Aromatherapy explained by our Resident Holistic Expert Anthea Ingle
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a complementary treatment which uses a variety of pure essential oils to promote a healthy balance and bring harmony to the receiver through different methods of application.
Where does aromatherapy come from?
Aromatherapy is a fairly new therapy, although many people strongly believe its origin dates back as far as 3000 BC. In actual fact, there is no hard evidence to support that aromatherapy was a common practice in ancient times; the only links found connecting aromatherapy with this mysterious era was the regular use of herbs, woods and flowers.
What is an essential oil?
An essential oil is a highly concentrated and volatile liquid extracted from a flower, herb, wood or fruit.
What is a Carrier oil?
A carrier oil is used in conjunction with an essential oil. It is a thick oily substance, similar to what you find in your kitchen cupboard but in a pure, unrefined state. It plays a very important role - it transports the essential oils safely through the skin.
Before using essential oils...
Using any essential oils requires a basic knowledge of safety first. Although essential oils may seem harmless in form or nature, safety should always be a priority. Try to read as much as you can on the safety of the oil you are using. If the bottle is bought from a reputable supplier, there should be a safety guide printed on the bottle's label. Always follow the advice given, unless you know differently. Though recommended dosages seem insignificant, do not be swayed; essential oils are highly concentrated chemicals. Do not attempt any experiments by increasing the dosage as this could trigger a number of unwarranted side effects ranging from skin damage to allergies.
How are essential oils used?
Essential oils are mainly used in massage; the reason being...it is the safest and most effective method to date. Essential oils can also be added in the bath or Jacuzzi, inhaled from a handkerchief or bed pillow, added to a foot or hand bath, used in a hot or cold compress, added to ceramic pot diffusers (electric diffusers) or ring burners, added to room sprays or scented aromatherapy candles, and inhaled in steam inhalation.
(WARNING: do not inhale steam if you suffer from asthma, sunburn, thread veins, skin sensitivity or infections).
How do you know if an essential oil is pure?
This is a difficult question, but one that can be solved by purchasing your essential oils from a reputable supplier. Many essential oils are available from good chemists, mail order suppliers or health food shops. Ensure that the supplier has a reputable name, go for quality not quantity, and never buy cheap or out-of-date essential oils!
A pure essential oil should be housed in a dark amber or cobalt blue bottle to ensure the light does not affect its therapuetic properties. Also, the bottle of an essential oil should have a fixed dropper and be tightly closed to prevent its contents from evaporating. Finally, a pure essential oil should not leave a greasy residue on blotting paper and should evaporate readily, especially when exposed to air.
Why are essential oils expensive?
Essential oils vary tremendously in price, and to say they are 'expensive' without trying to understand the entire process would be a mistake. Prices are determined by the quality, type and quantity of the yields. Another possible contributory factor may be our perception of the size of the bottle. To an inexperienced user, a 10ml bottle of essential oil is considered a small amount of liquid in a tiny bottle. Many people fail to recognise that adding 3-5 drops of this essence in the bath is more than sufficient. This creates a false impression of the purchase price, rendering it 'expensive'.
Safety Precautions in aromatherapy
Before using any essential oils, make sure you have no medical conditions that may interact with the oils i.e. cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, scar tissues, undiagnosed swelling, heart or circulatory problems, sunstroke or sunburn, cuts or abrasions. If you have any of the above conditions, you should seek advice from your GP and consult a professional aromatherapist.
Essential oils can be extremely hazardous if used incorrectly. Therefore time must be set aside to consider the safe use of these potent oils. As a general guide, seek professional assistance if you are unsure about the safety or use of any essential oils.
Unique Personality Reactions
Each essential oil has a unique personality, which makes each treatment unique in itself with varying degrees of effectiveness upon each human interaction. For example, just because Lavender proved 'safe' for use on your friend, does not necessarily mean it will have the same, 'safe' effect on you. Every person has a unique tolerance, therefore is capable of having a different relationship or experience with an essential oil.
Essential oils are safe and suitable for home use, as long as you follow the general guidelines. Always patch-test your skin if you are in doubt about skin sensitivity. Never take essential oils internally, unless advised by a highly trained professional aromatherapist. Never apply pure essential oils undiluted to the skin - with the exception of Tea Tree or Lavender for - quick treatments such as spots, burns, stings, cuts and abrasions. As an extra precaution, try to use only commonly documented essential oils where safety data is readily available.
Patch Testing Essential Oils
You will need a small bowl or measuring beaker, the chosen essential oil, the chosen carrier oil (almond oil recommended) and a plastic spatula for stirring and application. Stir your blend together and then apply it behind the ears or in the crease of the arm. Leave the oil on the skin for at least 24 hours. If you experience any tingling or reddening reaction, wash it off immediately and then apply a plain moisturiser to calm and dilute the effect. Avoid this oil until you have consulted a professional aromatherapist. If there is no reaction, then the oil should be safe to use, but do bear in mind that that the body's hormones can change at any time, so if you are susceptible to such changes, continue to test the skin regularly.
How can essential oils help me?
Essential oils can be used for a number of physical and psychological complaints. Aromatherapy is considered to be a holistic treatment meaning it attempts to treat the physical and psychological complaint at the same time. Some physical examples of complaints range from digestive problems, cystitis, arthritis, ulcers, herpes, constipation, rheumatism, bronchitis, coughs, period problems, diarrhoea, muscular aches and pains, skin problems, fluid retention, viral infections, bronchitis and influenza.
Psychological examples of complaints range from depression, stress, mental fatigue, poor memory, panic attacks, apathy, and anxiety.
Lavender For Harmony and Health
This wonderful, traditional and versatile essential oil is used for many physical and psychological complaints, or better still, just plain indulgence. This oil is considered to be a favourite amongst many aromatherapists and it's not surprising when you dig deeper and reflect on its reputed healing uses.
It proves to be very effective on burnt skin, by soothing the damaged tissue and encouraging fast healing. It is said that the first person to experience the powerful healing powers of Lavender was René-Maurice Gattefossé. It is also said that he coined the name aroma-therapy.
This oil should always be available in any first aid box. If you have any sleep problems, try relaxing by adding 3-5 drops in the bath (after steam has evaporated) then add 2 drops on your bedtime pillow.
Oils For Beginners
If you are a beginner, it would be a good idea to purchase one bottle of essential oil, then practice its use by adding a few drops to the bath. When you become more experienced with its use, you can add a few drops to water in a spray bottle, creating a wonderful air freshener. You can continue to experiment with the oil by reading more literature.
The following essential oils are highly recommended for safety and primary uses as long as they are diluted prior to any use: Lavender, Tea Tree, Chamomile, Frankincense, Marjoram, Myrrh, Patchouli, Rose, Sandalwood, Vetiver, and Ylang Ylang.
Remember to store essential oils in a safe place away from children and never use on broken or damaged skin. Remember that Tea Tree and Lavender should only be applied undiluted for quick treatments such as spots, burns, stings, cuts and abrasions. Under any other circumstances ensure correct dilution.
Aromatherapy Book Shop Aromatherapy Books