. I have two beautiful daughters and I want to put my arms around them and protect them from this unreal beauty/body ideal, and to teach them that their body is a fantastic vehicle for their very busy little lives – it carries them to school, around the netball court, the ice-skating rink, cubs, music practice – anything that they want to be a part of. It lets them know when they are tired, or hurting and it lets them feel joy and happiness. And they are can look at themselves in the mirror and be happy, because they are beautiful, just the way they are!

I recently read about a group of very young (age 9-ish) children who had to weigh themselves and measure their BMI, in front of the whole class group, as the teacher thought that this covert form of body shaming was an acceptable maths activity.  This cruel kind of behavior*  has got to stop, and body confidence is a good way to start. So, dig deep and support this campaign!! Thanks for your time 🙂


Taryn Brumfitt

from an adult who should know better – and frankly should be SACKED!

Noix de Coco



The prize for the most talked/written/facebooked/tweeted about oil in 2013 has got to go to Coconut Oil, and so I think that I too, should take a look at this iconic pomade.

To me, it is the smell of summertime with its beautiful and distinctive aroma. 80s de rigueur at Australian beaches, it was the skin tonic of choice for sunbathers. The slip, slop, slap message meant that the bottle of summer experienced a hiatus. These days, however, coconut oil  is promoted for its high sun protection factor, and coconut oil is back in vogue.

Coconut oil is usually found in a solid state and will melt at around 25 degrees.  In the solid state it is white, however, once melted, the oil is clear (Price, 1999). It is not commonly used in aromatherapy practice, however, it is a great emollient and is often used in commercial massage creams.  It is rich in lauric acid (said to have anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial qualities), is a rich source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), and contains more than 85% saturated fat, as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (Canapi et al., 2005). It is resistant to oxidation which means that products that contain coconut oil generally have a longer shelf-life.

Before I go on, it is important to you as a consumer to note that the most common coconut oil found on the shelves of your local supermarket may be inferior to those which provide all of the alleged health benefits you read about; there are two methods of extraction of coconut oil – the most commercially viable method, dry extraction, loses most, if not all, of the proteins, carbs and vitamins.  Oil which has been extracted using a wet method may be able to retrieve this goodness (Canapi et al., 2005).  However, there has been no research in this area, and therefore no conclusive evidence (Schardt, 2012).  So, buyer beware – not everything is what it seems.  In a crowded market-place it will be difficult to discern, however, looking for words such as “raw” or “virgin” may be beneficial.  My best advice would be to go to a reputable health-food shop or essential oil distributor and ask them some questions.

In a very quick, and not overly thorough review of the internet literature (37,600,000 pages dedicated to the oil on google), I have discovered the following to be amongst the most commonest claims. I am going to take a bit of time here to investigate these claims (pros AND cons!), and then you the reader can make up your own mind…

1.  Coconut oil is useful for weight-loss (11,000,000 google hits!): Because coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), it behaves differently from other “fats” – that is, it will be absorbed straight into the cell, where it will be burned up (immediately!) as energy and less likely to be stored as fat.

  • The evidence: a masters student in Brazil published the results of his research where he compared weight loss amongst 40 obese women who were all asked to reduce their calorific input by 200 cals/day and exercise 4 days/week.  Half of these women were then asked to take 2 tablespoons (240 cals) of coconut oil, while the other half consumed soy bean oil.  The women in both groups lost the same amount of weight at the end of three months, which would suggest that the oil is not superior to soy bean oil for weight loss, and it certainly cannot provide any other conclusions (Schardt, 2012). It would be safe to say that the weight loss is probably linked to a reduction in food intake, and increased physical activity.  Schardt does suggest, however, that there may be some confusion surrounding testing for weight loss of a product known as MCT, a formulation which includes coconut extract and consists of 100% medium-chain triglyceride.  In several recent studies, participants who consumed this product lost more weight than those who consumed liquid vegetable oil. However, these studies are small, and there has been no longitudinal work done to understand the long-term effect.
  • Prof. Thomas Brenner, Nutritional Sciences @ Cornell University has come out in defence of what is known as “virgin” coconut oil suggesting that it does not contain as many trans-fats, and that the evidence that saturated fats are bad for us is flimsy (Clark, 2011).  That said, it is recommended we consume only 20 grams saturated fats each day.

2. Protects against type 2 diabetes (3,420,000 results): Due to the smaller size of the chains, those MCFA found in coconut oil are able to permeate fat burning cells, where they will be directly converted to energy and “burned off”; improved metabolism = reduced insulin resistance!

  • The evidence: Researchers at the Garvan Institute for Medical Research conducted some experiments in mice and found that the relatively small size of the MCFA meant that they could penetrate mitochondria far easier than those long-chained fatty acids found in animal products, making it far easier to convert to energy.  On the downside, however, it is important to note that MCFA is linked to fat build up around the liver (fatty liver disease) (Heather, 2009) which is a causative factor in the onset of cirrhosis.  However, in this research, the mice who were given coconut oil  had reduced fat stored in the muscle and improved insulin action compared to those who were fed lard.  The authors of this research suggest that other oils, such as fish oils, may be more beneficial for the health of the liver and that if one was to consider replacing MCFA oils for others in their diet, that they consider this risk.
  • Of the 17 citations found on the CoconutResearchCentre website  there was only one small (n=40) clinical study (studies in humans) of the effect of medium-chain triglycerides on various measures associated with type 2 diabetes including waist circumference, BMI and body weight.  The results were very mixed but warrant further investigation (Han et al., 2007).  The other 16 studies were conducted on mice, rats and/or in vitro (in the lab).  Much more evidence is required.
  • There is currently no advice given by Diabetes Australia that suggests sufferers should include coconut oil in their diets

3. The worlds healthiest populations, Eat a lot of Coconut (Kris Gunnars, 2013) (962,000 hits!):

  • Coconuts are the WHOLE FRUIT and I will compare it to the OIL hereCoconut Oil Stat
  • It probably goes without saying that these populations using WHOLE coconut in their cooking are also using fresh fruit and vegetables, chicken, fish and perhaps tofu than what is experienced by us in the west
  • Professor Mark Wahlqvist at Monash University has studied a West Sumatran diet and suggests that it is the amount of fat (saturated or unsaturated) – meat, eggs, sugar, carbs that will distinguish between healthy and unhealthy.  The more of these foods that you eat, the more at risk you become of heart disease.

What else?

Some authors make their case for the health benefits of coconut oil, by consulting the literature and adding a list of references for their work (I have done the same thing!). Dr Joseph Mercola is one of those authors who wrote about the apparent plethora of health benefits in an article in the Huffington Post in 2011.  Here he talks about improving heart health, thyroid function, metabolism, and improving immunity.  It looks impressive enough – but the age of the references is telling.  Articles that are more than 20 years old at the time of publication are certain to have been superseded by newer evidence.  Why would an author not look at the most recent evidence? Usually because it contradicts what the author is trying to say…. As in all academy, it is good practice to provide a balanced view. Capture coconut

There are, of course, many benefits when applied topically.  It is wonderfully emollient and lovely as a soap – look for coconut products (but avoid the palm oil – another blog for another day!) at your health food shop.  Traditionally it has been used to treat burns (although that would need to be substantiated to be called “evidence”).

It is useful for treating eczema when it is at the dry, itchy stage and is especially great for children because it is natural AND safe, and it will not harm little ones if they get it in their mouth.  It is a promising barrier to environment; it is moisturising and has antibacterial properties.  A recent study by Evangelista et al., (2013) is encouraging. When virgin coconut oil was applied to the skin of 50+ paediatric eczema sufferers for 12 weeks compared to the same number of participants using mineral oil, participants in both groups experienced improvement, however the VCO group had much greater improvement in barrier function, reduced inflammation, reduced itching, and there were no side-effects reported.  It warrants more investigation, but this is significant, good news.

shutterstock_92471503frizzIt is often promoted for hair-care and is said to be a useful treatment for frizz and tangles (I have an 8-year-old daughter and it is very useful!).  It may also prove beneficial for treating and preventing head lice.  A 2007 paper suggests that a mixture of coconut, citronella and neem oil may be as useful as (without the side-effects and controversy) DEET for preventing transmission of head-lice (Canyon et al., 2007).  The authors suggest that this might be due to the “greasiness” but it too warrants a further investigation.

As part of a mixture with Shea butter and sugar or salt, coconut oil is a great exfoliant. It is a wonderful massage oil as it is not immediately absorbed (and it is very relaxing!).  Used as part of your evening beauty routine, it is deeply moisturising! But avoid it on your skin during the day it is fairly greasy, and while it is said to have a protective SPF, I think that it may offer more burn.

So, in summary – do your research carefully! Be critical when reading.  There is not much evidence to support the claims which are abundant on the net, but there is also a little bit of hope.  So, enjoy this beautiful oil, but don’t count on it as a magical cure-all.  Good health should be considered very broadly and we should not pin all our hopes on one product.


Canapi, EC, Agustin, YTV, Moro, EA, Pedrosa, E & Bendaño, MLJ 2005, ‘Coconut Oil’, Bailey’s Industrial Oil and Fat Products, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Canyon, DV & Speare, R 2007, ‘A comparison of botanical and synthetic substances commonly used to prevent head lice (Pediculus humanus var. capitis) infestation’, International Journal of Dermatology, vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 422-426
Clark, M 2011 “Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World”, New York Times, p D1Heather, A 2009, How coconut oil could help reduce the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes, The Garvan Institute
Evangelista, MTP, Abad-Casintahan, F & Lopez-Villafuerte, L 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’, International Journal of Dermatology, vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 100-108.
Gunners, K 2013, ‘Top 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Coconut Oil’, Authority Nutrition An Evidence-Based Approach, viewed 29 December, 2013 <http://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/&gt;
Han, JR, Deng, B, Sun, J, Chen, CG, Corkey, BE, Kirkland, JL, Ma, J & Guo, W 2007, ‘Effects of dietary medium-chain triglyceride on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in a group of moderately overweight free-living type 2 diabetic Chinese subjects’, Metabolism, vol. 56, no. 7, pp. 985-991.
Price, L 2006, Carrier Oils – For Aromatherapy & Massage, Third, Third Impression edn, Riverhead, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Schardt, D 2012, ‘COCONUT OIL’, Nutrition Action Health Letter, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 10-11.

Every Post, by name

Jasmine grandiflorum (dawn-blooming)

I love Jasmine – it is fresh and sweet and it is my favourite olfactory clue that Spring is in the air. And lucky for me, there is so much of it in the area where I live. When I am oblivious to the world around me, busy in my head with the to-do list of my life, I am instantly drawn into the here and now, and I am reminded to enjoy every moment, the now. It is such a wonderful assault on the senses and I am grateful for its gorgeousness.

jasmine (1)Jasmine is an expensive oil at around $AUD124/5ml.  This is because it requires great skill when harvesting so as not to bruise he blossom; and around 8 million blossoms are required to produce one kilo of essence. And Jasmine promoted to improve health and well-being, particularly for those mothers who are experiencing the baby blues – but be aware, while some authors suggest that it is useful for lactating mothers, others suggest that it may inhibit the production of milk – so, for me, I would err on the side of caution; There are other oils for improving mood.  But if you are not a lactating mother, than this oil could be for you – it is wonderful for the skin, especially if you are prone to dryness and sensitivity; it is said to be useful for labour pains (traditional knowledge); and it is said to be stimulating, and an aphrodisiac – so good for those tired parents!

For me, though, the benefits are just a bonus. To be able to appreciate the warmth & sweetness of the odour is all that I need….

Reading this post will NOT cure your acne… (an expert blog)

The title of my PhD is “The clinical and cost effectiveness of essential oils and aromatherapy for the treatment of acne vulgaris: A Randomised Controlled Trial”. More than half of my waking life is spent either reading about acne vulgaris (acne), hearing peoples experiences of acne, or writing about acne (the other 40% is spent being a domestic goddess, but I digress…) So, it annoys me when some blog authors (which are more commonly accessed than research) offer reconstituted fiction, sold as fact. When ImageI read these articles, I understand that the author is not very well read, and clearly has no expertise in the subject! So today, I want to write about acne.

I want to be clear – this post is not going to cure your acne; it is not even going to offer any tips. I just want to write about what I know, what I am doing, and what I hope to be able to offer the sufferer* sometime in the near future. Acne is not simply a “cosmetic” issue; and it is a lot more than an adolescent problem that will pass; it is a very complex, multifactorial, chronic skin condition that can have serious and long term psychosocial effects. It can affect people in a lot of different ways and sometimes, very deeply. If you are one of these sufferers, I can empathise with your situation. I hope that this blog will help you to understand acne, and also help you to make decisions about how you treat it.

Acne is experienced by the vast majority of people at some point in their lives (1), and it is most prevalent amongst the 15-18 year old age group. For many the symptoms may ease towards the end of adolescence but for others, symptoms will continue beyond their teenage years, or commence (adult onset) in their early 20’s.

There is no clinical definition of acne and as a result a person may be unsure as to whether they are experiencing acne or whether they have a couple of pimples. In the academic literature, mild acne is variously defined as being, for example, one or two pimples, or less than 20 pimples, or less than 50 pimples; sometimes it is only described as mild, moderate or severe. It is not very clear – in fact, it is confusing.

Acne is the result of 4 physical processes. The jury is still out as to what actually triggers acne and this is the subject of debate amongst authors in the academic press:

  1. Inflammation: mediators (CD4+ T-cell response) causing inflammation (and redness) are released into the skin – although the “role” of inflammation is unclear (2).
  2. Hyperkeratinisation: a disorder which causes the dead skin cells to remain in the hair follicle, causing it to become blocked; this is due to an excess of keratin, a natural protein found in the skin.
  3. Increased sebum production: sebum is the oily substance that prevents hair and skin from becoming too dry. Sebum production will peak twice in early life – the first is just a couple of hours after birth (some babies experience neo-natal acne) and again around age 9 (adrenarche) to 17 years.
  4. Propionibacterium acnes: the colonisation of P.acnes is implicated in acne, however, it is probably not the trigger (2,3); P.acnes is found on everyone’s skin and the amount found in the hair follicle does not correlate to the amount of inflammation experienced by the acne sufferer. It is also interesting to note that this bacteria is not present in the case of neonatal acne.

There are many physical presentations of acne; you have seen them and so I will not go in to detail. However, it is important to note that these symptoms can often be painful. Rarely, people may experience the most severe form of acne, known as acne fulminans (most commonly found in teenage boys); these people will often experience fever, weight loss and musculoskeletal pain; less frequently, they may require lengthy hospitalisation (4).

So, what causes acne? Recent research concluded that most people attribute acne to poor diet, stress and poor hygiene. I think we should break this down a little and take a look at what is fact and what is fiction:

  • Hormones: Yes, hormones are implicated. People go to a great trouble and expense to determine what is “wrong” with their endocrine system if they are experiencing the symptoms of acne. Acne is present in neo-nates and adolescents, and it is a symptom of Polycystic ovary syndrome – all times of hormonal change or upheaval. But it is not the full-stop in the conversation. We all experience hormonal change, why then do some experience symptoms while others do not?
  • It is genetic!: Many authors describe a familial link for acne. Yes, acne is a genetic, heritable condition. But, how is this helpful? I sometimes indulge in a little reading around twin research – I find it fascinating to read about the familial traits of health conditions. However, we don’t yet know which genes are implicated in acne, and we don’t have a gene therapy. So, is this actually helpful for the sufferer of acne? And the cases of identical twins where one experiences acne and the other doesn’t tells me that it may be simpler to deal with the environmental triggers…
  • Diet: There is no definitive answer, yet, but I think it probably does. And we have some theories which are worth testing. Eg, Cordain et al (2002) longitudinal study of Papua New Guinean and Peruvian nonwesternised populations found no acne amongst the population (mainly traditional hunter-gatherer) being observed. This is a significant finding, however, it cannot be confused with causation – we cannot assume that because we see something happening, that it is the cause; in these populations, we must also consider genetic factors; it is shared genetic factors that can dictate how a person looks and the similarities within a group or a culture; it is therefore conceivable that these factors may also affect skin health. But it is worthy of further testing. Also, just how appealing is a traditional hunter-gatherer diet to western adolescents??? Perhaps a low GI approach may be a little more teen-friendly? High GI foods cause a spike in blood sugar levels which will affect hormones and as we have noted above, hormones have a role in acne. Smith et al (2007) (5) conducted a study and their findings suggested that a low GI diet may have a positive impact on symptoms, but that further, larger studies are necessary. Another dietary link is between dairy and acne; Adebamowo et al (2008) conducted a large (4273 participants) prospective study of dairy intake of adolescent boys; they found that there is a positive correlation between acne and the intake of skim milk, but there is no correlation between acne and the fats found in whole milk.
  • Stress: I say yes. While there is some debate about whether it is a causative factor, it is frequently identified as something – a period of time, an event – that exacerbates the symptoms. The skin and the central nervous system share a number of hormones, neurotransmitters and receptors; therefore, it is not out of the question to be able to describe a relationship between these factors and conditions of the skin – in this case, acne.
  • Skin Hygiene: The most common misconception about acne is that it is caused by a lack of skin hygiene, and yet there is little evidence to suggest that cleaning the skin will limit blemishes. There is evidence, however, that over-washing, or rigorous scrubbing can irritate the skin and impact negatively on the symptoms. Over-washing may dry the skin and rigorous rubbing or using harsh exfoliants may irritate the skin and cause a general worsening of symptoms and may also cause scarring. Skin cleanliness should include washing twice daily with a gentle cleanser and no rubbing or scrubbing – avoid using a face-washer and exfoliants.

So, we know all of this – what can you do about it?

At the beginning of this blog said that I was not going to offer any tips or cure your acne – I feel that I should leave that to another blog when I can talk about my findings. I am going to offer up this, though –

In 2001, acne prescription product was worth around $US2 billion and the over-the-counter industry was worth more than $US6 billion. There are so many products out there ranging from over the counter washes, creams, and spot treatments to prescription topical creams, tablets and then there is the cosmetic approach with peels and light therapies. With all of this you will find people who will offer to cure your symptoms if you spend a lot of money; be careful, do your research. Check the ace forums, of which there are plenty (acne.org; healthboards; acne discussions; acne). They are full of conversations and consumer reviews about all of the different products. You need to work out what you think is best for your skin; you can seek advice from a medical professional, a dermatologist, or you can seek out a reputable skin specialist who may approach it from a more natural perspective.

Read about diet and stress – learning about these two environmental factors may do more than improve your acne.

And finally, be kind to you. There is a lot of academic writing about the psychological effect that this condition has on the person. Believe me, there are loads of people who understand acne is far more than something a teenager gets and who are working tirelessly to try and understand it more in order to offer you help. You are most certainly not alone.

“And like flowers in the fields, that make wonderful views, when we stand side-by-side in our wonderful hues..

We all make a beauty so wonderfully true.
We are special and different, and just the same, too!

So whenever you look at your beautiful skin, from your wiggling toes to your giggling grin…

Think how lucky you are that the skin you live in, so beautifully holds the “You” who’s within.”

Michael Tyler, The Skin You Live In


(1) Williams, HC, Dellavalle, RP & Garner, S 2012, ‘Acne vulgaris’, The Lancet, vol. 379, no. 9813, pp. 361-372

(2) Farrar, MD & Ingham, E 2004, ‘Acne: Inflammation’, Clinics in Dermatology, vol. 22, pp. 380-384.

(3) Dessinioti, C & Katsambas, AD 2010, ‘The role of Propionibacterium acnes in acne pathogenesis: facts and controversies’, Clinics in Dermatology, vol. 28, pp. 2-7

(4) Zaba, R, Schwartz, RA, Jarmuda, S, Czarnecka–Operacz, M & Silny, W 2011, ‘Acne fulminans: explosive systemic form of acne’, Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 501-507

(5) Smith, RN, Mann, NJ, Braue, A, Mäkeläinen, H & Varigos, GA 2007, ‘A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 86, no. 1, p. 107

* The concept of suffering involves feelings of loss, physical pain; the person may feel a loss of their integrity, autonomy and humanity. The person who suffers may often feel alone and this can affect a person’s long-term physical, psychosocial, and spiritual well-being.

Mineral Oil

I have been inspired to write my post this week following some extensive research into the best products for reducing stretch marks*, as I am pregnant and rapidly expanding!   I have noticed that one of the best selling products for this symptom has mineral oil listed as its number one ingredient.  As an aromatherapist and avid reader of other people’s blogs, I am lead to believe that mineral oils are  “nasties” that should be avoided at all cost – indeed, popular Australian current affairs (ahem…) programs  have sensationally promoted the death benefits of prominent cosmetic and baby products which include (or are) mineral oil.  As an infant massage instructor (yes, one of my many guises) I often encourage new parents to err on the side of caution and refrain from using these products and yet, until very recently, I have not fully investigated the product myself – yes, I have based my information on what someone has told me.  And as a researcher, I am trained to question everything.  So, this is my “in a nutshell” overview of mineral oil.  Take from it what you will.  And remember you, too, should question everything!

Mineral oil is the by-product of the distillation of petroleum from crude oil; it a white, odourless product which is very cheap due to the sheer quantities available, and it is often found in cosmetics and baby products. It is also known as liquid paraffin, white oil and liquid petroleum (however, you are unlikely to see this wording in a list of cosmetic ingredients, for obvious reasons!).  When it is applied topically, it forms a thin film on the skins surface, forming a moisture barrier; it has been used historically to promote wound healing (although I could not find any evidence in the past ten years that would convince me it was current “best practice”).

Put the words “mineral oil” into the Google search engine and you will come up with any number of websites which will tell you that it is bad for you, it depletes vitamins, it is carcinogenic and it is comedogenic (or pore clogging).  Please, readers, beware – the problem with this information is that, in most cases, it does not list any references, so we are unsure of where the authors get their information from.

It depletes vitamins:  The use of mineral oil as treatment for constipation has a long history; it is considered a safe way to stop water which you drink absorbing into the body and instead staying in stomach and bowels, hence softening stools and improving movement and ease of passage (sorry… it just had to be said!).  The American Cancer Society recommend that you do not ingest mineral oil within two hours of taking medicine or eating food as it may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb the therapeutic benefits of medication, or the vitamins and minerals which are present in food; they also suggest that prolonged use “blocks absorption of certain nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. It can also build up in the tissues and cause problems”.  Mindell and Lee (1983) suggest that mineral oil depletes vitamin E, inhibits absorption of vitamin D and may inhibit absorption of vitamin C.   So, if you are experiencing prolonged symptoms of constipation, you should possibly reconsider your diet; if this symptom is the side-effect of a prescribed medicine, you should be discuss this with your doctor.

My biggest concern here is the depletion of vit K.  Vitamin K is administered to a baby shortly after birth in order to reduce the risk of developing an extremely rare illness known as Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB), which is the occurrence of hemorrhaging or bleeding in babies in the first weeks of life.

It is not within the parameters of the post to argue the pro’s and con’s, or to try and persuade or dissuade you concerning this prophylaxis; needless to say, it has been administered to children at birth for more than 20 years.  The reason that it is administered to new born babies is because they do not receive enough vitamin K from their mothers during pregnancy or from breast-feeding.  This is a recommendation from the NHMRC and if you would like to read more about it, you can do so here.

So, back to the topical application of mineral oil, babies and one of the worlds most popular baby oils is a mineral oil; you know the one, 8 out of 10 midwives would recommend it?  During my baby massage classes, I would recommend that my parent students avoid using typically baby smelling mineral oil products, and include this note in the handouts I provide: “try and avoid using this oil on babies as, while it is not known how topical application may affect absorption or depletion of vitamins and minerals – babies put their hands in their mouths; it will enter their guts and it will have a cumulative effect”.

It is carcinogenic:  There is usually not any smoke without fire, however, it is important to note that cosmetic-grade mineral oil used in cosmetics and baby products is highly refined and purified, and this is strictly monitored (we are told/we hope – but I am not going down that line in this post, either). Mineral oil which is not treated or is mildly treated (often lubricants used for engines and other mechanical equipment) is said to be carcinogenic; the evidence describing its links to cancer is fairly conclusive as it has been gleaned from longitudinal (over a long period of time) and epidemiological (very large, population based) studies.  

There is some evidence which suggests that the use of cosmetic mineral oils on the skin may (well, I would argue, DO, but that is what the evidence says…) minimally enhance ultra-violet radiation (UVR) penetration which can cause sunburn and lasting damage to skin and eyes, and, as we know, the cumulative effects of enhanced UVR exposure may lead to premature aging, skin cancers and eye disorders; Kligman and Kligman (1992, in Forbes, 2009) found that topical application of mineral oil, substantially increases the risk of acute photo-irritation (a skin response to UV light via a light reactive chemical) and tumorigenesis (formation or production of tumors).  So, this does actually sound awful; while I could not find the exact source of this information, I did note that Kligman and Kligman, who carry out a lot of research on topically applied products for dermatological conditions, usually carry out their research using mice.  This 1992 research may also be carried out on mice and as yet I am not convinced that ANY research carried out on lab mice and guinea pigs actually corresponds to humans.  And the Forbes (2009) article, which cited K&K’s research, concludes that much more detailed examination is required in order to make a conclusive recommendation, either way.

That it causes pimples: I am becoming somewhat of an expert on acne (it is the topic of my PhD thesis) and in all of my research I have not read anything about mineral oil causing acne. And I have read… A LOT!  But, as this is a commonly held belief amongst those who write about the loathsome mineral oil, I thought I should investigate further.  I found that it is not actually comedogenic (produce or aggravate acne), BUT, it does occlude the pores and any possible environmental causative factors such as pollutants, dirt or bacteria will be “trapped”and this, in turn, may cause pimples.

What are the benefits?  Earlier in this post I mentioned that when applied topically, mineral oil can create a moisture barrier, and this can provide therapeutic benefit.

  • Premature babies (less than 28 gestational weeks) will experience heat and insensible (continuous and unnoticed) water loss which can lead to “hypothermia and problems with fluid balance, as well as skin trauma leading to infection” (Beeram et al., 2006).  Research carried out in Texas found that applying mineral oil product is beneficial for fluid retention and electrolyte balance in extreme preterm infants, thus reducing the risk of further complications.
  • Products which are promoted for nappy rash contain mineral oils, as they provide a barrier between the sensitive skin of a babies bottom, and a wet nappy.

If you decide to further investigage mineral oils, you will find that people often criticize them in order to make natural, plant derived oils sound better.  But I don’t actually think that this is necessary.  I am not about to go on a scare-mongering campaign to further promote my work as I have found that there are some very important therapeutic benefits for using mineral oil.  But would I use it myself?  Well, no.  While mineral oil might not be dangerous or sensitizing or overly harmful (well, except for the enhancing UV radiation bit…), it does not contain anything good, either (except for those wee early babies, obviously!).  Plant derived oils contain vitamins and fatty acids which make them more easily absorbed.  Mineral oil inhibits absorption (Besouilah and Buck, 2006) and while it has a very long shelf life, it does not actually do anything for you or your skin.  Mixing essential oils into mineral oil will offer no therapeutic benefit other than that offered by the aroma, as there is no trans-dermal absorption.

Beware of authors who say things such as “everything you put on your skin is absorbed into your body”, followed by “mineral oils sit on your skin and are difficult to absorb”.  This is clearly a contradiction (and there are many who do that!).  And, finally, not “everything” we put on our skin, winds up in our body.  For a long time, skin was considered a waterproof membrane which protected the internal organs.  During the second half of the 20th century, researchers found that certain substances do cross the layers of the dermis but the amount which is absorbed depends on a number of factors including the molecular make up of the substance (weight, spatial arrangement, polarity etc – too big, and it will not pass through the dermis layers); the area of the skin where the substance is placed – larger surface areas will absorb greater amounts; the temperature of the skin (in aromatherapy, more of the essential oil will pass through the dermis if the skin is warm and then covered up); and the pH of the skin.  While it is not known exactly how much of what you put on your skin is absorbed, we do know that it is certainly not 100% of it!  But, even 1% of chemical crap, is not doing you any good – and possibly doing you harm (the topic of another post, another day!).

If you want to do something that is cheap and nourishing, you can apply any number of carrier oils to your skin which are both inexpensive and beneficial – my favourites include avocado (contains vitamins A, B1, B2 and D; skin healing properties, moisturizing, softening and said to prevent premature aging); or sunflower (first pressing, contains vitamins A, D and (principally) E, calcium, zinc, potassium, iron and phosphorous; it is beneficial for skin complaints, it is often included in skin preparations for disorders such as acne and seborrhea; and it has a softening and moisturizing effect on the skin).

*Regarding the stretch marks – the jury is still out.  I have come up with my own blend which I and a couple of pregnant friends are road testing (non-scientific and probably totally biased).  I will let you know the outcome of our experiences in a few months time!  I am still not sure whether this is something that I am going to be able to completely avoid; some would say that stretch marks are inevitable if we have inherited from our mums; some just say to embrace them as a natural, physical reminder of our pregnancy.  My stuff is nice, and so far, it is helping with my dry, itchy skin! And it smells nice, too!

You can’t be distracted by the noise of misinformation.
James Daly


All material provided in this blog is for your information only.  Whilst every caution has been taken to ensure the material is accurate and the analysis is critical, due to the nature of essential oils, it is important that you consult your doctor and/or aromatherapist before making any decisions based on this information. The author will not compensate you in any way if you suffer an inconvenience, damage or side-effect because of  the information provided in this blog.

The Author is not responsible for the content of any comments made by Commenter(s) and reserves the right to block Commenter(s) who have previously published offensive comments, illegal content, or SPAM.


Beeram, M et al., (2006) Effects of Topical Emollient Therapy on Infants at or Less than 27 Weeks’ Gestation, Journal of the National Medical Association,  Vol 98 (2) p261-264

Bensouilah, J., Buck, P (2006) Aromadermatology: aromatherapy in the treatment and care of common skin conditions, Radcliffe Publishing, Oxford, UK

Forbes, P D (2009) Moisturizers, Vehicle Effects, and Photocarcinogenesis (Commentary) Journal of Investigative Dermatology Vol 129; p261-262

Mindell, E., Lee, W H (1983) Vitamin Robbers: Foods, drugs and pollutants that steal your nutrition, Keats Publishing, Connecticut

Is “aromatherapy” a misnomer?

My whole blog is dedicated to aromatherapy; in fact, at the moment aromatherapy is the centre of my whole life! I am building two businesses around the treatment; it is the subject of my PhD thesis and it is helping me through the morning sickness phase of my pregnancy, not to mention those dreaded, pregnancy associated stretch-marks. So, with this many applications (and so many more!!), I am beginning to wonder – is “aromatherapy” a misnomer??

The term was originally coined by René-Maurice Gattefossé in the early 1900’s when he wrote the book, Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles Hormones Végétales. This was later translated into English as “Aromatherapy”.

When someone hears the word aromatherapy for the first time, it would not be heedless of them to believe that the treatment was based around scent, alone. I mean, “aroma” is defined “as an odor arising from spices, plants, cooking, etc., especially an agreeable odor; fragrance” (Dictionary.com) and “therapy” as “the treatment of disease or disorders, as by some remedial, rehabilitating, or curative process” (Dictionary.com). When we think about terms which define certain therapies, there is no mistaking them: speech therapy, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy – and the list goes on. Why then is a therapy with so many important and varied applications, limited by its name?

In the recent Australian budget, the government announced it was to carry out a review on complementary therapies in order to re-define those which would be supported by private health insurance. I whole-heartedly support this initiative as it should ultimately highlight where the research is necessary, and where research funding should be allocated (after all, CAM accounts for 12.5% of medicine sales in Australia and this is increasing). The name aromatherapy suggests action through scent and via the olfactory pathway with an impact on the limbic system and there is very little robust evidence to support this action (a very valid therapeutic aspect of aromatherapy, but not the only one). When discussing “aromatherapy” with friends, it became apparent that the word does not actually conjure up any “therapeutic” benefit at all – for them it is associated with nice candles, and relaxing massages. In their opinion it does not provide any inkling of the benefits outside of this pleasant smelling “experience”.

Any one individual essential oil is a complex mixture of monoterpenes (more than 1000 identified, to date), sesquiterpenes (more than 3000) and phenylpropanoids (a much smaller, but none-the-less very significant constituent group) which can begin to explain why one essential oil may be described as analgesic, antidepressant, antimicrobial, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antitoxic, caminative, cicatrizant, cytophylactic, deodorant, hypotensive, insecticidal, parasiticidal, sedative, stimulant, tonic, vermifuge and vulnerary. OK, so this may be overstating the illustration, but it does present support to the “holistic” aromatherapy approach, rather than “symptomatic, reductionist” approach to healing offered by orthodox medicines”.

I would like to highlight the significant effect the use of essential oils, or aromatherapy had for one man following hospital admission:

During 1997/98, an adult male was admitted to hospital with an open fracture to his left tibia. Following the removal of damaged tissue, the insertion of an intermedullary nail (used to treat fractures of long bones) and follow up surgery the man developed chronic osteomyelitis (bone infection) with MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), causing significant swelling and pain. This was treated with intravenous antibiotics and surgery for a number of years without successful outcome; amputation was discussed as a potential treatment option. The man was admitted for emergency surgery following yet another extremely painful flare-up of symptoms, at which time Osteoset Pellets™ which had been soaked in a Polytoxinol (a liquid mixture of active ingredients including lemongrass, eucalyptus, melaleuca (tea tree), clove, thyme, B.H.T and alcohol) were inserted via an incision near the tibia bone, and were continuously soaked with the liquid for 48 hours. Three months following the procedure, the wound had healed, the symptoms had resolved and the man felt better (Sherry et al., 2001) – and he still has a leg! The makers of this anti-biotic alternative have also claimed that it is beneficial for the treatment of golden staph and tuberculosis.

The word “aromatherapy” does not even begin to describe the benefits attributed to essential oils in this example.

My research will examine the effect of essential oils on the physical symptoms of acne – another example of a therapeutic outcome which is not associated with “smell”.

Having said all of this, there is a lot to be said about the “smell” of essential oils and the associated therapeutic benefits. Some areas of important research include its effects on hypertension (high blood pressure); post-operative nausea; anxiety; dementia; child birth; stress; sleep disorders – and the list goes on. Does the term aromatherapy accurately describes these benefits? I am not so sure…

So, what is the solution? Do we change the name? I don’t think that this would make the word aromatherapy obsolete; but I do think it is time to differentiate. Many “aromatherapists” use the term “clinical” to denote the difference between their practice and those whose role is to provide a lovely, relaxing experience in, say, a spa setting. I call myself a Clinical Aromatherapist. But this still does not provide an accurate description of the treatment I offer. With associations to phytotherapy and historical links to herbal medicine, perhaps it is time to come up with a more fitting professional name: Essential Phytotherapy; Essential Oil Therapy. What do you think?

Ref: Sherry, E., Boeck, H., Warnke, P H (2001) Percutaneous treatment of chronic MRSA osteomyelitis with a novel plant-derived antiseptic. BMC Surgery 1(1)

“Fun-run” indeed, what a misnomer. That’d be like saying “calm gremlin” or “pleasant hag” or “entertaining history textbook”.

Kiersten White, Supernaturally