There's been a lot of hype about aromatherapy over the past few years, yet many people still don't know what it is, or what it does. Some of the myths surrounding aromatherapy suggest that you need to spend a lot of money, have fancy equipment, or practice new-age philosophies to enjoy the art of aromatherapy, when in fact that's really not the case. So, if you're curious about what it entails, and are new to the world of aromatherapy, here's a beginner's guide filled with the basic info you need to get started.
If you think about it, the idea behind aromatherapy makes sense. Just as certain smells evoke certain memories by stimulating your mind, the belief that the scent from certain essential oils can stimulate your brain, thereby enhancing your mind, body, and spirit seems fairly logical. And, the idea of using essential oils for therapeutic effects isn't new at all—aromatherapy has been in practice since early civilization, used in some form or another by both the early Egyptians and Chinese.
While some think of the practice of aromatherapy as alternative medicine, it's important to note that most experts advise aromatherapy should never be used as a substitute for traditional medical care.
Essential oils are just that—the essential oils taken from plants and trees that are necessary to their biological process, and also provide their aroma or scent. These oils are extracted from flowers, woods, herbs, spices, and fibers, and are highly concentrated in their purest form. They are often blended with other oils, or used individually in a variety of ways—from massage, to the bath, to perfumes—to stimulate your mind and provide balance and harmony to the body. While some think of aromatherapy use as being primarily for the spirit—that is, using scent along with meditation and stress relief to soothe and calm one's self, it's thought that aromatherapy can also aid with physical needs as well. For instance, you might use eucalyptus oil to help combat a sunburn, or violet oil to help in a battle against obesity. Likewise, tea tree oil can be used for warts, and spearmint oil to aid with flatulence and cramps. Some aromatherapy Web sites list more than seventy different essential oils and their common therapeutic uses, but here's just a small sample of some of the more common oils along with a few of their uses:
Essential oils are usually measured in drops, and can be used alone or mixed with other ingredients for a variety of uses. (It's advised to use a different dropper for each oil to avoid contamination.) Many essential oils are too strong to be directly applied to the skin, and are mixed with a "carrier oil," which basically acts to dilute the concentration. Some examples of carrier oils are sweet almond oil, olive oil, sunflower seed oil, avocado oil, and wheat germ oil.
Here are some of the ways to use essential oils. Note that the number of drops you use depends on the oil—always consult the directions or ask an aromatherapy expert before usage, since some oils are much stronger than others.
Bath - Add drops to your bathwater, then relax and breathe in the vapors as your skin absorbs the oils. You can also add drops to a foot or hand bath, or even a Jacuzzi.
Massage - Mix drops with a carrier oil and rub onto skin.
Compress - Mix drops with a bowl of water, then use a washcloth to apply to skin.
Inhalation - Mix drops with a small bowl of steaming water, then inhale deeply for a few minutes.
Air freshener - Add drops to potpourri, a spray water bottle, or a diffuser to dispense the scent in your home or office. Or, just take the cap off a bottle of essential oil and let the scent escape.
Perfume - Mix drops with other oils to create your own perfume. Make sure to blend with either a carrier oil or non-fragrant alcohol, to dilute the mixture and prepare it for skin contact.
Some essential oils can be dangerous if you are pregnant, allergic, have high blood pressure, are photosensitive, or have skin that is easily irritated, or if you have any other physical conditions. Always consult your doctor, an aromatherapist, and the directions on the label before using any essential oil.
While there are many ways to use essential oils, there are also general rules about the ways essential oils should not be used. As mentioned, most essential oils are too strong to be directly applied to skin. Particularly strong oils that should always be blended with a carrier oil, or diluted with water include cinnamon, clove bud, lemon, peppermint, and tea tree oil. Never ingest oils by mouth, especially given that some oils are toxic, such as bitter almond, mustard, tansy, wintergreen, sassafras, and mugwort. Likewise, keep essential oils away from your eyes. Some oils such as basic, birch, cedar, clove bud, jasmine, peppermint, rosemary, and sage are particularly hazardous during pregnancy. Others like rosemary, sage, and thyme shouldn't be used if you suffer from high blood pressure. As always, if you have any physical condition, consult your doctor, an aromatherapist, or any aromatherapy reference book before using any essential oils.
Delving into the art and science of aromatherapy can be as simple or as complex as you wish. It might mean simply buying a bottle of an essential oil on your next visit to the store or online. (Check health stores, perfumeries, health and beauty marts, new-age stores, and candle boutiques, or you'll find a variety of sites online that sell aromatherapy products.) Perhaps you are ready to fling yourself into the world of aromatherapy and make your own perfumes, soaps, and air fresheners. Again, you'll find a variety of locations both in retail and online for your needs. In fact, there are a variety of Web sites dedicated to aromatherapy. One good one with a variety of resources—information, products, and even different recipes is: http://www.aromaweb.com. Finally, if you get really serious about aromatherapy, you can take the ultimate step and actually earn a diploma in aromatherapy, should your heart (and nose) desire.