Aromatherapy - A Beginners Guide By Ric Chamberlin, LMT
Aromatherapy - What it is? Aromatherapy is the name used to describe the practice of using essential oils to benefit physical and emotional wellness. As the name implies the essential oils are often inhaled although they can also be applied topically to the skin.
What are Essential Oils and Carrier Oils? Essential oils are extracted from plants, usually through distillation, and are volatile, meaning they evaporate. The resulting oils contain the pure essence of the plant. Most possess antiseptic properties, many are antiviral, anti-inflammatory, or provide pain-relief. Many oils enhance stimulation, relaxation, digestion, and mood. Some common essential oils include lavender, peppermint, bergamot, clary sage, geranium, and lemon. Base oils, usually cold pressed from vegetables, are derived from the fatty portions of the plant. and are therefore non-volatile. Common oils include olive, grapeseed, and almond. Base oils are also called carrier oils because they are often used to dilute and "carry" Essential Oil (See Safety First). Grapeseed is a good choice for diluting as it has very little of it's own odor and won't overpower the smell of the essential oil.
History Although the use of plant oils for medicinal purposes goes back many millennia, their use declined in modern times until an accidental discovery by French chemist René-Maurice Gattefosse in the 1930s. After badly burning his hand he sought relief by dipping it in a container of Lavender oil. The result was a reduction in pain and discoloration and healing of the tissue in just a few hours time. This discovery lead to experimentation with different essential oils.
Safety First Although essential oils are generally safe some caution is in order. Essential oils are highly concentrated. Only a small amount is needed, often just a drop or two. When it comes to aromatherapy less is more. Essential oils should not be taken internally. When applying essential oil to the skin always avoid contact with the eyes and with nasal membranes.
Some possible risks exist in the use of essential oils on the skin.
Skin Irritation: Some oils for some individuals can lead to an inflammation caused by a reaction to a particular oil resulting in anything from a mild itch to burning. Some common oils that might irritate the skin are basil, clove, cinnamon, ginger, lemon, lemongrass, oregano, peppermint, pine, and wintergreen.
Skin Sensitization: Is an immune reaction, to the presence of an oils properties resulting in anything from a mild itch, to, potentially although almost unknown, anaphylactic shock. The reaction is often absent at first, building with repeated application. Common oils that might lead to a sensitization reaction are cinnamon bark and fennel.
Photosensitization: This is a reaction of certain essential oils on the skin to ultra violet light resulting in skin discoloration and possibly burning. The oil most implicated in this is bergamot. Other possible oils include ginger, lemon, lime, and orange. To avoid photosensitization do not apply the questionable oils to skin that will be exposed to outdoor light for extended periods of time.
Pregnancy: Some oils are believed to be harmful to pregnant women and unborn children. Although many oils are safe during pregnancy there is this are mixed opinions. The general rule is to consult your healthcare practitioner before use of essential oils during pregnancy.
Epilepsy: Some oils may have a powerful action on the nervous system. Consult your healthcare practitioner before using essential oils if you are epileptic.
Caution: If the use of any essential oil leads to skin irritation, burning, rash, or blotches discontinue use of the oil in question.
Again essential oils are generally safe. Just use extra caution when using the more potentially risky oils and with all oils always start with very small amounts. Consult your health care practitioner before attempting any wellness or lifestyle changes.
How are Essential Oils Used? The primary modes of use are inhalation and application on the skin. Many forms of dispensers and diffusers are available, from the inexpensive to the costly that release the aroma into a room.
An easy, inexpensive method to diffuse a scent into a room is to take a cotton ball and partially break it apart until you have flat piece of cotton. This allows the air to pass through it easier. Place a 5 to 15 drops of oil on the cotton and tape it to a small fan or heat/air vent. Even simpler you can hold the cotton under your nose and breath in the aroma.
Essential oils can be applied topically; for example peppermint (diluted with carrier oil), which has anti- inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, might be applied directly on the skin over tight or inflamed muscles and tendons.
Applying 3 to 7 drops of oil to a bath can be a great way to experience essential oils. Please note that since oil and water don't mix well the oil will tend to float on the surface possibly resulting in too high a concentration of exposure to the skin (see Safety First). For this reason it is highly recommended to mix the essential oil with 1 ounce of carrier oil before adding to the bath. This will help distribute the essential oil more evenly.
Another quick way to apply essential oil is to put a drop or two, diluted in carrier oil, to your wrists. This will keep the aroma close to your nose. For inhalation essential oils can be safely used undiluted. For topical application on the skin always dilute with a carrier oil. A mix of 7 drops essential oil to one-ounce carrier oil is a good starting place.
Essential oil can be added to massage oil for a full body massage. Use even less essential oil, 10 drops per 2 ounces.
Common Oils and Their Uses Lavender: This is the most commonly used oil and is relatively inexpensive. Benefits include relaxation, calming, balancing, antidepressant, sedative, as well as aiding tissue regeneration from burns. Research has shown that lavender oil affects the alpha waves of the brain creating a sense of relaxation and well being. Lavender is an excellent remedy for insomnia. Sitting in a warm bath with lavender oil before retiring for the night can help you sleep better. An simple method is to apply 2 or 10 drops to a Kleenex which is inserted inside your pillowcase. This keeps the aroma close to your nose.
Peppermint: Another commonly used inexpensive oil, often used to improve fatigue, concentration and mental clarity. It properties include anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, stimulant, vasoconstrictor. It also is a useful digestive aid. Applying diluted peppermint to the abdomen can stimulate digestion and ease discomfort. Caution: Peppermint has a cool/warming sensation when applied to the skin and can be irritating to some. Always dilute with a carrier oil.
Eucalyptus: antiviral, decongestant, anti-inflammatory, insect repellent, antibiotic, cools the body in summer and warms in winter. Useful for respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, coughs, sinusitis, throat infections. Also a good stimulant when you feel sluggish.
Bergamot: refreshing, uplifting, antidepressant, and sedative. Caution: Photosensitization risk (see Safety First).
Lemon: uplifting, antiseptic, antibacterial, depression. Research show lemon oil improves concentration and mental clarity. Caution: Photosensitization risk (see Safety First).
Geranium: antidepressant, nervous tension, apathy, anxiety, stress, adrenal and hormone balancer, skin care. Useful for PMS and female disorders.
Does This Stuff Really Work? Can I Believe all the Hype? There are an awful lot of claims made about the benefits of essential oils, a small percentage of which can be verified by research. A small amount of investigation turned up claims that Lavender oil is useful in treating almost 100 different conditions. Not everyone agrees on the effectiveness of essential oils absorbed through the skin. There seems to be much stronger evidence for the aroma benefits of essential oils, particularly the enormous list of effects on mood, only a few of which have been touched on in the article. You can easily try your own tests. The effect of an oil on mood is usually fairly immediate. Each individual will respond differently to particular oil. Experiment. Have fun.
Ric Chamberlin Registered Practitioner - Society of Ortho-Bionomy International ® Licensed Massage Therapist - State of Nebraska The Healing Connection 900 S 74th Plaza, Suite 116, Omaha, NE 68114 402 850 0752