Aromatherapy refers to the use of essential oils that have been extracted from plants, shrubs, and trees. These essential oils can be used for a wide variety of purposes. They can be used to treat medical conditions or alleviate psychological ailments. Aromatherapy can also be used simply for pleasure, to help improve your mood, or to reduce your stress.
The essential oils used for aromatherapy contain the most powerful chemicals that plants are capable of synthesizing from the sun, the water, and the soil that nourishes them. Their molecular structures are incredibly complex and powerful, yet essential oils are easy and pleasurable to use.
Though essential oils are at the heart of aromatherapy, complementary natural ingredients such as jojoba, herbs, hydrosols, mineral clays, and other substances are used as well.
Aromatherapy has recently been labeled a New Age fad, but the practice of aromatherapy has a long history. While no one called it “aromatherapy” until the late 1920s, aromatic plants have played an important role in maintaining health for over a thousand years.
Superseded by the development of synthetic drugs in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the tradition of healing with aromatics was revived in the 1920s and 1930s by René-Maurice Gattefossé, the French chemist who first coined the term aromatherapy.
We often practice aromatherapy on an everyday basis without realizing it. When we choose aromas, bath oils, and air fresheners, we usually choose based on what we like, or on how the fragrance makes us feel. The refreshing scent of a pine forest, the pleasurable aromas of herbs, or the many other daily experiences we have with the scents of plant-derived substances indicate that we are actually practicing and experiencing aromatherapy in many ways.
The practice of aromatherapy for treating ailments actually predates chemical-based medicine. The essential oils of aromatherapy have been used for hundreds of years in herbal medicine, disease prevention, and religious and public ceremonies.
The proven benefits of plant-based therapies are being overlooked in favor of artificial substitutes. It’s easy to forget that many commonly used pharmaceuticals were originally derived from plants.
Many also doubt that something applied externally could possibly have an internal effect. But the answer to many of today’s diseases has been with us from the beginning, stored in the plant life around us. Aromatherapy unlocks the power of these essential oils and applies them for our benefit.
How Aromatherapy Works
Essential oils used in aromatherapy work on the body on different levels. The most obvious one, as its root word aroma implies, is through the sense of smell.
“Smells act directly on the brain, like a drug,” says Alan Hirsch, M.D., a neurologist and director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Center in Chicago.
Scientific research suggests that smelling particular odors has a direct effect on brain activity. Dr. Hirsch tells us, “We know from brain wave frequency studies that smelling lavender increases alpha waves in the back of the head, which are associated with relaxation.” He adds, “An odor such as jasmine increases beta waves in the front of the head, which are associated with a more alert state.”
To quote an article published on sciencedirect.com: “These oils have well-proven antibacterial, antibiotic, and antiviral properties and many published reports elsewhere as well as folkloric practitioners have suggested them to be useful in many other diseases.”
These aroma molecules are very potent organic plant chemicals that make the surroundings free from disease, bacteria, virus and fungus. Their versatile character of antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory nature along with immune booster body with hormonal, glandular, emotional, circulatory, calming effect, memory and alertness enhancer, is well documented by many scientists.
So, how does it work?
Aromatherapy works by inducing the olfactory nerve cells with aromatic oils, which then carry out the biological signal to the limbic and hypothalamus parts of the brain. These signals cause the brain to release neuro messengers like serotonin and endorphin etc., that link our nervous and other body systems to provide beneficial effects.
Essential oils work well with our bodies because they are made from complex chemicals called terpineols, which are naturally occurring alcohols that play a vital role in the body’s production of vitamins, energy, and hormones. They are very easy for the body to absorb and use for nourishment and healing.
Aromatherapy Tools and Supplies
Before jumping straight into essential oils, it’s also important to have these set of tools and supplies available and ready to use:
- Precision droppers – to ensure you get the correct dosage and don’t waste any essential oil. Purchase a few droppers so you’ll always have one on hand when you need it.
- Dark-colored glass bottles – for storing and protecting your blends from excessive light to ensure they will retain their efficacy as long as possible. Blue, green, or brown glass bottles are best. Or, you can use clear bottles and jars, paint the outsides, and cover them with athletic socks. Store them in a dark place to keep the light out so your recipes last longer.
- Essential Oil Diffuser – the easiest and most convenient way to enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy. There are a variety of sizes, colors, and styles available.
- Funnels – to avoid spillage when pouring blends into bottles.
- Glass or metal mixing bowls – for holding ingredients and blending recipes.
- Measuring cups and spoons – glass or metal measuring cups and spoons are necessary for many recipes.
- Spray bottles – small, glass bottles are best for aromatherapy products, but standard plastic spray bottles are fine for room sprays.
- Stainless steel pans – for warming carrier oils and melting waxes.
- Tape or labels – for marking your blends and recipes to avoid confusion. Keep a notebook handy for taking notes as your reference.
- Whisks and metal spoons – for blending recipes. Avoid wood material because it absorbs oil and wastes your products.
9 Aromatherapy Tips For Beginners
Here are some helpful tips if you’re just starting out on aromatherapy:
- Buy One or Two Aromatherapy Books
Choose just one or two books to start your aromatherapy library. Select books that are general resources, which will give you some basic information and help you discover the areas in which you have the most interest. Books also provide more detailed use instructions and hundreds of recipes to choose from that will suit your specific needs.
- Join Aromatherapy Discussion Forums
Facebook Groups, Instagram pages, and other forums are great resources for aromatherapy newbies. Read past discussions, ask questions, and learn from others.
- Choose Five or Ten Essential Oils to Start with
Though you may be tempted to buy more, try to begin with just five or ten different essential oils. Essential oils can be quite expensive, so you may want to experiment with a few at first and then invest in more if you decide to pursue aromatherapy further.
In Aromatherapy for Beginners, Anne Kennedy highly recommends the nine “must-have” essential oils for starters. These are Clove, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Lavender, Lemon, Lemongrass, Peppermint, Rosemary, and Tea Tree oil. We’ll cover more details such as their applications and some recipes in our next article, Aromatherapy for Healing.
- Make Sure to Buy 100%, Pure, Unadulterated Essential Oils
When you buy essential oils, choose a well-known and reputable manufacturer. Synthetic, fragrance and perfume oils are not essential oils; they contain man-made chemicals and have no aromatherapeutic value.
- Buy at Least One Carrier Oil
For nearly all topical aromatherapy applications, you will need to dilute essential oils into a carrier oil. Good all-purpose carrier oils include sweet almond oil, sunflower oil, and grapeseed oil. Buy cosmetic grade carrier oils, and use only a few drops of essential oil(s) per ounce of carrier oil. Carrier oils will go rancid eventually, so it’s best to buy smaller quantities.
- Store Your Oils Properly
Essential oils should be stored only in dark glass containers. Since essential oils are volatile, keep the lids tightly closed. Essential oils and carrier oils should be stored away from heat and light.
- Learn How to Do a Patch Test
Essential oils can cause adverse reactions, due to allergy or due to sensitization over time. A patch test helps to determine whether you might react to a particular essential oil. Learn how to perform a skin patch test on yourself with each new oil you want to use topically.
Here’s how: Moisten a cotton ball with 3 to 4 drops of carrier oil, add 1 drop of essential oil to the cotton ball, and dab the cotton ball on the inner fold of an elbow. Cover the spot with a bandage and check for irritation 24 hours later. If irritation occurs, do not use the essential oil.
- Don’t Use Aromatherapy with Children or Pets
Until you are thoroughly familiar with essential oils and associated safety issues, don’t use them on children or pets, or while pregnant or breastfeeding. Cats, in particular, may be adversely affected by essential oils. Make sure essential oils are kept out of reach of children.
- Don’t Ingest Essential Oils
Though you will read conflicting information about taking essential oils internally, you should avoid doing this. Some essential oils that are fairly safe to use topically may be quite toxic if taken internally. In addition, some essential oils may interact with prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
As you experiment and learn more about aromatherapy, you will become more confident using essential oils and it will eventually become second nature to you. Be safe and have fun on this journey.
I can already smell your healthy ever after from here!