Designer Lauren Davies – creator of a make-your-own cosmetics set that was nominated for Designs of the Year 2014 – shares an ancient Tahitian recipe for a pregnancy oil that helps prevent stretch marks…
Discovering a natural pregnancy oil recipe
When I found out I was pregnant three months ago, I decided to explore a natural skincare option that could be used safely during pregnancy for stretch marks and general nourishment, while also smelling amazing.
I was in France on holiday recently and my mother-in-law handed me a tube of sun cream from a range by Lovea. It had a picture of a frangipani flower on the front and translating from French, was described as ‘a moisturising lotion with monoï de Tahiti’.
Although I could see from the ingredients that is was only partially naturally scented, I opened the lid and the tropical scent instantly transported me back to my first experience of the beautiful frangipani flower when I was in Hoi An, Vietnam.
My hotel had a tree that spilled these perfect white, windmill-shaped flowers with sunshine-yellow centres onto the tiled floor of the courtyard. To me, the intensely floral scent of this variety smelled heady but also green – with notes of orange flower, fresh peaches and mango.
I discovered that in Tahitian ‘monoï’ means ‘scented oil’. True Tahitian monoï is actually made by macerating tiare flowers, a type of Tahitian gardenia – with white, star-shaped petals – in a base of coconut oil.
Many brands, such as Lovea, sell their own versions of monoï either using the scent or imagery of frangipani flowers, which can be confusing. But the traditional Polynesian monoï is made using exotic tiare flowers. These preparations have been used for over 2000 years and form a big part of ancient Polynesian culture.
Today they are still used as medicine, in cosmetics and during religious ceremonies. It is used for embalming and anointing and is said to be very soothing for the skin and nourishing for the hair due to the high amount of natural terpenes and esters including methyl salicylate, according to the Institut du Monoï.
Being such a gentle oil, it is used on the body throughout pregnancy and newborn babies are covered in it to stop them from dehydrating in the hot climate, but also to keep them warm as it gets colder.
After discovering I was pregnant, I realised I would need to be more careful experimenting with homemade concoctions. Wellbeing and sustainability are the focus of my design and consultancy practice HEKA, and I explore these topics through natural beauty, food and the alchemy of nature.
As part of my practice and also as a hobby, I collect essential oils and other extracts and particularly enjoy creating perfumes, oils and creams – basically anything scented.
Essential oils, resins, absolutes and concretes are obtained using different extractions methods: from the flowers, leaves, barks, roots and rhizomes of plants and trees. The resulting pure extracts are highly concentrated, and can therefore be incredibly potent.
For this reason, it is important to do your research and be cautious; particularly during pregnancy or if you have sensitive skin, and undiluted essential oils should never be used directly on your skin.
International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA) offer guidelines here but if you are at all unsure, I recommend checking with a professional.
Discovering monoï de Tahiti reminded me how much I enjoy preparing natural, oil macerations for myself at home and felt that others may also enjoy the process of creating a bespoke oil that would be safe to use throughout pregnancy.
Oil macerations, also known as infused oils, have been made for thousands of years, ever since people discovered that fats absorb scents very readily. Your base oil is very important – you want one that is soothing and nourishing for the body.
I would recommend sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, or grapeseed oil if you are new to infusing oils. All three of these are suitable for all skin types and only have very subtle scents of their own so won’t interfere with your botanicals.
I would also recommend organic options and going for cold-pressed oils wherever possible as they contain many nutrients that are otherwise lost in extraction processes using heat.
There are other lovely base oils such as avocado oil, borage oil and rose hip seed oil, which have different qualities and vary in price. As you become more confident with infusing, you can even begin to mix different base oils together to create custom bases that will suit different skin types – some are better for the body; others for the face.
Various recipes suggest using fresh or dried herbs and flowers to infuse your base oil but because the water content of fresh flowers can cause harmful microbial growth, I prefer to err on the side of caution and stick to using dried ingredients.
Lastly, in order to preserve your infused oil for longer, adding vitamin E is a good idea and is also great for scars and healing of the skin.
Pregnancy Oil Recipe:
1 x sterilised 350g glass jam jar or kilner jar
350ml chosen base oil such as sweet almond, jojoba or grapeseed oil
1 x handful of dried lavender buds
1 x handful of chamomile flowers
1 x vitamin E capsule (or two drops from a bottle of vitamin E)
1. Fill the sterilised jar about 3/4 full with the lavender buds and chamomile flowers, breaking them up a bit as you add them.
2. Pour your oil slowly over the dried botanicals until they are covered but make sure to leave a small gap at the top of the jar. Add the vitamin E capsule and make sure all the dried buds and flowers and fully submerged in the oil and there are no air bubbles by stirring the mixture with a spoon or chopstick. Put the lid tightly on the jar.
3. Place the jar on a windowsill or shelf, but not in direct sunlight, where the warmth of the sun can gently heat the oil and encourage the dried botanicals to infuse the oil. Gently shake the contents of the jar each day for two-eight weeks, depending on the desired strength.
4. Take some muslin/cheesecloth and old bit of porous fabric and strain the contents of the jar through the cloth into a jug. Make sure to twist the fabric tightly and squeeze all the oil out of the lavender and chamomile, as this oil will be particularly fragrant.
5. Put the trained oil into a sterilised jar or bottle, label with date and contents and you can now use this for up to a year.
N.B lavender, chamomile flowers, base oils and vitamin E can often be bought in health food shops but if you struggle to find ingredients locally, online stores such as Baldwins and Aromantic stock all the ingredients as well as bottles.
What pregnancy oil did you use? Did you buy one of make one yourself? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below…