A majority of Western women say they have touchy skin, prone to break outs, rashes, itchiness, even stinging. But for some, the sensitivity can be extreme. When registered nurse Denise Leicester fell ill with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) in 1993, her skin rejected every brand of skincare she tried. In particular, products based on petrochemicals (mineral oil is a common ingredient) inflamed her skin and left it looking tired. As a yoga teacher too, Denise saw it as a problem of energy. Her skin mirrored her physical and mental condition – all were drained of energy, the vital life force known as ‘prana’ in Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India, and ‘chi’ in traditional Chinese medicine.
To suggest that skincare products can be infused with positive or negative energy seems a big leap to sceptical Western brains, but just as organic foods benefited her body, Denise found pure rose and argan oils revitalised her skin. ‘And they affected my whole being positively as well.’ (Although you could argue that having glowing skin makes any of us feel better.)
Between 1994 and 2003, Denise travelled frequently to India, practising yoga and meditation, which had a remarkably restorative effect. In her quest for perfect skincare, she visited many Ayurvedic clinics which made their own therapeutic oils and creams. ‘I was particularly impressed by a factory near Pune in western India. The manufacturing environment was arranged according to the principles of vaastu, the Ayurvedic equivalent of feng shui, and felt peaceful and uplifting. They played sacred music and talked little. The products had particular potency and vibrancy.’
In 2003, Denise started to formulate ‘Ila’, a skincare range for the Western market designed to ‘capture’ energy by using the purest and most potent raw ingredients (ila-spa.com). These came, she discovered, from high, often remote corners of the world. ‘Lavender, for example, has been shown to produce more esters [healing compounds] when grown at high altitude.’ Apricot oil and rock salt came from the Himalayas, rosehip seed oil from the Andes, argan oil from the Atlas mountains in Morocco, as well as herbs and oils from the untouched Amazon rainforest, plus honey and herbs from the Cotswolds.
Her first efforts impressed her yoga students: ‘their skin glowed and they felt more positive, as if they’d done a class’. But Denise wanted more evidence. Dr Thornton Streeter, a leading expert in complementary medicine who works in Pune, agreed to scan her products with a poly interference photography scanner (PIP), which can reveal congestion in the energy field. ‘He was dismissive at first saying he was only interested in his research on the energy fields of heart attack victims.’ But after testing several Ila products on 16 Indian women and comparing them with a control group using another brand, Dr Streeter conceded Ila had some extra effect. He scanned the woman on Day 1, then Day 14, and found the congestion patches were markedly reduced in the Ila group, with no change in the other women.
Hokum? Possibly, but PIP technology is now used in leading Eastern health spas such as Chiva Som in Thailand. And my colleague with supersensitive skin has had no adverse reactions from Ila products: ‘I normally react to anything containing rose but the rose oil Denise uses is low in a potentially irritating compound called methyl eugonol and my skin laps it up happily.’ Plus the argan oil-rich Body Balm has salved her son’s eczema. ‘He loves his “yellow” cream and squawks when I put on anything else.’
As well as Ila, there’s a growing group of super-pure skincare ranges that claim to benefit our energy levels in a similar way to well-respected disciplines like acupuncture, acupressure, tai chi, qijong and yoga. These include Les Fleurs de Bach from Paris (lesfleursdebach.com), based on Dr Bach flower essences), Energys from Switzerland (energyskincare.com), and Celgenics (celgenics.com) from England. At the least, they’re gorgeous products to use on your skin – at the most, they may benefit more than that.
GO FOR THE SAFER BURN
I had a big postbag after my story on carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, including one from Yvonne Jenkins of Jenkins Fireplaces who says: ‘many people don’t use a registered HETAS engineer to have any solid fuel (wood, coal, oil) installion. Over 80 per cent of stoves sold in the UK are probably not installed correctly, which can lead to fatal CO tragedies.’ For more information and to find a HETAS engineer, hetas.co.uk, tel: 0845 634 5626
Website of the week: ageuk.org.uk
I found this excellent site searching for information on age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of sight loss in over-65s. It gives a comprehensive source of information on everything to do with ageing, from health to pensions, evening classes, aids, will-writing and help for carers. Advice line: 0800 169 6565.