Guide to Aromatherapy
Earlier this week we talked about using essential oils for wellness. We shared our top ten essential oils with a breakdown of what each one can do for your health. In that post, we touched briefly on using those oils in aromatherapy, which we’re going to get into more deeply today.
What is aromatherapy?
There are many ways to use essential oils for health benefits, but aromatherapy stands out as one of the most appealing and straightforward options.
According to aromaweb.com “Aromatherapy is the practice of using volatile plant oils, including essential oils, for psychological and physical well-being.” Instead of taking a pill or using a topical treatment you can treat aches and pains, skin issues, improve mental focus and calm your nerves, all by breathing in delicious-smelling essential oils. Sounds simple enough, but what are essential oils exactly?
According to Dr. Axe, “the particles in essential oils come from distilling or extracting the different parts of plants, including the flowers, leaves, bark, roots, resin and peels…Essential oil benefits come from their antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.” These “botanicals” may include the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots or other elements of a plant.
- You can wear a specially designed aromatherapy pendant around your neck. Some are made of blown glass that you pour the oil into, others are lockets with oil-soaked felt inside. The heat of your body releases the scent into the air around you as you go about your day.
- You can combine essential oils with carrier oils, wax or other ingredients to create perfumes or air fresheners.
- You can use a diffuser in your home: most of these are set up like humidifiers. You add a few drops of oil to water and the diffuser breaks it down into a cool mist and sends it out into the room.
- You can inhale the oils directly by adding them to a bowl full of hot water and breathing in the steam (from a safe distance so you don’t burn your face) or by purchasing an inhaler device, available at most pharmacies. This is especially helpful if you are dealing with a cold or a headache, as it can offer fast relief. See our previous post to learn which oils are best suited to this purpose.
- Essential oils, such as lavender and jasmine, are often used with a carrier oil during a massage. This doubles the benefit as the essential oils are both inhaled and absorbed by your skin. It is important to use a carrier oil as essential oils are usually too concentrated to put on your skin undiluted.
- You can add essential oils to your bath. The hot water will distribute the scents and their benefits via steam. You can choose oils that will help you to relax, open your sinuses, make you more alert, etc. Again, this approach gives you both the benefit of aromatherapy, combined with transdermal (i.e. skin) absorption. Many people combine essential oils with Epsom salts in their bathwater for the added benefit of magnesium, but a pharmaceutical-grade magnesium soak is much more effective for supplementing your magnesium stores. This option comes with your choice of essential oil blends.
Not all essential oils are created equal. It is important to know the quality of the products you’re buying because a low-quality essential oil will not provide you with the benefits that a pure, top quality essential oil can. If you choose a low-quality essential oil, it could even be harmful to your health.
It’s also vital that you use your essential oils carefully; diluting them is almost always necessary no matter what approach you take. We talked a little bit about the risks associated with ingesting them in our previous post, so click here if you need a refresher.
So how do you determine the quality of your oils?
Here are a few things to look for:
- Make sure that they are from a certified organic source. This means that the farmers and manufacturers are held to a higher standard and have to meet specific requirements that result in healthier, better quality products. Organic certification ensures that the plants are grown in a pesticide-free environment without GMOs.
- The method of extraction is extremely important. Steam distillation and expression (i.e. pressing) are the only methods for producing essential oils. Technically, an oil extracted with solvents is NOT an essential oil.
- While the timing of the harvest is an important factor that can affect the quality of the oil, it’s typically impossible to know when the plant was harvested unless the producer volunteers that information.
How Does Aromatherapy Work?
With pure, top level, therapeutic essential oils, a little can go a long way. Just a few drops can have a huge impact on your health, improving your quality of life. I know, you might be puzzled about how you could possible benefit just from smelling the oils, so here are the facts as presented by Dr. Mercola: “When you inhale the fragrance of an essential oil, the aroma penetrates your bloodstream via your lungs, and this is thought to be one of the mechanisms by which aromatherapy exerts its physiological effects.The fragrance also affects the limbic system in your brain, which controls both memories and emotions. Many essential oils have antibacterial, antifungal, and/or antiviral qualities, and contrary to antibiotics, essential oils do not promote resistance.”
Breathing in just a small amount of essential oil can have an immediate impact on your cells; repairing damage, easing pain, elevating your mood and increasing alertness, or encouraging your mind and muscles to relax. It’s all about choosing the right oil.