Sustainable Health nutshell: use organic unrefined sesame oil (not the toasted kind!) on your skin, in your nose, and on your gums to avoid putting chemicals in/on your body and to save money on allergy medications, skin moisturizers, and teeth care! Sound too good to be true? Nope! And remember, anything you put on your body gets absorbed, especially through mucous membranes but also through your skin, so make sure oils especially are organic/pesticide free and refined as little as possible to avoid any chemicals getting absorbed along with them. (The only brand I can readily find is Spectrum, but you can buy in bulk from Banyan Botanicals and likely other sources- please let me know if you find another good brand!!)
Let me say to start, I’d never promote something I hadn’t tried myself, and in this case sesame oil has helped me with three annoying things I had spent years trying to figure out, so this post is all from first-hand experience! Today I started flipping through this month’s Yoga Journal and there was a little blurb on carrying sesame oil and some socks while traveling to heat up and pamper your feet before bed… so after spending the last year trying to explain abhyanga and nasya to patients and having most look at me as if I were insane, I figured it’s getting closer to mainstream if it’s in YJ, so here’s the rest of the story for you!
First: Seasonal allergies are such a pain. I endured allergy shots weekly for 3 consecutive years as a child, and despite that I was drugged with dimetapp grape syrup during most Augusts to try and pause the sneezing and runny nose misery, and starting around age 20 my allergies moved into my sinuses and would start up again whenever I’d lived in a place more than a year. Super annoying, and the headaches were quite debilitating. Imagine laying in bed for months at a time. Ow. I ended up having to take claritin-D for years. (Which, if you know me, ends up with me behaving frighteningly like someone on speed or at the very least over-caffienated to the point of lunacy!) So. Not a good scene.
There are several causes of nasally-based (but including cough, sneezing/running nose, sinusitis, itchy eyes, and asthma symptoms) allergies to particulates in the air (like mold, ragweed, pollen, dust, animal dander, etc). Allergies are generally just an immune system overreaction to non-dangerous things we come into contact with in the air or in what we eat. Most are linked to digestion: 70% of your immune system is in your digestive tract, and most of the western world has rather stressed digestion. And if you had antibiotics frequently as a child like I did, it’s no wonder that as an adult with more stress your immune system starts shorting out. I’ll focus on that in another post- for now, sesame oil is the topic, and it’s a great way to stop those allergens from annoying your immune system in the first place! Try this technique called nasya: put a couple drops of sesame oil into your palm, use your pinky finger (cut the nail short!) of the other hand and moisturize the inside of your nasal passages, then sniff up a single drop on each side into your sinuses 3 times a day during allergy season. The oil calms the inflammation in the nasal mucosa, keeps your body from having to produce so much mucous of its own to try to rinse out the allergens and soothe the inflammation, and acts as a physical barrier to those allergens, which then get stuck in the oil and eventually swallowed so your immune system in your gut can take care of them in the usual way without getting so fired up. This means no more claritin-D for me, and maybe for you too!
The second lovely use of sesame oil? If you’re like me you’ve tried a million types of skin lotions and oils, and have looked for something that moisturizes well without causing breakouts or containing scary ingredients. The answer for me is a simple Ayurvedic practice: a daily self-massage keeps skin soft and keeps that first line defensive barrier against injury and invaders (like bacteria) strong and resiliant. Ideally, a personal abhyanga routine needs to be prescribed by your Ayurvedic practitioner, since sesame oil is too warming for some people (sunflower or olive may be needed instead), and it may need to be done at different times of day for a while depending on your particular imbalance, but you can try this and see how it goes, and email me if you have questions. The basic procedure is done in the morning before your shower. It’s important to warm the oil, and the quickest and safest method is to place it in a small container inside a larger container of very hot tap water. Put the warm oil from scalp to toes, lightly and lovingly touching all over all of your skin, not forgetting your ears and toes. Allow it to soak in for 5-20 minutes, then shower with a mild glycerine soap so it doesn’t wash off completely, and to avoid using a large amount of shampoo, put it on your oiled scalp before the water. If you do this daily like I do, put 1/2 cup white vinegar and a pot of boiling water down your drain once a week to keep it from clogging! This little procedure might become your favorite part of your day!
Now we’ve come to the third helpful use of sesame oil. Its use as a mouthwash is given in most descriptions of abhyanga, but I glossed over that odd-sounding sentence until my visit to the dentist this January. I’d always had the usual minor issues with plaque and tartar, and this time, despite ‘being good’ and flossing and brushing mostly as I should, and feeling totally fine, my gums still quickly became inflamed, painful, and bleeding when she poked at them lightly. It was pretty demoralizing. However, she gave me a rubber-tipped gum-annoyer to use myself daily, and I decided to try the strange 5-minute 1 Tbsp sesame oil rinse while I did my daily abhyanga, since I had the oil out anyway… I totally gagged the first two times, but I persevered. I was pretty motivated.
My next dentist visit was last week. And my teeth looked INCREDIBLE. No joke. Ever rinse with that weird dark pink stuff that sticks to plaque to show your dentist how you’ve done? My teeth used to get pretty coated with it and it grossed me out every time. This time- NO PINK. None. I was shocked. And stoked! The sesame rinse works, as does the gum-annoyer. And though I still wasn’t perfect- I need to work on a few way back molars- I’m switching to nightly rinsing to protect my gums overnight and being more thorough with those back teeth. I’ll let you know how my next visit goes, since I’m sure you’re really interested at this point. Ha. But honestly, after getting off of claritin-D, this was the most impressive success I’ve ever had with a medical-related issue. So, give it a shot, see what your dentist thinks! (Oh, and spit in the toilet, not the sink or shower. Spit-ty oil is still gnarly on your drain!)