Aromatherapy: More than Good Smells
Aromatherapy, the therapeutic use of fragrant substances derived from aromatic plants, has been around for thousands of years. Today, you can find diffusers for these fragrant substances (essential oils) everywhere from department stores to drug stores. It seems, however, that the emphasis is on the aroma rather than the therapy.
Essential oils (EOs) are known for their impact on physical, mental, and spiritual well being. They have been used to treat pain, anxiety/depression, fatigue, insomnia, circulatory problems, respiratory issues, skin ailments, muscle aches, swollen joints, stress, concentration issues–to name a few. EOs are well known for their antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and immune stimulating properties. They can also provide calming, sedating, uplifting, and stimulating effects on the body.
Essential oils can be used topically or in a compress, infused in a bath, or inhaled. Relatively rarely, they can be taken internally. It is considered a non invasive and relatively safe therapy. Almost without exception, they are meant to be diluted by a carrier oil like sweet almond, coconut, or grapeseed. It can also be added to a unscented massage oil to enhance the bodywork as we do here at Sanctuary. When inhaled, the volatile molecules are sensed by nasal neurons which stimulate the brain’s limbic system dealing with metabolism, stress, and other mental activities. They are also taken into the bloodstream through the lungs.
It would seem that the uses for essential oil to support health and impact specific physical and mental/emotional states are almost endless. EOs are helping cancer patients deal with nausea associated with chemotherapy. They are enhancing wound healing, aiding in improving memory and concentration, encouraging relaxation, treating infection, boosting immune systems and the list goes on.
Because of the power of essential oils, it is important to understand how to use them safely. They are chemicals and can interact with physical issues and with medications. Those suffering from asthma, hay fever, epilepsy, high blood pressure, respiratory issues should be well aware of the effects of certain essential oils. Pregnant woman and children should also take special care around certain essential oils. Reputable suppliers and independent informed sources publish lists of essential oils, their uses, and precautions associated with them.
The FDA does not monitor essential oils therefore all essential oils are not created equal. Because there is no regulation, “therapeutic grade” on the label of a bottle of EO means nothing. It is important to buy your oils from reputable companies specifically those who control their suppliers, the processing of the oils, and the final product.
Labels should include the scientific name for the oil so you know exactly what you have. Orange oil can be sweet orange or bitter orange (which produces neroli and petitgrain oils)–all completely different therapeutically. Roman chamomile and German chamomile are not even the same species of plants. Cinnamon oil can come from either the leaf or the bark. The only ingredient on the label should be 100% pure essential oil. An exception would be an essential oil dilute like Rose which is regularly sold already diluted by a carrier oil like jojoba. Pure essential rose oil is very expensive and the dilute form makes it more cost affordable.
Essential Oil blends are popular but should also list all the EOs in it on the label. Some companies consider their blends proprietary so they don’t do this. Avoid it if you don’t know what’s in it.
Aromatherapy, itself, is not yet regulated or licensed but there is plenty of good educational sources and courses available. Perusing the websites of reputable EO suppliers can yield a wealth of good information on uses for EOs, how to use them, and safety precautions. There are many good companies out there. A short and not exhaustive list of recommended suppliers includes Rocky Mountain Oils, Mountain Rose, Aromatherapeutix, and Plant Therapy.
If you are ready to enter the healing world of Aromatherapy, diffusing is considered one of the safest ways to receive the benefit of EOs. Always diffuse for a specific purpose and keep an eye on the time. Studies have shown that after 30 or 45 minutes of diffusing, the therapeutic effects of the EOs decline to the point where there is virtually no therapeutic effect at all. Some diffusers come with interval timers that will turn the machine on and off automatically. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on use and cleaning and the EO supplier’s safety precautions.
Here are 2 diffuser recipes that are considered “family friendly”: Mood Lifter: 4 drops of tangerine + 4 drops of lemon
Restful Sleep: 4 drops of roman chamomile + 4 drops of lavender + 2 drops of rose
Essential oils can be an accessible and enjoyable addition to your self care practices. Knowledge of the uses and care in using EOs can enhance your health care goals. So look beyond those essential oils as air fresheners and integrate them into your quality of life goals.