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Are You Ready to Spring Forward?

by Barbara Payne(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 87 - April 2003

It is always refreshing to see springtime established and to almost hear the sap rising within ourselves too. The blackbird's song and the zingy scent of the first herbs seem to be a wake-up call from nature. Even the flower colours are vibrant and bright.

At this time of year it is prudent to nurture the integument system i.e. skin, hair and nails and get a kick-start early in the year. During the winter this important system of the body can be overlooked due to extra clothing, central heating, harsh winds and cold on exposed areas. It is not surprising that skin becomes dry and hair starts to look dull and brittle as do the nails. As the warm weather approaches these assets will be on view more and in any case it is a matter of good health practice to care and nourish these.

The Skin

The skin is a living organ with many important functions which help the body stay healthy and comfortable. The skin protects us from invasion by pathogens and from minor accidents. It shields us from injury due to harmful chemicals and dehydration, in addition it contains all the diverse sensory nerve endings so essential to touch, pain and temperature. The skin is also involved in body temperature regulation and the formation of vitamin D. What an important and necessary organ, and yet so often it is neglected and treated only for its aesthetic appeal.

The Nails

As part of the integument system the hair and nails too have their uses. Nails form a protection for finger ends and toes. The part we can see is keratin and is regarded as dead. It is derived from the same base cells as skin and hair and even though considered lifeless, lack of care can result in damage to the matrix the part under the skin where the future nail is formed. Strong nails are result from a healthy diet and giving attention to the cuticle area at the base of the nail.

The Hair

The body has hairs inside and out. The head hairs have the role of protection from the sun and minor accidents. Hair, like nails is regarded as dead matter but it has the ability to reflect the general health of the person. Healthy hair looks good and makes one feel good too. The average head has 100,000 hairs on it. Considering the way hair is treated in order to fit in with fashion, there is little wonder that it may need some tender loving care!

To make products for the integument system we need to isolate our target and then make specific items. At winter's end when the integument system is somewhat run down, we need to feed, heal and nurture it.

Herb for Healing and Nurturing

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense - bottlebrush plant) is a very ancient, perennial herb, which can be grown in a pot and used to make healing and strengthening products for the whole integument system. It is rather fern-like but sparse. Horsetail needs to be kept damp and confined as it is rather invasive. Silicic acid and silicates are abundant in horsetail and as it is easily soluble and absorbed, it supports renewal of connective tissue. Dried horsetail can be bought in herb stores for just a few pence. To make one traditional product used to help hair, skin and nails, simmer two tablespoons of dried horsetail with half a litre of water for 20 minutes. Allow the decoction to cool and it is ready to use. For strengthening nails put a little of the liquid into a small bowl and soak the fingertips for five minutes. Repeat once every week with fresh solution until the nails are strong. As a conditioner for brittle, tired hair use it regularly as a final rinse. To help with irritable skin conditions put the whole decoction into the bath with two chamomile teabags.

Carrier Oils for Healing and Feeding

Jojoba oil (Simmondsia sinensis), is a liquid wax. It can help improve the skin, hair and nails. Gently greasing the skin with scented jojoba is pleasurable and helps to keep the skin soft and supple. Jojoba contains the anti-inflammatory agent myristic acid and is therefore very useful for skin conditions. Jojoba is traditionally used in shampoos and skin products. It is possible to mix jojoba with any other carrier oil if you find its price prohibitive. To make scented massage oil, mix 75 mls of grapeseed oil (Vitis vinifera) with 25 mls of jojoba oil.

Grapeseed oil is hypoallergenic and gives a silky feeling to skin. Add to this mix 15 drops of an essential oil from the list below. This blend can be used as a wax treatment for hair and massage oil for nails and all parts of the body.

Essential Oils for Repairing and Balancing

The choice of essential oils for repairing and balancing the integument system is immense. It may seem odd to use essential oils on an oily condition, but essential oils are not oily and will bring about an adjustment until there is stability and balance within the system.

Essential oils will speed up new growth of cells, reduce inflammation and are highly antiseptic. Patchouli (Pogostemon patchouli), geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), sandalwood (Santalum album) and ylang ylang (Cananga odorata), are all excellent for repair, feeding and soothing.

One small bottle of a synergistic blend of any of these oils using the dilution rates above will bring satisfying results to your integument system and make you feel ready to spring forward into the next season.


Chevallier Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Dorling Kindersley. London. 1996.
Battaglia Sallvatore. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. The Perfect Potion (Aust) Pty Ltd. Australia. 1995.
Waugh Ann et al. Anatomy and Physiology in Health and Illness. Churchill Livingstone. London. 2001.
Bonar Anne. Herbs a Complete Guide to Their Cultivation and Use. Guild Publishing. London. 1985.


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About Barbara Payne

Barbara Payne taught clinical aromatherapy in various hospitals in the North of England, for School of Health, University of Hull, and was principal of an IFA and IFPA accredited college of clinical aromatherapy, for many years. She served as an inspector and examiner and was Chair of Education for the ISPA, (now IFPA). Barbara had regular interviews with BBC radio and appeared on national television occasionally and lectured annually for the RHS. Having contributed to Positive Health over many years, Barbara has now decided to retire from her PH Expert Regular Column after Issue 154 in Jan 2009. She can be reached on Tel: 01482 835358;

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