Aromatherapy, or essential oil therapy, refers to a variety of conventional, alternative or complementary treatments using essential oils and other compounds of the aromatic plants.
Essential oils have been used for almost 6,000 years, in order to improve the health or mood of an person. The NAHA describes aromatherapy as “the medical application or medicinal use of aromatic substances (essential oils) for holistic healing.”
In 1997, the International Standards Organization ( ISO) defined an essential oil as a “product obtained from vegetable raw material, either through distillation with water or steam, or through a mechanical process from the epicarp of citrus fruit, or through dry distillation.”
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A number of essential oils have been shown to have varying degrees of antimicrobial activity, with antiviral, nematicidal, antifungal, insecticidal and antioxidant properties. Uses for aromatherapy include acupuncture, topical applications, and inhalation.
However, users should be aware that “natural” products are also chemicals, and if used in the wrong way, they can be hazardous. When using essential oils it is important to follow a trained professional’s advice.
Aromatherapy is commonly used as a topical treatment or by inhalation.
Inhalation: The oils evaporate into the air using, for example, a diffuser bottle, mist, or oil droplets, or inhaled in a steam bath.
Aromatherapy oils can provide respiratory disinfection, decongestant and psychological benefits besides having a good scent.
The inhalation of essential oils stimulates the olfactory system, the part of the brain that is connected to smell including the nose and brain.
Molecules entering the nose or mouth travel into the lungs, and from there into to other parts of the body.
We affect the limbic system when the molecules enter the brain, which is related to the emotions, heart rate , blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress, and hormone balance. In this way essential oils can affect the body in a subtle yet holistic way.
Topical applications: The skin absorbs massage oils and bath and skin care products. Massaging the region where the oil is to be added will improve circulation and the absorption. Others claim that areas rich in sweat glands and hair follicles, such as the head or the palms of the hand, will more easily absorb the oils.
Essential oils are never applied directly to the skin. They must always be diluted with a carrier oil. Usually, a few drops of essential oil to an ounce of carrier oil is the concentration. Most common carrier oils are sweet almond oil or olive oil.
To do an allergy test:
- Dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil at twice the concentration you plan to use
- Rub the mixture into an area the size of a quarter on the inside of the forearm
When no allergic reaction occurs within 24 to 48 hours, then use should be healthy.
Some people have reported developing allergies to essential oils many times before after using them. If a new allergic response appears, the individual should immediately stop using it and avoid the smell of it.
Use 3 to 6 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier to achieve a dilution of 0.5 to 1 per cent. Add 30 drops to one ounce of carrier for a 5 per cent dilution.
Adults are usually considered healthy at a maximum concentration of 5 per cent.
Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy. It does not provide a cure for diseases, rashes or illnesses, but it can support conventional treatment of various conditions.
It has been shown to reduce:
- Pain and body aches
- Anxiety, agitation, stress, and depression
- Fatigue and insomnia
- Muscular aches
- Circulatory problems
- Menstrual problems
- Menopausal problems
- Alopecia, or hair loss
Many forms of psoriasis can find relief with aromatherapy, but the use and use should be recommended by a health care professional.
Peppermint oil may benefit from digestive problems but it should not be swallowed.
Clove oil can relieve tooth ache and mouth sores but this, too, should only be applied topically and should not be swallowed.
Supporters believe that these and a large variety of other complaints respond well to aromatherapy, but empirical evidence supports not all uses.
Benefits of different essential oils
- Basil essential oil is used to sharpen concentration and alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. It may relieve headaches and migraines. It should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Bergamot essential oil is said to be useful for the urinary tract and digestive tract. When combined with eucalyptus oil it may help relieve skin problems, including those caused by stress and chicken pox.
- Black pepper essential oil is commonly used for stimulating the circulation, muscular aches and pains, and bruises. Combined with ginger essential oil, it is used to reduce arthritis pain and improve flexibility.
- Chamomile essential oil can treat eczema
- Citronella essential oil is a relative of lemongrass and acts as an insect repellent
- Clove essential oil is a topical analgesic, or painkiller, that is commonly used for toothache. It is also used as an antispasmodic antiemetic, for preventing vomiting and nausea, and as a carminative, preventing gas in the gut. It has antimicrobial, antioxidant and antifungal properties.
- Eucalyptus essential oil can help relieve the airways during a cold or flu. It is often combined with peppermint. Many people are allergic to eucalyptus, so care should be taken.
- Geranium essential oil can be used for skin problems, to reduce stress, and as a mosquito repellant.
- Jasmine essential oil has been described as an aphrodisiac. While scientific evidence is lacking, research has shown that the odor of jasmine increases beta waves, which are linked to alertness. As a stimulant, it might increase penile blood flow.
- Lavender essential oil is used as an antiseptic for minor cuts and burns and to enhance relaxation and sleep. It is said to relieve headache and migraine symptoms.
- Lemon essential oil is said to improve mood, and to help relieve the symptoms of stress and depression.
- Rosemary essential oil may promote hair growth, boost memory, prevent muscle spasms, and support the circulatory and nervous systems.
- Sandalwood essential oil is believed by some to have aphrodisiac qualities.
- Tea tree essential oil is said to have antimicrobial, antiseptic, and disinfectant qualities. It is commonly used in shampoos and skin care products, to treat acne, burns, and bites. It features in mouth rinses but it should never be swallowed, as it is toxic.
- Thyme essential oil is said to help reduce fatigue, nervousness, and stress.
- Yarrow essential oil is used to treat symptoms of cold and flu, and to help reduce joint inflammation.
Each essential oil has its own chemical makeup and rationale for use, so it is important to talk to a trained aromatherapist, nurse, doctor, physical therapist, massage therapist or pharmacist before applying or using an oil for healing.
A qualified professional can suggest and teach how to use could product, and provide proper application or dilution instructions.
Consumers should always be mindful that the United States Food and Drug Administration does not track aromatherapy products, so it can be hard to know if a product is pure or not, or if it is toxic or synthetic.
Many beauty and household goods, such as lotions, make-up, and candles, contain ingredients that might seem natural oils, but are actually synthetic fragrances.
Like medicinal goods, essential oils should be handled respectfully. It is important to seek career advice and carefully follow instructions.
Concentrated products can be poisonous and should be handled with care before dilution. It is recommended a maximum concentration of 5 per cent.
Some oils produce toxins which, particularly if taken internally, can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and nervous system. Swallowing essential oils can be dangerous, and sometimes fatal.
Individuals with any of the following conditions should be extra careful when using aromatherapy:
- An allergy, or allergies
- Hay fever, a type of allergy
- Skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis
People with the following conditions must be extremely cautious:
If the oil is to be mixed with a carrier, the individual should tell the aromatherapist or massage therapist about any nut allergies, because carrier oils are often obtained from nuts and seeds.
Aromatherapy can have side effects, but these are normally mild and do not last long.
- Some allergic reactions
Use of aromatherapy by pregnant or nursing mothers has not been proven safe by research, so it is not recommended.
Aromatherapy can pose a risk for the developing fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy. Women who breastfeed should avoid essential oil such because peppermint, as it can be found in breast milk.
Important citrus-derived oils can make the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet light and increase the risk of sunburn.
Some oils can affect traditional medicines’ work, so people who use medicines of any sort should first consult with a professional pharmacist or doctor.
Finally , it is important to be aware, when storing essential oils, that light, heat, and oxygen can affect the integrity of the oil. Items should come from a reputable and reliable source, in order to be sure of the price. Following directions the chance of affecting the safety of the customer is carefully that.
For parts of Western Europe aromatherapy as an antiseptic, antiviral , antifungal and antibacterial treatment is introduced into conventional medicine. It is less so in the United States, and Canada. Throughout France, certain essential oils are classified as prescription medications, and a doctor may only administer or prescribe them.
Aromatherapy can help alleviate some conditions, but it should be used correctly, under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. The NAHA can advise on aromatherapists in your area, and some are members of a professional association, but until now there are no licensing boards for aromatherapists in the U.S.