Why Is Aromatherapy So Therapeutic?
I’ve always been fascinated with essential oils and Aromatherapy since reaping the benefits of an amazing massage a few years ago. I felt so fantastic afterward that it made me want to research into this ancient form of ‘medicine’.
Note: I am not a qualified Aromatherapist. This post represents some research and the personal experiences of myself and others.
Some of you may have heard of Aromatherapy but not really understand what it is, and how essential oils are used. So I created this post as an introduction to what I think is a wonderful and beneficial sensory experience.
I’ll explain the history of Aromatherapy, how the oils are used, why their properties are so beneficial, and which ones are the most commonly selected, and why.
Together with some downsides…yes there are some, like any form of treatment or medicine. But with some common sense and adhering to the usage recommendations, the good far outweighs the bad.
Let’s get started.
So What Is Aromatherapy?
It’s the practice of using essentials oils for therapeutic benefit and has been used for centuries. These oils can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
The scent molecules travel from the olfactory nerves straight to the brain and impact the amygdala which is the emotional center of the brain.
This can result in changing our mood, and stimulating various parts of our bodies, generating feelings of well-being, and helping to relieve symptoms of certain illnesses and afflictions.
Essential oils are extracted from plants by a process of distillation or cold-pressing. This produces a concentrated extract that retains the natural smell or flavor (essence) of the plant.
The pure plant essence molecules are so small they can be absorbed directly through the skin tissue and can have a rapid effect.
In most cases, this is achieved by diluting the essence with a Carrier Oil as most essential oils are too potent to place on the skin directly. More about this later.
Where Did Aromatherapy Come From?
This an incredibly old practice. Far older than many people are aware.
The Egyptians were probably the people we first associate with using plant resins during their famous process of embalming the dead. The mummification process required resins and oils that would prevent air from getting to the bodies.
The most commonly used was Myrrh and probably Frankincense since some jars of it have been found in excavated Egyptian tombs.
These are two names you will probably also associate with the Christian story of 3 Wise Men visiting the newborn Jesus, bringing them as offerings, together with Gold as they were all considered so precious and thereby suitable gifts for the ‘King of the Jews’.
The ancient Egyptian priests also burned incense called Kyphi in the temples, which was a heady mixture of Myrrh, Frankincense, Cardamon, Lemongrass, Juniper, and a lesser-known oil called Benzoin.
These were considered more valuable than gold due to the lengths they had to go to obtain them and were considered befitting to honor their gods.
Much of the Egyptian knowledge of using plants for medicine was passed to the Greeks, and slowly, down through the ages, the knowledge has progressed to an understanding that different herbs can be used either alone or blended, for specific benefits.
The History Of Ancient Sandalwood & Why It’s So Expensive
Both ancient China and India have a very long history of using sandalwood, which is considered to be one of the most valuable oils. It’s distilled from the heartwood of sandalwood trees, and powdered sandalwood is used to make incense sticks with over 1 billion sticks burnt each day!
Sandalwood is particularly important in traditional Indian herbal ‘Ayurvedic’ medicine and is used to treat the whole ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’
There are various species of sandalwood trees in different parts of the world. Currently, the biggest grower and supplier in the world is Western Australia, where sandalwood has been part of the indigenous Aboriginal culture for thousands of years. It’s proving to be a sustainable and suitable crop for this hot, dry, water-starved part of the continent.
All sandalwood trees are extremely slow-growing and can take 30-40 years to mature and produce a good crop. The oil is extracted from the heartwood of the tree, and not always in a sustainable manner.
Sadly, in many countries, they have lost most of their trees due to this practice. This shortage has contributed to it being one of the most expensive oils and can fetch in the region of US$2000+ per kilo of undistilled products.
Thankfully, we don’t need anywhere near that amount to enjoy the benefits…although you may find that because it’s one of the more expensive essential oils to buy, this to can give rise to scams, so be on the lookout to make sure you aren’t sold synthetic versions in place of the real deal.
The Latter-Day Discovery
One of the most well-known discoveries regarding plant oils was made by a French chemist called Rene Maurice Gattefosse and he is widely considered to be the founder of modern Aromatherapy.
However, this popular story has been somewhat romanticized over the years. You can read the full account here if you’re interested.
Gattefosse was a chemist and was already studying essential oils as it was his company’s job to produce raw materials for making perfumes and drugstore products. He was working in his laboratory when he burnt his hands due to an explosion. After extinguishing the flames, he used lavender essence to prevent infection.
It’s widely believed that he discovered to his surprise, that lavender essence had amazing healing properties, leaving him with no burn scars on his hands. This is not entirely accurate as he had been studying plant essences long enough to understand the healing power of lavender.
In his subsequent book, it’s long been believed that it was the first time the word ‘Aromatherapy’ was used. However, this hasn’t been supported over the years other than related in aromatherapy circles.
There’s no real proof that it’s accurate. But it all makes for a nice description of aromatherapy history and I like to think it’s true. Apologies if I just burst a bubble for the ‘romantics’ reading this…I prefer the original version too!
Can Aromatherapy Cure Serious Diseases?
We are all bio-individuals, meaning we are all different and what works for some people may not work for others. And whilst I truly believe in a holistic approach to life and health, and I would love to be able to answer Yes to this question…
The simple answer is NO.
After years of scientific research conducted to genuinely determine whether this is so, there is still no definitive evidence to suggest that you can cure yourself of serious illnesses with essential oils alone.
Essential oils are a great complement to other forms of medicine. They are mood-changing and can bring about intense feelings of well-being. Not to mention, the oils are potent enough to induce labor by helping to stimulate contractions and to relieve menstruation discomfort…plus offset the symptoms of a host of other ailments.
BUT, they should not take the place of treatments for serious conditions like cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
The use of essential oils can and does ease the symptoms of side effects from various treatments and can be used in conjunction with but not in place of, the medical treatment supplied by your Specialist physician.
Whist our body has the amazing ability to heal itself given positivity, a peaceful mind, and the ‘Will’ to do so, even in cases of serious illness, the reasons why are not yet fully understood.
Therefore, please be aware, that if you choose to rely solely on treatments like Aromatherapy and essential oils, do so with a clear understanding that this alone may not be enough.
The Benefits Of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
There are many ailments you can gain relief from by using essential oils. Whether these are a Placebo Effect as some people believe, (personally I don’t believe this where essential oils are concerned)
From a holistic point of view, my own belief is:
Whether the essence is truly working is somewhat irrelevant in the grand scheme of things so long as you get relief. It’s what the ‘mind’ believes that can really heal us and this has been proven in all different types of scientific medical experiments, even where a placebo has been used.
I have personally experienced some fantastic results using aromatherapy for relief from headaches, nausea, stress, allergies, sleeplessness, and menstruation issues, and now that I’m older I use it to help me battle the dreaded ‘menopause’.
A particular method I love is mixing a few drops of lavender essential oil into non-fractionated coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature) and making a wonderfully moisturizing and soothing balm. Try massaging it into your temples for headaches, stress relief, and particularly sleeplessness.
Coming up, I’ll suggest 7 of the most common ‘starter’ essential oils and which work for the different ailments…but quite often a combination or (recipe) is required to get the best results.
It’s sensible not to experiment with recipes until you fully understand the effects of certain combinations. I recommend that you follow tried and true versions…keeping it simple until you gain more knowledge.
For more advanced knowledge, my advice is to consult with a certified Aromatherapist…or study to become one yourself.
Many Essential Oils Can Be Toxic Unless Diluted
Because essential oils are derived from plants and herbs and are highly concentrated, this makes them very potent. The molecules are so small that they can pass through the pores of your skin.
As a precaution: it’s recommended that you don’t give essential oils to children under the age of 7. For children over this age, use oils diluted with a carrier oil, or a drop of ‘Neat’ oil depending on the ailment (see suggested ‘neat’ oils below) If in doubt, consult a qualified Aromatherapist.
Due to the potency, this can not only create an allergic reaction on your skin but in some cases, they will be poisonous to your body in an undiluted form. Therefore it’s important that you use essential oils according to the recommendations made for each oil, the purpose, and most importantly the quantities per recipe.
As a rule, the only oils that don’t need to be diluted are referred to as ‘Neat’. These are considered to be mild enough to be applied directly onto your skin usually without causing an allergic reaction.
Some examples of ‘Neat’ oils include:
- White Angelica
Any essential oil that is not considered ‘Neat’ (which is most oils) should be diluted with a carrier oil. More about carrier oil later in the post.
Now For The Essential Oils
There are so many wonderful essential oils available and once you start to understand their uses and experience the benefits I’m sure you will be hooked.
Look for good quality oils which will always be in brown glass to minimize evaporation.
There are obviously many companies selling them, and some are MLM companies.
I have narrowed the companies I prefer down to a small handful and in another post, I will cover them in detail.
For now, so you can get started, my personal favorite is Edens Garden
Edens Garden produces high-quality, 100% pure therapeutic grade essential oils, that don’t contain synthetics, fragrances, fillers, or toxic chemicals. They are ethically and sustainably sourced.
But my main reason for preferring this company over all the others is that the CEO and founder’s name is Grace Martin and her company is run by women.
I love to see women forging ahead in what is quite often a man’s domain. I’m not sexist…but I love promoting female-owned companies where possible.!
Take a look and see what you think, but ultimately you choose based on your own research.
7 ‘Starter’ Essential Oils And Their Uses
All 7 of these oils are ‘Neat’ so they can be used directly on your skin and/or sniffed from the bottle. That’s why they make great starter oils.
However, as with anything new to your body, it’s good practice to test on a small patch of skin first, and be careful letting your nose touch the bottle…particularly with Peppermint and Lemon.
This has to be the most well-known and versatile essential oil. It’s used for so many applications such as:
Aiding in healing minor burns and helping to prevent scarring.
Reducing the effects of stress by inducing a calming effect.
Pain relief, it can help to soothe headaches, lower abdominal pain, and menstrual cramping.
Relaxation. Add 2-3 drops in a bath and soak to relax. Don’t have the water too hot
Assist with sleeplessness. Put a little sachet of lavender laced with lavender oil under your pillow to assist with falling asleep.
Wound healing due to its wonderful antibacterial properties.
Scalp health and hair growth. Mix 1 drop with your shampoo each time you wash your hair.
Alleviate anxiety, stress, and mild depression.
Alleviates headaches and digestive issues such as heartburn. Add 3-7 drops of oil into hot water and inhale or add a few drops to bathwater and soak for a while.
Reduces feelings of stress and anxiety and helps to boost concentration. Take a sniff from the bottle. Take care not to get any oil directly on your nose as it may sting.
Removes redness and irritating skin issues. Soothes insect bites and stops the itching.
Freshens the air, particularly when used in a diffuser.
Relieve the congestion from a cold. Add a few drops to hot water and inhale the fumes.
Soothes muscle and joint pain and tired feet after a long day. Add a few drops, usually 3-7 into a hot bath, and soak for a while.
Relieve tired feet. Add 2-4 drops to a bowl of warm water and soak your feet.
Prevent or reduce nausea. Add a drop to a glass of warm water and sip on it.
This ancient oil has been used for a variety of ailments for centuries. It is unique among essential oils in that it is created from the resin/sap of the Boswellia sacra tree.
Promotes a healthy immune response, and supports a healthy inflammatory response in skin cells.
Improving mood by reducing feelings of stress and anxiety. Use in a diffuser to fill the air with the calming aroma.
Frankincense can be used directly on your skin…but a better option is to blend about 5 drops into a carrier oil and massage it onto your tummy or any other affected area.
Balancing hormones may help to regulate menstruation and possibly delay the onset of menopause. Sniff from the bottle a couple of times…but don’t overdo it.
Aiding with digestion and stomach discomfort. It has been used to help with Crohn’s disease and ulcerated colitis. Use 2-4 drops in a water diffuser.
Reducing swelling, inflammation, and pain, and may benefit arthritis sufferers. Add 3-7 drops in a hot bath and soak for a while. Don’t have the water too hot. You can also blend with a carrier oil and massage into the affected area.
Also an ancient essential oil and central healing agent used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda medicine.
It can be one of the more expensive oils to obtain. This has been the same all throughout history and as a result, there are some ‘fake’ or synthetic versions on the market.
***Make sure you do your research and only buy from a reputable supplier***
It is considered a ‘neat’ oil and therefore can be used directly onto your skin. But some people do have a mild allergic reaction so test a small area first.
It’s believed to be beneficial in treating Bronchitis, fever, fatigue, anxiety, high blood pressure, indigestion, low libido, and urinary tract infections.
It’s been used for centuries as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agent.
Aids to lower blood pressure by helping to reduce stress. Add 3-7 drops to hot bath water and soak to relax. Or use a diffuser.
Promotes healthier sleep. Use a few drops in a diffuser or mix with coconut oil and dab a small amount on your temples before going to bed.
Despite its calming effect, Sandalwood also appears to aid with mental alertness.
5. Melaleuca (Tea Tree oil)
This oil is used predominately for its antiseptic properties.
It can be used directly onto your skin making it ideal for the treatment of insect bites, stings from nettles, or other stinging plants.
It is fantastic for minor cuts and abrasions helping to prevent infection and promos wound healing.
Use for a bee sting and other insect bites (particularly mosquitos) as it reduces itching.
It’s a natural hand sanitizer and deodorant.
Similar to lemon oil, tea tree oil is an excellent decongestant. Add 2 drops to hot water and inhale the vapors
Excellent anti-fungal properties to treat and prevent nail fungus, especially in a wet climate. Massage the oil into your finger and toenails on a regular basis.
6. White Angelica
This oil is unusual as it is believed by may to promote Spiritual strength and protection. This may be due to the calming effects, reducing aggressive behavior.
It can be used directly on your skin. Apply the oil directly to your wrists and neck or use it in a diffuser.
It’s believed by many people that it protects from Negative Energy, creating a sense of safety, and helps to calm emotions.
It can assist with relieving coughs, sinusitis, and nasal congestion.
Use it during a yoga or meditation session to promote a feeling of calmness, and help you feel grounded and relaxed.
Very useful in stressful situations, aiding in the release of negative emotions to allow for clearer judgment.
7. Lemon Oil
This is a very versatile essential oil and is widely used. It can be used to clean greasy or oily items as the citrus agent will cut through the grease.
Also, it’s brilliant for removing those pesky sticky price labels from containers.
Commonly used to ease Morning Sickness in pregnancy. Sipping on hot water with 2-3 drops of Lemon oil added is very beneficial…but not too much oil.
Help to energize and uplift the spirits. Use in a diffuser, sniff directly from the bottle or sip it in hot or cold water as a refreshing drink.
Aid in reducing anxiety and depression.
It is anti-bacterial and helps to reduce inflammations in minor wounds. Lemon essential oil can be used directly on your skin which will help to clean and kill off any bacteria in minor wounds. (Seek medical advice for serious wounds).
It can be used to make your own cleaning products as it helps to kill bacteria and gives off a wonderfully fresh scent.
What Is A Carrier Oil And Why Must You Use One?
Most essential oils can only be applied topically (directly onto your skin) when diluted in a Carrier Oil. This is how you would enjoy a massage from an Aromatherapist where a blend would be created to assist with your particular requirements.
Carrier oils are derived from vegetarian sources such as seeds, kernels, and nuts from plants and can be safely applied to the skin. Each carrier oil has its own unique properties and benefits, perfectly complementing and blending with essential oils.
Typically, carrier oils have a long shelf-life compared to essential oils, which can evaporate quickly due to the nature of the ‘plant essence’
A carrier oil is non-toxic and doesn’t evaporate. It aids with the safe absorption of the essential oil and is typically unscented or lightly scented, thereby not interfering with the scent and therapeutic properties of the essential oil.
You also have full control over the concentration level, based on the essential oil you’re using by deciding on the ratio of the essential oil to the carrier oil.
Some of the best carrier oils to use are:
- Hemp Seed
Carrier Oils Are Natural With Unique Therapeutic Properties
Most carrier oils have their own therapeutic properties (and I’m not just thinking if delicious olive oil on salad…yum!)
These therapeutic properties are derived from the natural nutrients and ‘essential fatty acids’ they contain. Mixing your essential oils with the right carrier oils can be extremely beneficial to obtain the full benefits of what you’re trying to achieve.
Be aware though, that using cooking oils from your kitchen, or petroleum-based oils like Baby oil, or mineral oil (YES! – petroleum-based – OMG) will definitely not be suitable for obvious reasons.
Why These Suggested Carrier Oils Are so Good
1. Coconut Oil
Considered to be one of the best carrier oils and most widely used.
It’s full of naturally present antioxidants, is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory.
It can maintain a long shelf-life, improves good cholesterol (HDL), and is fabulous for deep moisturizing.
Choose fractionated which is liquid at room temperature with no aroma, best for diluting the essential oils for massage.
Choose the non-fractionated which is solid at room temperature, to use for making balms, hand-creams etc…as, unlike the fractionated version, this has that wonderful coconut aroma.
2. Olive Oil
As I’m sure you’re already aware, this oil has an amazing array of health benefits, including lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL).
PLUS, it helps to reduce resistance to insulin, so brilliant for Diabetics. It’s non-greasy and great for dry skin and hair.
Choose unrefined Extra Virgin Olive oil as no heat or chemicals have been used in the extraction process and look for a good quality brand…don’t skimp.
It can have a relatively short shelf-life compared to other carrier oils but hey, it’ll get used on your food as well so no problem with it going off.
3. Jojoba Oil
This oil has a long shelf-life. This oil is amazing as has superior non-greasy absorption. It most closely resembles the natural secretions of our skin making it one of the best carrier oils to use.
This makes it ideal to use as a natural moisturizer on the face and neck and won’t leave you looking oily or sweaty, which can happen with heavier oils. It has a slightly nutty aroma which is very pleasant.
4. Grapeseed Oil
This oil has a light, thin consistency, and lends well to being used as a massage oil.
Because of its non-greasy nature, it’s widely used in cosmetics products and sunscreens.
It’s mildly astringent making it good for acne-prone or oily skin and is excellent used as a hair moisturizer because it won’t leave it greasy.
5. Avocado Oil (Ladies…this one is for our more mature skin)
Due to this oil’s luxurious nature, it is fantastic for mature skin that has thinned with age as it contains palmitoleic acid which is a type of fatty acid found just under human skin, meaning it is easily absorbed.
It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is very stable for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
6. Hempseed Oil
This is a much-maligned plant, but in actual fact, it has much to offer in the way of health benefits.
Its non-greasy nature makes it perfect for massage. It has excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and can be very beneficial in assisting with anti-aging and skin regeneration.
When mixed with essential oils that have analgesic properties such as Peppermint or Lavender, it can make a good choice to treat joint and muscle pain.
7. Argen Oil
Ladies…I’m sure this oil is probably already known to you as a wonderful hair treatment for giving that lustrous shine. The best oil is usually sourced from Morocco.
It’s incredibly rich in antioxidants and Linoleic fatty acids it is especially beneficial for healing damage to your skin and hair caused by the sun.
Use this oil liberally as a hair treatment following extensive time in chlorinated pools or the salty ocean.
It can help to reduce the appearance of stretch marks and aid in the growth of hair and healthy nails.
As it’s one of the best oils to use for regeneration. It’s used by many cosmetic and haircare product companies, which is why it’s become so well-known…especially by women.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it’s given you a much better understanding of Aromatherapy, it’s history and the benefits of essential oils…including reasons why these super potent essences need to be treated with the respect they deserve.
There are so many wonderful essential oils and in the coming weeks, I will delve into more in greater detail, including CBD and it’s amazingly under-used properties and benefits.
Have you used essentials oils in your life? If so which are your favorites and why? I would love to hear from you.