Aromatherapy is the use of any aroma for a beneficial purpose. Some aromas are not pleasant but may warn us of physical danger and this can help our health in a preventive way: something on fire, fear or something rotten. But to use aromas positively and beneficially is therapeutic. A walk in a rose garden or a pine forest is uplifting.
To get the maximum beneficial effect of aromas in the city, at home or on the job, we have the essential oils of plants stored and waiting for the moment when we need them.
These days, with nature around us disappearing and industrial and synthetic aromas assailing our senses, the natural links cannot work their silent magic. With essential oils used in the correct way we can do something to balance our bodies, minds and psyches and restore lost wellbeing.
Sense of Smell
Aromas, odors or smells are aromatic particles wafting through the air and are actually information in the form of a mist or molecules. We are able to perceive this aromatic information through our sense of smell which works through the olfactory bulb above the nasal cavity. Nerve cells in the nasal cavity detect aromas and pass the information through the olfactory bulb and into the brain.
Aromas then link through the limbic area of the brain to the areas that affect many of our human functions: where the nervous and endocrine systems regulate and control bodily processes such as hormones, digestion and breathing.
The direct link between the sense of smell and certain areas of the brain helps to explain why aromas experienced have a powerful effect on the mind and emotions, and in bringing up memories.
Essential oils are one of the three main types of oils. They are called essential or essences because when the ancient alchemists first distilled plants they separated the fine vaporous part of the plant from the bulkier part. This light liquid or essence was found to contain the aroma and the healing properties of the plant, so was considered the soul or essence of the plant. The essential oil is the condensed aroma of the plant, and when left will evaporate into the air. This property separates essential oils from other oils.
The second type of oils are the glyceride or greasy oils. Vegetable oils such as peanut, olive, sunflower and almond are used in aromatherapy as carrier or base oils. Other types are all the common fatty or greasy oils of vegetable or animal origin: butter, lanolin (wool fat), beeswax and cocoa butter are examples. These are sometimes used for making balms and ointments.
The third type of oils are the mineral oils: petro-chemical products from fossil deposits refined into paraffin, petroleum jelly, vasoline and baby oil among others. These mineral oils are not used in aromatherapy, mainly because they are not absorbed into the skin like the more organic vegetable oils. Mineral oils have a place in the cosmetics industry and are used in many of the commercial lotions and balms.
Essential oils should always be diluted with a carrier oil both to dilute the oils and to allow for use on the body for massage or as a lotion. While the essential oil is the active ingredient, selecting a carrier oil is an important consideration.
A carrier oil for massage should have good lubricating qualities and not be absorbed into the skin too quickly. A facial oil should be more easily absorbed. It is best the carrier oil is odorless so the essential oil is clearly smelled. Almond oil is perfect for this, whereas olive oil is richer and more nutritious but has a distinctive smell of its own.
Grapeseed oil is a fine oil with no smell and is good on its own as a basic massage oil. It is inexpensive and available in supermarkets. Sweet almond oil is fine and odorless like grapeseed but more expensive. It has very good skin conditioning properties and is moisturizing and cleansing. Avocado oil is rich and heavy but more expensive. It is good for dry skin as it is penetrating and rich in vitamins A, D and E.
Wheatgerm oil is used for dry skin but is too rich, heavy and expensive for use on its own. It should be mixed with other vegetable oils as a preservative. Use 5 to 10% wheatgerm oil. It contains vitamin E and is a natural antioxidant. To a grapeseed or almond oil try adding 10% wheatgerm and 10% avocado for
extra richness and skin nutrition.
Apricot kernel oil is a rich and nourishing oil that improves the elasticity of the skin. Jojoba is a good natural moisturizer and cosmetic oil that is non greasy and does not oxidize as it is a liquid form of wax. It is a super emollient with a satiny texture.
Mixing and Blending
Making dilutions and calculating percentages is usually done by adding drops of essential oil to a known amount of vegetable oil.
This is used as a carrier of the essence.
Most bottles or handy containers are marked with their size in milliliters. Convenient and regular sizes would be 10ml, 25ml, 50ml and 100ml. Use these to measure your vegetable oil base. You can use teaspoons but they vary in size.
Although we could add a certain amount of mls of essential oil to the carrier oil. It is better to think in terms of drops. This leaves room for experimentation and making special mixes for different occasions and people. Using drops, there is less wastage and fewer big bottles of mixes you do not like or no longer use.
A handy rule to remember when mixing
1ml of essential oil = 20 drops approximately
1% of essential oil in 100ml of carrier oil = 20 drops
1% of essential oil in 10ml = 2 drops
(A 1% blend suits a skin or facial oil)
5% of essential oil in 100ml = 5ml or 100 drops
5% of essential oil in 10ml = 0.5 ml or 10 drops
(A 5% blend makes up a medium strength massage oil.)
We may want to make small amounts of massage or skin oil, or to experiment. In this case we could use a teaspoon. A standard teaspoon holds 5 ml or 100 drops. A 1% blend would be about 1 drop, a 5% blend would be 5 drops.
Blending more than one essential oil
To give ourselves more scope for blending, using essences or allowing for different potencies of the essences and different qualities when they are mixed together, it is a good idea to experiment with blends.
Using s3 drops of essence to 1 teaspoon of carrier oil will make up a massage oil. Start with 10 drops to 3 teaspoons.
A sample blend for a refreshing oil
Lavender 4 drops a mild and inexpensive oil
Peppermint 2 drops strong oil, avoid eye contact
Bergamot 3 drops mild and fruity
Basil 1 drop strong, rich scent
Rules to Remember
Always exercise caution with essential oils as they can be toxic, sensitizing or irritating when used without dilution in excessive amounts. Avoid contact with the eyes and other sensitive parts of the body. Always keep out of the reach of children.
Essential oils are natural and resemble simple herbal remedies. They have been used for their healing and antiseptic properties for centuries. Being distilled they are a concentrated essence of the plant. Essences are not found in this concentration in nature. That is why essential oils are diluted with carrier oils.
Spice oils like cassia and cinnamon can burn the skin. Use peppermint with care on sensitive skin. When massaging, avoid inflamed areas, varicose veins or any unexpected pain or lump. Pennyroyal repels fleas but is toxic. Camphor can create nausea when used in excess. Aniseed and nutmeg in excess can have a stupefying effect on the nervous system. Also take care with clove leaf, basil hyssop, myrrh, thyme, parsley seed, aniseed, cajuput, camphor, coriander, eucalyptus, fennel and marjoram.
Pregnant women are strongly advised to use only lavender. In particular, pregnant women should avoid rosemary, thyme, basil, cinnamon, hyssop, cedarwood, peppermint, myrrh, clary, marjoram and juniper. A safe rule is to avoid all essential oils for the first few months.
Essential oils are not to be taken internally except on the advice of a qualified health or medical practitioner. If poisoning occurs, induce vomiting. Use Ipecac syrup if available.