Aromatherapy & You
by Lisa Maliga
Aromas are inescapable! Think about how you encounter them on a daily basis from roses in the garden, a cup of steaming mochacchino or soothing jasmine tea, basil that permeates spaghetti sauce, and fresh citrus juices. Noses detect hundreds of scents a day, and of those, the aromas of plants, fruits, barks and roots are able to do more than just feed us. Leaves from the tea tree plant not only heal cuts and burns, but the essential oil is strong enough to use as an all-purpose cleaner. The lavender flower yields an oil that can ward off insects, reduce stress, scent linens and get rid of bruises. Peppermint oil is a natural way to bid farewell to unwanted houseguests like bugs and mice.
Did you know that the sodas and flavored bottled waters you drink contain essential oils? That the common vanilla flavor you find in ice cream is made from dark brown vanilla pods? Perfumes and colognes contain numerous blends of essential oils. High quality soaps, shampoos, bath oils, body powders and lotions all include varied essences of flowers, plants and fruits.
I had many successful experiences using pure essential oils, and I have read and heard of so many others enjoying relief from pain, healing of skin problems, awakening of positive spirits, etc. For example, a few years ago, before I had my own bath & body products business, I had to find a full time job. That prospect didn't make me enthusiastic, yet after applying a small dab of lemon essential oil, diluted in a jojoba oil carrier base, I was feeling cheerful and positive. This in turn came through in the interview and I was hired that afternoon.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a therapeutic natural practice that can be used to advance health, beauty and a sense of ease. It involves using pure essential oils with various methods, including bathing, inhalation and massage. Aromatherapy is derived from two words: Aroma means scent and Therapy means treatment. This scent/treatment has evolved over the centuries and across continents.
In his book "The Art of Aromatherapy" Robert B. Tisserand examines what happened to mankind during the twentieth century: "Our minds have run away with us, and as we have become more obsessive, so we have become steadily more neurotic. As doctors increase their knowledge of disease so disease becomes more tenacious and widespread. As new drugs are formulated and marketed, the harm done by those drugs increases proportionally."
Aromatherapy works in harmony with your body. Side effects from properly administered dosages are absent. Your body becomes stronger as it's fed the complex nutrients of purity from essential oils, not something synthesized in a lab and deprived of all its components. There are no new essential oils—only the same, reliable plant life that has been used successfully for thousands of years. Combining the rich and fragrant oils of rose, jasmine and neroli, for example, may appear to be a new twist to you, but guaranteed this expensive blend of floral oils have been utilized for an individual with an overactive mind [stress!] some other time and place.
A Brief History Of Aromatherapy
Before 1993 you wouldn't have been able to find the word ‘aromatherapy' listed in a dictionary even though this art/science has been effectively used for thousands of years. In fact, the word was invented in the 1920's by a French chemist by the name of René-Maurice Gattefossé who studied the cosmetic properties of plants. He soon learned that plants contained organic antiseptic elements that worked better than inorganic antiseptics. His interest was further ignited when he there was an explosion in his laboratory; badly burning has hands. Immediately he poured lavender essential oil [one of the few essential oils that can be applied directly on the skin] on them and made the not so astonishing discovery that his hands healed quickly and with no scarring.
However, the usage of aromatic plants has been going on for thousands of years. From the civilizations of ancient Egypt, India, China, Greece, and Rome, floral and herbal oils have been used in all manner of ways from flavoring food and beverages to being poured into baths and massaged into the body.
The Romans weren't shy about employing scents. They inundated their baths and banquets with floral concoctions from scattering rose petals on floors to anointing their bodies with floral perfumes. After bathing their bodies were massaged with aromatic oils. Their beds and clothing, bodies and hair were scented with perfumes. Even men scented themselves with balsam and cinnamon oils.
The natural healing system of ayurveda, meaning "science of life" was established approximately 4000 years ago in the Himalayan region. Plants and all their properties are a relevant part of ayurvedic medicine that continues to be practiced where it started and has now spread around the world.
Hippocrates is known as the "father of medicine", and this Greek doctor was a noted advocate for the usage of essential oils, especially in the form of daily baths and massages. Resins of myrrh and oils of cinnamon were often applied to a patient to soothe inner and outer complaints.
Essential Oils vs. Fragrance Oils:
Pure, unadulterated essential oils derived from the leaves, roots, seeds, flowers or bark of a plant or tree are the source extracted directly from nature via a form of steam distillation. When you first begin working with essential oils, take care in handling them. Lavender essential oil is quite safe for the skin, as is tea tree, but some people can have allergic reactions to them. When handling essential oils, it's wise to do a skin test. Simply apply a tiny amount on your wrist, and if there's no reaction within 24 hours you are safe. As these oils can be costly, you must take care that they're always kept in a cobalt or amber colored glass bottle and stored in a cupboard [out of direct sunlight] and kept in a cool, dry place. When you buy an oil, write the date on the vial. Most essential oils can last from one to three years. Citrus oils have a shelf life ranging from six months to less than two years. Essential oils can last for several years, but the freshness disappears. There are some exceptions with the darker colored, "heavier" oils or resins. Patchouli is known to improve with age.
It's important to know about fragrance oils and what they really are. I visited an e-group for soapmakers and when someone asked for a company where they could purchase essential oils, a person gave the name of a company that sold only fragrance oils! Obviously, to this uninformed person, the terms are interchangeable. They're not. Fragrance oils are synthesized in a laboratory. They are sometimes referred to as "nature identical." If you're looking for an inexpensive scent, then fragrance oils fit the bill. But fragrance oils are not therapeutic grade essential oils and never will be.
From personal experience, I've learned that sniffing an essential oil right from the bottle and diluting it with a carrier oil such as sweet almond or jojoba, makes a huge difference. I smelled my favorite, vanilla absolute, a thick balsamic oil derived from the pod of the vanilla plant. I determined that the first whiff brought out the usual vanilla scent I was accustomed to, but a millisecond later there was a stronger, harsher scent. I then added a few drops to a bottle of sesame oil and the change was magnificent! I had the aroma I equated with the spicy-sweet scent of a dried vanilla bean pod. The carrier oil had combined perfectly with the essential oil!
You should always dilute essential oils in carrier oils when applying directly to the skin, or even in the bathtub. This is a necessary safety precaution. Essential oils are very strong and need to be diluted. Also, some essential oils may smell good enough to drink, but are for EXTERNAL USE ONLY!
AROMATHERAPY IN YOUR ENVIRONMENT
The methods described here are for those of you who wish to be able to change the fragrance environment of a room, car, office, closet, drawer, etc. There are psychological benefits to entering a room that has the crisp aroma of citrus, or a subtle scent of fresh blooming flowers.
Aroma Lamps - Aroma lamps are either electric or operated by a tea light or votive candle. There is a small cup shaped portion that is usually made of glazed ceramic and holds a few ounces of water. However, other materials may include glass and stone. Warm or even hot water should be used; as that is less work the candle has to do. Only a few drops of essential oil are added to the water, thus making it ideal for costlier essential oils. Care should be taken to see that the water doesn't boil away.
Atomizers - Requiring no heat, atomizers, sometimes referred to as nebulizers or nebulizing diffusers, disperse the essential oils on a revitalizing current of air as it passes through an intricately engineered blown glass chamber. This course naturally suspends and ionizes the oil into extremely fine molecules, causing them to remain suspended in the air for longer periods.
Many aromatherapist practitioners and others who utilize the finest essential oils choose atomizers. It's important to be careful with the atomizers. Since there is a continuous mist emitted it should not be used for more than a few minutes at a time. Many of the models do have built-in timers to avoid any problems like overuse. Also, make sure that this is done in a clear area, away from furniture, [varnish can be worn off] wall hangings and other objects.
Candles - Candles create a more romantic ambiance and do double duty in helping disperse your preferred aroma[s] throughout a room. In the spirit of true aromatherapy, it's advised to use beeswax, palm wax or soy wax candles as paraffin contains carcinogenic chemicals. Wicks should be trimmed, and the essential oils need to be added at the top of the candle, but never on the wick itself. You can add the essential oils after the candle has been lit and there's a small pool of wax at the top of the candle. Don't add the oils to the flame itself as oils can catch fire.
Diffusers - You can buy diffusers to plug into your car's cigarette lighter, as you can also find those that plug into any wall socket. The atomizers suspend a fine mist of essential oils into the air for aromatherapy is the best method of using essential oils for therapeutic treatments. Many aromatherapists believe that this is the most effective method of enjoying the aromas.
Sachets - If you want your linens to smell clean and fresh, the addition of a smell sachet filled with your favorite aroma will create a pleasant smell whenever you open the drawer or closet. You can buy them already made, or make them yourself. Highly recommended would be a small muslin or organza bag filled with dried lavender buds and a few drops of lavender essential oil. Not only is lavender a universally pleasing aroma, it also serves as an all-natural way to keep moths away.
The most common way to dilute a pure essential oil is with a cold-pressed carrier oil. Carrier oils allow the essential oil to slowly permeate the skin, protecting it from irritation. Jojoba, sesame, sweet almond, rose hip, refined rice bran, wheatgerm, evening of primrose, grapeseed, kukui nut, sunflower, hazelnut, safflower, avocado or apricot kernel oils are commonly used. Several of the carrier oils can be combined and when essential oils are added, this makes for a very nutrient-rich bath oil.
Determining Quality of Essential Oils:
Read the label. If purchasing rosemary oil, for example, you would expect to see that name on the label. However, here are the four facts that you will find on any bottle of essential oil from a reputable supplier/company:
1. Botanical/Latin name. In this case it would be Rosemarinus officinalis.
2. Part. What part of the plant has the essential oil been extracted from? For rosemary, that is the leaf.
3. Method of extraction. Is it an absolute, enfleurage, carbon dioxide [CO2], or has it been steam distilled? In this case it has been steam distilled.
4. Country of Origin. Rosemary comes from many different countries, and in this case Morocco is the origin. Location can make a sizeable difference for many reasons such as climate, type of soil, high/low altitude, etc.
Aromatherapy isn't government regulated. Products can claim to be "natural" when in fact distilled water is the only untainted ingredient. Any reputable retailer of essential oils will be very knowledgeable about their product and capable of proving its purity. They will and should be happy to answer your questions.
To learn more about aromatherapy, please get a copy of "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils" by Julia Lawless, as the book features photographs of the essential oils themselves, along with several ways to safely use essential oils.
More articles by Lisa Maliga: