Using Essential Oils for Aromatherapy
by Val Tobin
Originally published June 17, 2010 on Suite101
Republished on SNGS November 10, 2013
Essential oils are also known as "volatile oils" or "essences" and are combined with other ingredients to create a mixture. They are referred to as "volatile" because they evaporate quickly when left open to the air. You should exercise caution when using them, but once familiar with how they work, you can use them in many ways to improve the quality of life.
Essential oils are diluted in what is called "carrier" or "base" oils. According to Julia Lawless in her book Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy, some recommended carrier oils are sweet almond, sunflower, grape seed, and coconut oil. Cold pressed oils are best for use as carrier oils if using them for massage, as cold pressing does not destroy the nutrients in the oils. The nutrients will then be absorbed through the skin.
Essential Oil Safety
When attempting to work with essential oils, be aware of the risks involved. Never apply essential oils "neat," meaning, without diluting them. They can cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive. They should never be taken internally. Trained and experienced professionals know when and how to break those rules, but the average person should never attempt to do so.
Whenever working with a new essential oil, consult with a trained practitioner, especially when using essential oils in healing or first aid. Before applying a diluted essential oil on the skin for the first time, do a "patch test" first. To do a patch test, apply a small amount of the diluted essential oil to the inside of the elbow or wrist. Wait up to 24 hours to see if there is a reaction. If the area becomes irritated or any reaction occurs, then rinse the area with cold water and avoid using this oil. The patch test is important for all essential oils when using them for the first time, even those that don't typically cause reactions.
Pregnant women, individuals with medical conditions, those taking medications and children should be very cautious with using essential oils. Treat essential oils as if they were medications and consult with a qualified professional. Some plants can cause serious reactions in people, so it is a good idea to err on the side of caution.
Using Essential Oils
Essential oils from plants are used in aromatherapy for a variety of purposes. They can be used in massage, in healing, as perfumes, as disinfectants, in first aid, in sachets and pillows, in compresses, and in many other ways. They are often used in spas in a variety of spa treatments and can be used during meditation to help calm the mind.
In the bath, essential oils can be used to help you relax or to soothe tired muscles and body. When soaking in essential oils, be certain that the oils used have been verified as safe. Five to ten drops of the chosen pure essential oil can be added to the bathwater. This gives one the benefits of both inhaling the vapors of the oil and soaking in it. Lavender oil is popular for a relaxation bath; rosemary is good for energizing; and marjoram soothes tired muscles.
Essential oils can also be used mixed with other ingredients to create skin-soothing and nourishing facials. However, as Chrissy Wildwood states in her book Aroma Remedies, essential oils should not be used on the face daily, as you may develop sensitivity to them. Wildwood recommends a cycle of twice a day for two days a week, or alternatively, once or twice a day for two weeks and then a four-week rest period before using the oils again.
A vast array of essential oils are available on the market, and if you are not ready to start mixing oils and carriers yourself, then there are pre-mixed products available that can get you off to a good start with aromatherapy. It may be less expensive to create your own mixtures, but research and education are required. Regardless of whether a person mixes the oils or buys them prepared, it is important to remember to use them safely and to consult a qualified practitioner for advice when trying new mixtures.
Lawless, Julia. Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy, Dorset: Element Books Ltd, 1997.
Werbach, Melvyn R., M.D. and Murray, Michael T., N.D. Botanical Influences on Illness: A Sourcebook of Clinical Research, California: Third Line Press, 1994.
Wildwood, Chrissy. Aroma Remedies, London: Collins & Brown, 2000.
Image: Courtesy of Bob Tobin
Disclaimer: The information on this web site is not intended to substitute advice from your physician or health-care professional. Before beginning any health or diet program, consult your physician