Editor’s Note: While members have expressed interest in exploring alternative therapies, including using essential oils, there is to date no definitive clinical evidence that these treatments can successfully be used to alleviate Raynaud’s symptoms. Research has been hampered by study design issues and the inability to reliably compare findings across trials. We advocate the need for better quality, more consistent study methodologies on alternative treatment options. Please keep in mind that even among clinically-proven treatment measures, no one solution will work for every patient. Please speak with your doctor before trying any of the following treatment strategies.
For over 5,000 years people have used aromatic plants to enhance the human experience. Although the term “aromatherapy” is new to many, the practice of using aromatic essential oils for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance is a true and ancient art.
Essential oils are the subtle, aromatic and volatile life-force extracted from the flowers, seeds, leaves, stems, bark and roots of herbs, bushes, shrubs and trees — through steam distillation under low pressure and low temperature. They have a direct effect on the brain through the olfactory system and skin absorption. As the regenerating, oxygenating and immune defense properties of the plant kingdom, these oils are extremely potent forms of plant medicine. One drop of the essential oil of peppermint is equal in value to 26 cups of peppermint tea!
Since pre-Egyptian days, essential oils have been used to address every imbalance known to humankind. In France, medical doctors have been prescribing them for over 40 years.
Aromatherapy and Raynaud’s
Aromatherapy, the art and science of the use and application of therapeutic essential oils, has value for treating Raynaud’s disease (syndrome or phenomenon). With Raynaud’s, arteries narrow to reduce blood flow – commonly in the hands and feet and occasionally the ears, lips and nose. The narrowing of the blood vessels, known as vasospasm, is a natural response of the body in times of stress, reducing blood flow to the extremities and protecting the core organs. In Raynaud’s the sympathetic nervous system over-reacts to an external trigger and reduces or cuts off the blood supply to one or more areas of the body. The most common triggers are temperature changes or stress.
When approaching Raynaud’s disease with essential oils, we are primarily choosing oils that are analgesic, antispasmodic, assist circulation, decongestant, repair fragile skin, balance the endocrine system, increase oxygenation to the body’s cells and detoxify, repair and nourish the skin.
The Importance of Purity
It is crucial to note the importance of using medicinal grade oils vs. off-the-shelf oils that may be adulterated and unsafe. Medicinal oils are unadulterated, uncut and free of chemicals, pesticides and heavy metals. They cost more, but are safe and effective to use as described.
If an essential oil is going to be applied to the body or inhaled, then it needs to be of the highest quality to achieve the desired healing effects. Therapeutic grades of oil require proper distillation as well as attention to growing, harvesting, packaging and distribution. There are international standards for therapeutic grade essential oils.
ISO and AFNOR standards are generally the two referred to most often. The AFNOR standards state the percentages of certain chemical constituents that must be present for an essential oil to be considered therapeutic grade. In order to gain the AFNOR stamp of approval, the oils must be sent to France for testing. Off-the-shelf oils, on the other hand, may be adulterated and thus should be avoided.
Recommended for Raynaud’s
Essential oils are useful for warming the body as well as for circulation. Recommended oils for warming include Nutmeg, Mace, Clove, Black Pepper, Geranium, Palmarosa, Lavender, Fennel and Rosemary. Myrtle, Lemon and Cypress have been used to strengthen and dilate capillaries and increase circulation. Helichrysum, Clove and citrus oils are natural blood thinners, balancing the viscosity or thickness of the blood, and they amplify the effects of Cypress. Marjoram relaxes muscles and dilates blood vessels, while nutmeg acts as a circulatory stimulant and anti-inflammatory. Goldenrod is a vein decongestant.
Methods of Application
We can apply the oils topically, with massage, in baths (always use a dispersant such as sea salt or Epsom salts before adding oils to bath water), compresses, inhaling or with a diffuser. Unlike aroma lamps or candles, a diffuser disperses oils without the heating or burning that damages the fragile essential oil constituents and can even create toxic compounds.
Treatment for Warming:
For warming, the recommended treatment is a two-part regime of baths and massage, using two formulas on alternate weeks. For the first week: FORMULA 1 BLEND consists of: Nutmeg 15 drops; Lavender 5 drops; Geranium 10 drops. Make a blend using these proportions or add these amounts to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil for a massage oil. Bathe twice a day in the morning and evening (before bed) using 6-8 drops of the blend. The water should be hot but not uncomfortable. Massage your fingers and toes. Add 5 drops blend to each tablespoon of vegetable oil to make a massage oil and apply it all over your body except your face.
Get your partner or a friend to massage your back for you. Pay special attention to your toes and fingers as well as arms, legs, bottom, tummy, chest, and shoulders. Do this daily. During an attack, use the massage oil as often as you like and double up on the fingers and toes.
FORMULA 2 BLEND consists of: Black Pepper 10 drops; Geranium 10 drops; Nutmeg 10 drops. The second formula is used alternatively with Formula 1 until the condition eases off and relief is obtained. Use exactly as directed above for one week, in the bath and as a massage oil.
Treatment for Circulation:
Single oils used for this application include: Goldenrod, Helichrysum, Marjoram, Cypress, Myrtle, Orange, Grapefruit, Clove, Peppermint, Geranium, Nutmeg, Cistus, and Lemongrass.
For topical application, dilute 50-50, 2-4 drops on affected area 2-3 times daily. Also apply over carotid arteries and pulse points, wherever arteries are close to the skin surface. For a body massage, apply 2-3 times weekly, starting at the feet and working up to the heart.
FORMULA 1 BLEND consists of: Basil, 5 drops; Marjoram 8 drops; Cypress 10 drops; Peppermint 3 drops
FORMULA 2 BLEND consists of: Basil 3 drops; Peppermint 2 drops; Cypress 4 drops; Marjoram 8 drops; Wintergreen 10 drops
Dilute either of the above recipes in 1 tsp. pure fatty oil (i.e. olive or jojoba) and massage on location, one to three times daily.
With Raynaud’s and any other condition, essential oils can uplift mood and emotion, bring back a feeling of hope, and assist the systems of the body to regain function. I have seen profound shifts with clients, family, friends and pets using this safe and effective form of plant medicine. Essential oils assist the body to regain balance or homeostasis, and are truly one of the miracles of nature’s pharmacy.
- “Effect of Peppermint and Eucalyptus Oil Preparations on Neurophysiological and experimental algesimetric headache parameters” 1994 Germany Gobel, Schmidt, Soyka Cephalalgia Jun; 14(3): 228-34; discussion 182.
- Functional Imaging of Effects of Fragrances on the Human Brain After Prolonged Inhalation, by C. Anasel, B. Nasel, P. Samec, E. Schindler, G. Buchbauer, Chemical Senses, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp 359-364, 1994
- HerbClip: Effect of Lavender Oil Baths on Mood and Well-being September 30 2003 HC# 050233 241 /herbclip/241/review43614.html 2003-09-30 [11.777 KB]
- HerbClip: Aromatherapy: Clinical Use of Essential Oils to Affect Positive Mental and Physical States November 11 1996 HC# 110762 098 /herbclip/098/review41932.html 1996-11-11 [10.867 KB]
Joan Apter, Aromacologist Joan Apter is a massage therapist with 17 years of training in the use and application of essential oils. She has advanced training in the medicinal applications of essential oils from Ege University in Izmir, Turkey and holds an international certificate of study from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy. Joan offers aromatherapy massage and spa treatments, consultations, keynotes and classes and the full Young Living Essential Oil product line. She lives in Woodstock, NY. Contact Joan at:
845-679-0512, firstname.lastname@example.org or apteraromatherapy.com