Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils for the enhancement of body, mind and spirit. Essential oils are concentrated substances with very complex chemical structures that are extracted from highly aromatic plant material. Today the term Aromatherapy is used commercially to promote just about anything from a hair shampoo to air fresheners, however, when we use the term Aromatherapy we mean the use of therapeutic quality essential oils to promote wellness and balance for body, mind and/or spirit.
Aromatherapy and You!
These days, essential oils are incorporated into practically every sphere of life. They are used by aromatherapists, nurses, counselors, psychologists, massage therapists and beauty therapists. Medical practitioners in France treat chronic infections using essential oils, and they have long been used extensively in the complex and exacting perfume industry. The use of essential oils is not restricted to professionals. Everyone can learn how to safely use these wonderful gifts of nature for their own benefit, as well as that of family and friends. Whether your interest lies in utilizing essential oils in beauty preparations or to enhance emotional and physical well being (or both), we are sure that you will find a use for Aromatherapy in your life.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils occur naturally in some plants and are in fact the aroma that one smells. Essential oils are tiny droplets, which are found in glands, glandular hairs or sacs in different parts of the plant. They can be found in flowers, leaves, stems, bark, wood, roots and fruits of plants. For instance squeeze the skin of an orange and out pops an aromatic, volatile essential oil. Essential oils are complex chemical compounds containing esters, alcohols, phenols, aldehydes, ketones, terpenes, ethers and sesquiterpenes among others. Each of the chemicals contained in an essential oil will impart its own unique properties to that oil. For example lavender essential oil would have analgesic, antidepressant, carminative, emmenagogue, rubefacient, stimulant and sudorific properties as some of its major chemical constituents are linalool, linalyl acetate, geraniol and lavandulol. Essential oils are volatile as they evaporate easily, and although called an oil are in fact not oily to the touch. Essential oils are extracted from the plant by a number of different means including steam distillation (the method most often used), cold pressing, enfleurage, solvent extraction and CO2 extraction. For more information read the answer to the question Essential Oils – What should you really know about them?
How do essential oils work?
Essential oils enter the body through two routes. When inhaled they enter the body via the olfactory system, which has a direct connection to the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is known as the primitive brain and it encircles the top of the brain stem and forms a border linking cortical and midbrain areas with lower centers that control automatic, internal body functions. It comprises the hippocampus, amygdala, septal area and several regions of the cerebrum. It is associated with feelings such as hunger, thirst, anger, sadness, sexual arousal and pleasure. It is also associated with creativity, learning and memory. This is one of the reasons why so often something that we smell will trigger a memory or remind us of something or someone. This can be both pleasant and unpleasant. The sense of smell is very sensitive and in fact we do not even have to be able to consciously smell something for it to have an effect on us. When diluted and applied externally, some of the essential oil molecules may permeate the skin, pass through the capillaries and into the blood stream which will of course carry them to all parts of the body.
Why would one use essential oils?
Essential oils are used for many different reasons and in a number of different ways. They can truly address the needs of the body, mind and spirit. They can be used to help with emotional challengers such as lack of self esteem or they can be used for more physical and mental problems such as stress, muscle aches and pains, headaches, depression, colds and flu etc. Aromatics have a long history of being used in religious or spiritual practices and today essential oils can be utilized to access the spiritual side of our nature. They can be diffused while meditating or praying. They can be used in a diffuser to create just the right mood or atmosphere or to clear a stuffy nose. They can be added to personal products such as soaps, body lotions and creams for skin care and personal hygiene. They can be used in baths, compresses or massage oils to enhance many different aspects of life.
How can I be sure I am purchasing a good quality essential oil?
Unless you have found a reputable essential oil supplier whom you trust this can sometimes be a case of trial and error. Be wary of any essential oils that all cost the same price. In the case of true essential oils this is an impossibility. For example the essential oil yield from different plants varies greatly and any source offering oils such as rose, neroli and jasmine (which have a low essential oil yield) for the same price as lavender, peppermint and orange (which have a much higher yield) must be suspect. You would expect a good essential oil to be sold in a dark glass bottle (usually blue or brown, sometime violet or green) and to have the following information available on the label and/or information leaflet.
- Name of the oil.
- Latin name of the oil
- Chemotype of the oil where necessary (some plants produce essential oils with different chemotypes)
- Country of Origin
- How the essential oil was obtained
- Part of plant it was obtained from.
Try to educate your nose. Whenever possible, smell one essential oil e.g. lavender or geranium from several different sources and see what your nose tells you.
How do I find a reputable supplier essential oils?
Today there are many suppliers of essential oils and it can be quite difficult choosing the right one or right ones. It can take a little while and some investigation but there are some wonderful essential oil suppliers out there. Request a brochure. Compare prices. Then speak to the supplier. They should be knowledgeable and be able to answer questions on any of the products they offer. Unless you are able to test the essential oils you buy yourself it often boils down to a matter of trust so take the time to find someone whom you feel you can trust. You want to be sure that they have done their homework and that you are getting what you expect to get when you purchase from them. Writing to them, email or mail, or speaking to them will give you a feel of what sort of a person they are and how they conduct their business. Ask questions. Make sure that their oils are 100% pure essential oils and not diluted in carrier oil. If their brochure does not list information with regards to the Latin name, Country of Origin etc. of the oils you could ask for this information. Once you have decided on a supplier try their product. Purchase a small quantity and try it out. Sometimes you will find that you may wish to purchase from more than one supplier. X may have a lavender essential oil you really love while Y has a rose essential oil you have to have.
What is meant by adulteration?
Adulteration is when an essential oil has been added to or changed. This can happen in a number of different ways. For instance, in order to extend an essential oil, a carrier oil could have been added. Unless clearly marked on the label that the essential oil is diluted in carrier oil this is, of course, highly unethical. Unfortunately given the high cost of some essential oils this can happen. For instance, a drop of essential oil on filter paper should not leave an oily mark behind. Another way oils can be adulterated is to extend an essential oil with a similar smelling cheaper oil. Here what you are purchasing is a 100% essential oil, however, you are not getting the oil you thought you were getting. Melissa is an example of an oil that is often sold adulterated. Melissa yields an extremely small amount of essential oil and is very expensive. If you see Melissa offered for the same price as for instance Lavender beware. The fact that adulteration of essential oils does happen on the market place today is another reason why you should find an essential oil supplier whom you can trust.
What do you mean by neat?
When we refer to using essential oils neat we mean that they are used undiluted.
What dilutions of essential oils should be used?
Essential oils are concentrated substances so remember less is better than more. Do not use undiluted essential oils topically on the skin and be sure you are aware of any contraindications with regards to each particular oil before you use it.
- To a bath add 3 – 8 drops of essential oil or blend of essential oils.
- In a massage oil or body product use a 2% dilution i.e. 15 drops to 30ml (1oz) of carrier oil or base product.
- For children, pregnant women, the elderly or ill you would reduce the dilution to 1% i.e. no more than 7 drops to 30ml (1oz).
- For the face it is also recommended to use no more than a 1% dilution.
- A personal perfume usually has a much higher percentage than a massage oil or body product (cream or lotion). A 7 – 10% dilution is often used. 15 – 20 drops of essential oil or essential oil blend are added to 10 ml (1/3 oz) of jojoba or alcohol.