Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils to enhance physical and mental well-being. Essential oils are aromatic, highly concentrated distilled essences of plants. These oils can have many different applications in our lives. They can sometimes be used as a natural adjunct to, or substitute for, prescription or over-the-counter drugs. We can also use them simply to make ourselves feel better.
Aromatherapy uses the sense of smell to enrich our experience of the world. Smell plays a significant role in our daily perceptions and how we react physically, emotionally, and mentally to what is going on around us. Various scents help us orient ourselves to the season of the year, our location, and situations of danger. Essential oils not only affect the physical but also the mental and emotional aspects of our lives. The inhalation of certain essential oils has been associated with the release of brain chemicals that simulate various emotions. For example, lavender oil has the ability to evoke and increase the release of serotonin, thus producing a calming effect on the body. Some essential oils also have healing properties when applied topically to the skin.
When purchasing essential oils, make sure they are 100percent pure botanical extracts, not chemical reproductions of different fragrances. Chemical reproductions are not effective in aroma therapy because they do not evoke the same biochemical response as natural, pure essential oils. Pure essential oils are extracted directly from various parts of different plants. The oils can be obtained by a variety of methods, including distillation, solvent extraction, carbon dioxide extraction, expression (pressing), and enfleurage (a process in which some type of odorless oil is used to extract essential oil from flower petals). The type and part of the plant being used determines which type of extraction process is appropriate.
The following are some helpful hints to keep in mind when shopping for essential oils:
- Buy in small quantities (the oxygen in partially filled bottles deteriorates the oil).
- Read the label carefully and make sure it says “pure essential oil.”
- Be aware that the availability of different plants and the extraction methods used affect prices, so there can be great variations in the costs of different oils. This is normal.
- Certain plant oils, such as apple blossom and peach blossom, cannot be extracted. If you find oils with such scents, they are not true essential oils.
Using essential oils is really very simple. Basically, you dilute a small amount of essential oil in a base of some kind (either water or another oil, termed a carrier oil, depending on the intended use), and apply or inhale it. For inhalation therapy, there are special devices available, including diffusers, simmer pots, aroma therapy lamps, and light bulb rings. When using one of these devices, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Or you can inhale an essential oil directly from the bottle. For topical applications, you can use any of the following to dilute essential oils:
- Almond oil.
- Apricot oil.
- Grape seed oil.
- Jojoba oil.
- Olive oil.
The following are some suggested dilution ratios for topical applications:
- Baths. Add 8 drops essential oil to 1 cup water and add to the bath.
- Body lotion. Add 25 drops essential oil to 8 ounces of unscented lotion.
- Carpet freshener. Add 25 drops essential oil to 16 ounces of water.
- Cleaning. Add 25 drops essential oil to 2 gallons of water.
- Facial oil. Add 6 drops essential oil to 1 ounce of jojoba oil.
- Hair conditioner. Add 1 drop essential oil to 4 to 6 ounces of unscented conditioner.
- Hair rinse. Add 10 drops essential oil to 16 ounces water.
- Massage oil. Add 25 drops essential oil to 2 ounces almond, apricot, grape seed, jojoba, or olive oil.
- Perfume. Add 12 drops essential oil to 1fz ounce water or jojoba oil.
- Room deodorizer. Add 25 drops essential oil to 16 ounces water.
- Shampoo. Add 12 drops essential oil to 16 ounces unscented shampoo.
Common Essential Oils
There are many different essential oils available, each with its own special properties. The table below lists some of the more commonly used oils and their qualities. Use it to determine which essential oil or oils you might like to try.
|Bergamot||A balancing oil. Lifts melancholy and depression|
|Cedarwood||An antiseptic, astringent, expectorant, and sedative. Normalizes sweat gland function. Good for bronchial problems and useful for controlling mold and mildew.|
|Chamomile||An analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic. Excellent for headaches (apply as a compress to head). Good in baths, hair rinse, and massage oil|
|Cinnamon bark||Useful for scent enhancement in the home or office. Makes a good air freshener and is also anti fungal.|
|Clary Sage||A very aromatic oil that is enjoyed by both men and women. An antidepressant, anxiety-reducer, anti inflammatory, antispasmodic, and aphrodisiac. Helps to counteract insomnia. Good used in skin and hair care products. Caution: Should not be used in the first months of pregnancy.|
|Cypress||An astringent, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and deodorant. Constricts the blood vessels. Repels fleas. Reduces coughing and excessive perspiration|
|Eucalyptus||An antiseptic, antiviral, chest rub, decongestant, disinfectant, and expectorant. Reduces fever. Used as an ointment for muscular aches and pains. Good for repelling insects, and for use on insect bites or stings. Has a normalizing, balancing effect|
|Frankincense||An anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, sedative, and expectorant. Promotes cellular regeneration. Good for cleansing and purifying the home. Helpful for bronchitis|
|Geranium||An antidepressant, anti diabetic, antiseptic, hormone balancer, and insect repellent. A normalizing and balancing, mildly sedating oil good for PMS, nervous tension, skin concerns, and neuralgia. Good as a bath additive.|
|Grapefruit||Reduces appetite; useful in treating obesity. Balances moods, relieves depression, cleanses the body of toxins, reduces water retention, and cleanses and detoxifies the skin. Useful in baths, skin care products, and colognes.|
|Hyssop||An antiseptic and tonic. Useful for cleansing and detoxifying. Stimulates the respiratory system. Good for bronchitis as it helps clear the lungs of congestion. Caution: Do not use if you have epilepsy or other seizure disorder.|
|Jasmine||An antidepressant, antiseptic, and sedative. Useful for anxiety, emotional imbalances, frigidity, and impotence. Benefits scalp and skin.|
|Juniper||An antiseptic, detoxifier, diuretic, and internal cleanser. Helps rid the body of toxins and parasites, reduces spasms, improves arthritis, and reduces cellulite. Caution: Do not use during pregnancy. Do not use if you have kidney problems.|
|Lavender||Useful as an antiseptic and for improving immune system function, calming and normalizing the body, fighting bacterial and fungal infection, easing depression, and reducing inflammation. Good for acne, burns, eczema, skin healing, sleep disorders, and stress.|
|Lemon||An antiseptic, astringent, and bacteriostat. Helps to increase the body’s defense against infections. Good for varicose veins, stomach ulcers, anxiety, depression, and digestive disorders. Emulsifies and disperses grease and oil. Helpful in cleaning products and hair rinses and for wound cleansing|
|Linden||A calming, sedating, and soothing tonic. Moisturizing for the skin.|
|Orange||Balances and uplifts emotions. Has antispasmodic and regenerative properties. Useful in skin care products. Caution: This oil increases sensitivity to the sun. Do not use it if you will be spending considerable time outdoors.|
|Patchouli||An earthy scent used in personal fragrances, baths, and hair care products. Good for dry skin. Has antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, and fungicidal properties.|
|Peppermint||Helpful for headaches, congestion, fatigue, fever, indigestion, muscle soreness, sinus problems, and stomach problems. An antiseptic, antispasmodic, mental stimulant, and regenerative. Good for use in baths and oral care products.|
|Pine||An antiseptic, antiviral, expectorant, restorative, and stimulant. Helps to clear the mind.|
|Rose||An antidepressant, antiseptic, and tonic astringent. Also a mild sedative. Good for female complaints, impotence, insomnia, and nervousness. Used in skin care products.|
|Rosemary||An analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, and mental stimulant. Enhances circulation. Helpful for cellulite, dandruff, hair loss, memory problems, headache, and sore muscles. Used in hair care products as a conditioner and shine enhancer. Caution: If irritation occurs, discontinue use. Do not use directly on the skin without diluting. Use caution inhaling it if you have asthma or bronchitis. Do not use if you have epilepsy.|
|Rosewood||An antiseptic and regenerative. Calms and helps restore emotional balance. Good for anxiety, cellular regeneration, depression, headaches, nausea, PMS, and tension. Good in facial or massage oils.|
|Sandalwood||An antidepressant, antiseptic, expectorant, aphrodisiac, and skin moisturizer. Good for bronchitis and nervousness; it is soothing for both mind and body. Good in skin care blends.|
|Tea tree||A potent anti-infective, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, expectorant, fungicide, and parasiticide. Good for athlete’s foot, bronchial congestion, dandruff, insect bites, ringworm, and yeast infections.|
|Thyme||Mainly used as a fragrant scent for the bath and body. Used in skin care products.|
|Yarrow||An anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic. Improves digestion and lowers blood pressure. Similar in function to chamomile|
|Ylang ylang||An antidepressant, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, and calming sedative. Lifts mood, eases anxiety, reduces stress, normalizes the heartbeat, and lowers blood pressure. Good for frigidity, high blood pressure, and impotence.|
When using essential oils, be aware that they are highly concentrated and very potent. Keep the following commonsense precautions in mind:
- Do not use oils full strength. Always dilute them first.
- Do not use oils near the eyes.
- Do not touch your face, mucous membranes, or genitals if your hands have been in direct contact with the oils.
- Keep essential oils out of the reach of children.
- Be cautious about using essential oils for children, especially young children. If you do use essential oils on a child, reduce the concentration of the essential oil by half or more.
- Be cautious using essential oils during pregnancy.
- Avoid sun exposure when using bergamot and other citrus oils.