Aromatherapy 101

Aromatherapy, what the hell is it? Is this for real, or is this more internet bullshit? Essential oils are everywhere. Everyone is buying diffusers, and I’m willing to bet your social media feeds are flooded with people selling Young Living and DoTerra, right?  There are lots of articles on the internet about essential oils claiming all kinds of miraculous health benefits from curing cancer to the fountain of youth. There are also horror stories of people with terrible burns and skin reactions after using essential oils. I know its overwhelming but don’t worry, I’m here to help you sort out the real from the bullshit.

A simple definition of aromatherapy is essentially the use of aromatic plant oils for the treatment and improvement of our physical and psychological well-being. Aromatherapy is an art that utilizes aromatic essences extracted from plants to balance, harmonize, and promote the health of our body, mind, and spirit. The intent of aromatherapy is to unify the physiological, psychological, and spiritual processes of  mind and body. Aromatherapy is an alternative medicine and it is a wonderful complementary medicine.

The benefits of aromatherapy include relief of stress, anxiety, and depression; increase in energy and boost in memory function; pain relief and healing; improved sleep; improved digestion; headache treatment; and relief of symptoms of chronic illness.

Studies cited by the Mayo Clinic have shown aromatherapy results in improvement of anxiety and depression, improved sleep, and improved quality of life for patients with chronic disease. Smaller studies using lavender essential oil showed reduction in pain for patients suffering pain from osteoarthritis in the knee, improved quality of life for dementia patients, and reduced pain for people with kidney stones.

So how do you get started with aromatherapy? Essential oils are everywhere and it seems like no matter where you go you are bound to run into someone selling Young Living Essential Oils or DoTerra right? Hell, even Amazon and Groupon are blasting ads for essential oil diffusers and collections of “high quality” oils. Again, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. First, let me start by telling you that I have been practicing aromatherapy for 22 years. I got started while working as a cosmetologist. I was introduced to aromatherapy in skin care and massage classes. At that time aromatherapy was not mainstream. It was for hippies and weirdos. Its use in the salon industry gave it a bit more creditability although misleadingly as a ‘cosmetic’ rather than alternative medicine. I was surprised by the power essential oils had on the well-being of my clients. I used aromatherapy as part of facials, pedicures, manicures, and scalp treatments. I learned how to make my own blends. The effects were both immediate and slow-release. Clients experienced immediate psychological benefits and over time with continued use physical benefits. I’ve been a devoted believer in aromatherapy and its benefits since the first time I performed a facial using a blend made with lavender on a client with a bad case of rosacea on her face who had just lost her husband of 30 years to cancer.  Not only did the redness in her skin calm down but immediately following the facial she experienced an emotional release of pain with tears flowing followed by hugging me and thanking me profusely and for what she didn’t know but only that she felt so much better, so much lighter. So, with my 22 years of experience, below is a very brief how to get started in aromatherapy.

First, you need to invest in good quality oils. When it comes to aromatherapy you get what you pay for and not all oils are of the same quality. I know a good quality oil immediately by the smell but it takes time to develop a trained nose. Quality oils do not smell perfumey. They do not smell like oil. They smell like the plant listed on the bottle. If you are totally new to aromatherapy its a good idea to contact one of your friends who is a distributor for Young Living or DoTerra. I don’t consider these brands to be the top two brands on the market but they are very good reliable brands and if you are new with an untrained nose these are a great way to get started. You will certainly get good quality, 100% therapeutic grade essential oils. That last part is essential. You always want to be sure to buy therapeutic grade oils. You do not want fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are used to make candles and perfume. They do not have the therapeutic benefits that essential oils provide. In fact, when clients would tell me that they tried an essential oil and it didn’t work I asked them to bring me the bottle of oil and 99.9% of the time what they had purchased was a bottle of fragrance oil rather than a therapeutic grade essential oil. So, if you are not buying from a Young Living or DoTerra distributor please read your labels carefully.

Next, you will need to think about how you want to use your oils. There are three basic modalities: aerial diffusion, direct inhalation, and topical application. Aerial diffusion is achieved by using a diffuser or humidifier with essential oil added to the water.  An old method for aerial diffusion, and one of my favorites, is by burning incense. Direct inhalation can be achieved by applying the oil directly to a cotton ball and holding it to your nose. Topical application can be done in a variety of ways. You can add the oil to your skin care and hair care products, you can add it to your bath water directly or to your bath salts or shower gel, or you can use essential oil infused soaps, lotions, and body oils. You can apply essential oils directly to your skin, but this must be done with caution. Some oils cause photosensitive reactions which result in the horror stories you’ve seen on the internet. There are even essential oils that can be used for cooking. Lavender and rose oils are wonderful for cooking.  I will be posting blog entries on specific oils in the near future, and I will include all the ways you can use each of the oils. But for now, I am going to leave you with my top 5 favorite oils. The list below are the five oils that I always have in my cupboard and use the most. They are my go-to oils and where I would recommend anyone new to aromatherapy begin. So, write them down and the next time you are in the store check out these five oils. Ask your friend who sells Young Living and DoTerra to show you these oils and how to use them. And, I’ll write more on these and other oils in upcoming blog posts.

Oh, one final note, please remember that essential oils are derived directly from plants. The rate of allergic reaction is high. Remember that nature is powerful magic. It can heal and it can hurt. So always test out any new oil on a small patch inside your arm to see how your body reacts before using it all over. Cheers!

  1. Lavender
  2. Peppermint
  3. Lemon
  4. Rosemary
  5. Frankincense

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