USING AROMATHERAPY AT HOME
Using aromatherapy at home is a great way to support your well being, in fact that's how I started using & learning about it nearly 30 years ago now!
There are loads of essential oils to choose from now-a-days, so there's something to suit everybody's olfactory preferences. Each oil has different properties which makes them a versatile tool for a wide range of purposes.
It's important to use essential oils safely though & ensure you have a good idea of what you are doing. So here's a very brief guide about aromatherapy & information on how to use it. I hope you find it interesting. Please note it's not a definitive resource or intended to be a substitute for treatment from trained professionals. If you have any questions do get in touch, I'm happy to help.
Or visit my online Neal's Yard Remedies Organic Shop where you can buy: Gifts, Essential Oils, Diffusers, Aromatherapy, Base Oils / Lotions, Skin / Hair / Body Care, Herbal Teas & Natural Remedies.
In the meantime have fun & enjoy learning about this fascinating therapeutic subject.
What is 'Aromatherapy' & where did it originate from?
The English word was taken from the French ‘aromatherapie’ first used by the French chemist Gattefosse. This term is widely used to mean many different things. Therapeutically speaking it's the use of pure aromatic plant extracts to influence or alter the mind, emotions & body. Although it's also often used by industry to describe artificially scented products which have no therapeutic value. Essential oils are most commonly obtained from raw botanical material by steam distillation. Other methods of extraction include: Enfleurage, Expression, Maceration, Solvent Extraction, Pytonic extraction, Butane extraction & Carbon dioxide extraction.
Our use of Aromatic plants for both health & beauty is thought to be as old as Man himself. Physical evidence dates back over 4000 years to the time of the Ancient Samurians. Egyptian scrolls have been found dating back to 1500 BC detailing the use of aromatic plant remedies. China also has a clear history of the use of plant remedies some of which are aromatic which dates back to the first medicinal book written in 4500 BC. The Romans are thought to have gained their knowledge of Aromatherapy from the Greeks who enjoyed bathing in perfumes & massages with fragrant oils. Whenever it first came about it's certainly not a new phenomenon. As long as people & plants have existed different forms of herbal medicine have been utilised.
However, during the 19th century the development of new scientific knowledge & processes enabled natural products to be replicated synthetically. The art of medicine also changed & new synthetic drugs were chosen in place of traditional remedies. Hence the use of natural products declined. Today in the UK & many other westernised countries we have renewed interest in the old ways. The benefits of ancient wisdom are now ever increasingly being taken more seriously, returned to & integrated with other forms of healthcare.
How does Aromatherapy work?
Here's simplified information on 3 ways it works:
1. Absorption via the skin - The skin is permeable &, just like with some modern medicines e.g. HRT or pain relief patches, essential oils may be absorbed transdermally. As oils are lipid based & have a low molecular weight this method of application is an effective one. When diluted in a carrier oil or cream base they move slowly through the skin. A little will be stored in the skin & a some will enter mainstream circulation. Some areas of the body are more absorbent than others, as is the skin of the elderly or young (for this reason lower doses of essential oils should be used with them). This way of using aromatherapy is great for aches, pains, muscular problems, skin care, as a fragrance etc.
2. Absorption via the Respiratory System - The mucous membranes of our upper & lower respiratory system are thinner than our skin & richly perfused with capillaries. Additionally the mucous produced by the membranes further assists in effective transportation. This makes inhalation of essential oils a great way to achieve rapid systemic absorption & experience the results of aromatherapy quickly. This method is ideal for issues such as colds, flu, hay fever, headaches etc.
3. Absorption via Olfaction - When we sniff volatile aromatic oils they connect with the brain & we smell them. Brain tissue is rich in lipids & as the oil components are small they easily diffuse into this tissue. Therefore they directly effect the: brain, spinal cord, nervous system & regulation of visceral & glandular functioning. These chemical stimuli also have an impact on an area of the brain called the limbic region which is associated with emotions, instinctive behaviour, motivation, drive, feelings, learning & memory. This is thought to account for our emotional & memory evoked responses to odours. Obviously from this information we can deduct that smelling essential oils has many benefits & is a great method of application for helping mental & emotional well being.
Which essential oils for what?
There's so many to choose from! I've selected just 12 of some of the more commonly known, given details of their most prominent characteristics, therapeutic indications & contra-indications (points of caution).
Aroma - sweet, warm, hay-like, slightly fruity
Main actions - antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, digestive stimulant, calmative (calming / sedating)
Good for - nervous tension, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, digestive issues, skin conditions, menstrual issues, arthritis, hay fever
Psychological & spiritual properties - helps us foster a more 'sunny' disposition, self nurture, let go of self criticism, resentment & the need to blame others
Aroma - warm, musky, slightly spicy
Main actions - antispasmodic, antidepressive, uterine tonic
Good for - anxiety, depression, nervous tension, PMT, menstrual issues, muscular issues, aches, pains
Psychological & spiritual properties - clears the mind, dispels illusion, indecision, emotional confusion, releases constriction & allows inspiration to flow
Contraindications - avoid with pregnancy (good during labour though) & hormonal dependent cancer
Aroma - strong, fresh, camphoraceous
Main actions - immune tonic, anticatarrhal, decongestant, antirheumatic
Good for - colds, flu, catarrah, asthma, sinus issues, hayfever, fatigue, joint pain
Psychological & spiritual properties - revives spirits, dispels melancholy, helps us adopt a more positive & expansive outlook
Aroma - resinous, rich
Main actions - analgesic, antidepressive, calmative, antioxidant (combats ageing process)
Good for - nervous tension, worry, anxiety, depression, insomnia, respiratory issues, muscle stiffness, aches, pains, tissue repair / skin care
Psychological & spiritual properties - helps us to let go of the past, break free of personal restriction & over attachment. Calming & centring it's great for aiding meditation & focusing spiritual contemplation
Aroma - fresh, floral, green, cool, moist
Main actions - anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, calmative, antispasmodic
Good for - nervous system, irritability, headaches, menopausal issues, skin conditions, fungal issues
Psychological & spiritual properties - helps reconnect us with our emotions & capacity for communication. Good for nervous exhaustion especially with those experiencing stress, overwork & a tendency for perfectionism
Aroma - fresh, juicy, sweet, citrus
Main actions - cholerectic (increases bile), depurative, digestive stimulant, lymphatic decongestant
Good for - cleansing, decongesting, cellulite, lymph flow, digestion, bowel function, nervous tension, oily skin conditions
Psychological & spiritual properties - dealing with difficult emotions & comfort eating / the need to feel full, high expectations, anger & self criticism, heavy feelings & disappointment, acceptance of more realistic goals
Contraindications - avoid on skin for 12 hours before exposure to sun or sunbeds
Aroma - floral, soft, fresh, herbaceous
Main actions - analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, calmative, cicatrisant (promotes healing)
Good for - calms the mind, tension, anxiety, depression, insomnia, headache, skin conditions & care, fungal issues, muscle discomfort, joint pain, PMT, menstrual issues, arthritis, digestion & bowel function, gently benefits the respiratory system & immunity / infection, hay fever
Psychological & spiritual properties - an “Aromatic Rescue Remedy” it's indicated as a habit breaker & crisis smoother, calms emotions that overwhelm us, alleviates self-conscious reserve & helps us fulfil our creative potential
Aroma - fresh, light, citrus, sour, sweet
Main actions - lymphatic decongestant, phlebotonic (tones vein walls), immune tonic
Good for - lethargy, nausea, flatulence, constipation, poor appetite, cellulite, broken capillaries, varicose veins, colds, flu, catarrh
Psychological & spiritual properties - focus, clarity, uplifting, cools emotional confusion & doubt, encourages trust & security, opens the heart centre encouraging release of fear
Contraindications - avoid on skin for 12 hours before exposure to sun or sunbed
Aroma - sweet, fruity, juicy, warm
Main actions - digestive stimulant, hepatic stimulant, antispasmodic,
Good for - digestive discomfort, flatulence, nausea, IBS, constipation, nervous tension, worry, insomnia, poor appetite
Psychological & spiritual properties - conveys joy & positivity, good for those that try too hard & find it difficult to delegate or think that things are bound to go wrong, helps us to be more easy going & embodies good luck
Aroma - cool, fresh, clean, minty
Main actions - digestive stimulant, cephalic, nervous stimulant,
Good for - digestive issues, concentration, study, memory, mental fatigue,
Psychological & spiritual properties - awakens the nerves & the brain, enhances: concentration, absorption, digestion of new ideas, emotional acceptance, inspiration & insight
Contraindications - do not use at more than a 2% dilution on the skin & avoid with pregnancy, breastfeeding, epilepsy, heart disease
Aroma - herby, strong, fresh, camphoraceous
Main actions - anticatarrhal, antirheumatic, cephalic, neurotonic, general tonic
Good for - lethargy, circulation, concentration, study, memory, digestive issues, colds, flu, catarrh, muscular stiffness, aches, pains
Psychological & spiritual properties - dispels apathy & gloom, renews enthusiasm & self-confidence, strengthens self-worth, warms the spirits, makes us bold & remember our true path
Contraindications - do not use at more than a 2% dilution on the skin & avoid with pregnancy, breastfeeding, high blood pressure & migraines
Aroma - medicinal, strong, camphoraceous
Main actions - antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, immune tonic, general tonic
Good for - colds, flu, tonsillitis, fatigue, post-viral issues, fungal issues, melancholy
Psychological & spiritual properties - bolsters moral, confidence, resilience & promotes positive outlook
How to use aromatherapy?
Although some do blend more synergistically than others, there's no rigid laws about which essential oils go best together. So choose your oils according to required therapeutic action & what you like the smell of. There are however a few guidelines that are good to follow.
Topical application (on the skin) - e.g. massage, moisturising, skin treatments, cold / flu chest rub, back / shoulder ache rub etc
Firstly & very importantly...NEVER PUT ESSENTIAL OILS NEAT ON SKIN! No matter what you might of heard or been advised, a properly trained professional aromatherapist should not recommend this, it can cause damage & some real nasty problems! Essential oils are powerful, concentrated natural chemicals & need to be diluted!
A base products to dilute essential oils in might be:
- Herbal oil aka phytol or maceration like calendula, arnica or St. John's wort
- Gel e.g. aloe vera or seaweed
Simply put, for every 10ml (2 teaspoons) of carrier / base product adding 3 drops of essential oil = 1% dilution
If you like maths, the formula is this:
Base Oil mls x drops in 1ml (30) x % required = drops required
E.g. to work with a 1% dilution using 30mls of base oil = 30 x 30 x 0.01 = 9 drops
Therefore 9 drops in 30ml of oil = 1% dilution.
Maximum recommended dilutions:
Face = 1.5%
Body = 1 - 3%
Specific problem areas (back ache, period pains, flu chest rub etc) = 4 - 10%
The amount of carrier needed varies depending on the base type, the condition of the skin & size of area to be covered e.g. a facial massage will require 5ml of carrier or less where as a full body massage usually uses around 30ml. Ensure essential oils are thoroughly mixed into the base product before applying.
Elderly, pregnant, under 7's – only use very low dilutions & ensure suitability of oil choices.
Newborns - DO NOT USE ESSENTIAL OILS!
Generally I'd say avoid application to personal areas of the body. Ladies this can be quite unpleasant!
Inhaler sticks - add 15 - 20 drops of essential oil to a blank nasal inhaler stick. Great for hay fever, headaches, sinus issues, as a handy on the go tool for anxiety etc.
On a tissue (or scarf, shirt collar, pillow, face mask etc) - use 2 - 3 drops of essential oil.
Steam inhalations - add 2 drops of essential oil to a bowl of steaming water, cover head & bowl with a towel, close eyes & breath in vapours for several minutes. Excellent for sinus issues, sore throats, flu / colds & deep facial cleansing. Caution should be taken with sensitive or delicate skin. Inhalations are not appropriate for those with thread veins.
Diffusion - diffusers are the more modern day version of the tea light oil burners.
It's much cleaner & safer to use. This way of using aromatherapy is absolutely
brilliant anywhere (office, study, playroom, bedroom, in the car...) & suitable
for all people from young to old.
Simply add water & 5 - 10 drops of essential oil & press the start button.
Baths (& foot baths) - Oil & water don't mix so it's a good idea to mix 5 drops of
essential oils with 15mls (3 x teaspoons or 1 x tablespoon) of a dispersing agent
Body & Hair Care:
Recommended dilution = 1 - 4%
Shampoo & shower gels / body wash - essential oils benefit dull, lifeless, thinning hair, scalp conditions & may also be used to help eradicate head lice. Add 1 - 4 % to a fragrance free shampoo or body wash.
Conditioning oil hair & scalp treatments - for a nourishing treatment & scalp conditions like dandruff add 1 - 4% to a carrier oil, apply, leave overnight & wash out in the morning. Repeat at regular intervals as required.
Body Scrubs - exfoliation is good for the health of our skin. It removes dead cells which means that moisturisers can do their job better. Add 4 drops of essential oil to 1 tablespoon of sea salt, 1 tablespoon of honey & 1 tablespoon of base oil. Mix well, massage over skin & rinse off.
Roll-ons - this is a great way to create your own perfume. Nearly fill a 10ml roll-on bottle with base oil & add 12 drops of essential oil.
In the hair - pop a couple of drops of essential oil on a comb & brush through hair.
Compresses - add 2 – 6 drops of essential oil in a bowl of water. Soak a flannel or clean cloth, wring out & apply, renewing as required. These may be hot or cold. If alternating, start with hot & finish with cold. Use this method for sprains, bruising, muscular pain, chest congestion, headaches, over-heated children or for reducing fevers.
Room Sprays - add a few drops of essential oil to a small glass spray bottle, fill with water & shake vigorously before each use. Avoid spraying on polished surfaces.
In the Car:
This is a lovely way to help stay alert on journeys or just fragrance your vehicle. Avoid sedating oils!
Diffusers - 12 volt socket & USB plug in diffuser. Use 3 drops of essential oil in water.
On a tissue - place 2 - 3 drops of essential oil on a tissue & tape over one of the air blower vents.
Make your own 'Magic Tree' style car air freshener - cut out a thick cardboard shape of your choice, add 2 - 4 drops of essential oil & hang in your vehicle.
Points of caution with using Essential Oils
Essential oils are extremely concentrated & should always be used with care. Seek advice if needed.
Do not apply undiluted to the skin!!!
Do not apply internally or ingest!!!
Keep out of the reach of children.
Do not allow essential oils to get into the eyes. If they do rinse well & seek professional help if necessary.
Replace caps immediately after use & store in a cool dry place.
Check use by dates & dispose correctly of out of date oils.
Label any products you make, store & use correctly.
Take care with sensitive skin. If necessary do a patch test. If an oil irritates your skin wash off thoroughly.
Pregnancy - topical application 1%
Elderly - topical application 1%
Children - topical application 3 - 7 years old = 1% & under 3 generally not recommended
For phototoxic oils - Avoid strong sunlight or sunbed for 12 hours after use.
Be aware of open wounds & inflamed areas & avoid if necessary.
Where to buy products?
There are so many places that sell aromatherapy products & it can be confusing to a lay person. So here are a few tips:
- Buy oils from reputable, trusted & ethical sources.
- Look at the botanical name on the label to ensure you are purchasing the correct products.
- Buy organic if you can. Oils produced in this way generally mean that farming methods are more sustainable & in harmony with ensuring the health & future of the planet.
- Avoid buying endangered or threatened plant products e.g. Indian Sandalwood, Rosewood, Spikenard, Palm oil etc.
- Many essential oils on the market are adulterated (poss' as many as up to 80%!). Meaning they are not what they say they are. You probably want to know that what you are putting on your body is what it says it is on the tin, right?
- Personally I do not buy oils from stores or major online shopping providers that may of had them on a shelf or in a warehouse for quite some time.
- Cheap doesn't always mean it's a bargain.
So here's who I recommend you might like to consider buying from:
Click the link to visit my 'Shop' page & online store. I've know about NYRO since the 90's & a few years ago I decided to become an Independent Consultant. I wanted to be able to offer my friends & clients the things I use. You may of course buy from a regular Neal’s Yard store. You’ll get exactly the same products. The only difference in using my web shop is that I get a little commission & you’d be supporting my small business.
If you'd like advice on which products to get I'm happy to help so please get in touch with me.
Or here's a few other suppliers that I recommend:
Want to learn more?
I give talks & run workshops on complementary therapies, stress management & relaxation whether that’s on a 1:1 basis, for couples or larger groups. Bespoke sessions are designed to be educational, fun & suit groups needs. I also have training courses on offer in London, Brighton & Kent.