What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy, or essential oil therapy, is the ancient practice of using aromatic plant oils for improved physical health and emotional well-being. The use of essential oils has become more popular as an alternative treatment for illness prevention and healing. While scientific research of the effectiveness of aromatherapy is limited, some preliminary clinical studies show positive results.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. Plant oils are distilled in a chemical-free process of steaming or boiling until the oil vaporizes.
Some of these pure and natural oils are used to physical healing such as treating a fungal infection or reducing swelling. Other oils are used for their pleasing scent to promote relaxation or create an uplifting mood.
Read the labels when purchasing essential oils and aromatherapy products. Many products that are sold as aromatherapy including some candles, lotions and beauty products may smell good but contain synthetic ingredients. Products containing synthetic fragrance or perfume oils do not provide the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and may even be harmful. Candles made with fragrance oils and paraffin wax give off toxins when burned.
Additionally, some plants contain toxins, so not all essential oils are safe to use in holistic aromatherapy. Be sure you understand the oil and how to safely apply it. Use essential oils that are generally regarded to be safer unless you are under the supervision of an educated and experienced Aromatherapist.
How does aromatherapy work?
Researchers speculate that aromatherapy works by stimulating our sense of smell. The olfactory system sends messages through the nervous system to the limbic system, the emotion and memory center of the brain.
How are essential oils used?
Since essential oils are thought to work through our sense of smell, we can directly benefit by spraying the oils in the air or using a diffuser. Lavender oil, for example, might be sprayed in a yoga class during Savasana (the pose of relaxation) to increase the relaxing effects of the pose.
Essential oils can also be applied to the skin. Essential oils are concentrated and powerful, and may be absorbed into the bloodstream. Full concentration essential oils can be extremely irritating and can even cause permanent hypersensitivity. With the exception of certain uses of lavender and tea tree oil for skin conditions, never put undiluted oils on the skin. Keep oils away from the eyes.
For skin application, essential oils are most often diluted with a carrier oil such as almond, apricot kernel, sesame or grapeseed oil. Essential oils may also be mixed with a lotion or alcohol before use.
Aromatherapy massage is one popular method of using essential oils. You receive not only the benefit of the massage but also the benefit of the oil by breathing it in and absorbing it through your skin.
What are the benefits of aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy may promote relaxation, lessen pain, increase concentration and improve both mood and sleep. Some essential oils, like lavender, have been shown to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.
People dealing with depression may also benefit from aromatherapy massage. The massage and scent may have a relaxing effect. The scent may also trigger positive emotions and memories in the brain’s limbic system. Certain essential oils can be used topically to treat skin problems. Lavender, for example, is thought to act as an antiseptic on burns, acne and insect stings.
In addition to its mood-boosting effects, aromatherapy is used to help treat a wide range of physical conditions including infections, high blood pressure, psoriasis, hair loss, rheumatoid arthritis, headaches and muscle stiffness. Essential oils are also used in natural beauty products for skin and hair care.
Keep a realistic mindset as you begin aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is meant to complement standard medical care rather than replacing it. Aromatherapy can improve your lifestyle if you take the time to become educated about each essential oil and their safe application.
What can I expect from an aromatherapy session?
At your initial aromatherapy session, the practitioner will gather information regarding your medical history, symptoms, lifestyle and scent preferences. You may receive the aromatherapy treatment through steam inhalation, vaporizer, or spray, or by breathing in the essential oils applied to a cloth. The Aromatherapist may also massage diluted essential oils into your skin.
The Aromatherapist will guide you on how to use essential oils at home. The practitioner may sell the essential oils or give you a recommendation on where they can be purchased. Pay attention to the dosage, administration, and possible interactions with medications you are taking.
Is aromatherapy safe for everyone?
Use essential oils only under the guidance of a well-trained Aromatherapist if you are pregnant, have severe asthma, have a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, are undergoing chemotherapy, have a history of allergies, or are taking medications. Talk with your medical professionals to see whether aromatherapy may be safe and helpful for your specific condition.
Do not use aromatherapy for children under the age of 5 as they can be very sensitive to essential oils.
Can I take essential oils internally?
Essential oils are potent and can be toxic. Do not take essential oils internally without the supervision of an educated and experienced Aromatherapist.
How do I choose an Aromatherapist?
Currently, there are no licensing requirements for Aromatherapists, although they may be certified and/or registered. Aromatherapists may be licensed or registered in other professions such as massage therapy, nursing, physical therapy, yoga, Naturopathy, acupuncture or cosmetology.