Welcome to all aromatherapy enthusiasts out there. This blog is for those who are new to essential oils or for those who want to brush up on their aromatherapy basics.
What is Aromatherapy and what are Essential Oils?
Aromatherapy is the use of aromatic plants in the form of essential oils and waters to help support and enhance health both physically and emotionally. Essential oils are extracted from plants and are a very concentrated form of the healing aromatic compounds either from the plant or produced during the extraction process.
Essential oils are produced using three main methods.
- Most essential oils are produced via distillation. The process involves submerging plant material in water that is heated to produce steam. The steam is captured and cooled, resulting in essential oil and aromatic waters or hydrosols. Rose or lavender water are commonly used as a skin toner.
- Cold pressed. Most citrus essential oils are produced via the cold pressed method. In the thick skin of citrus fruit there are little pockets of essential oil, you may have noticed when you cut into a citrus fruit the essential oil spraying out (and smelling divine). The essential oil is the plants’ way of defending the fruit from disease and other pests. In the cold extraction process the skin of the citrus fruit is cut by a machine and the essential is collected in sponges. This method is used because citrus essential oils are sensitive to heat and evaporate quickly.
- A very gentle extraction method that was traditionally used for roses and other delicate florals. It was found that pressing plant material into fat could extract the essential oil of the plant. The essential oils were then extracted out of the fat with alcohol. This method tends to be very time consuming and expensive. Today plants can be immersed in a solvent or liquid CO2 and the essential oil is then separated out from the extraction medium.
How do they work?
Essential oils can be absorbed into the body through the skin and nose. When essential oils are absorbed through the skin they enter into the blood stream that carries the healing molecules throughout the body. Heat, water and covering the treated area increase the level of absorption so application methods like baths and compresses are a great way to increase essential oil absorption into the body.
When you inhale an essential oil, the aromatic molecules travel through two routes. Down into your lungs and up into the limbic system in the brain. Via the lungs, essential oils pass into the blood stream where they are carried throughout the entire body. The limbic system is a primitive part of the brain and is associated with memory and emotional response. This is why certain aromas can produce powerful memories and emotions within us and how essential oils can help enhance our emotional state. Once the limbic system is triggered neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and endorphins are released.
How to use essential oils.
- The quickest and most simple method of using essential oils. Essential oils can be inhaled straight from the bottle or added to a diffuser or essential oil burner. Perfect for a quick pick me up or to help improve your mood.
- Steam inhalation. Used to treat respiratory infections and skin. To a bowl of steaming hot water add 2 to 3 drops of your chosen essential oil, close your eyes and position your face at a comfortable distance from the water. Cover your head with a towel and breathe for up to 5 minutes. Or add up to 5 drops of essential oil onto a face washer and place under the shower stream to create an aromatic steam in your shower.
- A compress tends to be used for muscle or joint pain but can also be used for digestive or respiratory complaints. Make a compress by adding up to 3 drops of essential oil to a medium sized bowl of water. Soak a face washer in the water and wring out excess moisture. Apply the face washer to treatment area and repeat as the compress either cools down or warms up for up to 10 minutes. For inflammation, recent sprains or strains use cold water. Muscle aches and spasms and stiff joints respond well to warm/ hot water.
- A beautiful way to incorporate essential oils into your life. First, the essential oil must be diluted because they are a very concentrated substance and could cause skin irritation or other unwanted effects. A full body massage blend for general use is 15 drops (adult) or 6 drops (children) of essential oils to 30mls of a carrier oil such as sweet almond, coconut or olive oil. Face treatment oil is 1 drop of essential oil to 5mls of carrier oil. We use a lower dilution for the face because the skin on your face tends to be thinner and more susceptible to irritation.
- What could be more luxurious then having a relaxing bath in water gently fragranced with essential oils? Essential oils do not mix with water so always add your essential oil blend to a dispersant before adding to bath water to avoid the risk of skin burning or irritation. A dispersant is a substance that blends the essential oil into water, such as full fat milk, coconut milk, carrier oil or honey. Add 8 drops of essential oil in a dispersant to your bath water.
- Hand or Foot bath. Add 3 drops of essential oil to a bowl of warm water. Useful to treat skin infections, arthritis or poor circulation.
It should be noted that essential oils are a highly concentrated and medicinal substance, so some safety precautions need to be observed. For a healthy adult, most essential oils are safe to use within an appropriate dosage (as indicated above). However, when using essential oils for babies, children, during pregnancy, for the elderly or for those with a serious illness it is prudent to do some research to ensure that you use oils that are suitable and that you use the correct dose. As a general guide,
- The gentlest essential oils include Lavender, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Neroli and citrus essential oils such as Orange, Lemon, Lime, Bergamot and Mandarin.
- Citrus essential oils can produce an effect on the skin called phototoxicity. Citrus oils applied to the skin and then exposed to direct sunlight causes the skin to be more prone to sunburn. To avoid this either use citrus essential oils at night or if you plan to stay inside for most of the day or use them in a diffuser/ inhalation.
- Essential oils need to be diluted with a carrier oil before being applied to the skin.