I can remember as a child, especially during my teenage years, getting chilblains. Oh, the itching that would wake me in the middle of the night. Squeezing my feet into my school shoes in the morning and being super uncomfortable the entire day. Off course, two of my kids get chilblains as well because there might be a genetic influence. Being an aromatherapist I naturally grabbed some essential oils last night to treat it. One of said children is a teenager, so questions everything at this point of his life. ‘How does this work? he said as he was rolling his eyes. Which of course just inspired me to do the research on if essential oils can help with chilblains. So let’s have a look if and how essential oils can be a treatment to help with those painful chilblains.
What are chilblains?
Chilblains are referred to as pernio or perniosis and they are red, swollen, itchy and very tender skin lesions that affects most often the fingers, toes or even the ears and nose that has been exposed to cold weather above 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
They can be either single blue-red-purple bumps that are extremely itchy and can feel really hot although your skin might be very cold. It can affect just one of your toes or fingers or multiple toes and fingers. Sometimes it can form blisters as well. Often the area looks shiny but that is due to the swelling.
It seems that it affects mostly women, children and the elderly.
What causes chilblains?
The exposure to cold, damp and windy weather cause the surface blood vessels to contract and then if the blood circulation is poor it can reduce the supply of oxygen to the skin to such a level that the skin becomes inflamed. It is also the quick change in temperature from cold to hot that can cause chilblains to happen. So when the hands or feet were exposed to the cold and then quickly exposed to heat.
It might be hereditary but most often poor blood circulation is the main cause of it.
In some rare cases other underlying medical conditions can cause chilblains.
- Connective tissue disease
- Poor nutrition and low body weight
- Peripheral vascular disease which reduce the blood flow to the hands and feet
- Bone marrow disorders
So it is always good to check with your medical practitioner that there are no medical issues and might have to run blood test or do a skin biopsy.
How can you treat chilblains?
They normally go away between 1-3 weeks but it is still a painful time, so what else can you do?
- Keep the vulnerable areas dry and warm.
- Prevention is key here, so wear warm protective clothing such as socks and gloves.
- Keep the entire body warm to improve blood circulation.
- Exercise regularly to improve your blood circulation.
- Try to avoid damp, windy and cold conditions
- Nicotine constricts blood vessels so stop smoking if you are a smoker
What NOT to do
- Don’t massage the area because this can actually increases the inflammation and the irritation.
- Don’t heat the area up too quickly. So don’t put your cold feet in a warm bowl of water for instance. Rather, heat it up slowly. Cover it with a blanket or put some socks on.
What can you apply topically to make it better?
There are no proven medicine to treat chilblains. Topical cortizone cream will reduce the inflammation and swelling.
Can essential oils help
There are a number of essential oils that have anti-inflammatory properties and also help with improving circulation.
Oils that are classed as rubefacients, which means it dilates the arteries so it increases the blood flow and relieve the pain. If the chilblains are not broken you can apply these oils, diluted of course. The most effective ones are:
Marjarom oil and Black Pepper oil.
Black Pepper is great to treat pain but it is considered a hot oil so please dilute it otherwise it can cause a skin sensitivity.
1% dilution would be advisable. So for 10 ml of carrier oil such as grape seed oil, wheat germ oil or almond oil I would add 3 drops of Black Pepper. A great oil of choice to increase circulation.
Add some Rosemary oil to the mix and massage the legs and calves to increase the circulation to the feet. Be careful not to massage the affected area because it can make it worse. It is beneficial to just add the diluted oil to the affected area but don’t keep massaging it.
The oils from the Tree family is always great to increase circulation. Cypress oil is considered a tonic to the circulatory system. It is also an anti-spasmodic and have antiseptic properties.
Tea tree oil
A very unusual essential oil due to the fact that it is effective against bacteria, fungi and viruses. Really helpful when the chilblains are broken to prevent secondary infection.
It is also an immuno-stimulant so it boosts your immune system. Now I do see some that advocate that you can apply Tea tree oil neat to the chilblains. I would recommend diluting it because some people might have a sensitivity towards Tea Tree oil.
Always be careful when using essential oils around your pets though.
What else can I do?
Eating foods that are rich in Vit C and E is very valuable.
Onions, garlic and foods that contains bioflavonoids.
Have a cuppa
This nutritious tea is packed with vit C and also helps to improve your circulation. It also contains anti-oxidants and flavonoids and is an anti-inflammatory.
Also known as the Clean Sweeper, this tea is an invigorating and energizing tea that helps to improve circulation. It ‘moves’ the blood through the body especially the legs. Caution- don’t use if you are on blood pressure medication.
Prevention is better and easier than the cure so stay warm folks and get that body moving.
Take care of you, so that you can take care of those that you love.