QUESTION: “I have a problem with cold hands and feet. During the winter months they are incredibly colder (like ice if you ask my husband). I realize that circulation is part of the problem but I’m looking for suggestions regarding some essential oils I could use that would help to keep me warm. What would you suggest and what would be the best way to use them?” Thank you! Melanie
ANSWER: I hear you loud and clear! In fact, at this very moment I am hugging a hot cup of green tea to help warm these chilled fingers of mine. Cotton socks and wool lined moccasins with the occasional wiggling of the toes are keeping my feet warm.
It is safe to say that everyone experiences cold hands and feet at some point, especially during winter, but women seem to be plagued with this more often than men. We are known to have cold hands and/or feet even in the heat of summer! What is it about those air conditioned buildings?
It would be short-sighted of me to immediately jump into essential oil remedies without rounding out my answer with some tidbits regarding cold hands and feet as well as offering some other approaches to warming up your “like ice” hands and feet. These next paragraphs are for your information and are not intended to diagnose nor prescribe. If you are experiencing chronic (constant) cold hands and feet that are painful or troublesome, consider discussing it with your health care provider.
Here we go!
Most of the human body temperature sensors are located in the skin. Men and women alike have up to four times as many cold sensors as hot sensors which may explain why we are more apt to react to a cool breeze than a warm one. Women do feel the cold more than men however for a variety of reasons such as less muscle mass, different fat layer distribution, female hormones, the menstrual cycle and I would add that women’s fashion of light, delicate fabrics, exposed neck, chest, arms, legs, open shoes and so on are also contributing factors.
Women who have an iron deficiency (anemia) are likely to experience chronic cold hands and feet.
Peri-menopausal and menopausal women often complain of cold hands and feet as a symptom of estrogen level fluctuation. Some medications, including birth control pills, can play havoc with hand and foot temperature.
Sleep affects our body’s “thermostat”. Body temperature drops at night with women reaching their minimum body temperature quicker than men. And have you noticed feeling chilled when tired? We are even more sensitive to changes in temperature when tired or fatigued.
Gender aside, there are a number of possible reasons for cold hands and feet.
As you noted in your question, impaired blood circulation is one of the most common causes and there are a number of contributing factors. Tight and elasticized clothing affects blood circulation. People who smoke may have poor circulation which increases their chances of cold extremities. Dehydration reduces blood volume which can aggravate chills and while hugging a cup of coffee may provide immediate warmth, caffeinated drinks constrict blood vessels which contributes to cold hands and feet. Normal aging can play a contributory role as can physical inactivity. For those of us who spend a fair bit of time keyboarding and using a mouse, cold hands and feet become an “occupational hazard” as blood circulation is less than ideal.
One’s percentage of body fat mass is also key. People with low body fat tend to have cold hands and feet because they are not able to hold their body heat. Fattier people also tend to have cool extremities because their skin is insulated from their body heat. And those on a strict, low calorie diet will often complain of cold hands and feet.
Stress, anxiety and emotional state influence hand and foot temperatures. Even our comfort level in a particular environment or with the people around us can influence our temperature.
People with peripheral vascular (circulation) disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Raynaud’s syndrome, rheumatic disorders and cerebral palsy are prone to chronic cold hands and/or feet. I am assuming that these conditions do not apply to you.
Let’s get active!
This is an old but highly effective exercise – just be sure to give yourself lots of room and remove anything breakable! Standing upright with a relaxed posture, place feet flat on the floor and shoulder width apart. Bend you knees slightly for balance. Freely swing both of your arms in a windmill fashion keeping fingers, wrists and elbows straight. Ten times toward the front and ten times toward the back is a great start. This will help boost blood circulation right down to your finger tips. Marching in place helps the blood flow to those cold feet. Children in the room? Get them involved!
This activity may not be popular but, “Wash those dishes!” Your hands will warm up even while wearing protective gloves.
Consider hand or foot reflexology sessions with a certified reflexologist and reap the additional benefits of this ancient therapeutic practice. In Hand Reflexology simple routines for health and relaxation (2006) respected reflexologists Barbara and Kevin Kunz offer a “nail-buffing” technique to help improve circulation in the finger tips. With the flats of the finger nails of your right and left hand facing and gently touching one another (hands are in a relaxed, semi-cupped position) “rapidly and repetitively move the right hand in one direction, while simultaneously moving the left hand in the opposite direction. Without stopping, reverse the action, building up to a steady, rhythmic buffing motion” (page 84).
World renowned physician, author and integrative medicine specialist Dr. Andrew Weil advocates the use of what he calls “relaxing breath” to help relax the entire autonomic nervous system, including the nerves that control small arteries in the hands (www.drweil.com). This works particularly well when stress or anxiety is a factor.
Some sources recommend paraffin wax baths for hands and feet to soothe joints and muscles and to increase blood circulation. I hesitate to recommend paraffin as it is refined out of crude mineral oils and is then purified to make it “safe” to use. Generally whatever is applied to your skin will be absorbed into your bloodstream. It is a personal choice.
I recommend using warmed olive (Olea europaea) or grape seed (Vitus vinifera) vegetable oils. Found in most grocery stores these vegetable oils are an inexpensive, safe and healthy alternative to paraffin. They also benefit your skin and nails. Be sure to use cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and buy organic if you can. Heated and chemically processed oils are lacking beneficial skin care elements and may contain trace chemicals.
For a simple but luxurious warming hand soak, add 120 ml (1/2 cup) of room temperature olive or grapeseed oil to a basin with enough warm water to cover your hands and wrists. For your feet, use 240 ml (1 cup) of oil with enough warm water to cover the ankles. Add more warm water to the bath as required. Occasionally during your 10 to 15 minute soak, slide one hand (or foot) over the other in a caressing manner to stimulate the nerve endings on the skin and to soothe through touch. This would be the perfect time to use “relaxing breath” and let your mind drift.
Please use extreme caution when stepping out of the foot bath! In fact, stay seated while you dry your feet and slip your warmed toes into a pair of socks or slippers.
Adding essential oils with rubefacient properties to the olive or grape seed oils will help to increase blood circulation to the surface areas upon which they are applied. Essential oils with this property include black pepper (Piper nigrum), cinnamon leaf (Cinnamomum verum), clove bud (Eugenia caryophyllatta), ginger (Zingiber officinale), juniper berry (Juniperus communisJ), lemon (Citrus limon), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), peppermint (Mentha piperita), scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis including chemotypes verbenone, cineole and camphor) and red thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Rosemary and thyme essential oils also have what is referred to as hypertensive properties which address poor or sluggish circulation.
Essential oils that have properties to strengthen and support the circulatory system are known as circulatory tonics and include cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and lemon. In The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy (1991), Valerie Ann Worwood considers the following essential oils for those dealing with chronic cold hands and feet due to Raynaud’s syndrome: nutmeg, clove, black pepper, geranium, rose maroc (Rosa centifolia) palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and rosemary.
So you see, there are quite a number of essential oils from which to choose depending on the underlying factors contributing to cold hands and feet. CAUTION! If you are pregnant or breast feeding, are epileptic, have a heart condition, liver or kidney disease, are taking medication, have allergies to the plants from which the essential oil is extracted, have open sores or abrasions, or are receiving ongoing care from a health care provider for a specific disease or condition ALWAYS ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION and refrain from using essential oils. Seek the advice and services of a credible, certified aromatherapist and let your health care provider know which essential oils you are using and for what purposes.
My Bouncing Feet Foot Soak recipe is a powerful aromatic blend that boosts circulation and energy. To make this 3% dilution, pour into a glass container that can be sealed with a lid 150 ml (2/3 cup) of your choice of vegetable (carrier) oil. To it add the following essential oils; 45 drops of lemon, 12 drops of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), 12 drops peppermint, 6 drops cinnamon leaf and 9 drops cardamomum (Elettaria cardamomum). Prepare a basin of warm water to which you add 2 tablespoons of the Bouncing Feet Foot Soak blend. Submerge feet for 10 to 15 minutes adding more warm water as necessary. Pat dry your feet and put on a fresh pair of socks. Store blend in a dark, cool location. Do not overuse this powerful blend! The stimulating and rubefacient properties of the essential oils can cause skin sensitization.
Try this simple but effective aromatherapy hand and foot massage oil blend. Mix 3 drops each of rosemary and black pepper essential oils into 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of warmed carrier oil. Massage your hands, wrists and arms and/or feet, ankles and calves with the mixture. Use a firm stroke as you massage up your leg or arm toward your heart and a lighter stroke as you sweep back down toward your hand or foot. How about getting your husband involved and have him provide the massage?
A Walk in the Woods is a fabulous aromatic blend of pine, rosemary (chemotype cineole 1.8) and lavender. Mix 3 drops each of pine and rosemary with 6 drops of lavender in 30 ml (2 tablespoons) of warmed carrier oil and massage into hand, arms and/or feet and calves. If the aroma of pine or rosemary is not something you would like to have on your hands, mix 2 drops each of black pepper, ginger and lemon in 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of carrier oil. To help maximize the benefits of any aromatherapy massage oil blend, keep the oil on your hands and feet as long possible.
In a nutshell, I suggest the following self-care plan to help warm your hands and feet: dress for warmth; if you smoke – stop; eat regular, nutritious meals and snacks to fuel your body; stay hydrated; get regular exercise to promote blood flow; keep stress in check; breathe deeper; ensure adequate, quality sleep; use hand and foot soaks, and aromatherapy massage blends; visit a reflexologist; and see your health care provider if efforts do not produce the results you desire.
Well, it’s time for me to swing my arms, stomp my feet and massage these tired hands of mine. I would love to hear back from you when you find the ‘remedy’ that works best for managing your “like ice” hands and feet. Keep warm!
Barbara Power, Certified Aromatherapist