Aromatherapy And Essential Oils - The Basics
By Donovan Baldwin
Aromatherapy is the use of oils extracted from various, primarily fragrant, plants to aid in the relief of a range of physical or mental discomforts or illnesses. These oils, commonly referred to as "essential oils" are also used to enhance or encourage positive responses in the user. These oils may be used by direct application or by inhaling the aromas, hence the name "aromatherapy". The inhaled aromas can be dispersed by candles prepared with the essential oils, by applying the oil to some object, such as a handkerchief or pillowcase, by spraying a mix of the essential oil and water into the air, or by means of a "diffuser". A diffuser is a device generally available from essential oil providers which uses heat to disperse molecules of the chosen essential oil into the air.
Although long used in other parts of the world, such as the East and Middle East, aromatherapy is essentially new to Europe and the United States. In the last few years, in addition to an increase in the numbers of aromatherapy practitioners, a broad interest and corresponding retail market in aromatherapy, essential oils, and related items such as candles, perfumes, and diffusers has sprung up. It is now very easy for someone knowing little or nothing about aromatherapy to buy the necessary supplies and reap the benefits of aromatherapy.
EFFECTS OF ESSENTIAL OILS AND AROMATHERAPY
There are several essential oils, some having effectiveness in more than one situation. The list is not complicated, but is too long to go into in this article.
Overall, the effects may be divided into two basic groups. Some essential oils have actual physical effects. For example, eucalyptus oil can be inhaled to help clear sinuses and the respiratory tract. This would obviously relieve some symptoms of an upper respiratory infection (URI). Some oils may be used topically (directly on the skin, where they would usually be absorbed by the body, or on a wound) to possibly relieve swelling or fight certain infections.
Secondly, aromatherapy, usually thru the inhaling of the molecules of the essential oil, can affect moods and emotions. Since feelings and emotions are more and more appearing to be hard-wired to the health of the body, it is beginning to become apparent that improvements in such areas as moods can affect the actual health condition of the body in addition to simply making the individual feel happier, or more energetic, or more alert. Studies have shown, for example, that the status of someone's emotional state can affect the ability of their immune system to fight off infection.
ESSENTIAL OILS IN OTHER PRODUCTS
Essential oils can be used in other products such as perfumes, lotions, cleansers and other cosmetics and personal care items. Essential oils are even used in such common items as household cleaners and toothpaste. Many people even use essential oils with other elements to create their own products. One company even offers a Health, Home and Beauty Kit so that those interested in aromatherapy can use essential oils to "...create hundreds of blends for everything from women's concerns to cleaning your bathroom tiles."
SCIENTIFIC STUDY TENDS TO SUPPORT AROMATHERAPY
Being an alternative form of healthcare, aromatherapy was, until recently, looked down on by the traditional medical community. However, with the increasing tide of evidence of the importance of the mind-body connection in health, and with an increasing volume of empirical and anecdotal evidence, the scientific community has begun to accept aromatherapy and the affect of essential oils on health...at least to some extent.
In the last few years, researchers at the Kurume University School of Medicine in Japan, the University of Miami School of Medicine, the University of Alaska, and the University of Pittsburgh, to name a few, have shown positive results in subjects through the use of aromatherapy. Subjects have experienced improved mental and physical functions after the use of essential oils. Subjective measurements have indicated positive experiences in participants, while objective measurements, such as electroencephalograms (EEG) have borne out these results as well.
Participants have used essential oils to improve their immune systems, improve athletic ability, increase alertness, ease depression, be more effective students, and to quit smoking.
PRECAUTIONS BEFORE USING ESSENTIAL OILS
While essential oils are natural products and may be inhaled directly with no harm, you should always be careful to merely inhale the aroma rising from the container, much as you would inhale the scent of a cologne or perfume. Do not place essential oils directly into nasal passages. Using a diffuser, candle, or item with the oil on it to release the molecules are the most common ways of experiencing the actual aroma.
Essential oils are stronger than what would be experienced when sniffing a rose, for example, so it is best to ease into their use. Essential oils usually come in small vials or bottles and are used a drop or two at a time. Products from various suppliers may have different concentrations, so the product from A may only need a drop while that from B needs two drops.
Take time off. Prolonged contact with the oils can result in allergic reactions in some cases or even mild toxic reactions. Always follow your distributor's recommendations and make sure you have a distributor who can and will give warnings and recommendations.
If using a product claiming to be an aromatherapy product by virtue of its ingredients, always check to make sure that it is actually using essential oils. While the smell which reminds us of the fragrant flower or plant it copies might produce positive feelings in most of us, the genuine essential oil itself will be more effective.
Unless you are under the guidance of a skilled, experienced aromatherapist, you should never ingest essential oils. Children and pregnant women should never ingest essential oils.
Lastly, while essential oils used in topical applications or inhaled during aromatherapy can certainly produce beneficial results, they should never be used in place of professional medical treatment.
Copyright 2006 Donovan Baldwin
About The Author
Donovan Baldwin's interest in fitness and health began in 1970 when he first read Dr. Kenneth Cooper's "Aerobics". He has articles on weight loss at http://nodiet4me.com and at http://nodiet4me.blogspot.com.