Lighting a scented candle and playing soft new age music does not an aromatherapy session make. Aromatherapy is the use of natural plant extracts and oils to help improve a person’s mental and physical condition and health. Simply inhaling (through a burner or steam) pure essential oils like lavender, for example, can help relax you; inhaling something like rosemary, on the other hand, helps sharpen your memory. Applying tea tree oil (through creams or massage oil or other concoctions) can help lessen and heal acne while chamomile can soothe redness and swelling.
Aromatherapy works mainly through the olfactory system. In simpler terms—when you smell the essential oils, the molecules of the oils enter your body through your nose, and through the nerves of your nasal passage, end up in the limbic system of your brain, which controls emotions. The limbic network also controls heart rate, blood pressure, hormones, breathing and stress levels. That’s why even inhaling lavender can help de-stress you. The EO molecules can also enter through the skin, where they end up in the blood, passing through the blood capillaries. As they circulate throughout your body, they gradually exercise their therapeutic properties.
Take note that you have to use 100% pure and natural essential oils. Fragrance oils or perfumed products, while they smell good, will give you the same effect that essential oils will; they may even harm you.
You don’t need to spend a lot to experience the restorative powers of aromatherapy. With a few select supplies and a little knowledge, you can create your own aromatherapy products to pamper yourself.
Essential Oils 101
- Not everything that is marketed as ‘essential oil’ is essential oil. Some may be fragrance oils, which may smell the same but are synthetic, hence have no real aromatherapy properties. How can you tell the difference? Usually, if it’s cheap, it’s most likely synthetic. Be wary also of unusual ones such as coffee or melon-cucumber—these are merely fragrance oils.
- Store your EOs (essential oils) well—in dark glass bottles, in a cool dark place. Some people keep their EOs in the refrigerator, though the ones with higher wax content may solidify (dip the bottle in a bowl of warm water before use). Most EOs, when cared for will last two years. Citrus ones like lemon typically last six months. Heavy, musky ones like patchouli and sandalwood improve with age. Oxygen deteriorates the quality of your oils, so when a bottle of EO is half-empty, transfer the contents to a smaller bottle.
- Never apply undiluted EO directly to your skin; always use a carrier oil or other base. You can also add EO drops to your bath or soaking water or compress; inhale it via steam or fragrance burner; or mix EO with alcohol or water for a room spray. EOs are also used to create soaps, lotions, scrubs and other body care products.
- Essential oils are not recommended for very young children and infants, though some practitioners may recommend mild ones like chamomile or lavender in a vaporizer or massage oil. Some EOs are also not recommended for pregnant women, such as sage or rosemary. Some oils also are more likely to irritate skin, like cinnamon or lemongrass.