What is aromatherapy 101?
Simply put, Aromatherapy 101 is the use of pure essential oils sourced solely from plants to improve emotional and physical wellbeing. By simply diffusing a few drops of your favourite oil or adding it to carrier oil to apply to the skin, you can alter your mood and relax the body.
What are essential oils?
Whether we peel an orange, walk past a lavender hedge, or rub a peppermint leaf between our fingertips, we smell the aroma of that plant. It is the essential oil sourced from specific plants that provides the very distinct aroma as well as therapeutic properties. Essential oils occur widely throughout the plant kingdom. They are pure concentrated liquids extracted from flowers, herbs, leaves and stems, roots, bark, dried seeds, or resin, and peels of fruits.
Essential oils are very complex mixtures made up of hundreds of chemical compounds. They range from analgesic, decongestant, diuretic and antiseptic properties to name a few. We use these properties to restore balance to mind, body and soul.
What is the difference between an essential oil and perfume or fragrance?
A pure essential oil is very different from a perfume or fragrance oil, or any oil that is fabricated in a laboratory to smell like an essential oil. An essential oil is sourced solely from plant material and consists of naturally occurring aromatic compounds (hundreds of them) produced by the respective plant. Perfume and fragrance oils are made up of artificial substances and are in fact copies of the real deal. Although, fragrance oils can smell great they do not have any of the therapeutic value of an authentic essential oil. “In order to reap the benefits of essential oil therapy, we need to use authentic oils that comprise the sum total of the plant’s natural ingredients.” A Scented Life p. 37
What are some of the benefits of using essential oils?
Essential oils can assist with relieving symptoms of a throbbing headache, reduce inflammation of aching joints, treat mild insomnia and provide stress relief. They can be used in skincare to hydrate, treat acne or rejuvenate ageing skin. They are for use in a bath to rest and relax at the end of the day or in a shower first up to invigorate and energise the body. They can reduce nervous anxiety before a zoom meeting or conference call, neutralise stuffy household smells, or simply make the home smell fresher and cleaner.
Whichever way you choose to incorporate them into your wellness routine they will enhance the overall quality of your life and above all improve the state of your physical and emotional wellbeing.
How has aromatherapy changed in the last decade?
The use of plants has existed since the dawn of time. Civilizations have throughout the ages used natural essences, potions and unguents for ritual worship, healing and beauty. Today, we are no different. In fact, more than ever we long to reconnect with nature and use natural over synthetic on our body and skin. And essential oils with their capacity to heal holistically are proving more relevant than ever before. Today natural wellbeing is a growing trend worldwide. Given the disillusionment with over-the-counter medicine, essential oils offer a viable alternative. Apart from their captivating aroma, essential oils have proven healing benefits validated by scientific research. They are no longer seen only through the prism of traditional use, but are rather well established in the lexicon of natural health.
Can essential oils be used on the skin?
Yes, essential oils have many benefits for the skin when properly diluted and the safety guide for each oil is observed. They are so potent and much stronger than the plant once they are extracted and must be diluted in carrier oil or unscented lotion before applying to large areas of the skin. Remember, even oils that are deemed safe for use on the skin may cause an individual reaction or allergy.
The oils unlikely to cause a skin reaction if used as directed are classified as nontoxic and non-irritant. Some oils are sensitising and repeated use may cause irritation or even an adverse skin reaction in some individuals. Most citrus peel oils are phototoxic and may cause the skin to be susceptible to damage once exposed to the sun’s UV rays.
A starting point for adult blending is 2.5% dilution. This translates to 6 drops in 12 mL of carrier oil. If you have sensitive skin reduce the dilution to 1.5% and choose your oils carefully. I always recommend to patch test first to see if there are any irritations or sensitivities. A Scented Life details how to create a patch test.
Why are cold pressed oils so good for skin health?
Carrier oils are typically obtained from seeds, fruits, and nuts and cold-pressed to retain all the plants vital nutrients. Valued as effective emollients and noted for their antioxidant and skin-rejuvenating properties, cold pressed oils condition the skin and help to keep it resilient and supple.
When plant oils are blended for use on the skin are they greasy?
Despite general belief, the mixture of essential oils and cold-pressed oils are NOT GREASY. Application to skin does not leave a greasy film on the surface of the skin but rather penetrates the skin surface quickly and deeply. In fact, combining pure essential oils with carrier oil(s) further improves the formers absorption rate, giving your skin a smooth dewy feel. The oils are quickly absorbed into the skin and quench a dry thirsty surface. Together, essential oils and carrier oils trap moisture into the skin while allowing it to breathe. Unlike a mineral oil which tends to sit on the surface of the skin, natural plant-based products enter the skin structure with ease.
What to consider when first starting out?
Start by investing in the finest oils from a company with an established reputation in the industry.
Select a few oils based on your favourite plants and flowers in the garden. Get to know each oil and its impact on you before you blend it with another. I have a beautiful chapter In, A Scented Life dedicated to the beginner: ‘My essential oil starter kit’ was inspired to help you gain confidence and pleasure from experimenting with some of my favourite duos.
Always check the safety guide before you commence use. Always check the expiry date on the oil to ensure freshness. Always follow the directions for use or call direct to speak with the company expert if you have any questions
Where to begin using essential oils with babies?
As a start choose Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) from a reputable company. Use a few drops in the diffuser for short intervals and keep unit well away from the cot. A Scented Life has a dedicated chapter for new mums and their babies. It is a beginners’ tutorial with relevant cautions, dilutions, and some simple yet very effective, applications. It is well researched.
Never apply essential oils neat onto babies or children, avoid skin contact for the first three months unless otherwise directed.
What are some tips for looking after essential oils?
Store your oils away from light: Essential oils should be stored in small, tightly sealed dark glass bottles well away from direct light in order to protect the oils from ultraviolet rays and rapid oxidation keeping them fresh as long as possible. Fruit peel oils in particular that contain high levels of the compound limonene such as grapefruit and lemon are best stored in the fridge to avoid rapid oxidation.
Plastic containers: Avoid storing essential oils in plastic containers to prevent the plastic from contaminating the oil. Use extra thickened glass, to help reduce accidental breakage especially around infants and for use in the shower. If you choose to use plastic, PET plastic bottles are recommended. PET, Polyethylene Terephthalate, does not break down over time when exposed to essential oils. The “1” inside a triangle on a plastic bottle indicates PET plastic.
Why is purity and safety so important in this industry?
Firstly, you can only reap the full benefits of essential oil therapy if you use authentic essential oils; oils that comprise the sum total of the plant’s natural ingredients! There is no compromise. Synthetic oils are fragrant copies, fabricated in a laboratory to duplicate an oil’s most fragrant compounds. They are clones which might smell nice but do not possess the unique therapeutic benefits of a pure essential oil. There are so many essential oil brands out there, you really need to know and trust your supplier.
Secondly, essential oils are not simple substances, they are very potent aromatic liquids. Each oil is a complex structure made up of hundreds of different natural chemicals that must be observed. It is so important to follow the safety guidelines for each oil, especially if you are new to Aromatherapy. According to Robert Tisserand, the safety guidelines are intended to help minimise the possibility of risks while optimising the benefits. Like any manufactured medicine, essential oils can be hazardous if over used or used incorrectly. Just because an essential oil is ‘natural’, it doesn’t mean it is totally safe. Refer to the blog, “The golden rules of using essential oils.”
Can essential oils be ingested?
Despite their remarkable healing properties, it is generally agreed by international authorities that pure essential oils should not be ingested for home use unless prescribed by an aromatherapist or healthcare professional. There are potential hazards and health risks involved as not all essential oils are safe to ingest.
The impact of ingesting an essential oil which is a highly concentrated liquid, over time and without correct dosage, can cause damage to liver and kidney function; undiluted it can also damage mucous membrane.
Lemon essential oil provides us with a frequently used example and the most accurate explanation regarding the issues surrounding ingestion. If you add one drop of lemon essential oil to a glass of water it is not at all like adding freshly squeezed lemon juice to the same glass of water because essential oils are not water soluble. The drop of oil will float on the surface and no amount of mixing or stirring will fully dilute the particles. The oil will not be absorbed by the body but rather irritate mucous membrane as it travels to the stomach. That one drop of lemon is so much stronger than the fruit so cannot be considered as a viable substitute for freshly squeezed lemon juice.
What oils are safe to use around pets?
It’s important to be particularly careful when using essential oils around pets; largely if they are small. For a detailed summary refer to blogs: “Cats are Special”, and “Essential Oils and your Furry Friends.”
Why do some oils have expiry or best before dates?
Pure Essential oils and carrier oils all have a specified shelf life. Make sure to check these dates before you purchase and commence use. Once oils deteriorate, they no longer have therapeutic value and are best avoided on the skin. Once oil oxidises it can cause skin sensitization. Some carrier oils have a shorter shelf life than essential oils and may go rancid after opening. A reputable company always displays the expiry date or indicates the life expectancy of the product once it is opened.
Updated July 2022