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Is aromatherapy all about the aroma? Making the best of essential oils

aromatherapy essential oils

People have been using essential oils for thousands of years. Is that just because most of the essential oils just smell great? To some extent, it is. But the properties of plant extracts are believed to be much more beneficial than just a pleasant aroma, making it possible for such a huge and ancient practice as aromatherapy to be popular even in the 21st century.

Whether you are curious about aromatherapy or just like using essential oils for their fragrance, there are some very important things you need to know about the properties of these substances and the safety measures that should be taken when you interact with them.

What is aromatherapy?

In the course of evolution plants have developed special chemicals that help them defend themselves from various diseases as well as let insects and animals know it’s better to stay away from their leaves, flowers or fruits. Thousands of years ago people discovered ways in which they can extract these chemicals from the plants – their leaves, roots, flowers or barks.

Not only do plant extracts have natural healing properties, but also they can affect human emotional state via their aromas. The practice of using plant essences or other aromatic plant compounds in order to improve physical and psychological well-being is called aromatherapy.

How does aromatherapy work?

Our sense of smell has strong connection to the brain’s limbic system, which is in charge of our basic instincts, emotions, memory and dealing with stress. Also this is where our blood pressure, breathing and heart rate are regulated. As they get into our olfactory pathways, essential oil aromas can activate certain parts of our limbic system, which in turn balances the work of other body systems.
At the same time some natural essential oils have antimicrobial, antifungal and antioxidant properties.

How are essential oils used?

The most common use of essential oils includes topical application and inhalation. For skin application essential oils are usually mixed with cosmetic products or carrier (non-essential) oils. The process of inhalation usually includes the use of such devices as diffusers (aroma lamps, electric diffusers, nebulisers), dry evaporators (cotton balls or tissues with several drops of essential oil on them) and sprays (water-based solutions in a spray canister).

By making aromatherapy a part of your daily life you can make it so much easier for yourself to find emotional balance anytime you need it and give yourself the moments of enjoying therapeutic ambiance and pleasant aroma in the comfort of your own home.

Bath

The bath is probably the best place at home to enjoy the magic of aromatherapy. Health benefits of taking baths with essential oils have been known for centuries. Besides delivering plant essences to your body in a highly effective way, a warm bath itself has great properties on its own, including muscle relaxation, releasing toxins and relieving stress.


In order to get the most out of your bath with essential oils stick to simple rules:

  • Avoid using cinnamon, black pepper, peppermint, thyme, clove and lemongrass oil in the bath, as they can burn the skin.
  • ALWAYS dilute your essential oil into the carrier oil before adding them to the water. Tiny drops of essential oil floating on the water surface may stick to your skin and cause irritation. It can be 5 to 20 drops of an essential oil per a tablespoon of coconut, olive, jojoba, apricot kernel, grapeseed or sunflower oil.
  • Don’t add the oils into the bath till it is full. Running water will make the aroma evaporate before you get into the tub. Another good option is applying a mixture of essential oils and carrier oil right on your body before getting into the bath.
  • For muscle relaxation use lavender and marjoram, and for relieving stress try chamomile and bergamot. Lemon, orange or rosemary oil work wonders in energising, while vanilla, cardamom, rose and ylang ylang are great aphrodisiacs.

Bedroom

Essential oils can be used in the bedroom as well, as some of them are believed to be able to provide a better sleep, while others are powerful libido-boosters.

Oils with sedative effect relieve anxiety and lower blood pressure. Lavender, valerian and chamomile are probably the most familiar ones for their calming and sleep-enhancing properties. You can also experiment with cedarwood, melissa, vetiver, sandalwood essential oils, as they balance emotions and promote a good sleep.

As adaptogens (able to adapt their effect to a person’s mood), vetiver and sandalwood are also famous for having strong sensual connotations. Together with patchouli and ylang ylang oils play a strong romantic chord for the nights when you and your partner are not too much into sleep.

Kitchen

Essential oils can work wonders in your kitchen. They can be used to remove odours that are not welcome while you are cooking or eating. Citrus-based oils and tea tree oil are perfect for making 100% natural surface cleaning solutions, as they have antibacterial and disinfectant properties. Homemade lavender dish soap will remove the grease while the smell will help keeping you relaxed. You can use it for the dishwasher as well.  A couple of drops of lemon or orange oil on a cotton pad will fight the unpleasant smells in the fridge. Essentially, you create non-toxic products that add the benefits of aromatherapy to your daily chores.

Aromatherapy safety rules

As essential oils are highly concentrated, you should keep in mind a number of safety measures to avoid harming yourself. The main rule is if you have any doubts or are experiencing any kind of discomfort as a result of using essential oils, you should consult your doctor. The following tips will give you a general idea of things you should consider prior to enjoying the perks aromatherapy can offer.

Internal Use

Our advice is not to use essential oils internally if your physician hasn’t otherwise advised. This kind of aromatherapy is usually referred to as medical. Only a trained professional can provide you with proper guidance on how they can be applied. Just to be clear, an advice that your friend’s doctor gave them does not count. If you have consumed the oil by accident, seek medical assistance. They smell yummy, but you won’t eat a strawberry soap, right?

Side effects

Although aromatherapy is quite safe, there can be potential side effects. You can find them displayed on the oil’s packaging but you can also do a bit of research online. Typical side effects will include eyes and skin irritation, mild allergic reactions and headaches. Breathing difficulties are not uncommon as well.  If you have seasonal allergies or asthma, there are higher risks of getting undesirable reactions from aromatherapy. In case you get any side effects, even in the mildest form, stop use immediately.

Don’t get too generous

Use only the amount suggested on the packaging. If the label says 3-5 drops, no need to make it 10-15. Smaller quantities will have the same benefits, but much less chances of causing side effects.

aromatherapy essential oil

They are not meds

Essential oils bring health benefits when used together with conventional treatments. They don’t have the properties to help with serious health conditions. There hasn’t been much research on aromatherapy so far despite the fact that we have been using essential oils for centuries. Apart from thousands of people reporting numerous benefits of aromatherapy, there is still no conclusive scientific proof that they work. So the jury is still out on this.

Pregnancy

Though most oils themselves are harmless for a future mum and her baby, due to higher sensitivity to the effects of aromatherapy, even the oils you have been using before can cause some unexpected side effects when you are an expecting mum. Some doctors insist that during the first trimester you should stay away from all the essential oils to avoid posing any risk to the foetus.

Kids and pets

Not only pregnant women are highly sensitive to aromatherapy – so are kids, pets, and elderly people. There are no conclusive studies proving that oils are 100% safe for them. So make sure to keep your loved ones safe and pay extra attention to any hints of side effects.

Storing Essential Oils

As they are flammable, make sure to keep them away from candles, gas and all other types of open flames. You should keep them in dark bottles not exposed to direct sunlight. Keeping the oils in the fridge makes their shelf life a bit longer. You should store essential oils out of reach of children and pets.

Instructions

As oils can have some specific contraindications, make sure you read all labels and instructions. Do not skip the warnings, especially if you are already taking any medication. You will also find information on the dilutions and on whether a glass of wine will go fine with your relaxing bath. Some oils can not be combined with alcohol.

Phototoxicity

Some essential oils make you more prone to develop sunburns from ultraviolet light. If you apply citrus-based oils to the skin, make sure to put on sunscreen with SPF 30 and above.

Quality

Unlike conventional meds, there isn’t a special standard for oils that all manufacturers follow. It results in some oils being not entirely pure, so it can be difficult to find a product of first-rate quality. And when you do, be ready to pay good money for it. You can consider finding inexpensive pure oils a lucky shot.

Ready to give aromatherapy a shot?

Aromatherapy has been a part of our life for ages. It’s true, that it can not compete with conventional medicine in terms of effectiveness. However, essential oils, if used safely, can be successfully combined with other methods of treatment. What we are absolutely confident about is that essential oils have huge potential when it comes to helping you around the house. Give them a shot. After all they are multi-purpose. Haven’t worked for your headache? At least the dishes are clean. And most importantly your house smells nice!

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