Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Arnica, calendula, and comfrey oils

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm on a quest to make some lovely products to help my best friend's foot heal after surgery. So I'm turning to three oils I've heard might help - arnica, calendula, and comfrey.

I've written about comfrey extract in the past, so let's just go for a summary here. Comfrey oil contains caffeic acid - a powerful anti-oxidant and skin protector - phytosterols like sitosterol and stigmasterol, which are great for reducing inflammation, redness, and swelling. They also help to increase skin's barrier mechanisms by penetrating the skin and they moisturize skin well. It's a major source of allantoin as well, which is a great wound healing and skin protectant. One problem - we're not supposed to use comfrey on broken skin, and she still has stitches, so I think this one is more appropriate for apres bandage removal.

As a note, I made a lovely balm in a deodorant tube with arnica, comfrey, and other exotic oils to help heal the bruising on my bottom after I fell down the stairs on the ferry a few years ago. I loved it, but Wanda jumped around the workshop going "ow ow ow" after putting it on a cut. I don't really want to do that to her again! 

Arnica oil is reported to help with sore muscles, bruises, sprains, wounds, and swelling. In short, it's a good anti-inflammatory. Arnica contains caffeic acid - a great anti-inflammatory - and kaempferol, a strong anti-oxidant and strong anti-inflammatory found in witch hazel, strawberry extract, chamomile extract, and green tea.

We can use up to 15% arnica blends in our creations - my version is a 1:5 mix of arnica to sweet almond oil, but some can be found in sunflower or soybean oil, so check to see how much arnica is in your arnica oil before using!

I've been corrected! You want to use 15% of the 1:5 mix as the maximum for arnica. Remember to check if an oil is safe for pregnant or lactating women before using: Arnica is not recommended for women in either situation. And I found these two quotes, which are contrary to what I had read in my textbooks, "Arnica is generally safe when used topically (externally). However, prolonged use may irritate the skin, causing eczema, peeling, blisters, or other skin conditions. Arnica should not be used on broken skin, such as leg ulcers. Also, people who are hypersensitive or allergic to the herb should avoid it." And this quote; "Oral use of arnica and topical use of arnica on broken skin and open wounds is considered unsafe because sesquiterpenoid lactones in arnica, such as helenalin, are intensely poisonous and cardiotoxic."

As another note, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel states there is insufficient data to make a determination that arnica is safe as used. Click here and here for more information. 

So what can I say, other than thanks to Debby for pointing out my errors! Use arnica with caution.

Calendula oil is a great anti-inflammatory ingredient - you can see an entire post here, but I'll summarize it quickly in a moment - that is reported to help speed healing for wounds and burns. Calendula oil is filled with tannins, carotenoids (strong anti-oxidants), coumarins (great anti-inflammatories that reduce swelling and oedema)

You can get all kinds of calendula extracts and oils, so you'll want to check the ingredients before buying. My version, from the Personal Formulator, is propylene glycol and calendula, while the version at the Herbarie is water and calendula. These will be water soluble, while the oils version will be oil soluble.

The recommended usage for my water soluble calendula is 0.5% to 5%, but you'll have to check with your supplier for their suggested amounts. Mine has a 15 month shelf span, but you will have to find out from your supplier how long this extract will last.

So what should do? I really want some arnica in my product and calendula would be nice as well, but I still haven't decided if I want a water based or anhydrous product.

I've already made a spray that might be suitable - anhydrous itchy skin spray - and it would be easy to get a little arnica in there, but I really do like the appeal of the calendula. Since I don't have the oil right now, I'd have to make something emulsified to get that lovely water based calendula extract to her skin!

Hmm, now I have to do some thinking. Join me tomorrow to see the results!

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