Birth Professionals

Topical Treatments

I’m not really an herb person.  It’s not that I am against herbs, I’ve just never really felt the pull to learn much about them. Honestly, I feel sort of strange about it because I personally have integrated herbs with midwifery in my brain.  It seems natural to me to hear about women whose midwives have prescribed herbal treatments.  So it seems natural to me that I should have knowledge about herbs.  But I can never get myself to actually study any of it.

What I do have a pull towards is aromatherapy, which really is herbs but in a oil form. It makes absolutely no logical sense to me what-so-ever, but if you give me oils I’ll read for hours, give me herbs and I’ll stash them in the cupboard until I cook with them. It gets even weirder when I confess that I’m actually quite chemically sensitive, so much so that I have been known to get headaches from hair gels and liquid soap. How can a girl who cannot stand the smell of perfume feel so drawn to rubbing aromatic oils on her skin?!?

The best explanation I can give for the chemical aversion paradox is that the plant oils are pure plant extracts.  They are more intense than the plant itself because they are concentrated, but they do not have the chemical base that perfumes, hair products, cleaning products and even soaps have. I’m not an allergic person, so the oils don’t bother me.  I have no explanation for why I can only get myself to study oils.

So now that I have confessed all that, here is the reason for talking about oils.  I’ve had the first cross-over of “medical” and “traditional” knowledge. It comes from all the pharmacology studying I’ve been doing and focuses on topical treatments. There are basic principles you must know about any drug before you prescribe it, and one of the things is how quickly the medicine is absorbed.  Topical treatments are the lotions, powders, creams and oils that are put on the skin and absorbed through the skin.  But skin is more unpredictable than absorbing drugs through the gastrointestinal system, because the skin is so highly affected by the environment. Moist skin absorbs the medicine better than dry skin.  Skin covered with a bandage or dressing will absorb more than uncovered skin. Skin on different parts of the body will absorb the same medicine at different rates. The ability of the skin to absorb changes with age.

What’s so important about knowing all that?  Because the same things that help or hinder absorption of medications on the skin will help or hinder absorption of aromatherapy oils on the skin. The treatment principle is the same. This means depending on the state of the woman’s skin in labor, I may need to increase or decrease the amount of aromatherapy I use. If a woman has been laboring in a tub, her skin will absorb much more oil than a woman who has been laboring outside.  If I use an oil to massage a woman’s feet I may need to use a higher concentration of oil to get the same effect I would have gotten by massaging her back. Absorption matters.

I wish I had specific drop to carrier oil numbers to give you, but since I’ve really only just started putting the pieces together myself I’m not quite that far yet. I’ll let you know if I get a chance to look it up.

Jennifer Vanderlaan (Author)