Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being.
Aromatherapy offers diverse physical and psychological benefits, depending on the essential oil or combination of oils and the method of application used. Some common medicinal properties of essential oils used in aromatherapy include: analgesic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, sedative, antispasmodic, expectorant, diuretic, and sedative.
Essential oils are used to treat a wide range of symptoms and conditions, including, but not limited to, gastrointestinal discomfort, skin conditions, menstrual pain and irregularities, stress-related conditions, mood disorders, circulatory problems, respiratory infections, and minor wounds.
A pleasing natural aroma can have a positive psychological effect on the body. Essential oils, which are the “pure” essence of a plant, have been found to provide both psychological and physical benefits when used correctly and safely. There are over 70 essential oils.
Perfume oils, known as fragrance oils or “fragrances” are not the same as essential oils. They contain unnatural chemicals and do not provide the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. The word “fragrance”, was designated by the FDA to contain all of the 850+ ingredients that can be used to create a specific scent, so that the ingredient deck of any product in this category would not be overwhelming to the consumer.
Essential oils that are drawn into the body by the sense of smell are believed to offer psychological and physical benefits. Not only does the aroma stimulate the brain to trigger a positive effect, the natural components drawn into the lungs can also supply physical benefit as well.
Oils that are applied directly to the skin are believed to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This absorption aids in a variety of health, beauty and hygiene conditions. Because essential oils are so concentrated and powerful, they should never be applied to the skin in their undiluted form.
To apply essential oils directly to the skin surface, “carrier oils”, which are pure vegetable oils, are used to dilute the essential oils and carry them to the skin. Common carrier oils include: sweet almond oil, fractionated coconut oil, apricot kernel oil, canola, avocado, jojoba, wheatgerm, and grapeseed oil.
Essential oils also supply other benefits as well. Some oils, for instance, act as a natural repellent and pesticide. Citronella candles provide relief, with Citronella essential oil as the main property of these candles.
Essential oils are blended together to provide an especially pleasing fragrance. A synergistic essential oil blend of the correct oils in proper proportions is considered to be greater in total benefit, than each oil working independently. Allow blends time to age, a week or more, before adding to a carrier oil. Blends, like good wines, undergo transformation as they age.
Not all ready made aromatherapy products labeled with the word “aromatherapy” are pure and natural. Products that contain artificial ingredients do not provide true aromatherapy benefits. They may provide no benefit at all. Check the ingredient deck of the products to be purchased, to see if they contain fragrance oils or impure chemicals. Be wary of these products.
Essential oils are very expensive to produce; some more than others, due to the labor intensive process and the quantity of the plant required to produce the oil. Approximately 800 lbs of Thyme would produce 2 lbs of the essential oil, 4400 lbs of rose petals to make 2 lbs of oil. 6 tons of orange blossoms to produce 2 lbs of Neroli and 4 million jasmine flowers to produce 2 lbs of jasmine absolute. Essential oils may be up to 75 to 100 times stronger than dried herbs.
HISTORY OF AROMATHERAPY
Aromatherapy is derived from two words. Aroma – meaning fragrance or smell and Therapy – meaning treatment. First used by the ancient civilizations, aromatherapy is reputed to be over 6000 years old.
It is believed that aromatherapy was first used in Egypt. A medical papyri, dated around 1555 BC contained remedies for all types of illnesses and the methods of application are similar to ones used in Aromatherapy and Herbal medicine today.
The Egyptians used a method known as Infusion, to extract the oils from aromatic plants and incense was probably one of the earliest ways to use aromatics. Frankincense was burned at sun rise as an offering to the god, Ra and Myrrh was offered to the moon. The Egyptians were experts at embalming using aromatics to help preserve the flesh. They are still around to this date. The Egyptians were used to massage and the use of fragrant oils after bathing.
The Greeks continued the use of aromatic oils and used them medicinally and cosmetically. A Greek physician, Dioscorides, wrote a book about herbal medicine and for at least 1200 years was used as the Western world’s standard medical reference. Many of the remedies he mentioned are still in use today in the field of Aromatherapy.
The Romans took much of their medical knowledge from the Greeks and went on to use and improve the ability of aromatics, with Rome becoming the bathing capital of the world. After bathing, they would be massaged and oiled. The Romans opened up the world trade routes and started importing new aromatic products from East India and Arabia.
During the Crusades, the knowledge of aromatic oils and perfumes spread to the Far East and Arabia, and it was a physician known as Avicenna, who lived from A.D. 980 TO A.D. 1037 that is understood to, be the first to have used the process known as distillation to distill the essence of rose. It probably took many more years before it was perfected. The Arabs also discovered how to distill alcohol around the same time, making it possible to produce perfumes without a heavy oily base.
There is a strong possibility that ancient Chinese civilizations were using some form of aromatics at the same time as the Egyptians. Shen Nung’s Herbal book is the oldest surviving medical book in China, which is dated about 27– B.C. and contains information on over 300 plants. The Chinese used aromatic herbs and burned aromatic woods and incenses to show respect to God.
Traditional Indian medicine known as Ayurveda has been practiced for more then 3000 years and it incorporates aromatic massage as one of its main aspects. The invasions of South America by the Conquistadors brought the discovery of more medicinal plants and aromatic oils as the Aztecs were well known for their plant remedies. The Spanish were amazed at the wealth of medicinal plants found in Montezuma’s botanical gardens.
The North American Indians also used aromatic oils and produced their own herbal remedies.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that scientists in Europe and Great Britain began researching the effects of essential oils on bacteria in humans. A French chemist, Rene Gattefosse, began his research into the healing powers of essential oils after burning his hand in his laboratory. He quickly immersed it in Lavender oil and was impressed as to how fast the burn healed. In 1937 he published a book about the antimicrobial effects of the oils and coined the word “Aromatherapy”.
A French doctor, Jean Valnet discovered Gattefosse’s research and began experimenting with essential oils. About the same time, Margaret Maury, a French biochemist developed a unique method of applying these oils to the skin with massage. Michele Arcier, now living in London studied and worked with Margaret Maury and Valnet and their combined techniques created a form of Aromatherapy now used all over the world.
WHAT ARE ESSENTIAL OILS?
Essential oils are the volatile liquids distilled from plants, including seeds, bark, leaves, stems, roots, flowers, fruit, etc. One of the factors that determine the purity and therapeutic value of an oil is its chemical constituents. These constituents can be affected by a vast number of variables, the parts of the plant from which the oil was produced, soil condition, fertilizer, organic or chemical, geographical region, climate, altitude, harvest season and methods, and distillation process.
Producing the purest of oils can be very costly because it may require several hundred pounds, or even several thousand pounds of plant material to extract one pound of pure essential oil. For example, one pound of pure Melissa oil sells for $9,000-$15,000.
Melissa oil is a powerful antidepressant. While it may sound quite expensive, it takes three tons of plant material to produce that single pound of oil. Because the majority of all oils produced in the world today is used by the perfume industry, the oils are being purchased for their aromatic qualities only.
High pressure, high temperatures, rapid processing and the use of chemical solvents are often employed during the distillation process so that a greater quantity of oil can be produced at a faster rate. These oils may smell just as good and cost much less, but will lack most, if not all, of the chemical constituents necessary to produce the expected therapeutic results.
There are also significant differences between synthetic fragrance oils and pure essential oils. Synthetic fragrance oils are produced by blending aromatic chemicals primarily derived from coal tar. These oils may duplicate the smell of the pure botanical, but the complex chemical components of each essential oil created in nature determine its true aromatic benefits. While synthetic fragrance oils are not suitable for aromatherapy, they add an approximation of the natural scent to crafts, potpourri, soap and perfume at a fraction of the cost.
Essential oils are the regenerating, oxygenating, and immune defense properties of plants.
Some essential oil constituents are so small in molecular size that they can quickly penetrate the tissues of the skin.
Essential oils are lipid soluble and are capable of penetrating cell walls, even if they have hardened because of an oxygen deficiency. In fact, essential oils can affect every cell of the body within 20 minutes and are then metabolized like other nutrients.
Essential oils contain oxygen molecules which help to transport nutrients to the starving human cells. Because a nutritional deficiency is an oxygen deficiency, disease begins when the cells lack the oxygen for proper nutrient assimilation. By providing the needed oxygen, essential oils also work to stimulate the immune system.
Essential oils are very powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants create an unfriendly environment for free radicals. They prevent all mutations, work as free radical scavengers, prevent fungus, and prevent oxidation in the cells.
Essential oils are anti-bacterial, anti-cancerous, anti-fungal, anti-infectious, anti-microbial, anti-tumoral, anti-parasitic, anti-viral, and antiseptic. Essential oils have been shown to destroy all tested bacteria and viruses while simultaneously restoring balance to the body.
Essential oils work to detoxify the cells and blood in the body
Essential oils are aromatic. When diffused, they provide air purification by:
Removing metallic particles and toxins from the air.
Increasing atmospheric oxygen
Increasing ozone and negative ions in the area, which inhibits bacterial growth
Destroying odors from mold, cigarettes, and animals
Filling the air with a fresh aromatic scent
Essential oils help promote emotional, physical, and spiritual healing.
To extract essential oils in the most effective manner while preserving their therapeutic benefits, they are either Distilled or Expressed. These two methods are covered below.
Essential oils are most commonly extracted from plants through the process of steam distillation. In this process, steam is introduced into a distillation chamber which contains the plant material. The steam breaks down the plant tissue, causing it to release its essential oil in a vaporized form. The vaporized essences, along with the steam and other substances, pass into a pipe through cooling tanks. The vapors return to liquid form and are separated from the water and captured as essential plant oil.
Expression, also known as cold pressing, is done exclusively with citrus oils. In this method, the oil-containing outer layer of the fruit is pressed and filtered to yield essential oil.
It takes 50 pounds of eucalyptus, 150 pounds of lavender, 500 pounds of rosemary, 1,000 pounds of jasmine and over 2,000 pounds of rose to make a single pound of essential oil! The price of each essential oil is directly related to the amount of plant material needed for distillation.
Each essential oil has value in aromatherapy. For instance, lavender is relaxing, orange is uplifting, rosemary helps concentration and peppermint is energizing. If you want to support a certain mood, then you can diffuse a certain essential oil.
Three typical methods for the application of essential oils.
This is one of my favorite ways to get the best value of the essential oils and to make my home smell lovely at the same time.
Diffusers are so easy to use! You just follow the instructions on your particular diffuser. Most work by adding a small amount of water in the well of the machine, add a few drops of essential oil, and then you turn on the machine. The diffuser releases a cool steam, which will fill your room with a lovely scent.
Ingestion of essential oils is a very personal decision. I absolutely do not support ingesting essential oils that do not claim it is safe from the manufacturer. Always read the labels!
Placing essential oils directly on the skin is a very common way to get their benefits. Some essential oils can be used directly, which means undiluted. A very common essential oil that can be used this way is lavender. It’s very gentle on the skin and can be used for so many different reasons! It’s called the Swiss army knife of essential oils for a reason!
Essential oils require dilution which is usually required to be a minimum of a 1:1 dilution ratio with a carrier oil, but can be further diluted depending on your preference. I usually find that 1-2 drop of essential oil in 1 TBSP of carrier oil is sufficient for many applications. All oils can be diluted and still retain their value, even the ones that can be used directly.
What are Carrier Oils?
Carrier oils are created from vegetable, nut, or seed oils, many of which have therapeutic properties of their own. They do not lessen the therapeutic benefits of essential oils; they spread them further and make essential oils easier on the skin. A carrier oil is a base oil, which is used to help dilute the essential oil.
Common carrier oils are…
Rose hips oil (great for beauty products)
You can also use Shea butter or Cocoa butter– it doesn’t have to be actual oil!
“Therapeutic grade” oil means the same thing as 100% pure, 100% therapeutic, or any combination of those terms. It just means the oils are pure of contaminants, pesticides, synthetics, and other adulterants, and can be used therapeutically. Any pure essential oil is therapeutic grade. Most of them can be ingested, and all of them are therapeutic.
“Food grade” oil, however, refers to any oil that can be used in food. So that also applies to cooking oils like Olive, Canola, Vegetable, macerated oils, linseed oil, as well as some mineral and motor oils. Most essential oils CAN be used in food, but because the definition of food grade oil is so loose and open, I would really hesitate to use it for essential oils, because the implication is that all the other food grade oils are as good, as essential oils, which is just not correct.
What is a good place to start experimenting and applying the therapeutic value of essential oils?
Here is my Must Have Basic Starter Kit, of Single Oil Essential Oils.
Number one – Tea Tree – Trusted source of relief for everyday First Aid.
Number two – Lavender – Soothing and reassuring
Number three – Lemon – Fresh, cleansing, and light
Number four – Peppermint – Revitalizing and refreshing
Number five – Eucalyptus – Stimulating and clarifying.
Number six – Rosemary – Vibrant and invigorating.
Number seven – Rose – Refreshing and nurturing.
I also suggest trying and working with custom essential oil blends, which take the guesswork out of mixing essential oils, giving you the ideal balance of properties and fragrances for mood boosting and aromatherapy benefits.
Armor – A fortifying and refreshing Protective blend.
Sharpen – Centering and enlightening Focus blend.
Vitalize – Uplifting and energizing Invigorating blend.
Good companies will provide dilution minimums and usage instructions, if they can be used via topical application, aromatic, or via ingestion, on the labels. If there are warnings on the labels– please don’t assume that this is just some fluff warning.
If in doubt about a company’s quality, it should always be researched! I suggest contacting the company directly to ask questions.
Do you know exactly where their oil comes from?
Does the company share where the product comes from?
How it’s grown? Are there pesticides used?
How was the oil distilled?
Can they go to the company farm and see the process for themselves?
Does the company harvest and distill with many sample distillations to get the highest amount of therapeutic qualities?
Do they know for certain that the oils they buy are safe to ingest? To put on undiluted?
Are there ANY toxic warnings that come with their essential oils?
Is there an expiration date?
Do Not buy perfume oils thinking they are the same thing as essential oils.
Do Not buy essential oils with rubber glass dropper tops. Essential oils will turn the rubber into a gum, ruining the oil.
Read as much as you can about Aromatherapy.
Be selective about where you purchase your essential oils.
Learn to compare apples to apples when shopping for essential oils. Anise, Lavender, Cedarwood, and Eucalyptus are examples of the common names of plants used to create the essential oils. There are however different varieties of each of these plants. To understand the difference in these varieties, the botanical name, referred to as the Latin name, is used to tell them apart. It is very important to know the Botanical name.
Note the country of origin for the oil.
Do Not Purchase oils from vendors at street fairs, craft shows, or other limited time events.
Purchase oils from reputable online companies. It may result in purchasing higher quality at less expensive prices.
Store your oils in dark glass and in a cool dry place.
Pay special attention to all safety information related to the oils used.
In recap, essential oils and the use of aromatherapy has been used for millennia and grown in acceptance and performance. Aromatherapy offers diverse physical and psychological benefits, depending on the essential oil or combination of oils and the method of application used.
It should be obvious from the many varied cultures all around the globe, that have been using aromatherapy and essential oils throughout time, that there is value in this form of alternative medicine.
A pleasing natural aroma can have a positive psychological effect on the body. Essential oils, which are the “pure” essence of a plant, have been found to provide both psychological and physical benefits when used correctly and safely.
Start out with a few essential oils that capture your imagination, and as you learn these, keep adding to your essential oils kit, the many choices available in both single oils and the blends that take the concern out of mixing essential oils, and give you the ideal balance of properties and fragrances for mood boosting and aromatherapy benefits.
If I can help you with additional information on this lively subject, please contact me.
The Author, James Hobart, has been an industry leader in the Professional Beauty Industry for more than 48 years at every level and has certification in hypnotherapy. His insight and experience has helped many companies and individuals with their growth and development over the years. His books, Happiness Is Your Birthright and Salon / Spa Retail – The Lost Revenue Stream, and his Blog: http://jameshobartmarketing.com, support his philosophy on life and are practical handbooks and articles to create positive change throughout one’s life. His site: http://makegreengogreen.com/jameshobart is all about paying it forward and helping others with lifestyle changes.