What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a term that was first coined in 1928 by René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist who worked for his family’s perfumier business (Lawless, 8). The term is used to describe the elevation of well-being with fragrant plant extracts. This can be in the form of massage, in a hot bath, in oils and lotions for the skin, hot or cold compresses, or diffused in your home. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, aromatherapy is “the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize, and promote the health of the body mind and spirit” (Sonoma, 13).
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts that are sourced from the aromatic parts of plants, such as the flower petals, leaves, roots, and tree resin. They contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are naturally occurring chemicals that can elevate our health and support our overall well-being.
The desire to learn about aromatherapy and the benefits of plant medicine and natural forms of healing, is usually instinctual (Schnaubelt, 1). Although this article provides basic information about what aromatherapy is and how essential oils can be incorporated into an everyday routine, the process of really understanding must come from your own personal experience.
How Essential Oils Can Be Used
Essential oils do not remain in the body for long periods of time, unlike many chemical medications. In addition to using essential oils for cooking and natural, non-toxic cleaning, there are three ways essential oils can be used:
Simply smelling essential oils straight from the bottle or diffusing them in a diffuser offer a wide range of health benefits, including improving respiratory function, mood support, and inducing restful sleep. Essential oils also make more sense as air fresheners since they cleanse the air by altering the structure of the molecules creating the smells, rather than just masking the unwanted smells (Worwood, 1). According to Dr. Pam Taylor, “when oils are inhaled, they interact with cells at the back of the nose to stimulate a change in the areas of the brain that control nausea and vomiting as well as sleep and mood” (Schnaubelt, 136).
Essential oils can also be used topically, preferably diluted in a carrier oil like fractionated coconut oil, for a more localized effect. Topical application is highly effective since essential oils penetrate lipophilic (fatty) skin tissue effectively and can even enter the bloodstream via this route (Schnaubelt, 131). Applying them topically can help with minor skin irritations, cuts, or burns. They can also be used as a natural form of skincare to help tone and beautify the skin. Topical use of essential oils can help ease muscle tension and discomfort in the joints.
There is still a lot of debate in the aromatherapy world as to whether or not essential oils can or should be ingested. While there are several essential oils that are not safe to take internally, there are many that are, so long as the oil is pure without any added synthetics or chemicals. When taken internally, essential oils are metabolized and eliminated very quickly by the liver, thus it is beneficial to ingest an essential oil when the “metabolic intermediates produced during elimination create a desired therapeutic effect” (Schnaubelt, 131). Lemon oil, for example, is very effective at detoxifying the liver when taken internally (Schnaubelt, 135).
How to ingest:
Beverages :: The easiest way to ingest essential oils is diluting one drop in a glass of water, juice, smoothie, or tea (trust me, one drop is enough!). Be sure to use glass or stainless steel, never plastic, when ingesting essential oils. This is the recommended way for beginners to start using essential oils internally.
Sublingually :: You can also drop one drop of essential oil under the tongue.
Veggie Capsule :: For minor upset stomach or issues with the digestive tract, you can also fill up an empty veggie capsule with the desired amount of essential oil and take internally with a glass of water -- just like swallowing a pill.
“Essential oils provide the most benefit for those who like to live in harmony with nature and find moderation and humility vis-á-vis creation desirable.” (Schnaubelt, 3)
Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: More than 300 Recipes for Health, Home, and Beauty. Berkeley: Sonoma Press. 2014.
Lawless, Julia. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the use of Aromatic Oils in Aromatherapy, Herbalism, Health & Well-Being. San Francisco: Conari Press, 2013.
Schnaubelt, Kurt. The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy. Rochester: Healing Arts Press. 2011.
Worwood, Valerie Ann. The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. San Rafael: New World Library. 1991.