Aromatherapy: What you need to know
Inhalation: the oils evaporate into the air using a diffuser container, spray, or oil droplets, or breathed in, for example, in a steam bath.
Apart from providing a pleasant smell, aromatherapy oils can provide respiratory disinfection, decongestant, and psychological benefits.
Inhaling essential oils stimulates the olfactory system, the part of the brain connected to smell, including the nose and the brain.
Molecules that enter the nose or mouth pass to the lungs, and from there, to other parts of the body.
As the molecules reach the brain, they affect limbic system, which is linked to the emotions, the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress, and hormone balance. In this way, essential oils can have a subtle, yet holistic effect on the body.
Topical applications: massage oils, and bath and skin care products are absorbed through the skin. Massaging the area where the oil is to be applied can boost circulation and increase absorption. Some argue that areas that are richer in sweat glands and hair follicles, such as the head or the palms of the hand, may absorb the oils more effectively.
Essential oils are never applied directly to the skin. They must always be diluted with a carrier oil. Usually, a few drops of essential oil to an ounce of carrier oil is the concentration. Most common carrier oils are sweet almond oil or olive oil.
Always do an allergy test before trying a new essential oil.
To do an allergy test:
- Dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil at twice the concentration you plan to use
- Rub the mixture into an area the size of a quarter on the inside of the forearm
If there is no allergic response within 24 to 48 hours, it should be safe to use.
Some people report developing allergies to essential oils after using them many times before. If a new allergic response appears, the individual should stop using it immediately and avoid its smell.
To achieve a 0.5 to 1 percent dilution, use 3 to 6 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier. For a 5% dilution, add 30 drops to one ounce of carrier.
A maximum concentration of 5% is generally considered safe for adults.
Ingesting, or swallowing, essential oils is not recommended. Taken by mouth, the oils can damage the liver or kidneys.
They can also lead to interactions with other drugs, and they can undergo unexpected changes while in the gut.
Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy. It does not provide a cure for diseases, rashes or illnesses, but it can support conventional treatment of various conditions.
What do essential oils do?
Different oils have different uses and effects.
- Basil essential oil is used to sharpen concentration and alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. It may relieve headaches and migraines. It should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Bergamot essential oil is said to be useful for the urinary tract and digestive tract. When combined with eucalyptus oil it may help relieve skin problems, including those caused by stress.
- Black pepper essential oil is commonly used for stimulating the circulation, muscular aches and pains, and bruises. Combined with ginger essential oil, it is used to reduce arthritis pain and improve flexibility.
- Chamomile essential oil can treat eczema.
- Citronella essential oil is a relative of lemongrass and acts as an insect repellent
- Clove essential oil is a topical analgesic, or painkiller, that is commonly used for toothache. It is also used as an antispasmodic antiemetic, for preventing vomiting and nausea, and as a carminative, preventing gas in the gut. It has antimicrobial, antioxidant and antifungal properties.
- Eucalyptus essential oil can help relieve the airways during a cold or flu. It is often combined with peppermint. Many people are allergic to eucalyptus, so care should be taken.
- Geranium essential oil can be used for skin problems, to reduce stress, and as a mosquito repellant.
- Jasmine essential oil has been described as an aphrodisiac. While scientific evidence is lacking, research has shown that the odor of jasmine increases beta waves, which are linked to alertness.
- Lavender essential oil is used as an antiseptic for minor cuts and burns and to enhance relaxation and sleep. It is said to relieve headache and migraine symptoms.
- Lemon essential oil is said to improve mood, and to help relieve the symptoms of stress and depression.
- Rosemary essential oil may promote hair growth, boost memory, prevent muscle spasms, and support the circulatory and nervous systems.
- Sandalwood essential oil is believed by some to have aphrodisiac qualities.
- Tea tree essential oil is said to have antimicrobial, antiseptic, and disinfectant qualities. It is commonly used in shampoos and skin care products, to treat acne, burns, and bites. It features in mouth rinses but it should never be swallowed, as it is toxic.
- Thyme essential oil is said to help reduce fatigue, nervousness, and stress.
- Yarrow essential oil is used to treat symptoms of cold and flu, and to help reduce joint inflamation.