By Erik Servia
- What is Aromatherapy?
- Benefits of Aromatherapy
- How to Use Aromatherapy
- Bringing It All Together
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of aromatic plant extracts and essential oils for the improvement of psychological and physical well-being. These oils and extracts have a wide variety of uses, such as in bath & beauty products, massage oils and even fragrances, which can be therapeutic to the mind, body and soul.
The pure essence of a plant, otherwise known as essential oils, can provide physical and psychological benefits when used correctly and safely. These benefits can be achieved by both inhalation and physical application of essential oils.
There is a huge variety of aromatherapy products available and each serves a different purpose. For example, lavender can be used for relaxation and calming, while oils from the mint family offer a stimulating and energizing effect.
These oils can be found in all sorts of carries, from soaps, to air fresheners, candles, and massage oils. Aromatherapy can also include other natural ingredients to complement the use of essential oils, including:
- The use of sugar as an exfoliate
- Clays and muds to purify the skin
- Sea salts
Cold-pressed vegetable oils
Aromas used in aromatherapy are acquired from two sources:
- Plant Extracts
- Extracts are obtained by either cold pressing the plants or soaking the plants in a volatile liquid, like alcohol.
- Extracts can be used in aromatherapy, but have other uses, too. For example, vanilla extract is often used in cooking, while other extracts can be used as insect repellents.
- Essential Oils
- Using distillation, the water portion is removed and small amount of oil that remains is the essential oil.
- A large quantity of plant material is necessary to produce a small amount of essential oil. The quantity of plant material needed, and the energy required to perform the distillation explain the typically higher price of essential oils versus extracts.
- Essential oils are primarily used for therapeutic purposes.
Aromatherapy has been in existence for thousands of years, but the distillation process required to extract essential oils wasn’t developed until the 11th century. Aromatherapy continues to be incredibly popular in the United States, India, and Europe. If you’re looking for a natural way to treat common physical and psychological issues, aromatherapy may be beneficial to you.
Benefits of Aromatherapy
The benefits of using essential oil aromas can be felt almost immediately. Inhaling the fragrance of essential oils stimulates the brain to trigger a chemical reaction, like releasing serotonin, due to the neurotransmitters firing at a certain level.
The lungs also get a therapeutic benefit from the naturally occurring chemicals in the fragrances. For instance, diffusion of eucalyptus oil can help break up congestion.
Topically applied essential oils can be absorbed into the blood stream to offer therapeutic benefits and relief of many physical ailments.
Studies have actually shown that aromatherapy has the ability to provide health benefits. The markers for the scent molecules have been found in the blood of patients after aromatherapy treatment, suggesting that the potential for advantageous effects exists.
As you would expect, the medical community if often skeptical and poorly informed on the therapeutic use of essential oils. However, that can be expected to change over time as more technical research is conducted.
Aromatherapy can provide many unique health benefits:
- Strengthening the immune system.
- Prevention is preferable to a cure when it comes to illness! Aromatherapy is believed to have antibacterial and antifungal effects and many studies have been conducted on this.
- Reducing anxiety and depression.
- The reduction of stress and anxiety is the most popular use of aromatherapy. Most beginners in aromatherapy focus on stress reduction. Stress is a common challenge, and the application of aromatherapy for this purpose can be simple, yet effective.
- Relieving depression is one of the most common uses of aromatherapy. The combination of aromatherapy and counseling can help and avoid the negative side effects of pharmaceutical therapy.
- Boosting energy levels.
- Aromatherapy is often used to boost energy. Life is hectic and a higher level of energy can truly be helpful!
- Aiding sleep quality.
- Essential oils can be used to realign circadian rhythms and to help balance your sleep schedules.
- Faciliting the healing process.
- Aromatherapy can be claimed to speed the healing process throughout the body. Aromatherapy may help to increase blood flow and the amount of oxygen that reaches a wound and is often used after surgery.
- Eliminating pain.
- Aromatherapy can help to relieve pain, particularly headaches. While the pain is addressed directly, headaches can also be lessened by the reduction of stress and anxiety that aromatherapy offers.
- Enhancing cognitive performance.
- Aromatherapy has been shown to enhance memory. However, the effect seems to be limited in duration.
- Enhancing digestion.
- Aromatherapy can also be helpful relieving issues with bloating, indigestion, and constipation.
Aromatherapy can be a wonderful alternative to common medicines and treatments. By going the natural route, you can avoid many of the negative side effects of pharmaceuticals, while at the same time providing additional benefits. The skillful combining of several essential oils is believed to provide even greater results than single oils. The presence of one oil can enhance the strength of another.
How To Use Aromatherapy
There are a variety of ways to use essential oils and you might even come up with a few of your own. Remember to be alert for signs of sensitivity whenever introducing yourself to a new oil. And of course, don't consume the oils!
Use a method of administration that works for your situation:
- Inhaling the scent directly.
- This is the easiest way to get started. Just put a couple of drops of the essential oil onto a tissue or paper towel, hold the tissue close to your face and inhale through your nose.
- 5 drops of essential oil and one ounce of a carrier oil, like almond oil, can be added to your bath water. Check to be sure that you’re choosing an appropriate essential oil for soaking in!
- Inhalation with steam.
- Add approximately five drops of essential oil to two cups of boiling water and transfer into a bowl. Keep the bowl close to you and enjoy the scent. Stop if you experience any discomfort.
- The room method.
- Follow the previous method, but use double the amount of essential oil, and place the bowl near the center of the room. The goal is to fill the room with the aroma of the essential oil.
- Add 10-20 drops of essential oil to 1/8 cup of a carrier oil. Almond or jojoba oil are great choices fo carrier oils. Massage the oil into your skin, avoiding the area around your eyes and mucous membranes.
- Essential oils can be used to make tons of personal products, like soap, shampoo, lotions, and perfumes.
Try all the different methods and see which works the best for you. There’s no method that is universally superior to another. Keep an open mind and experiment. You’ll likely find one method that you prefer over the others.
Remember to use essential oils sparingly! These oils are highly concentrated and just a few drops will go a long way.
Building your own aromatherapy kit:
Common Essential Oils.
You can do more research and come to your own conclusions on what essential oils will be best for you. These oils are very popular for use with aromatherapy and a great place to start!
- Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
- For peace and calm, reduces stress and anxiety, and promotes sleep. Supports healthy reproductive and digestive systems. Anti-inflammatory and often used for muscle soreness, spasm, and joint pain. Anti-inflammatory properties also make it an excellent option for skin and minor wound treatment like soothing insect bites.
- Blends well with Bergamot, Clary Sage, Lavender, Jasmine, Neroli, Geranium, and Rose.
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
- A sharp, camphoraceous smelling oil that's invigorating and cleansing. Helps support healthy immune and respiratory systems, clearing congestion, reducing sinus pressure, and relieving headaches. Energizing and mentally stimulating while also stress-reducing. Can increase circulation and relieve soreness in muscles.
- Blends well with Cedarwood, Lavender, Lemon, Pine Needle, Rosemary, Thyme, and Marjoram.
- Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
- Can help deepen your breathing to assist with meditation. Calming and relaxing without being sedative. Frankincense is one of the best essential oils for dry or problematic skin. Supports healthy respiratory, digestive and reproductive systems.
- Blends well with Sandalwood, Vetiver, Pine Needle, Geranium, Lavender, Neroli, spices like Cinnamon, and citruses like Orange and Bergamot.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Likely the most popular essential oil, Lavender is therapeutically superior for a wide range of conditions. Can be used for minor wounds like bruises, burns, cuts and scrapes, bug bites, and sunburn. Supports healthy reproductive, respiratory, lymphatic, circulatory, muscular, and immune systems. Anti-inflammatory and great for skin care and its regenerative properties help soothe irritated and sensitive skin. One of the best essential oils for relaxation, calms stress and anxiety, eases headaches, and promotes sleep.
- Blends well with most oils, but especially Cedarwood, Clary Sage, Pine Needle, Geranium, Vetiver, Patchouli, citruses, and floral oils.
- Lemon (Citrus limon)
- Uplifting, energizing, and promotes optimism. Supports healthy immune, respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems. Naturally astringent, lemon is one of the best essential oils for skin care and can be used as a skin toner, to balance oily skin, and brighten dull skin. Commonly used relieve stress, combat fatigue, and insomnia.
- Blends well with Lavender, Lavandin, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Chamomile, Fennel, Eucalyptus, Juniper Berry, other citruses, and floral oils like Neroli, Ylang Ylang, Rose, and Geranium.
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
- Uplifting, invigorating, and encouraging. A great essential oil to use when emotionally or physically drained or when needing help to focus. Increases circulation and is naturally astringent, making a good skin and muscle toner that can help improve elasticity and reduce muscular pain. Helps boost the immune system and can help reduce fevers and infections. Used for centuries to deter insects and pests, as well as to ease symptoms of indigestion. A wonderful deodorant that can be added to soaps, detergents, and air fresheners.
- Blends well with Chamomile, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Lavender, Myrrh, Palmarosa, Patchouli, Petitgrain, Rosemary, citruses, and spices like Cardamom and Ginger.
- Orange (Citrus sinensis)
- An uplifting essential oil helps to relieve tension and stress, fight fatigue, boost mental clarity, and encourage positive outlooks. Considered a tonic, strengthens and regulates bodily systems and boosts immunites. Improves dull and oily complexions, tones the skin, and reduces the appearance of wrinkles. Promotes better digestion, relieves indigestion and cramping, and helps rid the body of toxins. Commonly used in disinfectant household cleansers and air fresheners.
- Blends well with Lavender, Neroli, Lemon, Clary Sage, Myrrh, and spice oils like Cinnamon and Clove Bud.
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
- Increases focus, mental clarity, memory, alertness, and concentration while soothing stress. Helps relieve headache symptoms and provides relief from nasal and respiratory congestion caused by allergies or colds. Used to alleviate common digestive complaints like bloating, cramping, nausea, motion sickness, and upset stomach. Nourishes dry skin and can be used to relieve scalp irritation and dryness, stimulate hair growth, and give hair a rejuvenated apprearance. Peppermint is also known to deter mice, spiders, and other pests.
- Blends well with Rosemary, Lavender, Marjoram, Lemon, Eucalyptus, and other mints.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Stimulates the brain and improves cognitive function by increasing concentration, focus, clarity, and memory retention. Commonly seen in hair care products, relieves dryness and flakiness associated with dandruff, stimulates hair follicles and may promote hair growth and overall health. Improves skin hydration and elasticity while reducing irritation and excessive oil production. Soothes tired muscles, fortifies healthy immune and respiratory systems, and stimulates circulation.
- Blends well with Basil, Cedarwood, Citronella, Lavender, Lavandin, Peppermint, Pine Needle, Frankincense, Thyme, Oregano, and citruses.
- Sandalwood (Santalum album)
- Spiritually grounding and has a calming effect on the mind and emotions. Useful in skin care to moisturize dry skin, soothe irritation, and improve tone and complexion. Thought to be disinfecting and was traditionally used as incense in cleansing rituals to purify the air. Boosts the immune system, relieves respiratory issues, and relaxes nerves and muscles to ease spasms, cramps, and tension.
- Blends well with Bergamot, Clove Bud, Jasmine, Patchouli, Rose, Myrrh, Black Pepper, and Vetiver.
- Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- Most commonly used to prevent infections and speed healing of minor cuts, scrapes, burns, bug bites, rashes, and other wounds. Antioxidant and cleansing properties make it excellent for skin care. Helps to clear pores, regulate oil production, and improve the appearance of blemishes, scars, and age spots. Reputed to be effective against fungus, dandruff, warts, and athlete’s foot. Boosts the immune system and can relieve respiratory conditions by clearing congestion and reducing inflammation in the airways. One of the best essential oils to add to household cleansers, has been shown to control mold. Also commonly added to deodorants, hand sanitizers, and natural insect repellents. Used in shampoos for a healthy scalp and for preventing lice.
- Blends well with Lavender, Lavandin, Clary Sage, Rosemary, Lemon, Pine Needle, Geranium, Marjoram, and spice oils like Clove Bud.
- Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)
- Comforting and relaxing, has a calming effect on the nervous system which helps relieve stress, anxiety, anger, and restlessness. Sedative properties can soothe inflammation and hyperactivity in respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and nervous systems. A wonderfful antioxidant addition to your daily skin and hair care. Commonly thought of as an aphrodisiac and often used in perfumes.
- Blends well with Sandalwood, Vetiver, Orange, spice oils, florals, and citruses.
- Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
- Emotionally uplifting, promotes feelings of joy while reducing stress, anxiety, and tension. Tends to regulate sebum production, helping with irritated and oily skin. Thought to have stimulating effects on the scalp, promoting hair growth and overall health. Benefits cardiac, reproductive, and immune systems. Promotes sleep and arouses sensuality.
- Blends well with Jasmine, Bergamot, Rose, Vetiver, Clary Sage, Petitgrain, Cedarwood, and citrus essential oils.
Essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin without being diluted. Carrier oils, such as cold pressed vegetable oils, are used to dilute the concentrated essential oils and add moisturizing ingredients to help with absorption. Some good carrier oils to start with would be:
- Fragrance-Free Lotion.
- While not a carrier oil, its moisturization and other beneficial properties can make it suitable as a carrier for diluting essential oils for topical application.
- Fractionated Coconut Oil.
An amazing moisturizer that is known to help with soothing skin rashes and irritations.
- Jojoba Oil.
- Jojoba oil mimics collagen and is excellent for relaxing the skin and for people with skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
- Sweet Almond Oil.
- Easily absorbed by your skin and chock full of vitamins including A, B, D and E.
- Olive Oil.
- Olive oil is packed with benefits including relieving joint pain, supporting rheumatic conditions, and hair care.
- Avocado Oil.
- Avocado oil contains a high amount of vitamins and is a good source of fatty acids. Absorbing easily into the skin, is great choice for dry skin and wrinkles.
- Liquid Castile Soap.
- Castile soap is made from olive oil. It's free from animal fats, unlike many other types of soaps, and is considered to be eco-friendly and biodegradable.
You’ll want to store your lotions and potions in a convenient container. There are several types of containers you’re likely to need.
- Amber glass bottles.
- These don't need to be large, 5ml to 15 ml is sufficient. Ensure that the bottles are amber colored, rather than clear. Light exposure can degrade some essential oils, and the dark bottle will help to protect them.
- Glass jars to store your lotions.
- A 2 oz. glass jar with a wide mouth is perfect. Two ounces equals a quarter of a cup.
- Plastic spray bottles.
- Avoid purchasing anything too large. Bottles between 2 oz. and 4 oz. are fine.
A few glass containers and a glass dropper or two are convenient for mixing oils. You'll also need:
- A record keeping system.
- A notebook is the easiest way to record your recipes, thoughts, and results.
- A labeling system.
- You can purchase a label maker or resort to a ballpoint pen and masking tape. It’s up to you.
- A dedicated work space is ideal, but a plastic storage tub can be an effective second choice for stashing your precious materials.
Building your own aromatherapy kit might seem a bit intimidating, but there are many online resources. Books on the topic are as close as your nearest library or bookstore.
You might consider purchasing a kit and filling in the gaps with additional supplies. A limited budget doesn’t have to be an obstacle. A couple of essential oils are all that you need to get started.
Other convenient aromatherapy devices:
You're probably thinking that there must be better ways of enjoying your essential oils than applying them to a tissue or a hot bowl of water. And you'd be right! Most of them are relatively inexpensive, too.
- You don’t need a carrier oil with a diffuser. Just add some water and your essential oils to the diffuser and ultrasonic action releases the mixture into the air. Diffusers come in a variety of sizes and most are sufficient for a large room for up to 8 hours.
- This is a special type of diffuser. It works very quickly and uses a highly pressurized air stream to break the essential oils into tiny particles and inject them into the air. Nebulizers may be more expensive, but are typically more effective than conventional diffusers.
- Notice how the smell of hot chocolate-chip cookies can fill your household, but the smell seems to vanish when the cookies cool? There are heaters designed specifically to heat your aromatherapy oils, either electrically or with the use of candles.
Of course, there are many other items you can use for aromatherapy, but these three would be a great place to start!
Essential oils are chemicals and as with any other chemical, the potential for danger certainly exists. It’s important to understand what you’re doing before inhaling any substance or putting it directly onto your skin. The hazards can easily be avoided, but you have to understand the hazards before you can expect to avoid them.
Be safe while performing aromatherapy with these tips:
- Some essential oils can exacerbate certain conditions.
- Some oils should be avoided by those with existing medical conditions, such as asthma, epilepsy, and pregnancy. It’s important to be aware of this issue. To ensure you’re being safe, perform the necessary research on the oils you'd like to try.
- Don't apply essential oils directly to your skin without diluting them.
- There are some exceptions, including lavender and tea tree, but there are still risks. It’s much easier to develop sensitivities to specific oils when they are applied in high concentrations.
- Some oils react to ultraviolet light, specifically UVA.
- These exposed oils can then cause blistering and redness to the skin. The primary culprits are cold-pressed citrus oils. Distilled citrus oils are generally considered to be safe when exposed to UVA. Other phototoxic essential oils include:
- Angelica Root Essential Oil
- Bergamot (Cold Pressed)
- Bitter Orange (Cold Pressed)
- Cumin Fig Leaf
- Absolute Grapefruit (Cold Pressed)
- Lemon (Cold Pressed)
- Lime (Cold Pressed)
- Mandarin Leaf
- Essential oils can cause allergic reactions or other sensitivities. It’s a good idea to test any oils you’ve never used before on a small patch of skin.
- To test for sensitivity:
- Dilute the essential oil in question to a 2% concentration. The quick and easy way to do this is to add 12 drops of essential oil to 30 ml of your carrier oil of choice.
- Apply one drop of the diluted oil to your skin. Somewhere on you arm is a good spot.
- Put a bandage over the oil and wait. If you feel any discomfort within 24 hours, wash the area well with soap and water.
- If you don't experience any negative reaction in 24 hours, you can consider the oil safe to use on your skin.
- Some essential oils are considered unsafe for use by non-experts.
- A few of these include: camphor, onion, wintergreen and bitter almond. There are more complete lists available online.
- Do not consume essential oils.
- Though many oils are derived from common foods, essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause severe damage if taken internally.
- Some essential oils may be unsafe to use around your pets.
There are many different ways that animals can interact with essential oils without you even realizing. Some oils, including Wintergreen, Ylang Ylang, and Clove can be toxic to dogs and cats that are exposed to them. Do your research and consult with your veterinarian before using essentials oils in close proximity to your precious fur babies.
Essential oils have the power to heal and to harm. With an understanding of the dangers that essential oils can pose in certain situations, you can easily avoid causing yourself (and your loved ones) any undue harm. Remember, you’re trying to bring comfort to yourself, not create additional suffering in your life. Using aromatherapy wisely, it's easy, therapeutic, and fun!
There are enough aromatherapy recipes to last you a lifetime. Keep an open mind and try a new recipe or two each week. You’ll soon notice that certain oils appeal to you while others clearly do not. Over time, you’ll develop a catalog of recipes that work well for you.
Here are just a few to try…
Anti-Anxiety Bath Oil:
- 9 drops of sandalwood
- 6 drops of orange
- 20 drops of lavender
- 2 fluid ounces of jojoba
This mixture can be stored in a glass bottle. This recipe is enough for 8 baths, so avoid using it all at once!
Depression Relief Massage Oil:
- 2 drops rose
- 6 drops sandalwood
- 2 drops orange
- 1 fluid ounce of almond oil
You can double or triple the recipe, but remember that a little goes a long way! The remainder can be stored in a dark glass container, protected from light.
Peaceful Sleep Blend:
- 10 drops of roman chamomile
- 5 drops of bergamot
- 5 drops of clary sage
Add 1 or 2 drops to a tissue and place inside your pillowcase to soothe you into a deep and restful sleep.
Romance Diffuser Blend:
- 3 drops of orange oil
- 2 drops of Ylang Ylang oil
Add these oils to your diffuser of choice, following the instructions for your diffuser.
There are an endless number of recipes online. Do a little research and find some blends that interest you or experiment and come up with your own personal essential oil concoctions. Got a custom oil blend you absolutely love? Let us know in the comments below!
Bringing It All Together
Aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years, since at least the time of the Ancient Egyptians. The development of steam distillation took this practice to a whole new level practically overnight. In our modern day, scientific studies have shown the efficacy of aromatherapy in the treatment of many disorders and symptoms.
Before getting into aromatherapy, it’s important to understand the safety implications. Anything that can heal can also potentially cause harm, so treat aromatherapy like any other drug, because that’s just what it is. Don't make an easily avoidable mistake that may hurt you, your family and your pets.
Now you've got a basic understanding of aromatherapy and it's incredible health benefits. You can start acquiring the necessary supplies to get you started, but continue to study and learn more about aromatherapy as you go. The information available is voluminous, there are entire books written on single aromatherapy topics. Keep learning and you’ll discover that, with essential oils and aromatherapy, there’s a whole world of benefits you've never even realized existed!
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