Guide To Aromatherapy And Essential Oils

By:    Published: August 9, 2012

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Aromatherapy has been around for nearly 100 years in the capacity that most people know it today. Although it is steadily gaining popularity once again, there was a time when it had all but disappeared. Below is a basic, comprehensive guide for those who are interested in this complimentary, alternative treatment.

What Is It?

Aromatherapy is defined as "the art and science of using naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit," according to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Aromatherapy uses the sense of smell as well as the largest organ, the skin, to heal the body using essential oils that have been extracted from various parts of plants.

The sense of smell is perhaps the body's most powerful sense. It is the only sense that is linked directly to the brain by the limbic system which controls moods, memory and emotional response. This means that aromatherapy has a profound healing ability.

Aromatherapy was discovered completely by accident. A French chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé accidentally set his arm on fire while working in his lab. By reflex he plunged his arm into the closest container of liquid, which happened to be lavender oil for his trade. He noticed after doing so that there was less pain, and the injury healed faster with less scarring than his previous injuries. Aromatherapy was born.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are so named because they are said to capture the "essence" of the plants healing properties. They are separated into the following categories:

Chemical Component

Properties

Essential Oils

Aldehydes

Calming, Sedative, Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Viral

Lemon balm, Lemongrass, Eucalyptus, and Citronella

Alcohols

Anti-bacterial, anti-viral, stimulant, and vitalizing

Ginger, Patchouli, Petitgrain, Tea Tree, Sandlewood, Rose, Rosewood, and Peppermint

Phenols

Invigorating, strongly anti-bacterial, immune stimulant, warming.

Clove, Cinnamon, Cumin, Oregano, Savory, and Thyme

Cetones (Ketones)

Wound healing, aids in mucus secretion, stimulates new cell growth.

Camphor, Eucalyptus, Hyssop, Rosemary, and Sage

Terpenes

Highly stimulating, anti-viral, can cause skin irritations.

Angelica, Bergamot, Black Pepper, Lemon, Nutmeg, Orange, and Pine

Sesquiterpenes

Anti-inflammatory, sedative, anti-viral, anti-carcinogenic, immune stimulant, moves fluids.

Blue Chamomile, Tansy and Yarrow.

Esters

Anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, calming, sedative.

Arnica, Bergamot, Clary sage, Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Petitgrain

Ethers

Antiseptic, stimulant, expectorant, and diuretic. Harmonizes nervous system.

Anise, Basil, Cinnamon, Clove, Parsley, Sassafras and Tarragon

While this is not an inclusive list of essential oils, this does provide an example of what these powerful, volatile oils are capable of. Essential oils are considered volatile because they evaporate very easily and quickly when uncovered, so they should always be kept tightly covered when not in use.

Essential oils can contain as much as 100 different chemical components that all work together to produce results. There are also some very versatile oils, like Lavender, that adapt to the needs of the body. Because of this, Lavender has been called a "first aid kit in a bottle".

Modalities and Treatments

Aromatherapy can be used in several different ways, depending upon the desired result. Since aromatherapy works through the olfactory (smell) sense as well as transdermally (through the skin), treatments are quite diverse.

Perhaps the most common way to use aromatherapy is to diffuse the desired essential oil into the environment. This can be done with an oil warmer, which comes in a number of varieties. There are even oil warmers that are designed to be used in the work place, that plug into the USB port on a computer. There are also warmers that plug into the 12V outlet so aromatherapy can be used in vehicles and RVs as well, particularly useful for long, stressful commutes.

If someone is going to be out and about, using aromatherapy is still possible. By mixing the oils with some water in a spray bottle and misting clothing, the scent will travel wherever the person goes. This also works with bed linens. Mixing some Lavender oil and distilled water in spray bottle and misting bed linens can aid sleep.

Essential oils can be added to any number of bath and body products. Things like lotions, oils, soaps and bath salts can be scented with essential oils to achieve the desired effect. This is often seen when treating colds. By mixing some eucalyptus, pine or peppermint with some Epsom salts in a warm bath, people can find relief from cold, flu and allergy symptoms.

Massage therapists also often use aromatherapy during their work. By adding oils to the massage oil or lotion, their clients can find relief for ailments while benefiting from the relaxing affect of the massage.

Essential oils can also be mixed with natural cleaning products, such as pure castile soap, for all natural cleaning and pest control. One particularly effective combination is Clove, Cinnamon, Cedar and Lavender liquid castile soap. It smells like Christmas and kills germs as well as fleas, flies, mosquitoes, ants and other insects. It is also safe to use around pets and children, unlike pesticides.

Safety Precautions

Aromatherapy is generally safe for everyone, even children. However there are some safety precautions that must be followed.

  • Essential oils should always be diluted. Using full strength can cause allergic reactions in some people. If applied to the skin without diluting, burns can occur.
  • Children and pregnant women can use aromatherapy, but a qualified practitioner should be consulted to ensure safety of a particular oil or modality. Aromatherapy is often used during labor and birth.
  • Essential oils should never be ingested as many of them are highly toxic. Some practitioners do advocate consuming them, but the overall opinion is that it is unsafe.
  • Always consult a qualified aromatherapist to avoid any unwanted affects and ensure the proper treatment.

Aromatherapy is a very powerful way to treat a number of conditions, from colds to insomnia. Like any medical treatment, care should always be used. But if someone is looking for a better sense of well being and overall health, aromatherapy is definitely worth a try.

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